Turkey’s recent, illegal incursion into Syria has as its principal goal the extermination of Syrian Kurds as well as the potential annexation of Syrian land to serve as a Kurdish-free buffer zone for the indefinite future. In the process of this attack on the Kurds, it is likely that, whether intentional or not, large numbers of ISIS prisoners under the watch of largely Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces will break free from incarceration in the midst of the chaos created by Turkish aggression. Already close to 1,000 of a total numbering around 10,000 ISIS prisoners and family members, have fled camps abandoned by their Kurdish guards.
This has led some U.S. politicians, in the midst of hand-wringing over how “America has abandoned its allies, the Kurds,” to raise the additional specter that President Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from northern Syria will lead to the reconstitution of ISIS as a terrorist force in the region. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R) is one such voice. Interviewed on The Story with Martha McCallum, he declared:
“The president keeps saying we’ve won this war against ISIS. We certainly have not won the war against ISIS. We’ve made gains.”
In response to McCallum’s question “For how long are we going to stay there [in Syria]?”, Kinzinger opined:
“You asked the question about ‘How long.” It’s a good question. But the problem is that’s not a choice that we can make. It’s not the choice of the United States [that] determines how long we’re going to fight terrorism. It’s a decision the terrorists make because they determine if they’re going to kill innocent people, they’re gonna reach out again to the United States to strike here. I wish they didn’t believe this stuff. I wish we didn’t have to fight them….I wish this was all over, but it’s not our choice.”
The President is right that the Islamic State caliphate has been demolished, and in that sense ISIS has been defeated. But Rep. Kinzinger is correct that ISIS is still alive and could regain its former momentum. The problem is they both are dealing with symptoms rather than with the cause.
For the President, ISIS is a hornet that keeps buzzing around the patio table at lunch, bothering the guests. He rolls up a newspaper, swats it soundly and declares proudly, “It’s dead. You’re safe.” Kinzinger is not so sure. The seemingly lifeless hornet needs to be beaten repeatedly, and we need to be on the alert, for other hornets will not be far off . “We have to stay in this swatting contest until the hornets decide they don’t want our food. I wish they didn’t like our lunch, I wish this was all over, but it’s not our choice.”
The problem is, neither the President nor the Congressman (nor most other politicians and pundits, for that matter) is looking for the nest from which the hornets continue to be hatched and sent. Until the nest is found and destroyed, the incursions will continue. What Western leaders desperately need to understand is that ISIS, Boko Haram, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and its brood of viper organizations, al-Qaeda, AQAP, al-Shabaab, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, the IRGC, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Abu Sayyaf and scores of other Muslim jihadi groups are only symptoms, not the source. They are merely angry hornets, looking for whomever they can sting, but destroying them will not rid the world of Islamic terrorism. To do that, we must destroy the nest which endlessly produces them.
That nest is the ideology of core Islam, i.e., the Islam of Muhammad as taught in its source materials: the Qur’an, the Hadith and the Sira (early biographies) of Muhammad.
Found prominently in all three is the directive that Muslims are to channel all their energies and resources into conquering the world for Allah and his religion. They are to use force, as necessary, to bring all human beings into subjection to Allah. This is the primary Qur’anic meaning of the well-known term “jihad.” Westernized Muslims often object to the translation “holy war”, and I would agree with them. There is nothing holy about jihad — but it is nevertheless a religiously mandated war against all unbelievers. Let’s just call it “religious war.”
The jihadi mindset is an inherent part of Muhammad’s Islam. Any neutral observer, reading Islam’s source materials, would come inevitably to this conclusion. And it is this reality, and only this reality, that can explain why Islam’s 1400 year history across the globe leaves a copious trail of blood in its wake, as Robert Spencer’s comprehensive work, The History of Jihad from Muhammad to Isis irrefutably demonstrates. Why is deadly violence associated so readily with Islam as compared with any other world religion? Because only in Islam is violence against unbelievers the unremitting divine command until the end of time.
We should not be surprised, then, that as the Muslim world perceives itself to be growing in strength vis-a-vis its enemies (i.e., all who refuse to bow before it), it is increasingly willing to flex its muscles in strategic, as well as desultory, acts of violence. Since al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks just over eighteen years ago, self-professing Muslims have been responsible for at least 35,800 deadly terrorist incidents. These reflect Muhammad’s own dictum, “I have been made victorious with terror” (Bukhari, 4.52.220), which in turn acknowledges the six places in the Qur’an where Allah reveals that he casts terror into the hearts of Muhammad’s opponents (often through his followers) to defeat them (3.151; 8.12-13, 59-60; 33.25-27; 59.2, 13).
The real enemy, then, is the nest of jihadi ideology inherent within core Islam, and not simply the individual hornets birthed through this ideology. Each jihadi group gains its strength and purpose through this ideology. When the ideology is defeated, these groups lose their steam and aspirations.
The question which should be at the heart of our nation’s counter-terrorism activities is: What does it take to defeat an ideology? Naturally, one must know that ideology well to craft a successful strategy. Core Islam teaches that the flag of Allah and his prophet will inevitably fly over all the world and will be evidenced by the subjugation of all people according to the exercise of Shari’a through one Caliphate, under Allah’s appointed earthly ruler. Jihadis are taught to believe that since their cause is righteous, Allah will always grant them victory. They are servants in his cause, loving what he loves and hating what he hates (this is known in Islamic circles as the oath of al-wala’ w’al-bara’ (loving what pleases Allah and opposing all that displeases him). Since Islam’s Allah is all-powerful and all-knowing, nothing can thwart his will. Islam must win over every foe. What then does it take to defeat the jihadi ideology of core Islam?
- Extreme power. Shock and awe kind of power. While it is true that military might can never defeat an ideology in and of itself, when that ideology depends upon the fiction that it is invincible, the use of unmatched force against enemy combatants so as to eradicate their vaunted assets goes a long way to undermining their confidence in their ideology. Militant Muslims are quick to shout “Allahu akbar!”, when firing their weapons or slicing the heads off their bound captives. By this they mean, “Our god is greater than whatever your god, or whatever you believe in.” But when their armies are pulverized, and their conquests are taken from them, the roar of Allahu akbar becomes a soft meow. Likewise, when ISIS was moving unopposed from victory to victory in Iraq and Syria, its call for recruits elicited huge response from Muslims around the world. But as soon as it became clear that ISIS could not withstand the might of first-world military forces, and especially as it was routed from its self-proclaimed capital, Raqqa, the flow of recruits dried up. For a religion based on power and victory, weakness and defeat are hard to swallow.
- Demonstration of the deficiencies of Islam. Since jihadi ideology stems from the belief that Islam is Allah’s final and perfect revelation and thus is to be established as the only acceptable religion everywhere in the world (” And fight them until there is no fitnah [i.e., opposition] and [until] the religion, all of it, is for Allah — Qur’an 8.39), any arguments which demonstrate the defects of the religion of Islam (which Allah in the Qur’an declared perfect — “Today I have perfected for you your religion…” 5.3) begin to undermine the jihadi’s confidence in his ideology. Granted, this war of ideas may take a long time to bear fruit, but the truth will ultimately overwhelm even entrenched ignorance. Those working to defeat the ideology of core Islam must point out the defects of Islam in at least the following areas:
a) Moral corruption — How can one worship a god who takes delight in punishing those who reject him with hellish horrors beyond the imagination of most human beings? How can one believe in a god who permits sex slavery, rape after battles, raiding and pillaging of non-combatants’ property, killing or ransoming captives, the inequality of women, polygamy, etc.? How can one follow a prophet who admits he mistook the whispers of Satan for the voice of his god, or who claims his god gave him special privileges to marry as many women as he found desirable, or who married and forced himself on his 9-year-old “bride”? How can one respect a prophet so thin-skinned that when mocked by unbelieving poets, he directed that they be assassinated by his devotees? And this is only the beginning of what can be dredged up from early Muslim sources.
b) Logical inconsistencies — The Qur’an insists that its revelation goes hand in glove with the Old and New Testaments, since it claims that its god is the same as the God of the Bible. And yet its teachings are fundamentally at odds with earlier Scripture. Muhammad was told by Allah and in turn told his listeners if they had any questions over his recitations, he/they should go the “people of the Book” [i.e., the Jews and Christians] for clarification. Muhammad apparently believed the Bible and the Qur’an were in perfect harmony. Only after his death, when his community spread far beyond Arabia, did his followers discover the huge contrasts between Bible and Qur’an, and devise an explanation that Christians and Jews had corrupted their original teachings (though they could never produce any evidence for this absurd claim). Muslims believe the Qur’an to be perfectly transmitted from the mouth of the angel Gabriel through Muhammad to the pens of his scribes such that no mistakes could creep into the Qur’an, which has been perfectly preserved to this present time. But, according to Islamic history, the Qur’an was not even collected as a codex or manuscript until at least twenty years after the death of Muhammad. The existence of early manuscripts which differ in detail from the “authorized version” of Caliph Uthman demonstrate that there were rival versions of the Qur’an, thereby undercutting the claim of a perfectly preserved and transmitted revelation from Allah.
c) Historical horrors — Since al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on America in 2001, there have now been over 35,800 documented, deadly terrorist attacks around the world by self-described Muslims. But even these pale in comparison to the wholesale slaughter of non-Muslims (as well as those deemed “insufficiently or incorrectly Muslim”) by successive caliphates and Muslim empires over the last 1400 years. Estimates put the numbers slain across the globe at around 270 million. While this number must be taken with a grain of salt, there is no question that Muslim historical sources boast of butchery and carnage in the millions over the course of individual jihadi campaigns in Asia, Africa, Europe and India over the centuries. The recent atrocities of the ISIS caliphate are one mere cel in the long and repulsive movie reel of Islamic rule since the time of Muhammad.
d) The many imperfections of the Qur’an — one of the two justifications for the legitimacy of Islam is the purported revelation of the Qur’an as the perfect and unchanged words of Allah, delivered through Muhammad to his followers without error and copied faithfully such that today’s Qur’an is exactly what it was when first gathered. Muslim historical sources, however, make clear that there never was an “original” Qur’an, and that there were many rival versions in the early caliphate until Caliph ‘Uthman standardized one version and ordered all others to be burned. Even after this, some Muslims complained that certain suras had been left out, or added, or otherwise edited. On top of this, the Qur’an, supposedly written in “pure” Arabic, contains many grammatical errors and anomalies, and hundreds of loan words from other languages. One wonders why Allah, from eternity, would have had to borrow words from other languages to reveal his will to Arabs living in the 7th Century. Perhaps Arabic was not his first language….Add to this this the numerous historical errors (e.g., naming one of Pharaoh’s advisers Haman, the Persian name of the vizier of Ahasuerus, some thousand years after the time of Moses, on another continent; the confusion of the person of Mary (Mariam in Arabic) the mother of Jesus with Mariam the sister of Aaron and Moses, thought they lived some 1500 years apart), and the embarrassing “scientific claims” (such as the sun setting in a muddy pool in the west, and the confused stages of fetal development in the womb), and one is left with serious questions about the claim to divine authorship of Islam’s preeminent source of revelation.
e) Theological blunders — The Qur’an claims (9.30) that Jews believe Ezra to be the Son of God (in much the same way as Christians believe Jesus to be the Son of God), though there is no literary evidence to document this. Additionally, the Jesus of the Qur’an claims to bring “good tidings of a messenger to come after me, whose name is Ahmad” (61.6). Unfortunately for Islam, though Muslims have combed Old and New Testaments, there is no evidence to support such a “prophecy”. Further, the Qur’an has Allah saying that his revelation is given to Muhammad to confirm his prior revelation to the people of the Book (i.e., the Bible), but then the Qur’an later contradicts some of the central teachings of the New Testament (e.g., the sonship and divinity of Jesus, God’s trinitarian nature, the death of Christ on a cross, and the atonement). The Muslim answer to this is that Christians tampered with the biblical text to contradict the Qur’an, but there are a slew of New Testament manuscripts that predate the existence of the Qur’an, and all of them agree on these central teachings of the Christian faith. Islam puts itself in an untenable position: in order to gain theological legitimacy, it must attach itself in a parasitic way to the Bible; but then in order to distinguish itself as the true religion, it must deny the heart of the Bible in order to glorify Muhammad and his message.
f) Sociological realities — Allah claims in the Qur’an that the Muslim community is the “best of all peoples” and that disbelievers are “the vilest of creatures.” One would expect then that over centuries of time the Muslim world would demonstrate its vaunted superiority over non-Muslims sociologically. The world’s population should be flocking to the Muslim world in order to benefit from life among the best of all peoples. Yet, what do we find? Millions upon millions of Muslims are desperate to emigrate from the 56 Muslim-majority nations of the world to make their homes instead in the West, preeminently in the USA. A brief glance at sociological statistics shows Muslim nations to be consistently at the back of the pack when it comes to education, economic standard of living, health care, working conditions, freedom of expression, religious freedom, sexual equality, humane treatment of prisoners, advancement of the arts and sciences, and so on. Measured by such a set of standards, Islam can be said to have done little or nothing to advance the cause of humanity, and indeed to have contributed instead to the deterioration of the human condition.
No doubt there are many other deficiencies which should be explored, but this is sufficient to make the point that the ideology of core Islam is riddled with problems that must be exposed.
- Presentation of Preferred Ideologies. In the final analysis, people are rarely willing to jettison a life-defining ideology until they have something better to replace it. When it comes to the ideology of Islam, the West offers two possibilities which surpass jihadism. The first is Enlightenment secularism, which champions humanism and supports the freedom and rights of all human beings, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” A life of freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and other like documents makes for a society where human beings can decide for themselves what pursuits to prioritize. The secular West must do all it can to reclaim its lofty Enlightenment ideals, and to paint an attractive picture to disaffected Muslims of what a better life can look like when they exit Islam. The second is the Christian faith, which replaces a god of hate and violence with the God of love, which commands self-sacrifice on behalf of others rather than jihad against enemies, which reveals a divine savior who dies for human beings rather than a god commanding human beings to die for him. As millions of Muslims have discovered, their religious longings, never fulfilled under the harsh rules of Islam, are met in the good news of a God who draws them in love to Himself, and who promises eternal life to those who follow the way of Jesus. The Church must recapture her first love for Jesus Christ, and in joyful obedience to him must share the gospel lovingly with Muslims wherever we can meet and befriend them.
In the end, the problem of Islamic terrorism will not subside until one of two futures is realized: either Islam conquers all enemies and reigns globally, or the ideology of Muhammad’s Islam is debunked and derided for the evil it has spawned.
My personal belief is that secularism is not up to the task, because by its very nature it has no universally-accepted foundation upon which to appeal for the “unalienable rights” of humanity. It cannot speak of a divinely-mandated morality, nor of a human nature deserving dignity and honor because of having been created in the image of God. In the end, it must rest on a utilitarian plea that if we all just treat each kindly, human society will flourish. Or in the words of the song recorded by Sam Cooke in 1960:
But I do know that I love you,
And I know that if you love me too,
What a wonderful world this would be.
Nice sentiments, but hardly substantial enough upon which to build an enduring worldview of humane and equal treatment. Western secularism has endured to this point by living off the fumes of a Christian anthropology, understanding human beings to be a special creation of God, endowed with rights and protections precisely because of having been created in His image and likeness. As we have seen in the last century, as the West has retreated from this conviction and replaced it increasingly with the impersonal and naturalistic view of evolution, human beings become merely the result of random causation and as such have no special standing or purpose in the world. One day, secularism will collapse on itself, when it can no longer ride on the coattails of a religiously-inspired morality.
Christianity, on the other hand, is a full-bodied worldview that, unlike secularism and Islam, describes human beings as those created in the image and likeness of God, unique from all other earthly creatures, and uniquely capable of walking with God and each other in love. The Christian faith as an ideology is as a result uniquely suited to effectively counter the jihadi ideology of Muslims committed to the Islam of Muhammad.
Hence, if governments will use military, economic and diplomatic force as appropriate to decimate jihadis and their supporters, and if those who know the deficiencies of Islam will speak and teach boldly so as to inculcate deserved doubt in the hearts and minds of devotees of Muhammad, and if Christians will rise up to fearlessly proclaim the gospel and live it out as they befriend Muslim neighbors and colleagues and as they support mission efforts in Muslim countries around the world, the nest of jihadi ideology will finally be exterminated. It won’t happen overnight, but the solution is within our grasp, if we want it.