ISIL's aims and appeals
by Robert Fulford

(The National Post, 21 November 2015)

The outrage that traumatized Paris last weekend, and sent a shiver of foreboding across the planet, has altered the place of radical Islam in our mental map of the world. The president of France, François Hollande, said his country will make "pitiless" war against ISIL - and France sent off warplanes to prove it. That's a humanly angry response but most of us are still trying to absorb the new global reality that ISIL now forces us to live within.

There are several terrorist gangs that resemble ISIL or the Islamic State (as it calls itself ) or Daesh (as some Arabs call it, in derision - it can mean "bigot"). But powerful and unprecedented arrogance shifts ISIL into a category all its own.

Only ISIL makes a point of boasting about its crimes, to the point of advertising them by video in all their horror. Only ISIL manipulates social media to recruit soldiers from around the world, stirring into action disaffected young people whose families and neighbours never dreamt they could be attracted to a source of pure evil. And only ISIL has unlimited ambitions. It doesn't want to capture some part of the Middle East or discourage foreigners from exercising power there. It wants to gather together large swathes of oil-rich real estate from collapsing tyrants and claim it as a world-conquering caliphate.

Contemplating that fanatical agenda, we have to reconsider the way we think about Islam. What is it? Sheema Khan, a Muslim commentator in The Globe and Mail, hopes to see Islam "as a faith rooted in compassion, generosity and pluralism." But the distance between that idea and the declared goal of ISIL is infinite, as Khan knows.

How can the same body of faith encourage feelings of peace and tolerance

for some adherents when it also inspires ISIL, whose beliefs would justify a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia if they appeared in any other context?

Every move of ISIL offends our sense of human dignity and yet we know that a few thousand people in the West have chosen to follow it, in preference to our own society. This contradiction will leave us puzzled and disturbed unless we try to see it through the thoughts of ISIL followers - the hard core of originals and leaders, not the new recruits.

Mirror-thinking is a grave error, the temptation to guess that opponents are much like us and respond to life as we respond. To avoid that mistake we must imagine a radically different belief system. We must consider growing up among people who preach the radical Islamist way.

Following that course, consider that we have been taught, by families or clergy, to follow Sharia law and to believe that those who do not follow it are outside divine teaching. We have learned that the West is a reeking cauldron of sin that celebrates pornography and routinely turns women into prostitutes. Freedom of speech, democracy, male-female equality, religious tolerance, science - those are meaningless or poisonous, either mistakes or intentionally evil.

While the West finds life increasingly complicated, radical Islam finds it altogether simple, reducible to a bundle of clear rules. Non-believers, including Shia Muslims, are infidels, not entitled to live. A true Islamic soldier who dies in battle goes immediately to paradise, so death can be preferable to life.

The most terrifying fact about the Paris murders is their location. They involved careful planning and co-ordination, apparently from a distance, a sign that ISIL has decided to globalize its activities for the first time. In the last year, certain ISIL-influenced lone-wolf terrorists have attacked targets outside the Middle East, including the Canadian Parliament, but the ambitious multi-part killings in Paris are a new development. They carry a threat that could become, if ISIL is not stopped, a part of modern life for a long time. With enough effort this form of warfare could destroy urban life in Europe and beyond. Survival for the West would mean living like Israel, knowing that we are facing an unpredictable threat that we can't eliminate but can only limit within our borders.

I remember the chill I felt, 13 years ago, when Efraim Inbar, an Israeli political science professor, outlined during a Toronto seminar his view that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might not be settled for a long time. It could go on and on. Why? "We live in a terrible neighbourhood," he said - the Middle East. His words came back to me when I heard the details about Paris. Perhaps ISIL is on the way to making the whole world a terrible neighbourhood.

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