Countering extremism with truth and reason

Sometimes it seems like half of the people are desperately trying to leave Syria while the other half are trying to get there. News this week of another group of women leaving the UK for Syria was even more astonishing that the last because this group took young children with them. A society that condones slavery and crucifixion is not the sort of place I’d want to raise my children.

I just read Graeme Wood’s fantastic article – What ISIS Really Wants – and it sheds some light on why people are drawn to Syria. These are deeply religious people and the Islamic State are following the teachings of Islam with seriousness, obsessiveness, and astonishing literalism. The leading expert on Islam, Bernard Haykel, says Islamic fighters are not cherry-picking from the Koran when they condone things like slavery and crucifixion, they are “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.”

Graeme Wood says:

Muslims can say that slavery is not legitimate now, and that crucifixion is wrong at this historical juncture. Many say precisely this. But they cannot condemn slavery or crucifixion outright without contradicting the Koran and the example of the Prophet. “The only principled ground that the Islamic State’s opponents could take is to say that certain core texts and traditional teachings of Islam are no longer valid,” Bernard Haykel says. That really would be an act of apostasy.

And on calling ISIS anti-Islam, Wood says:

But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.”

Peter Singer wrote a good piece on Countering Islamic Extremism in which he concludes that the only way to counter extremism is to acknowledge its religious basis and to fight with reason. Supporters of ISIS are certain that their beliefs are correct and that all others are wrong. But every other religion in the world is equally certain that their beliefs are correct while everyone else is wrong. They can’t all be right but they could all be wrong.

The British mathematician and philosopher, Bertrand Russell, once said,

I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.