A friend of mine recently raised a problem with my last post (“In Defense of Isis”). My argument, she said, didn’t account for ISIS atrocities like the son who shot his mother for “apostasy” while a crowd watched approvingly. Tell me that’s not psychopathic, she implied.
Good observation. So let me first elaborate my article’s reasoning a bit and then address the question of “apostasy,” matricide, and U.S. responsibility for the son’s action.
In my posting I had left aside the obvious – namely, that the United States has only itself to blame for ISIS’ coalescence.
Obviously, the group is a direct product of U.S. intervention. It is the result of “our” country’s fostering and directly supporting Islamic fundamentalism during the Russian war in Afghanistan. I’m talking about the Taliban and Mujahedeen.
ISIS also grew out of the complete dissolution of the Iraqi army in the wake of the absolutely illegal and criminal U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Its recruiting efforts are fueled by the relentless bombing campaign of the United States and its allies (especially Saudi Arabia) and by “America’s” (again) illegal extra-judicial drone assassination program which amounts to nothing less than an automated death squad. Recruits join because of Fallujah, Haditha, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the Torture Report, Gaza, and images of U.S. soldiers urinating on corpses and the Holy Koran. Recruitment is inspired by America’s efforts to reverse the Arab Spring as it’s done so successfully in Egypt.
All of that should be obvious to anyone paying the least attention.
No, my argument was sociological and historical. ISIS, I said, is not simply a 20-30 thousand member gang of pathological killers who “hate our freedom.” The organization is much more complicated. It is composed of super-patriots, the unemployed, adventure-seekers, directionless youth – and yes, of medievalist anti-moderns, mentally ill psychopaths and of those inspired by fanatical Imams misinterpreting Islam’s religion of peace.
In other words, mutatis mutandis, ISIS is just like the U.S. armed forces or any other military you care to name. All of them behead, have “chaplains” that motivate them religiously, and commit atrocities. The difference between U.S. forces and ISIS is one of scale with the U.S. easily winning the grim competition for sponsoring and implementing the most atrocious acts.
Instead, I argued that ISIS is the latest embodiment of a 1400 year struggle by inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula to secure Arabia for Arabs. Their efforts took on special urgency after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and the subsequent colonial balkanization of Arabia led by England and France and later insured by the United States.
It’s that U.S. insurance and the Arab resistance it evoked that is intimately connected with the son who executed his mother for “apostasy.”
First of all, deal with the question of apostasy. Here readers should check out the Atlantic Monthly article published last March. It was called “What ISIS Really Wants,” and turned out to be the most read article in the recent history of the magazine. The article pointed out that “apostasy” is really ISIS’ term for collaboration. So the son might not have been simply a religious zealot, but a patriot who put “the cause” ahead of his mother’s welfare. We don’t know.
Secondly, sons kill their mothers all the time – for many reasons. It’s not that unusual; our dictionary even has a word for it. I used it earlier, matricide. In our country, angry, out-of-control sons just shoot their mothers too. Or they stab them or they poison them. Mental illness is often involved. Sometimes the mothers are just too controlling. We don’t know what was going on with the Muslim son in question. In any case, he chose to take advantage of community hatred for collaborators with a U.S. supported regime.
And that brings me to my most important point here. It’s simply this: people in feudal, pre-modern, undemocratic societies ruled by anachronistic unelected monarchs act accordingly. Before the Enlightenment and during feudal times, good European (and American!) Christians burned witches and apostates at the stake. They fought holy wars (the Crusades) against infidels and to recover religious sites they considered especially holy. (And I’m sure angry sons, daughters, husbands and wives motivated by their faith turned over family members to authorities for torture and execution.)
Bottom Line: if you support a feudal order you shouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people end up acting like pre-modern medievalists or like Christians in Salem.
The cure for all of that is democracy and education. And that’s exactly what the United States and its allies have been thwarting in Arabia since 1918. The country needs to stop supporting medieval potentates and their feudal order. In effect, we should be dropping schools and hospitals on ISIS rather than bombs.