The Appeal of ISIS

You shouldn’t miss the NYT article on sexual slavery under ISIS. For me it demonstrates, even more than mass beheadings, the systematic evil of this would-be state. Sexual slavery is a planned, systematized, regulated practice—and a religious practice at that. It describes ISIS members praying before and after raping young girls they hold as slaves.

A complementary piece is Roger Cohen’s column musing on the appeal of ISIS. He notes ISIS’ “unquenchable appeal” to an international clientele. “It is clearly tapping into something deep,” he writes, and adds, “Perhaps that something is at root a yearning to be released from the burden of freedom.”

For some ISIS’ appeal may be sex and violence, the chance to be cruel and triumphant. But the West offers a fair opportunity for sex and violence too. Cohen is probing something deeper: a revolt against the West’s determined drive to extend near-absolute freedom to every choice: whom to marry, when to divorce, when to die, whether to have sex, and with whom, and so on. He quotes novelist Michel Houellebecq, who sees France facing “a crisis that was set off two centuries ago when Europeans made a wager on history: that the more they extended human freedom, the happier they would be.”

Right now the loudest voices (and the most successful politics) belong to two extremes: the advocates of order, such as ISIS, and the advocates of freedom. But I think humanity’s true home is in a bounded freedom. This is the image of Eden, in which a garden is set out in the larger world, which human beings are to keep and explore, while not coveting the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Even if you agree that we are meant to flourish in a bounded freedom, it’s no small thing to figure out how to set the boundaries. The politics are bound to be fractious. Whatever is done, is bound to be wrong sometimes. Nevertheless, it helps if we keep that image clear in our minds, and try to build our lives around it. We are meant for freedom—creativity, innovation, exploration. We are meant also to avoid the temptations of the absolute, set right in the center of the garden where we pass them by every day.

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One Response to “The Appeal of ISIS”

  1. Bill Reichert Says:

    It is not freedom per se, I suspect, but rather the longing for God to fill up the empty spaces left by unbounded freedom. And if there is not a proper understanding of God, and of the bounded freedom he has given us, the longing will become twisted into a different “freedom,” a “freedom” which is the duty to do that which our natures, corrupted by sin, desire. Rape becomes not only the expression of a corrupted nature, but one’s duty. So bounded freedom alone will not bring peace, but only freedom bounded by the true God.

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