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What Is (Who Are) The Islamic State? (1 of ?)

November 15, 2015

Or, The Reunion of God and Man

Or, Megalomaniacal Monomania, The Fantasy of the One. True. Me.

Or, How Sick Can the Imagination Get (as if we didn’t know)

Or, from my personal point of view, The Way that can be named is not the Everlasting Way

Because IS looks to me to be all too familiar, in its fundamentalist ideology, to aspects of the psychopathology of American democracy (such as an “us/them” imagination), I want to include some thinking about it in this novel.

For instance, it appears in the video of Dr. Carson’s Prayer Breakfast speech as though he received special applause for his emphasis on the phrase, “under God,” as he closed. We can ask, what do he and his main body of followers, evangelical Christian fundamentalists, see that phrase as meaning, and how is it related to what they consider to be the meaning of another phrase that is important to their concept of America, “American exceptionalism.”

I’ll begin by recommending a very informative article in The Atlantic, by Graeme Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants.”

Near the beginning of the article, Wood writes:

“We can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world…. Its rise to power is…like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.”

And later: “For certain true believers—the kind who long for epic good-versus-evil battles—visions of apocalyptic bloodbaths fulfill a deep psychological need.”

There is much, much more information and explanation in the article.

It strikes me that if Wood’s account is accurate, the ideological imagination of the people of IS is very similar to that of militant fundamentalists in all religions. Stories of righteousness and purification, God’s apocalyptic design of human history, and God’s chosen people, for instance. However, IS offers no story of a personal Savior, just warrior prophets. And to me the IS imagery looks more extreme than most, in its fascination with domination/subjugation, righteous murder, and theatrical bloodlust.

For people who don’t share the IS religious imagination of life, the main question is, how much damage are they willing to inflict, how much damage do they desire to inflict, to serve their God? What fulfills their imaginations of themselves and others?

Wood: “Choudary took pains to present the laws of war under which the Islamic State operates as policies of mercy rather than of brutality. He told me the state has an obligation to terrorize its enemies—a holy order [in the Koran] to scare the shit out of them with beheadings and crucifixions and enslavement of women and children, because doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict.”

This conflict, however, is between people who want liberal, open, democratic societies, and the people of IS, who want a world in which everyone bows to a single idea, a single, enforced imagination of life. I’m thinking that IS can only defeat liberal societies if those societies first come to be controlled by the anti-liberal members of those societies.

[Update: Wood interviewed advanced Islamic thinkers; what about the thinking of ordinary soldiers? Please see page 3.

12-7-15 At the end of this brief article in The Atlantic, in which Peter Beinert discusses how Pres. Obama views ISIS, in contrast to how the Right Wing of Republicans typically see it, there is a 5 minute filmed interview with Graeme Wood about his research to write “What ISIS Really Wants.”]


{Page 2; Contents page to this lengthy episode}

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