Reflecting on ISIS as a Convert: A Brief 101

One of the most difficult things about being a convert to any faith is telling the people in your life about that decision. Personally, I waited a very long time before letting my friends and family know. If I had a time machine, I’d go back and wait even longer.

My decision to full on announce my awesome new life path came at around the same time CNN started showing pictures of their new favorite topic: ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). Suddenly, questions about covering my hair and getting married turned into, “So what can you tell me about ISIS?” In the moment I had absolutely no answer. But after sitting quietly through the ISIS crap-storm, I think it’s time to have a talk about ISIS. Again.

Let’s first address the big elephant in the room that a lot of television pundits seem to be sitting atop. Muslims, and those who practice Islam in any way, shape, or form, do not condone the violent acts of ISIS or any of its affiliates. Now that everyone is calm, it’s time to dig a little deeper.

ISIS was originally just ISI (Islamic State of Iraq) where it was only one of many fringe groups trying to gain power in Iraq in the early 2000’s. Who was actually in power before ISIS gained their S? If you guessed Saddam Hussein, a self-proclaimed Sunni, you are absolutely right and I’m proud of you. Hussein spread the incorrect belief that Sunnis were the numerical majority in Iraq and overlooked the political needs of many Shia factions. You can imagine this might have upset a person or two. To make matters even worse, Big Brother America was keeping an eye on the land and gathering, from the actions of Hussein, that Sunnis were going to be bad for American interests.

As if the overwhelming presence of Western investment wasn’t enough to unite fringe groups, the U.S. government successfully took covert actions to get rid of Hussein and opened a gateway for fringe groups to gain momentum. But the hope of a serious Iraqi democracy was still flowing strong and the U.S was not about to pull out and miss the opportunity to be the ones at the helm of peace in the Middle East. So, what did the great symbol of freedom do? They pushed and supported a Shiite-led government. Where did that lead? It lead to Sunnis, the numerical minority in Iraq, deciding it was time to regain their strength and representation. ISI aligned themselves with smaller groups, like the freshly splintered Al Qaeda, and got every pissed off militant on the same page. It’s amazing what people with differing opinions can do when given a common enemy. Thus, the Islamic State of Iraq became stronger and eventually worked their way into Syria at the height of civil war.

The presence of ISIS in Syria is both an aid and a determent to the Assad government. Assad now has something new to point to as an example of how little he and his followers, who are mostly Christian and Shia, can trust their Sunni counterparts. What made Assad’s cause even stronger was, once again, intervention by the United States government. They armed the Syrian opposition; an opposition that is not only fighting Assad’s army but now also fighting members of ISIS. When there are battles, there are spoils, and, should ISIS overpower the moderate opposition fighters, do you know what their prize will be? American artillery. The U.S. has managed to accidentally fund the group that they constantly refer to as terrorists.

So what we are now faced with are two important questions: why should we care about ISIS? What should we, as a global community, do about it?

We must care about ISIS because they’re killing people. It’s really that simple. We don’t need to worry about them because they’re trying to impose Sharia law or because they’re not keen to the feminist movement; we need to care because they are deciding who lives and who dies. No one, not even a government, has the right to decide the end of a life. To turn a blind eye to the crimes of ISIS is to turn a blind eye to murders happening right outside your door.

There are a number of things the global community needs to do to start mending this issue. First off, stop associating the actions of a fringe group with the ideology of a centuries-old religion, which guides billions of people.  Next, we must get rid of this idea that upstanding governments do not negotiate with terrorists. I mean, according to them, it’s okay to give them guns and ammo but talking is completely out of the question. Diplomacy is how the lives of soldiers and civilians alike are spared. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my experiences, it’s that everyone and everything has a price. The world’s leading governments are literally pouring money into the Syrian civil war! I’m talking about countries like Russia, Qatar, Turkey, the United States, and Libya. Why aren’t these same countries willing to negotiate price points for peace as opposed to dollars and cents per bullet? Certainly looking weak has to be a better alternative than a rising death toll.

While I don’t begin to presume that the strength of ISIS can be blamed on a single person, event, or nation, I do know that it takes a lot of falling dominos to paint a complete picture. We as a community must be prepared to account for every single domino.