Based on the insight that ISIS appears to be an apocalyptic cult with a form of Islamic end-time doctrine, Western analysts have observed that the group appears to be purposefully trying to force the fulfillment of the Islamic version of Armageddon that leads to the jihadist Day of Judgment and the end of the world.
The insight is derived partly from recent issues of the ISIS’ publication, Dabiq, which appear to reveal that the group’s actions are motivated by the belief that we are living in the end times and that the Islamic Armageddon will take place as a battle between Western forces of evil and the Islamic forces of good in an obscure Syrian town on the border with Turkey called Dabiq.
The evidence suggests that ISIS’ atrocities are part of efforts to lure Western forces to “al-Malhama al-Kubra,” the “Great Battle,” that ushers in the Islamic Day of Judgment and the end of the world.
Michael Walsh, writing on PJ Media, and Graeme Wood, writing on the Atlantic, were only partly right asserting that the West failed to acknowledge the “medieval religious” nature of ISIS. The religious fundamentalist nature of the group has always been recognized. What the West failed to understand was the apocalyptic nature of the group’s Islamic fundamentalist ideology.
And one must point out that the Dabiq apocalyptic prophecy is not exactly “mainstream” to Islam; which explains why President Barack Obama’s administration has been reluctant to label the group “Islamic” to avoid ascribing to mainstream Islam the fringe apocalyptic views of the Islamic State’s religious ideology.
Although widely criticized, the administration’s reluctance to use the term “Islamic” to describe the group is analogous to mainstream Christianity’s refusal to use the term “Christian” in reference to certain fringe groups, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that consider themselves Christian.
However, the controversy over whether ISIS militants are simply “fanatics” and “terrorists” and not “Islamic terrorists” and “Islamic fanatics” is largely needless quibbling over terminology that does nothing to address the problem of the common threat to both countries in the Middle East and the West.
While many Western analysts believed that despite the element of religious ideology in the ISIS agenda, political power was the end and religious ideology merely the means, some analysts, including Walsh, are suggesting that ISIS is essentially an apocalyptic group committed irrevocably to its world destruction fantasies and thus, that only a military “final solution” could solve the ISIS problem.
Others have seized on this understanding to promote arguments that lead down the slippery slope to genocidal “nuke ’em all” proposals, such as Arkansas Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway), who reportedly suggested “quickly turning things around” with a “strategically placed nuclear weapon.”
Even after his suggestion was widely criticized, Rapert tweeted defiantly that “liberals even love ISIS more than stopping them cold in their tracks. They truly amaze me with their anti-American arguments. Bizarre.”
But the argument offered by the State Department’s Marie Harf, that “we cannot win by killing our way out of this war,” and that the West would have to work in the “medium to longer term to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups — lack of opportunity for jobs,” for instance, has been derided by the cynical majority as another example of starry-eyed left-wing idealism.
Yet in theory, if not in practical terms, Harf’s observation reflects an understanding of the nature of apocalyptic cults. The little that anthropologists and social scientists understand about apocalyptic and millenarian cults is that, by nature, they are the religion of the society’s oppressed and marginalized, or otherwise, people who feel oppressed and marginalized.
The most significant observation in Wood’s lengthy article published by the Atlantic is the point that members of the group are drawn “largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe.”
In response to a comment by MSNBC’s Chris Mathews that, “there’s always going to be poor Muslims, and as long as there are poor Muslims, the trumpet’s blowing and they’ll join,” Harf responded, “We can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance. We can help them build their economies so they can have job opportunities for these people.”
Harf’s suggestions about how to deal with restive “Third World” militants were probably too high-minded for her “First World” audience, driven by fear to contemplate quick-fix “nuke” solutions. But one sure lesson of history is that the affluent Romans of the world never get to sleep in peace while the impoverished Barbarian hordes are at the door.