“I Saw a Beast Rising” Part 3: Taking Action

Part three of a three-part series reflecting on the Islamic State group (ISIS). The author is an MCC worker in the region, whose name is withheld for security reasons.

Students wait in line to return to their classrooms after exercise and games in the courtyard outside Kid's House Kindergarten, an MCC Global Family partner in northern Iraq. The kindergarten’s space is expanding this year, allowing them to enroll more students, many of whom have been displaced from their homes by the conflict with the Islamic State group. (MCC photo/staff)
Students wait in line to return to their classrooms after exercise and games in the courtyard outside Kid’s House Kindergarten, an MCC Global Family partner in northern Iraq. The kindergarten’s space is expanding this year, allowing them to enroll more students, many of whom have been displaced from their homes by the conflict with the Islamic State group. (MCC photo/staff)

What is that which we call evil but the absence of good?…Unless they are parasitic on something good, they are not anything at all[1].

Augustine argued that evil can only exist as a corruption of something good. It is not an opposite of good, with its own power. On its own, evil is nothing. In a similar way, Hannah Arendt maintained that totalitarian movements are parasitic on politics, with “politics” defined holistically as the negotiation and refinement of different interests and values in community.

A movement like ISIS “could not exist without destroying the public realm of life” and producing, in its wake, a mass of individuals alienated from their old identities[2]. ISIS feeds on loneliness and alienation, and it produces it in turn, as individuals become defined only in their relation to the movement—a reorientation symbolized by new recruits burning their old passports on camera.

But just as light defeats darkness simply by being, the antidote to ISIS’s totalitarianism is politics—holistically defined, that is. ISIS works by tearing apart the fabric of society, unwinding the overlapping identities that bind communities together. The solution to ISIS is therefore nothing other than being, together.

But what do philosophical prescriptions like this have to do with the hard terrors of Raqqa? Everything. Real politics in this context means:

• international negotiations to end the Syrian civil war
• restoration of basic government services in Iraq and Syria and measures to stimulate sustainable and diversified economic growth
• development of state institutions in Iraq and Syria that are accountable to their populations
• development of civil society, including unions, religious groups, non-governmental organizations, and others, providing for political organization outside of the state
• private and public repentance for historic and ongoing imperialism by Western nations and commitment to engaged non-interference in the affairs of Middle Eastern nations
More broadly:
• continued dialogue at all levels between Muslims and minorities living in Muslim majority nations about the legal and social status of minorities
• increased cultural exchange between Western nations and majority Muslim nations, including their respective minority populations
And most importantly:
• initiatives, large and small, that create friendship and shared purpose across cultures and religions

Does this allow me to give an answer to the horrors my friends have suffered at the hands of ISIS? Certainly not one that feels as real as arms and airstrikes. But I believe it is the most real answer anyone could give. In Revelation, the beast does not triumph; the Word of God does—as it already has—wearing a bloodstained robe and leading the people of God in triumph to live together in the city of God. These steps testify to that reality; they are the kinds of steps that will bring stability to the region and deprive ISIS of the chaos it needs in order to survive.

Read part one.

Read part two.

 


[1]Augustine, Manual on Faith, Hope, and Love, IV/14.

[2]Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism, 475.

1 Comment

  1. Ilene
    Permalink

    Keeping the Middle East issues in front of us all is significant, especially since much of the information disseminated in the media is partial information. The issues are complex, making it especially important to become informed about the many aspects. Why do these 3 articles make no mention of Iran’s aggressive and far-reaching actions to disrupt the political and cultural status of the region? Exclusion of Iran as the major instigator of the unrest, crimes, and war in the Middle East presents an incomplete picture. It is to Iran’s advantage to keep unrest in the region to keep and expand its hegemony in the Middle East and North Africa, promote its brand of religious sect, keep the roads to Hezbollah in Lebanon open to sustain pressure and threat on Israel, replenish and support Hamas with weapons and logistical need, control Iraq and maintain its interests there from two sides of Iraq’s borders, and ultimately become the super power in the region. Just the other day I saw a news media from Afghanistan that revealed how Iran is supporting Taliban and recruiting fighters to undermine the stability of that country and weaken the Afghan government. It also mentions the confessions of a few Taliban leaders, which have also been reported by the Wall Street Journal, about the role of Iran in engulfing the war and resurgence of Taliban which in the last few days have captured two cities in Afghanistan and in fierce fight with the Afghan army, all aided by Iran. The report also identified 5 Iran cities where the Taliban fighters are being trained and sent back to Afghanistan to fight. These articles forget the systematic obstruction of peace by Iran and cause of major devastation.

    There are many outstanding questions here that have greatly led to the chaos in the Middle East that these articles don’t touch upon. These revolve around 4 major issues/questions that are the pillars of analyzing the current state of affairs in the region.
    1. How the sectarian conflict started between Sunni and Shia, engulfed, and exploited – that is one of the major factors in the regional conflict.
    2. The link between Al-Qaeda and Iran which, in the letters found in Osama Bin-Laden’s compound, called Iran their life support – needless to say that ISIS came out of the Al-Qaeda’s organization; the leader of ISIS was an Al-Qaeda foot soldier.
    3. Role of Iran in destabilizing Iraq and creation of over 40 Shia brigades in Iraq, threatening the neighboring countries and Saudi Arabia.
    4. Iran’s role–militarily and financially–in Syria, bringing Russia into the Syrian conflict, making this conflict one of the world’s biggest humanitarian disasters in history.
     

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