America and the West's opinion leaders in the commercial news media would like the public to believe the second.
Today, one of CNN's lede stories is, "Why does ISIS keep making enemies?".
It contains the following observations and claims:
ISIS keeps surprising the world and its actions do indeed seem to make no sense or are self-destructive.
So what is going on here?
A key window into understanding ISIS is its English language "in-flight magazine" Dabiq. Last week the seventh issue of Dabiq was released, and a close reading of it helps explains ISIS' world view.
The mistake some make when viewing ISIS is to see it as a rational actor. Instead, as the magazine documents, its ideology is that of an apocalyptic cult that believes that we are living in the end times and that ISIS' actions are hastening the moment when this will happen...
The name of the Dabiq magazine itself helps us understand ISIS' worldview. The Syrian town of Dabiq is where the Prophet Mohammed is supposed to have predicted that the armies of Islam and "Rome" would meet for the final battle that will precede the end of time and the triumph of true Islam.
In the recent issue of Dabiq it states: "As the world progresses towards al-Malhamah al-Kubrā, ('the Great Battle' to be held at Dabiq) the option to stand on the sidelines as a mere observer is being lost." In other words, in its logic, you are either on the side of ISIS or you are on the side of the Crusaders and infidels.
When American aid worker Peter Kassig was murdered by ISIS in November, "Jihadi John" -- the masked British murderer who has appeared in so many ISIS videos -- said of Kassig: "We bury the first crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the rest of your armies to arrive."
In other words, ISIS wants a Western ground force to invade Syria, as that will confirm the prophecy about Dabiq.CNN's story draws heavily from Graeme Wood's excellent piece at the Atlantic, where Wood concludes in chilling fashion that:
In reviewing Mein Kampf in March 1940, George Orwell confessed that he had “never been able to dislike Hitler”; something about the man projected an underdog quality, even when his goals were cowardly or loathsome. “If he were killing a mouse he would know how to make it seem like a dragon.” The Islamic State’s partisans have much the same allure. They believe that they are personally involved in struggles beyond their own lives, and that merely to be swept up in the drama, on the side of righteousness, is a privilege and a pleasure—especially when it is also a burden.
Fascism, Orwell continued, is psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life … Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.ISIS is a threat to both regional and global security. It should be contained if possible. If this is not feasible, ISIS should be eliminated by all available means as a power that holds territory, commands resources, and can project power outside of its borders.
Nor, in the case of the Islamic State, its religious or intellectual appeal. That the Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model. Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the end of time.
America is a country without a memory...except for empty nostalgia, lying platitudes about the "Founding Fathers", and worshipfulness towards lies such as American Exceptionalism, and psychopathic "heroes" such as the former Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle.
And because the corporate news media is an agent for this amnesia, few voices have a public platform to speak to the obvious: ISIS was the blowback of failed American militarism and interventions in the Near East.
The second truth that few in the mainstream news media will dare to utter: President George W. Bush was possessed of a belief in the End Times and Biblical Armageddon; those fantastical ideas influenced (directly and indirectly) his decision to invade Iraq and bring ruin to many millions of people.
The Guardian discussed Bush's union of religious zealotry and politics here:
President Jacques Chirac wanted to know what the hell President Bush had been on about in their last conversation. Bush had then said that when he looked at the Middle East, he saw "Gog and Magog at work" and the biblical prophecies unfolding. But who the hell were Gog and Magog? Neither Chirac nor his office had any idea. But they knew Bush was an evangelical Christian, so they asked the French Federation of Protestants, who in turn asked Professor Römer.
He explained that Gog and Magog were, to use theological jargon, crazy talk. They appear twice in the Old Testament, once as a name, and once in a truly strange prophecy in the book of Ezekiel...Who are all these people? The best opinion is that like all Bible prophecy, it is a mixture of wish-fulfilment and contemporary (iron age) politics. Some of it at least seems to refer to the turmoil brought about by Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC (unlike Bush, Alexander actually conquered Afghanistan). But they have been for the last two hundred years the subject of increasingly excited evangelical fanfic, especially in America; in the 70s and 80s, Gog was meant to be Russia. Ronald Reagan seems to have believed that.If ISIS is possessed by irrational madness because of their religious beliefs about prophecy and End Times theology, then Bush and the millions of members of the Christian Right who believe such things are equally mad. It would seem that the dialectic and fulcrum of history as seen in America's recent failed policies in the Middle East, as well as ISIS's barbarism, are a reflection of religious madness as public policy--and a cover for the deep game that is control over resources and money.
The Christian Fascists and American religious right hold ignorant and fantastical beliefs about God bequeathing them the Earth to spoil and ruin, anointed them as agents of God's will in hating gays and lesbians, that it is divine to oppress women, and that they as "true believers" are tools to bring about prophecy and the End of Days.
ISIS shares many, if not all, of the same irrational, anti-modern, and anti-Enlightenment beliefs.
I worry that the American Christian Right is in fact jealous of ISIS because they have the ability to enforce their theocratic vision in a way that the Christian Dominionists and Reconstructionists wish for in the United States. Cultural norms, habits, traditions, and standing consensus bargains about secular values and liberalism prevent (for now) the American theocrats from fully forcing their will on the general public.
I wonder, does the Christian Right want to punish "apostates" and "non-believers" just as ISIS does to the poor souls under its control, where the former are restrained only because they lack the present opportunity to act in the same way?