Saturday, March 5, 2016

Understanding/Defeating ISIS

Donald Trump told Newsmax TV back in July of last year, that he would “bomb the hell” out of the Islamic State (ISIS) if he was elected to the White House. And then in December, Ted Cruz uttered what seems to be his favorite line on ISIS: “We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion.”
But bombing is most likely the wrong way to defeat ISIS, especially if that is the primary offensive method used.
Last month Lt. Col. Brian Steed, a military historian at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, gave a learned lecture at the Kansas City Public Library. A specialist on the Middle East, Steed spoke on “Mesopotamia on Fire: Changing the Conversation on ISIS.”
Earlier that day (Feb. 23), Steed was interviewed by KCUR’s Steve Kraske. That 24-minute interview was linked to (see here) under the title “Defeating ISIS By Understanding It.”
Unfortunately, I don’t get the impression that the candidates seeking to become President have a very adequate understanding of ISIS, except perhaps for HRC.
I was very favorably impressed with Steed—especially when I heard him in person. Even though he is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, he made it clear that he was speaking as a private citizen—and when he is in Baghdad, he apparently speaks in Arabic.
One of the important points of his lecture was this: we see the cruelty of ISIS when there is television footage of beheadings and executions of individuals. But such cruelties are no worse than that resulting from U.S. bombing of ISIS targets or from using drones to kill ISIS combatants, often with civilians being killed as “collateral damage.”
It is clips of the latter that are shown on television in Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries—and the hatred for the U.S. deepens with each such telecast. Such clips are recruitment tools for ISIS.
What surprised me most from hearing Steed’s lecture was that ISIS believes that Jesus (yes, that Jesus) is coming soon and he will kill the Dajjal (the Antichrist) and will establish “Islam and its justice” over the whole world.
(Khilafah = Caliphate)
The final decisive battle, according to the apocalyptic mythology that seems to be driving much of the activity of ISIS will take place at Dabiq, a place in Syria that is about 150 miles north of Israel’s Mount Megiddo, where according to popular Christian apocalyptic thought the battle of Armageddon will be fought.
Dabiq is also the name of a glossy propaganda magazine published by ISIS. It is said to be “sophisticated, slick, beautifully produced and printed in several languages including English.” It is used in recruiting jihadists from the West. (Here is the link to Dabiq’s webpage.)
This same information was presented a year ago in the Atlantic magazine, which I either didn’t hear about or didn’t pay attention to. (See the bibliographical information given below.)
Graeme Wood, author of the Atlantic’s article, insists that ISIS is very Islamic—but an extreme, apocalyptic form of Islam that is opposed by other forms of Islam and by the majority of Muslims in the world today.
In the Spring 2016 issue of Plough Quarterly (see here), Nathaniel Peters writes, “Wood is right. Islamic extremism is a theological problem. But how do we go about solving it? The solution to the theological problem must be theological, not military." 
The long-term strategy for defeating ISIS must be in the realm of ideas, or “narratives,” to use the term Steed emphasized, rather than bombs and military force. The sooner our political leaders learn that the better.
 Links to important articles
“ISIS Says Jesus is Coming Soon, and the End of the World” by Karen L. Willoughby – February 17, 2015, article in Christian Examiner (here)
“What ISIS Really Wants” by Graeme Wood – Cover story of the March 2015 issue of The Atlantic (here)
“What ISIS Really Wants: The Response” by Graeme Wood – February 25, 2015, issue of The Atlantic (here)


  1. The first comments received about today's article are from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago. I appreciate him sharing these significant remarks:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for bringing up this complicated topic.

    "I read the Atlantic article when it came out last year. I agree that U S bombings and drone attacks actually help ISIS and other radical groups with their recruitment efforts. The U.S. should be working to stop the violence and one way to begin is by not bombing or sending drones to kill people.

    "Some of the presidential candidates seem to believe that U S military power is essentially unlimited; that we can solve any crisis with our military power if we just have the will to use it. But U S military power is not unlimited and members of the military (along with Lt. Col. Steed) know this.

    "SIS consists of religious apocalypticists and former military personnel in Saddam Hussein's army. The former military personnel want revenge against the West because the U.S. and its allies drove the Sunnis out of power in Iraq. This is one of the consequences of our failed Near Eastern policies. Stay tuned."

    1. Thanks so much, Eric, for your comments. I wish our political leaders had as good an understanding of the situation as you do.

  2. Thank you, Leroy, for pointing up the apocalyptic nature of ISIS and for noting how US bombing of ISIS targets simply perpetuates "the cycle of violence." I am sharing this article on Facebook.

    1. Thanks, Michael, for your comment here -- and for sharing the article on Facebook.

  3. It would have been interesting to listen to the KCUR interview with Gen. Steed before responding, but that link has not worked after three tries.

    Since ISIS and other groups within Islam have very intentional goals of genocide against at least 3 people groups, the concept was Just War is probably vital, in addition to prayer for the spiritual war contenders, and other avenues (diplomacy, marketing, friendships...) Having watched tyranny prevail so often throughout my lifetime (including by the US) it is probably reasonable to consider a well-planned and armed response.

    Apocalypse may or may not be in the near future, but defending the innocent is necessary.

    1. I just now tried the link and it worked on the first try. I did a right click on the mouse, opened in a new tab, and then clicked on "Listen" and it came right on.

  4. My Sunday school class is currently reading "Was Jesus a Muslim?" by Robert Shedinger. He points out that major biblical characters, including Jesus, are found in the Quran. He also notes that there are still enough theological differences to make religious dialogue as likely to be divisive as unifying. What he recommends is realizing that Islam is a total culture, not a "religion" in the Western sense, and then seeing how Jesus fits into that total culture, and comparing that to the Western model of Jesus. Looking at how Jesus addresses political and economic issues in both sacred texts, provides a window into a new way to understand Jesus and Islam. He argues that a careful reading of the New Testament shows a Jesus who was far more concerned with social, political and economic justice that modern Christian theology generally allows. The title of the book reflects Shedinger's conviction that the biblical Jesus actually thought and acted more like a Muslim than a Christian, even though historically he was obviously neither.

    I am bringing this into the discussion of ISIS to make the point that we really need some humility in the Western world. We are wildly uninformed about Islam. Our dangerous combination of arrogance and ignorance has lead to many serious blunders over the years. Not only do we not understand Islam, we do not even understand the Western world we live in. We have compartmentalized our economic and political systems to the point that we have let them spin dangerously out of control. Jesus came announcing that he had been anointed to preach good news to the poor and to those in prison. He proclaimed the year of the Lord, which normally means an economic jubilee. This is the side of Jesus with which we can begin a dialogue with Islam. Maybe even a dialogue with Wall Street, where the billionaires are wondering why both American parties hate them. As the old saying goes, when you discover you have dug yourself into a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging!

  5. Last night I attended a meeting of American Public Square in Kansas City. It was a panel discussion on "Muslims in the Metro." Two of the five panelists were Muslim women, and they presented themselves and their Muslim identity very well.

    In responding to your comments, which I appreciate you posting, Craig, I won't say anything about Shedinger's book, which I haven't read--and about which I have many questions. Rather, I am responding to your comment, Craig, that we "are wildly uninformed about Islam."

    One of the panelists last night emphasized the variety among Muslims and how diversity in Islam must be recognized. All do not think alike and all do not practice alike, except for some of the common externals.

    Thus, just like understanding Christianity, it is a matter of understanding a lot of different believes and practices, not just some monolithic "religion." Understanding Islam is as difficult as understanding the KKK and MLK both being a part of Christianity.

    Certainly there is validity in realizing that Islam is a "total culture," not a "religion" in the Western sense. Of course, the same could be said, say, of Hinduism in India or for centuries of Shinto in Japan. What's more, the same could be Judaism and the new development that came out of Judaism, "the Way" of Jesus.

    The women last night, though, seemed to be as American as they were Muslim, and they certainly did not think that ISIS is true Islamic, for it is so far from their beliefs and practices.

  6. I got the impression that some people thought my linking of ISIS and Jesus was questionable.

    Yesterday I checked out a book recommended by a friend: William McCants's, "The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State" (2015).

    McCants says that "prophecies attributed to Muhammad outside the
    Qur'an foresee Jesus returning to fight alongside the Muslims against the infidels."

    He goes on to quote this Feb. 2013 statement by an Islamic State's spokesman: "We will not lay down this flag until we present it to Jesus, the son of Maryam [Mary], and the last of us fights the Deceiver" (p. 106).