I thought Tom Friedman’s column in today’s NYTimes nicely caught the nuances. Yes, ISIS is certainly Islamic. It’s a version of Islam with its own claim to historical legitimacy. (See the cover story in this month’s Atlantic.) Its appeal, however, is deeply rooted in the dysfunction of Middle Eastern governance.
So for a couple of reasons, we are not at war with Islam. First, because ISIS represents one school of Islam. There are others with a very different point of view. (We know a little about this, don’t we?–Protestants and Catholics, Assemblies of God, Southern Baptists and Episcopalians?)
Second, because most of its supporters are there for non-religious reasons, mainly that they see no good alternatives. There are misanthropic individuals who have latched on to extremist rhetoric as a way of validating their existence; there are Sunni clan leaders who hate the corrupt and intolerant Shia governments they live under. When they get tired of ISIS–and they will, because religious extremism is not a very pleasant thing to live with–the movement will wither.
If you want to expand ISIS’ sway, accept its claim to stand for true Islam. Then you will push all Muslims to defend it.