AGORA: ISIS is Islamic

Dan Georgakas and Constantinos Scaros disagree on some issues, but not on this: ISIS is Islamic. Extremist interpretations of a religion are still connected to that religion.


Dino, I am dismayed whenever President Obama and other politicians deny that ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq & Syria) is a movement rooted in Islam. They ignore the very name of the movement in a pathetic attempt to combat Islamophobia. They seem to believe the public is not smart enough to understand any religion has many branches. If the politicians actually believe what they are saying, we can begin to understand why the United States has no effective policy to turn back the ISIS threat.

ISIS is a religious movement that represents a coherent and learned branch of Islam. This form of Islam seeks to create a theocracy headed by a caliph. To maintain its legitimacy, it must hold territory and rule it under Sharia (religious) law. Bearing this is mind, Obama’s policy of “degrading” or limiting ISIS territory is not an effective strategy.

ISIS is based on a Sunni perspective on Islam as opposed to the Shia perspective. Sunnis make up 85-90% of Muslims, Shia 10-15%. Economic and identity issues fuel the denominational conflict. The Shia communities tend to be wealthier than the majority Sunnis. Some of the atrocities and destruction seen in the present war are reminiscent of the Thirty Years War in 17th century Europe between Catholics and Protestants. Even earlier, Catholic forces organized as the Fourth Crusade sacked Orthodox Constantinople.

“Radical” certainly means extremist. In political discourse, however, radical refers to extreme change to something new. “Reactionary” indicates an extreme return to an idealized Golden Age of yore, shorn of its many shortcomings. ISIS is reactionary, not radical.

Western media and politicians insist on identifying ISIS as a terrorist movement. ISIS, in fact, does not believe terror is a cause in the way the nineteenth century Nihilists did. Terror for ISIS is a method to be used or discarded depending on its effectiveness. To dismiss them as terrorists is to misunderstand what they actually espouse.

The terror tactics of ISIS are a double-edged sword. A handful of fanatics caused chaos in Paris and Brussels. They also generated mass anger. How leaders mobilize that public reaction will determine who is most deeply cut by the double-edged sword. If the ISIS center is not destroyed, stopping small groups of extremist individuals is difficult and not particularly effective.

ISIS envisions an apocalyptic conflict in the Middle East between Western armies and Islam. The West is expected to lose in what is the onset of a global movement to Islamize the world. American strategy has been to assemble mainly Islamic forces to carry on the land battle. Our strategists are so obsessed with regime change in Syria that they cannot plan dynamic joint actions with the Russians or the Syrian army. Cooperation with Iran, another ISIS foe, also has a low priority. Even assisting the Kurds is half-hearted. Instead we have spent billions on an Iraqi army that won’t fight and support Syrian rebel forces that include numerous Islamic fanatics in their ranks.

Our own military actions are tortured by half-measures. For example, we have long known that considerable financing for ISIS derives from selling oil. A convoy of 250 trucks carrying oil was destroyed by an American air strike in the past few weeks. No satisfactory explanation has been given as to why it has taken so long to take such effective and relatively simple military actions.

ISIS is a reactionary religious movement willing to employ terrorism as a tactic. Unless we understand all the ramifications of that reality and appropriate counter-measures, we will have a policy based on false assumptions that lead to ineffective actions.


Dan, I, too, often wonder why so many Democrats won’t identify the Islamic State as Islamic. The problem is, it’s not just limited to Democrats. Granted, ISIS wasn’t really prime-time news while George W. Bush was president, but terrorism certainly was, and Bush made sure that we didn’t associate it with the “great religion” of Islam, as he put it.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, and I’m not, I’d think whoever sits in the Oval Office has been warned that if the words “radical Islam” leave his lips, a major American city is going up in smoke. No wonder presidents age so quickly. As they smile and wave nonchalantly, they are facing a constant life-and-death potential hostage situation about which the rest of us are completely clueless.

More realistically, though, it probably has to do with a fear of losing support from relatively moderate elements of Islam, who might have already tipped their hand that they will walk away from any coalition if the words “radical Islam” are uttered by an American president.

And speaking of fighting ISIS, what in the world happened to NATO? I thought its Article 5 clearly proclaims that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all. Last I checked, France is a member of NATO – so, where’s the response? NATO nowadays might as well stand for No Action,Treaty Over.

I think back to 2008, when Candidate Barack Obama’s biggest liability, among grownups who evaluated him – as opposed to the “he pals around with terrorists and is a secret Muslim” crowd – was that he would be weak and ineffectual on a large and dangerous world stage. For the first two or three years, he silenced his critics. Obama kept important elements of the Bush team in place, including Bob Gates at Defense and David Petraeus at Central Command, used drones to blast terrorists from their cells at an ever greater rate than Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld did under Bush, deported illegal aliens aggressively, and captured Osama bin Laden. What changed?

I can understand why Obama is no longer interested in working with Republicans. He was, at first, and they clearly weren’t – so he stopped trying.
What, though, does any of that have to do with the war on terror?

For all we know, Obama could be planning some grand rope-a-dope, luring ISIS, Iran, Putin, North Korea, etc., into a major trap. But I doubt it. Instead, I agree with your position that “the United States has no effective policy to turn back the ISIS threat.”

As for Obama, Hillary, and Co. bending over backwards not to offend, Marco Rubio said it eloquently: “I don’t understand it. That would be like saying we weren’t at war with Nazis because we were afraid to offend Germans part of the party but weren’t violent themselves.”