According to Sebastian Gorka, ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, also known as Daesh, is simply another form of totalitarianism, a political regime seen under Hitler and Nazi Germany that recognizes no limit to its authority and attempts to permeate every aspect of public and private life. However, Shadi Hamid claims that Middle Eastern tensions can reach peaceful processes if “we come to terms with Islam’s presence in public life [there]”. Yet, when viewed through a totalitarian lens, peace with ISIL and other jihad-driven Muslim groups seems difficult, even impossible, to attain.
America, the world’s supreme superpower, must take action to stop totalitarianism wherever it arises. This is how we have engaged in the past, and this is how we swore to act in the Truman Doctrine, which outlined the principle that U.S. should give support to countries or peoples under communist or totalitarian suppression. Meant to protect both our allies and ourselves, this is how we have achieved victory against totalitarianism in the past during the Fascist Movement and the Soviet Union’s Communism. Passivity, even passive opposition, didn’t work then, and it will never work. Every day that ISIL remains at large brutalizing innocents, terrorizing people groups, spewing hate, and controlling territory, albeit weakly and ineffectively, they are winning. Thus, we are losing.
Granted, as a nation and primary driving force against ISIL, we have struck damaging and significant blows. But as decisive and quantitative as they are, killing enemy units should not be our metric of success. “Islam” means “submission” [to Allah], and Islamist totalitarians have taken that creed to heart and twisted it to justify terror. The current ideology and passion for “religion” will continue to radicalize warriors intent on nothing short of establishing their Islamic State, whatever the cost. When a warrior dies a martyr, it inspires others to take his place. As the Vietnam War demonstrated, defeating this type of opponent does not always require tallying body bags (although military victory is ultimately necessary), but rather it necessitates directly attacking the enemy’s strategy. Gorka says we must sever the warped mindset that compels radical Muslims to become “jihadis”.
Scholars of ISIL tell us that their daily life begins with religion, praying and learning for up to eight hours a day. Many of the “radicals” have cursory understandings of theology, military strategy, and Islamic ways of life in general. Their misinterpretation of the Quran, jihadist fallacies, and totalitarian ways of thinking can be fought off the battlefield, without hindering any progress on the military front. While Shadi Hamid believes that Islam is exceptional in how it relates to politics and the modern state due to its supplementation of law, Katharine Gorka disagrees. She believes the interpretation of the Quran presents a problem, transgressing previously held moral beliefs. This type of moral injury, or trauma to one’s conscience due to perceived moral culpability, can be used as part of a “propaganda campaign”, one of several strategies Sebastian Gorka urgently advocates in his book Defeating Jihad as a primary tool for disarming Islamist ideology and radicalization. Furthermore, Sunni Muslims opposed to ISIL’s actions and doctrine comprise the majority of the victims, a fact often overlooked in discussions about combating ISIL and “jihad” in America today. Empowering and supporting our Sunni allies will be far more effective than individual or disconnected action. America did not disarm totalitarian regimes alone in the past, and we certainly do not have to today.
Dr. Denise Natali , a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies who specializes on the Middle East, believes the fight against ISIL is largely political, and that, rather than focusing only on military solutions, governmental restructuring across the Middle East should be the primary focus. Although, like tallying body bags, political reform and diplomacy alone will not result in a total victory. The Middle Eastern totalitarianism has arisen from fractured government and broken social contracts. Even Cass Sunstein, the author of The World According to Star Wars, notes that “A squabbling legislature driven by partisan passions produces a populist interest in some type of tough guy”, a dynamic that has proven historically true and even appears in George Lucas’ political plots. Gorka cites the Muslim Brotherhood as the origin of modern Islamist groups, and many scholars today have claimed they began as a sort of “New Islamic Populism”.
The author of our Declaration of Independence made an oath “upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny against the mind of man”. However, American rhetoric and strategy against terror and tyranny does not always reflect this type of sentiment. Resisting an Islamic State through ideological warfare should involve strategy and propaganda that promotes religious liberty. Furthermore, it is in America’s interest. Discussing religious liberty, Thomas Jefferson says:
No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion. I know but one code of morality for men whether acting singly or collectively.
Jefferson also knew that liberty, like life, came as a gift from God. When that truth is reviled, he knew that God’s justice would ultimately prevail. But that divine assurance of justice does not mean we can act idly, or be content with anything less than total victory over ISIL and their pursuit of a totalitarian nation-state deprived of liberty. Joseph Loconte highlights the importance of religious liberty, which he claims is deeply connected to other civil freedoms. He quotes Os Guinness, who states:
Without acknowledging the cornerstone place of religious liberty…Muslims will not be able to maintain the integrity of their own faith under the conditions of modernity, let alone learn to live peacefully with others; and America will never create the truly civil and cosmopolitan public square that the world requires today.
If Os is right, what are we to do? If living peacefully hinges on, among other necessities, religious liberty, a privilege scarce in the Middle East but enjoyed in America, is action even required of us? The answer is yes, a thousand times yes. Totalitarianism and the deprivation of religious liberty, though geographically removed, affect America in numerous ways. The frequent attacks of terror on American soil are obvious, tragic examples (though there are other reasons that could be given). The state, fueled and directed by the people, is our sword—our weapon and defense. This concept is derived from the Constitution, and ultimately, from our Maker.
While influencing our government, Christians in the United States should remember their roles as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) and citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) are binding responsibilities, superseding earthly identities and roles. Romans 13 goes farther, relating the inevitable justice of God to “every person”. Every governing authority is instituted by God, and every individual is to be subject to them (v. 1). Whoever resists authorities resists God and will incur His judgement (v. 2). Therefore, rulers ought to incite fear in those who do wrong, since governments “do not bear the sword in vain”. Authorities (“God’s servant for our good”) are “avengers who carry out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (v. 3-4).
While these verses are neither meant to incite a body-bag-counting approach to victory, nor revenge or individual and irrational action (deeds which numerous passages in Scripture teach against), they are meant to enlighten us on the role of governing authorities, their powers and rights, and God’s justice.
Thus, it is America’s duty not only to preserve religious liberty and fight against ISIL and totalitarianism, but also to win. As an authority instituted by God, we must achieve victory to protect our citizens and allies, to uphold liberty, and to execute God’s judgement. To bear the sword, not in vain.
Ryan McDowell is an intern for Providence. He is studying Business Administration and Economics at Pepperdine University.
Photo Credit: Day Donaldson via Flickr