What would you give me for a medical marvel? If I offered you a means of gathering all the cancerous cells in a body in one easily excisable place, where one swipe of a sharp knife could affect a cure, what wreaths and garlands would you lay at my feet?
It is an intriguing thought, taking that which spreads and is difficult to track, and accumulating it away from vital organs ready for surgery.
Now imagine the disease is not of the body but of society: a menace spreading lethal tendrils across borders. A disease with its roots in the virus that is Salafism, and that was incubated and nurtured in the laboratory of the Taliban and Al Qaida. The cancer magnet is ISIS.
Hundreds have left these isles already to associate themselves with brutality and evil, and hundreds more have joined them from an array of nations. Surely this is a good thing. Lunatics who would be a danger to us have been attracted away to become cannon fodder. At worst we can close our borders to their return, at best they’ll be permanently removed when high speed brass becomes precision radiotherapy.
ISIS is society’s cancer magnet, should we lay wreaths and garlands at the feet of their progenitors in Saudi Arabia and Qatar?
Should we congratulate ourselves for ignoring decades of warnings*, and thousands of deaths (including the target killing of Shias in Pakistan, but also indicated in the repressive regime in Bahrain, the lack of plurality in Saudi, the list goes on)?
Were we wise to buy oil and sell arms to regimes with this spavined ideology, turning a blind eye to their barbarism for our economic self interest?
Surely the answer is yes. The problems they have generated are on their own doorstep, far from us, and though we lived in fear for a time, and went chasing henchmen rather than masterminds for 9/11 and 7/7, the poison is now being sucked out of our cities and sent over there.
And yet something in all this sits uneasily in me. What is it in our free, open society that leaves young men seeking validation in violence, and women willing themselves into sexual slavery as jihadi brides? What could possibly be attractive in a group that kills with indiscriminate abandon and advocates the rape of captive women? It is an abomination and abhorrent and offends every human sensibility. So why are the disaffected and misguided taken in by it. Why are they going?
More worryingly why is it that in some Sunni circles, where there is an affinity with the cold austerity of the Salafist creed, there is a quiet appreciation of ISIS actions?
It is a problem in two parts. The latter is an issue of the slippery slope. Salafism leaves no room for the human heart, it has no accommodation with variety and individuality. The inhumanity of ISIS is merely the logical conclusion from that first step of flawed interpretation of Islam.
The ideology is quickly debunked, evidence easily visible in the Quran and Hadiths (non Quranic sayings of the Prophet Muhammad) lay bare the paucity of its spiritual and intellectual underpinnings. At its core is an error in one book of Hadith that a cursory examination of the other major works would reveal. The willful withholding of this evidence is crime of faith, perpetrated with the purpose of sealing the hold of the House of Saud over the Arabian peninsula.
Its key is therefore not in hearts and minds, but in power. Power now fueled by oil money, which funds madressas across the globe: mosquitoes for the virus. How tragic that the liquidity for spreading hate is the oil we buy, from the regime we tolerate, in the name of economic security. That money enslaves entire states, and when the only message their citizens hear is this stunted mutation, overriding local interpretations and cultural modifications, then can we hold those people solely culpable, or are we complicit in their religious bondage?
The other issue of attractiveness is a more challenging one. It is the con of distraction. The untrained eye sees the piety and observance of prayer, fasting and the ordinances of faith, and misses that the spiritual core is broken, that the substance of the litany makes no sense. If you fall for the first premise the rest follows. And therein lies the attraction. Salafism is internally consistent and true to its ugly rules, while our system of politics and our society is mired in grey areas where the rules don’t apply, or only apply to a few, or favour some over others.
The disaffected from our flawed but compassionate environment look across at something that seems whole and consistent, unable to identify the fallacy at its core.
The finger of blame sways and points at many. Foremost are the Islamic nations. Their denunciation of ISIS is not enough. They must act to cut the funding and support flowing across their own borders, they must realise that no political gain is worth suffering the existence of this evil. That is harder than it looks, evidenced by Turkey, a NATO member yet only a grudging and foot dragging participant in the effort to end ISIS.
But we must also look to ourselves. Inequality is rife in our own countries. We vilify the poor as feckless and complicit in their poverty, unwilling to get on the wealth bandwagon, while their opportunities to participate are starved. We have, collectively, elected governments for decades that put prosperity ahead of principle, trading with and supporting selected dictators and going to war in the name of freedom and democracy with others. We have let them stand silent while the voices calling for freedom have themselves been silenced.
Take a young person in a spiritual vacuum, educate them, and then show them an increasing gap between rich and poor, politicians with no moral compass, and social and financial systems designed to protect the wealthy. Then show them a pious man, eschewing wealth and making a stand against this system, hide the flaw in his religion that means he has no room for compassion, and then lead the recruit to the conclusion everyone else is wrong, and must be killed. It is not fiction, it is happening.
The flaw in our society has collided with the ideological flaw that is Salafism. The result is bodies willing to stand beneath the ISIS flag. For us to collect its adherents somewhere between Iraq and Syria and bomb them may be cathartic, but it will be fruitless unless we address all the causes.
Holding Saudi Arabia, Qatar et al to account is a start. Sunni scholars lifting the veil on the true Hadith is essential, but we must also address the disaffection on our own shores, lest it find expression somewhere else.
A cancer magnet may remove the sickness for a time, but it is not a cure. Hold your wreaths and garlands, there is much work to do yet.
* you could argue that it is centuries of warnings: see this from the successor of the Prophet Muhammad and fourth caliph of Islam from about 1400 years ago:
“If you see the black flags then remain on the gound and do not move a hand or a leg. A group of weaklings will then appear their hearts are like iron. They are the owners of the state. They fulfill neither a contract nor a covenant. They call to the truth, but they are not its people. Their names are a kunya (i.e. Abu so and so) and their lineages (surnames) are a town. [my note: vide Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi]. Their hair is unwinding like the hair of women. Do this until they differ between themselves, then Allah will give the right to whomever He desires.”
Ali Ibn Abu Talib; Kitaab Al-Fitan, Nu’aym bin Hammad. Hadith #557
More thoughts on the growth of terror in I am Cassandra, you are Niemoller
Some reflections on Satire and Faith in Islam Needs Satire, and some reactionary fiction in A Sacrifice for Satire
If you are interested in my storytelling look here.