Obama's ISIS Speech: Who is an Innocent person?

On Wednesday night, President Obama publicly unveiled his plans to go after the Islamic terrorist group, ISIS in Syria. Just as many people the world over would agree, the call for action was timely and necessary, but in this short article, I will attempt to draw attention to a portion of Obama's speech that appears evasive and euphemistic to a fault.

Obama said yesterday that "Now let's make two things clear: ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL's victims have been Muslim...”

Based on available holy texts and historical data, can a case be made that no religion, including Islam, condones the killing of innocents? To answer this question, we need to skip past the semantics and ask ourselves, “who is an innocent person is, and from whose perspective can someone be deemed innocent?”

Is the religious moderate in Iraq (let's call him Abu), who marries off his daughter to a man of another religion, be considered innocent? How about that well-traveled Muslim woman who neither believes nor supports the prophecy of an Islamic caliphate? Are apostates in general innocents?

ISIS is a religio-political sect that has openly pledged itself to fulfilling the divine prophesy of an islamic caliphate, which is a form of theocracy ruled by a group of religious authorities under a supreme leader—caliph—believed to be the successor to Prophet Mohammed. Towards this end, both Muslims and non-Muslims perceived to be enemies of “divine progress” have been hacked to death mercilessly.

To put this in perspective, think of the bloody sacrifices that the leaders of biblical Israel, Moses and Joshua, were reported to have made in fulfilling the divine prophecy of bestowing the land of Canaan as an inheritance to the Israelites. En route to the Promised Land, Israeli soldiers were said to have enthusiastically slaughtered any opposing nation and their peoples that stood on their path, including mothers and children (in some cases, they took virgin girls as wives for themselves).

Were those wailing children and mothers innocent victims? The answer clearly depends on whom you ask; what is certain however is that to the warring Israeli soldiers, the victims were far from innocent. To outgroups, Abu and all those opposed to the idea of the promised Islamic state are innocent victims of ISIS, but to the in-group themselves, they are active enemies who must be wiped out in order to restore sanity to the “morally bankrupt” world.

I contend that until these problematic religious doctrines that empower fundamentalists to violence is spoken against by Muslim moderates and creatively contained, the world will succeed in wiping out ISIS, only for another ISIS to emerge from the fertile ruins. The problem is with the potent religious ideology itself and not its natural manifestations. This is where Obama's characterization of ISIS and their religious motivation fall short of the actual reality on the ground.

President Obama is a politician and he needs the political support of neighboring Muslim countries to defeat ISIS. He can't say the truth, if it will disturb the sensibilities of his allies and attenuate their morale. For political and diplomatic considerations, I won't begrudge him for seeking to sweep the actual motivation of ISIS under the carpet of euphemisms. Good news is you and I are not politicians.

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Articles by Kwame E. Bidi