It’s not religion that propels ISIS…

Rise of the Right

Western right wing populism is growing steadily by the day. Its target is often immigrants, foreigners and of course Muslims. Fear that fascism is spreading across the world is real and justified.  So now might be a good time to remind ourselves of a study by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point.

Reported in the Guardian, the study found that the “vast majority of almost 1,200 [ISIS] militants surveyed had no formal religious education and had not adhered to Islam for their entire lives”.

That point matters because the rise of fascism doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It takes aim at a group of people: migrants, Muslims, Jews whoever, and then preaches a populist message. A message designed to create hate and division sweeping those touting the message to power.

That’s how Brexit happened, how Trump got elected and how the far right is trying to ride the same wave in France, Germany and elsewhere.

Playing into Their Hands

But what that CTC study is telling us is that it isn’t Islam that drives ISIS and other groups spewing an authoritarian agenda, it’s alienation and fanatical idea of what God “wants”.

That’s why ideas like banning Muslims entering the US or creating a Muslim registry do worse than miss the point. They perpetuate a lie that the enemy is a religion. It’s not. It’s the warped interpretation of a religion. And blaming Islam does the work of ISIS for it.

Expanding the Gray Zone

It removes what ISIS calls the “gray zone”: a place where Islam coexists with the rest of the world. What ISIS wants is world divided into crusaders and jihadists. And we in the West help create that world every time we brand all Muslims terrorists. After all if everyone is attacking your religion and calling you a terrorist (though you’ve done nothing) how long will it take before you join a group like ISIS because it feels like they’re your only friend?

A Common God

If we’re serious about defeating ISIS doesn’t it begin by expanding the gray zone? Of finding a common humanity? Of finding a commonality in the way we see God?

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