I don’t know about you, but for me it took the attacks in Paris to actually put some effort into learning about ISIS. I really haven’t cared too much about them because they felt like relatively few. The truth is, they are relatively few: there are 1,600,000,000 Muslims in the world, and only 31,500 active fighters in ISIS. So there really are not that many of them. They would only take the Sydney Cricket Ground to ⅔ capacity. In a world of 7 billion people, they are a minority of minorities. Yet they are acting out in evil ways, so who are they, and what do they want?
I came across an article titled, “What ISIS Really Wants,” written in The Atlantic magazine back in March of this year. It’s a long read, but if you really want to know more about ISIS, it lays out the logic for what we are seeing. For now, though, let’s start with some basics. As you may know, just as there are different Christian denominations, there are different Islamic sects. You’ve likely heard of Shias and Sunnis, and ISIS is a Shia organisation. This becomes an important piece of the puzzle as we find that the two sects differ on how a Caliph comes to power. The Caliph is essentially a Pope for Islam. The Sunnis say that the Caliph should be elected by the Muslim people. The Shias say that he should be chosen by God from a direct descendant of Muhammed.
In the case of ISIS, their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has declared that he is a Caliph, and taken the name of Caliph Ibrahim and organised ISIS as a Caliphate, i.e. a fundamentalist Islamic government. They take the Koran literally and make every effort to do exactly as Mohammed did, 1400 years ago. This, as you might expect, includes waging holy wars, beheadings and all of the other unpleasant things that were done in the middle ages. ISIS is claiming to be a Caliphate, and, as such, Muslims are now obligated to join together and follow the rules set out in the Koran.
This affects foreign policy. Without a Caliphate, offensive jihad is an inapplicable concept. They must now start an “offensive jihad” where they forcibly expand into countries that are ruled by non-Muslims. One ISIS supporter says, “Hitherto, we were just defending ourselves.” But the waging of war to expand the caliphate is an essential duty of the Caliph. Further, he presents the laws of war under which the Islamic State operates as policies of mercy rather than of brutality. He claims the state has an obligation to terrorise its enemies—a holy order to scare the hell out of them with beheadings and crucifixions and enslavement of women and children, because “doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict.”
With this very basic understanding of ISIS, what I hear is that it is an organisation that is dedicated to controlling others and making themselves prominent in the name of religion. This isn’t exactly a new concept. Christians have a long history of doing this, too, but in fact it pre-dates Christianity and Judaism. It’s been around for a long, long time. While blame for the first sin is laid at the feet of Adam and Eve in the third chapter of Genesis, it only takes until chapter 11 for people to start manipulating others through the perversion of religion.
At the start of the chapter everything is fine, there’s one language and one speech. The deeper meaning is that, in regards to spirituality, everybody acknowledges that charity is of the highest priority and the essential of the life of the church (AC 1327). Just a few lines later we get this: “And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’” (Genesis 11:4) What was their motivation? Making a name for themselves. Not exactly what you would consider a good motivation. In fact, it is the love of self casting its long shadow over the minds of people and blotting out the light that is from God.
As an ancient observer, it would likely have been hard to see what was really going on because the Bible tells us that the worship they offered God looked perfectly fine to the eyes and ears. Their external actions were in line with everybody else. In the same way, the worship ISIS is offering Allah may be perfectly fine on an external level. However, the hearts of the people of Babel were set on the control of others and gaining power for themselves. This lust for power had no limits as evidenced by their desire to have their tower reach heaven so as to eventually overthrow God himself. While ISIS hasn’t made claims to want to overthrow God, they have certainly shown a desire for power and making others submit to their rule. I doubt that the desire to overthrow God can be far behind, because:
“By nature, self-love runs wild to the extent that its reins are loosened… It runs wild even to the extent of wanting to rule not only over the whole globe but even over all heaven and the Lord himself. It knows no bound or limit… We cannot fail to see this in people in power and kings who are not held back by any such restraints. They run wild and conquer as many territories and kingdoms as they can and aspire to boundless power and glory.” (HH 559)
Isn’t that exactly what we’re seeing with ISIS? They’re running wild trying to conquer as much territory as they can and aspiring to boundless power and glory. If you Google, “What does Allah want from me?” you won’t find ‘conquer as much territory as possible’ in the search results. It’s because that’s not what Allah wants, but it is what they want, so they do it in Allah’s name.
Yet despite the insanity of what they are doing, they have still attracted people to their cause. There’s a spiritual principle at play here: like attracts like. In the next life there is heaven and hell, where the good and evil are separated, and the New Church teaches that this separation is achieved through free will. We choose to be with people just like us, whether they are in heaven or in hell. Likewise, ISIS is providing a ‘come home’ beacon to all people who are of a like mindset. If what you want is to control the lives of others under the guise of saying this is true Sharia law, then ISIS is the place for you. The teachings of ISIS state that believers are required to live in a Caliphate if it is possible for them to do so, which is why people from Western democracies are joining the Caliphate on a one-way ticket. Apparently, in one ISIS propaganda video you’ll find a group of jihadists burning their French, British, and Australian passports.
Again this parallels the Tower of Babel story in that the people who wanted to build the tower separated themselves from everybody else. We’re taught that this is a natural separation because the holy cannot be with the profane (AC 1326). Evil people actually don’t like to be around good people. Likewise people who are profaning Islam, that is, mixing good external worship with evil internal motives, cannot be with those who are in the true worship of Allah. So perhaps the creation of ISIS isn’t just about mis-management of the the middle east, but rather that there is an even more powerful spiritual principle at play: that good and evil people just separate from each other naturally. The result is that we are now able to see the evil much more clearly, which will prevent people from being duped into taking on these beliefs.
In the end, we see that the Lord interfered and prevented the Tower of Babel from being built. When the Israelites were captives in Babylon, He brought them back. Eventually He will bring about an end to ISIS one way or another. He has been fighting for us against the love of self for a long, long time. He’s won this battle before, and He’ll win it again. After all, the Lord Jesus Christ reigns.