Friday, November 20, 2015

ISIS, Henry VIII's Girlfriend

My understanding of ISIS.
ISIS is a fanatical, activist doomsday cult, an ever-growing collection of zealots and adventurers spoiling for a fight, who believe they have a major role to play in a coming Day of Judgment. They would like to roll the clock back to the 7th century, back to when laws and customs were more in step with the often harsh and stringent beliefs they live by, all based on a serious interpretation of religious scripture. Their “caliph” is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. They make al Qaeda look reasonable. Their most effective tools are social media and murder. If you discount the unlikely end-of-days scenario, their apparent aim is world domination, or to die gloriously in the attempt.
It is fair to call them extremists. It is not fair to call them un-Islamic, because they know their Koran backwards and forwards and predicate their actions on how they interpret it. Call them a mutation of Islam if you like, but they are very, very Islamic. True, they are not the same kind of Muslim you see shopping for halal food in the supermarket. They would regard the peaceful, law-abiding Muslim in the supermarket as hardly a Muslim at all, maybe someone just playing at being a Muslim. These people believe utterly and without compromise in the correctness of their culture, their brand of religion, and their laws, and everyone who does not think or act like them are either infidels or apostates. They regard themselves as a sovereign state and control vast tracts of land to prove it. Their version of the constitution is the Koran itself.
It is easy for them to recruit fighters from among boys and young men, for this group is comprised of either the disaffected urban youth of Europe, or young men of the Middle East and North Africa who have never been employed, had any kind of clout, or even a girlfriend. Joining ISIS gives them wives, money, status, and a cause. For a kid having grown up in a cloistered world, his mind poisoned against the decadent west from birth, joining ISIS is a brilliant answer to a dull life that offers little opportunity; for the adventurer, it’s a dream come true.
We think they’re looney and out of step with the twenty-first century; we wonder how people can be this way in these modern times. Maybe we think that if we can just sit down and reason with the heads of ISIS we’ll be able to figure something out. Here’s the problem: all the reliable, time-honored frames of reference we of the west use to measure and understand anything do us no good when vainly trying to peer into the minds of jihadists, or those susceptible to radicalization. Reason, compassion, desire for peace, mutual respect: these qualities are of no use in forging a bridge. In fact, we don’t possess the tools or materials needed to build a bridge. We can’t even conceive of what a bridge to them looks like. They are a completely alien species, as if our people and theirs evolved on separate planets. And, as a species, we are repugnant to them.
It is fruitless to think we can best them militarily because we’ll never win. We’ll never face armies with uniforms in straightforward battles or expect conduct constrained by the Geneva Convention. There’s a big difference between combating people merely willing to die for a cause, as opposed to those who are planning on it. A single kamikaze pilot in a small, explosive-packed plane could sink a battleship. You might argue that we can fight them by attacking their ideology, but how? Will someone please explain to me how?
Whatever the roots of ISIS are: the invasion of Iraq, oil, western arrogance, the Russians, the US, bin Laden, Bush, this century, that century, they are a plague, a spreading, ingrained, insidious, intractable, incurable, international, virulent plague. We can’t wipe them out and we can’t change their minds. The best we can hope for is aggressive and ever-vigilant containment.
I am reading “The Other Boleyn Girl,” by Philippa Gregory, a story written in the first person by Mary Boleyn, Anne’s (second wife to King Henry VIII) younger sister. It took me a minute or two to like it, but now I do and can’t put it down. The Boleyns and the Howards combine to make the ultimate scheming family, adept courtiers all and eager to put Mary’s, and later Anne’s, feminine charms to good use toward their advancement in the eyes of the king. In that world, even females of the highest class of society are dealt with as objects, game pieces, and, as Mary says, brood mares. There is so little to envy about these women, pampered though they are, whose main purpose is to decorate power, always vulnerable to the whims of men. Gregory’s fascinating characterization of Anne fights this, as she is portrayed as a willful, intelligent, articulate, worldly and crafty person who could maybe teach Lady Macbeth a thing or two. Unfortunately, we know how things end. Great story so far. I recommend it. It’s a Schprock Lock.
That is all.


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