When faced with the reality of their abhorrent behaviour, especially when they appear to relish and delight in proudly promoting it, a rather natural thought is that they are simply crazy, or to be a tad more clinical, they are a gang of psychopaths.
A psychopath is an individual who acts in an uninhibited manner without any empathy or remorse, they do not feel what we feel, and act in a totally self-centred manner.
On the surface that appears to fit. However, the problem with the application of this label to ISIS is that they are organised and adhere to a very strict ideology. To hold that together requires loyalty and strict behaviour control, and so being a psychopath in that context would simply not work, so clearly something else is going on.
What does make them tick, what drives and motivates them?
What is clear is that many truly do not understand them.
ISIS are Islamic
As recently well-articulated by one Muslim in a recent FB posting …
ISIS attackers scream ‘Allah hu’akbar’ during their attacks.
ISIS recruits cite Qur’anic verses as justification for the rape and enslavement of women.
ISIS soldiers kill archaeologists, gay men and women, and people who refuse to convert to Islam because they are blasphemers.
There are no Christians in ISIS. There are no Buddhists, Jews, Pagans, Taoists, Houngans, Catholics, Wiccans, Hindus or even Scientologists in ISIS. ISIS is a Muslim organisation and they kill in the name of Islam.
… and so we should also not forget that the vast majority of Muslims oppose them. To label them Islamic (or to be a bit more precise “Islamists”) need not be a slur upon ever Muslim, because Islam is like all beliefs – there is a vast diversity of conflicting ideas and thoughts.
Fanatical religious belief can and does override normal human empathy by psychologically tricking adherents into accepting that the belief is the ultimate high moral ground and that everybody and everything else is inferior and lost in darkness. Our history is littered with examples, but we need not look back and can instead look around us.
To take some local more familiar examples …
- Westboro Baptist Church have made themselves famous by turning up and picketing funerals. You might think that normal human empathy should clue them in that this is a rather obnoxious thing to do, but instead fanatical belief overrides that by convincing them that this is something they must do because it is the right thing to do.
- We live in a world where there is now a far greater acceptance of gay people. Opposed to them asking for tolerance and equality are … (yep, you guessed it) … religious people. The only argument they have is, “the bible says …”, or “the quran says …”, and so despite normal human empathy screaming to them that this is a morally repugnant stance, religious belief tricks them into truly thinking that being born gay is deeply immoral.
What do ISIS believe?
A fascinating insight into this is gleaned from an article written by Robert Evens, a chap who poured through every issue of their slickly produced magazine – Dabiq.
Everything is the Will of Allah …
…ISIS also doesn’t shy away from showing off their own nightmarish brutality…Eventually, after dozens of articles, I started to understand: Every story of some terrorist attack or execution started with “thanks be to Allah for this” or some comment about how the tragedy was part of the “perfect will” of Allah. It’s the same thing as the Westboro Baptist Church praising hurricanes and IEDs because, if God is all-powerful, then even awful and ugly things are God’s will and, thus, to be celebrated.
They believe themselves to be the hand of Allah to bring the apocalypse, the end of days. The idea they embrace is that the armies of the west will be turned to a pillar of Salt in Dabiq, (hence the name of their magazine – not available in W H Smiths) and for that to happen, they need to provoke the west into invading …
Every issue of Dabiq begins with the same quote: “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify — by Allah’s permission — until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.” …Dabiq is an area in Northern Syria where, according to prophecy, Allah will do the whole “pillar of salt” thing on the armies of the West. For that to happen, we need to actually put our armies in Dabiq first. One thing reading 11 issues of Dabiq makes very clear is that ISIS considers a future U.S.-led invasion to be inevitable. They view the regional powers around them as destined to fall and, when that happens, in rides Uncle Sam and out pops the apocalypse.
Death is something they embrace as a reward for being a slave of Allah …
Within the context of ISIS propaganda, being killed by a hellfire rocket isn’t a bad thing. And for the thousands and thousands of fighters who willingly flock to their banner, it’s the only expected outcome of that choice. The fanatics who signed up to fight are eager to die.
Their big number one enemy, is not the US, nor the West, but rather is other Muslims …
the primary target of their hatred is not the United States. It’s not France or Russia, either. The one “enemy” they devote more time to ranting against than anyone else is the “apostate Muslim.” The vast majority of people ISIS kills are Muslims. They use one slur in particular — “Safawi” — to refer to Shiite Muslims. That word is a play on the name of the Safavid dynasty, which ruled Persia in the 15-17th centuries and which you almost certainly haven’t heard of even though soldiers for the most notoriously evil organization in the world use it as a curse every day.
Fanatical Belief is what they are truly all about
They quite honestly believe that what they are doing is moral and right, and that everybody else is wrong. They live by a literal interpretation of the Quran. To get your head around that, imagine somebody who embraced the Book of Leviticus and also Revelation as texts to live their daily life by, the entire package quite literally, including the stoning, slavery and apocalypse. Grasp that, and then you might begin to get inside their heads.
We are being played
- They want us to reject all Muslims and react against them, so that they are then pushed in their direction.
- They want us to fear and reject the refugees who are fleeing them and all they stand for. They are horrified that so many have simply walked away and abandoned them, and they desperately want people to flee to them, not away from them
- They want us to respond violently, to bomb and then invade them, and for all the nations of the world to be set against them, it is part of their belief that this is a necessary part for the apocalypse that they so desperately relish and adore.
What we should do instead is to welcome the refugees with open arms and embrace our fellow humans who want no part of this religious lunacy and have no desire to ever go back. We should understand the absurd ideas that makes ISIS tick and directly attack this absurd nonsense that attempts to reach out and infect so many, the ultimate battlefield is not in Dabiq or Syria, but is indeed inside the heads and hearts of the many who sit on the fence and are being entranced and ensnared by this variation of religious belief that can and does inject itself psychologically into humans and truly corrupts and blinds them.