Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Irrational" Actors Worshiping the End of Days: ISIS, George W. Bush, and the Christian Right

Is ISIS a rational actor? Is ISIS an irrational group motivated by religious fundamentalism and an End Times eschatological belief system? Or is ISIS acting "rationally" within the framework of its political-religious ideology?

America and the West's opinion leaders in the commercial news media would like the public to believe the second.

To wit.

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.

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.
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.

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?


balitwilight said...

In my opinion, ISIS is just as "rational" or "irrational" as any group of human beings seeking power through violence. There is a combination of rational motives nurtured by irrational belief systems that are used to whitewash/justify the goals of the group. All human groups have demonstrated the capacity to combine these to pursue their ends with the most ruthless of means, and to rationalize.

Our own unacknowledged irrational belief system includes A) Inflating the power/importance of "ISIS" =and= B) Misrepresenting the nobility and "objective virtue" of our own violence to rationalize our continued groping for power and control over the people of Western Asia, and the current American oligarchy's need for Orwellian endless war. ("ISIS is a threat!!!").

Alleging that one's enemy is irrational is a transparent propaganda technique. After all - if they are an irrational "death cult", then there is no thoughtful discussion to be had around what part we may have played in creating the situation, why they are now doing what they are doing, what their realistic goals are, what originated the conditions, and whether even more of our own colonial interventionism and mega-violence is justifiable.

OldPolarBear said...

Gog and Magog ... way back in the day, when cable TV was still sort of a newish thing, I used to work nights and would channel surf in the daytime. Occasionally I would land on the Christian Broadcasting Network when its flagship show The 700 Club was on. The odious (and now increasingly decrepit) Pat Robertson was younger and much more ambulatory. He used to waddle around on the stage in front of an enormous wall map, flailing away with a pointer at the Mideast and Russia, babbling about Gog and Magog.

For decades, as the Christian Right went from strength to strength, a lot of the coastal elites in the media treated them as a big joke, something that happened in flyover country. In the meantime, the country-club Republicans also laughed behind their backs and thought they were using the yahoos as cannon fodder in the war to loot the country. We are well into the end game of all that now. A great many people actually hope for global thermonuclear war -- they think it will be the fulfillment of the prophecies in Revelation.

The global culture, which is to say, the culture of the United States, globalized, is nothing more than a death cult. It is a culture of necrophilia and wants to kill everything, including the Earth. As Derrick Jensen, who I mentioned here the other day, says, "the dominant culture hates everything, including itself." I wish I knew what to do, but I really don't think we are going to survive much longer.

OldPolarBear said...

I think that we are the death cult. There are others, too, of course. Some of them are imitating us, and some come up with their own versions.

You are right spot on about the irrationality thing. I have heard it about every "enemy" of the United States since I was a child. For years, it was the Russians who were "crazy" -- Sting even wrote a song about it! The Chinese were crazy, the Vietnamese were crazy (they didn't value life the way WE do). Everybody was crazy but us.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

"I wonder, does the Christian Right want to punish "apostates" and "non-believers""

I was going to be judicious, but then I thought about something, looked into and decided against fairness toward the Christian Right on this issue.

I thought about abusive Christian homes. There are homes where a child shows little interest in Christianity and this is cause for abuse from the parents.

Then I read this:
"6,000 pastors were asked how they would counsel women who came to them for help with domestic violence. Twenty-six percent would counsel them ... to continue to "submit" to her husband, no matter what. Twenty-five percent told wives the abuse was their own fault—for failing to submit in the first place.

"Astonishingly, 50 percent said women should be willing to "tolerate some level of violence" because it is better than divorce."

There are already Christian homes that exercise a degree of autonomy from local and national government and impose a strictness of scripture through violence.

Would they do it to others if the local and national government's subverted to their interests? Yes.

Dan Kasteray said...

Isis is smart. Totally amoral and devoid of empathy but its nor insanity. They've got their own independent funding stream so they're not dependent on the Saudis. They're good at publicity, which any terrorist organization needs to have. And they can't be beat by religious motivated actions. They cannot be beat by people who can't remember the past and can't learn from their mistakes.

Also fuck George Orwell with a cactus. Hitler did not have an underdog quality to him. He was the same breed as ted Cruz or John boner in us congress. All were lying grifters who told stupid people that their hatred and jealousy was good. Shit, mein Kampf sounds word for word written by a teabagger.

If he'd lived today Orwell would have been a faux liberal whore pimping himself out on Sean Hannity.

Dan Kasteray said...

A new scientific study says ignoring trolls empowers them. I suspect that the same goes for the religious right

Wild Cat said...

Orwell? I think he'd be Christopher Hitchens, drunk, raving, and nicotine stained, farting out another column about "Bill Clinton, Rapist and Murderer" and getting erect at the thought of sending heroic American boys into battle with no end. (Hey! War mongering pays well.)

balitwilight said...

One thing Orwell did appreciate was the sinister power of language unconsciously adopted and used.
It appears to me that ISIS is primarily a ferocious armed group fighting in a regional war, and committing atrocities, war crimes and crimes against humanity. What makes them a "terrorist organisation" that did not make, let's say the Khmer Rouge, a "terrorist organisation"? And why is ISIS a "terrorist organisation" that does not earn other despicable actors (some very familiar to you) today the same label?
- I ask this question because the phrase "terrorist organisation" qualifies as an ORWELLIAN phrase in today's usage: used to propagandise and to inflame rather than to explain. And used to justify endless war (which Orwell knew something about). One could start with a definition of "terrorism".

Dan Kasteray said...

I lost respect for hitchens when he came out in support of the Iraq war. It was time to say goodbye to the hitch at that point

Dan Kasteray said...

I go in the opposite direction with the phrase terrorist organization isn't used enough and not on the right people. I believe Isis are terrorists and so is the GOP and the conservative party of Canada. Terrorists are people who work and live to strike terror into people's hearts to achieve a goal. The GOP, the anti abortion movement, the pro austerity parties in Europe. They're all terrorists

balitwilight said...

If everything is a cucumber, then there is no such thing as a cucumber anymore.
Terrorism is "the use of violence or threatened violence against civilians in order to achieve political, social or ideological goals." Now - that does make a lot of actions taken by a lot of groups terrorist actions, doesn't it - including the US government other governments as well. Yet you don't hear these referred to as "terrorist organisations". That phrase is reserved for those whom the US establishment (and its satellites) want to direct a certain kind of violence against for their own cynical purposes.
- So my point was that one should identify acts of terrorism, yes, equally and universally applied. But ought not to adopt the language of the US establishment "ISIS is a TERRORIST ORGANIZATION!!!" especially when Obama is using that excuse right this very minute to promote authorisation to further the United States' $5 billion-dollars-a-month endless enterprise of dropping bombs on, and assassinating people in, other countries. Because if the US seriously wanted to justify bombing people who commit acts of terrorism, they could start right here with right wing extremist groups.

Dan Kasteray said...

Simply because something isn't called a terrorist organization doesn't mean that it isn't. The USA is one of the largest purveyors of global terror. The kkk is virtually never called terrorist on any media. Also the USA doesn't own the word terrorism; there's no copyright on that term or stamp of ownership.

I disagree, let's use the bastards language against them, similar to how members of the African American community reclaim certain racial slurs designed by white people to be weapons or feminist writers who reclaim misogynistic words as empowerment. This is a case where taking the high road does nothing.

balitwilight said...

If we've each taken different paths to arrive at the same ethical conclusion, that is OK with me. Since nobody is advocating reasonably or ethically that China start dropping bombs on the United States, or assassinating American elites to "Stop Terrorism!!! and Protect Religious Minorities!!! (in this case Muslims)" - then you and I can reasonably agree that the United States has NO justification to bomb or assassinate in Syria - no matter how much it dislikes ISIS.

Wild Cat said...

In the '90s he must have been hard up for liquor and cigarette money. Or his wet brain was just starting. He was a rightist tool way before 9/11. He wrote utter Alex Jones-type drivel about Clinton. His failure about Iraq should void him of any legacy.

William H. Gass wrote an excellent piece for Harper's last year on how Orwell's own diaries are self-deceptions. Yes, if Orwell lived, he'd be a Whittaker Chambers type, IMHO. The Tories pay more in the UK for rent boys, and he knew it.

RIP Alexander Cockburn.

Dan Kasteray said...

As much as I loved seeing him trash blair during that TV debate, I knew he was lying through his teeth when he said that he got more from alcohol than it got from him. Like when Dawkins turned misogynist, there was a time when their faults became too great to ignore and I had to say goodbye.
Now I'm definitely going to have to look up Alex Cockburn. You've got me interested.

Dan Kasteray said...

Well to paraphrase you, if you're in a room full of nothing but cucumbers then calling them all what they are will not void them in any way. And while I do call ISIS terrorists, I am in no way arguing for an Iraq style war with them. Just the opposite, the USA can deal with ISIS when they've dealt with the Klan and the sovereign citizens, the Timothy McVeigh movement and all the other freaks who due to their whiteness avoid the terrorism label. And for that matter, the phrase terrorists badly needs to stop having racial connotations.
I'm no fan of war either and my faith in Western leaders has been dead since I was twelve.

joe manning said...

Perhaps the best way to strengthen our liberal values is to acknowledge our culpability in endless war. The US war machine drives certain segments of the world's population to the very irrationality espoused by ISIS and Christian fundamentalism. We can't preserve basic universal cognitive standards while simultaneously committing genocide.

Buddy H said...

Jesus, I remember how we laughed at Reagan when he first ran for president. "No way he can get elected!"

SW said...

And W.

SW said...

I just saw on CNN a map showing ISIS held cities and "liberated" cities. Felt like 2003 all over again.

Wild Cat said...


He's gone. He warned the left about Hitchens for a decade before he died from cancer.

Unlike Hitchens, who blogged his death for more attention and money, Cockburn died with dignity, his illness known only to a few.

Sadly, he'll be known best for being Olivia Wilde's uncle.

chauncey devega said...

Excellent and essential. Grown folks talk about serious matters.

As someone with the background and skill set, how much of ISIS' legitimate atrocities are being amplified by the West's intelligence apparatuses? Seems so much like World War 1 and Gulf War 1 stuff.

balitwilight said...

Bottom line - and very simple to express:
United States, stay the hell out of Syria and stop interfering in Western Asia and Africa. A century of experience has demonstrated that the citizens of nations who militarily interfere in other countries eventually suffer more than if they had not interfered.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

The Intelligence services do not have to do anything--the 24/7 news cycle drives that. The media have to attract eyeballs and fill time with dribble from "experts" who either are not experts, or, they have a hidden agenda in driving conflict which means more business for the Beltway Bandits. What the Intelligence services cannot do or are doing a poor job at is constructing an alternative narrative to keep ISIS from recruiting in the Middle East and Europe and America.

Our national security elites--at least those we can see in think tanks, congressional staffs, both parties in Congress on the Armed Services, Intelligence, and Foreign Affairs committees, and the administration's political appointees are not competent. Just look at the Democratic Party: the best the party can do right now is to recycle a Clinton as either the 3rd Clinton or the 3rd Obama administration. There is no new thinking at the top of the party. The GOP? Please.

I've been reading some inside scoops from Intelligence experts who say that post-9/11 they have never seen a CIA--which is where much of the strategic analysis is done--staffed by young, inexperienced, untested college graduates with managers retiring or else leaving in droves.

In short, my fear is that probably the most experienced intelligence analysts are probably in the Defense Intelligence Agency and the DoD's intelligence centers who are under pressure, like the CIA, to produce analyses that protect their "rice bowls."

Eisenhower was right--fear the military-industrial complex.

Any sane American should wonder why 13 years after 9/11 we have produced more terrorists operating in more countries than existed on the planet on September 10, 2001. If that does not suggest a failure of strategic purpose, then nothing will.

James Estrada-Scaminaci III said...

And one other thing. It is so common place in America to hear leaders of organizations extoll "thinking out of the box." That is nonsensical. The individual who thinks "out of the box" is an unconventional person; they may have habits or hobbies you don't like; thoughts you think impure; or, in some other ways are annoying (comb their hair, wear their clothes etc). To get a security clearance you have to conform to certain strict norms like almost never having taken a hit of weed or whatever. They recruit and hire conformists. Now, you want them to think as a non-conformist? People who wear their hair short, their shoes highly polished, who watch every word they say, who believe in magical beings, who conform in all aspects--you want them to be unconventional, violate rules of thought, go against the herd mentality? I never saw it work. Here is what happens: the leader calls for ideas out of the box and everybody sits quietly because they know that "thinking out of the box" is going to bring ridicule, or, worse, a bad evaluation. Goodbye career. Better to be a careerist and conform and be safe. One of my first bosses told me that I would not go far in the Intelligence Community because I told people what they did not want to hear--they were wrong. I had no social graces, no tact, no empathy. But, I never steered them wrong.

Dan Kasteray said...

Scary isn't it? Feels like we're all actors in a warhammer 40k novel

Dan Kasteray said...

A white racist voter will gladly watch his children suffer and die as long as a black man's children are suffering more

kokanee said...

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.

Really? We are permitted to invade their countries, impose artificial borders on their people, corrupt their leaders and government and terrorize/assassinate their people at will but they are not allowed self-determination and to assassinate a few westerners? Really?

Courtney H. said...

Speaking of Reagan ...


balitwilight said...

Agreed. The point there being not that anybody should assassinate anybody else, but that American citizens (much like the Good Germans of the '30s) are too eager to give their government permission to act out in the world in ways that are illegal and immoral. The United States has no basis under international law to stage attacks in Syria - and no moral ground to bribe Saudi Arabia to to this, or Jordan to do that.
The British (after treating the world much the same way) have largely given up on a colonial empire that never sets - but apparently many American citizens still buy the propaganda that anything that is purely "a threat" to American hegemony is "A THREAT!!" to their children walking safely to school in San Diego.

KissedByTheSun said...

I know I'm late to the party but has anyone read this report?