It has been over 7 months since the BBC started to describe the militant Islamist group as the ‘so-called Islamic State’. Only recently has its continued use irked me enough to write this article. We should call it the Islamic State and the Prime Minister saying it’s not Islamic is false. Whilst not recognising it as a state is the right thing to do, it still ignores the fact that religion is one of the world’s main evils.
I can see why the Prime Minister and MP’s have made the BBC do this; Islamophobia is a massive problem in today’s Britain and perhaps by saying the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) isn’t Islamic, this in some way stops perpetrating Islamophobia. He recently describe the UK as a Christian country and in the past has highlighted that non-believers should see that religion gives people a moral code. He also wants Christians in Britain to be stronger in spreading their views. It is of course no surprise that he fails to grasp that jihadists groups are religious. Just because a group do not fit into a religious mainstream, does not mean they cannot be just as pious.
In my opinion, all the Abrahamic religions are extremely contradictory in their views. You can easily find quotations to both support or condemn almost any action. If all of these quotations, even the horribly violent ones, haven’t been edited out then what prevents a person of faith from following them? Of course, in Britain we have a high moral standard and good access to information. Most know it is morally unacceptable to carry out acts of violence, persecution and discrimination in the name of religion, but this doesn’t apply to all religious people. For example David Cameron is pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage , and was the Prime Minister who presided over legalisation of the latter. To many people in Uganda, this is heresy and goes against Christian values. In a country in which homosexuality is outlawed, most wouldn’t see someone like David Cameron as a Christian.
A significant amount of ISIL members come from Iraq, where a decade of foreign intervention, invasion, and civil war has left its population devastated. It is not surprising that ISIL has its origins here (it started out as the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006), and definitely not surprising that many have been drawn to this radical version of Islam. Foreign occupation and lack of rights for all Muslims (mainly Sunni) have led many to see the ideals of Jihad and Sharia law as the only option to restore fairness in society. These people are willing to kill and die for their faith. Evil though their acts may be, they identify as Muslims and their lives are usually dictated by faith in a way that most of the non-religious people in the West cannot imagine.
Similarly, there are many Saudis among ISIL and Al-Qaeda ranks. Saudi Arabia has been and is one of the biggest financiers of global Salafist terrorism. It is a country under strict Sharia Law and preaches the virtues of a heavily medieval influenced version of Islam: Wahhabism/ Salafism. It is not too much of a change from living in this society and fighting to create a new one very similar to it. In truth, if ISIL was ever recognised as a legitimate country it is very likely it would look something like Saudi Arabia, perhaps more violent and intolerant but similarly as strict. One of the most unbelievable things I find in Western foreign policy is the tolerance of Saudi Arabia. In Cameron’s view every Muslim in Saudi Arabia is a ‘real’ Muslim despite, in 2014, 92% believing ISIL conform to the values of Islam, and despite the slew of Human rights abuses it has carried out under Sharia law since its modern founding in 1932. Its history of using Islamic terrorism to further its agenda seemingly has never dented Cameron’s, Blair’s or Thatcher’s perception of Saudi Arabia being a Muslim country. So, despite all of their similarities, ISIL are not Muslim but all of Saudi Arabia is?
The real truth Cameron doesn’t want to admit is that religion is a massive problem in the world. As someone who was raised Catholic, I’m aware of all the good that is done by people of faith. Christian groups like the Salvation Army or CAFOD have done great charitable work around the world but as a student of History I’ve been completely put off religion. Whether it’s studying the brutal Spanish Inquisition, the religious slaughter of the first Crusade or the recent emergence of Islamic terrorists groups, it is clear to me that any good done by religion has been dwarfed by the amount of division and violence it causes. The simple argument that any person of faith who doesn’t conform to the mainstream western values of that religion (through violence or other means) isn’t actually religious is totally inaccurate. I would argue that the most fundamentalist religious people are often far more pious than moderates, with their strict adherence to religious texts proving how barbaric religion can be. When a religious text calls for violence but also compassion, slavery but also freedom, intolerance but also tolerance, who determines what is the right thing to do? If they are both in the Holy texts then why is one more significant than the other? While the choice between these moral parallels are usually dictated by regional circumstances, it still demontrates that religion is one of the world’s evils.
Sure, if religion disappeared tomorrow it wouldn’t solve the world’s problems. An Islamic State-like militant group could still be fighting due to Western interference in their lands, and various global ethnic groups would still combat one another. War and violence is in human nature but what religions does is further the divide. People of the same race and nationality have slaughtered each other due to minor differences in their religious beliefs, whether it be the French wars of religions between Protestants and Catholics or today’s fighting in the Middle East, particularly Iraq, between Sunnis and Shi’ites. Any good religion does is completely overruled by over a millennia of brutal sectarian violence carried out by strictly religious and zealous people of faith. While it has its unique components, the Islamic State is yet another example of this religiously driven violence and hatred.