Tom Holland’s “ISIS: The origins of violence” aired this week on channel 4. Through out the film Holland made clear how Muslims were outraged by the violence perpetuated by ISIS. That Koranic, Hadith and Sharia were interpretated in ways most would never dream as an ideal, let alone one to be envisaged in their lifetime.
When it comes to ISIS, strategies to minimise their importance or any link between them and the Islamic faith are made. Mehdi Hasan described them as “a bunch of thugs” that must not be considered a state, Islamic or a military power in the region. This when they controlled territory the size of England. In the face of global terror attacks organised and inspired by ISIS, this was more than thugs that make you cross the road on a Saturday night.
The beheadings and crucifixions of ISIS are designed to make us not only appalled and frightened by their savagery, but to remind us of a history closer to the lifetime of Mohammed. As Tom Holland mentions, ISIS justification is that what they do were either done by Mohammed or are justified by appeal to Islam. Whilst a theological context can be made to counter this modern interpretation, a far simpler one is that these were the tortures and punishment of the age when Islam originated. Hence the more shocking they are today.
A reminder of today: mobile video footage of the Paris attack, with people running for their lives as a pregnant woman hanged out of a window at the bataclan. The faces of Yazidi people in Lalish, facing a genocide because they are considered devil worshippers and thus ISIS intend to purge them from the land. For there is one God, and Mohammed is His Prophet. When fanaticism meets monotheism, horrors will terrorise the land as a howling wind blowing over the red soaked dunes. Such acts against a people must not be forgotten, and when being carried out the reasons for not ignored.
In a critique of Tom Holland’s documentary in the Middle East Monitor by Alastair Sloan, the Yazidi are missing. Holland is criticised as being a propagandist for ISIS. Yet I would describe people saying this more like ISIS propagandists:
“ISIS demanded jizya (tax for non-Muslims under an Islamic state) from the Yazidis, who refused to pay, and as a result, were forced to retreat to Mount Sinjar in western Mosul.”
The denial of genocide by Dilly Hussain in the Huffington Post above was called out by me at the time. Yet to ignore there is even an issue involving what ISIS want to do with the Yazidi – cultural genocide by forced conversion or genocide by mass extermination by ISIS – that needs telling and how such the Yazidi are looked at via Islam – as tax dodgers or devil worshippers? The silence is itself a propaganda coup for ISIS. When people refuse to call out genocide, there is a complicity in the actions of others that should make us nauseous.
No wonder the Yazidi are not mentioned in the review. It’s “Yazidi hyperbole … hugely exaggerated” used as a “ruse” by America. When you are downplaying the atrocities of ISIS, no wonder it’s Tom Holland you want to focus on.
Mehdi Hasan though is mentioned in the above critical review, mentioning his view of how ISIS are not religiously observant nor theologically knowledgable. The thieves who have their hands cut off by ISIS would applaud such a sleight of hand if they could at missing the obvious. The reason for ISIS fighting is that they claim to have the right way of living the faith. Jihad comes first, after conquest comes their sharia and Islamic way of life. This you could hear them chanting in the documentary.
The simplicity of calling Tom Holland an anti-Islamic ideologue for pointing this out does not bare scrutiny. If you are to call anyone who does not believe Mohammed is a prophet, or for believing that the Koran is a text composed by human mammals rather than the whisperingings of an angel, as being anti-Islam, then take a closer look at ISIS. For there is the divide that they wish all Muslims to make between themselves and non-Muslims. If you as a Muslim do not feel about Islam as they do, you are an apostate. As the destroyed Shia mosque Holland visited bore out, and the graffiti marking where Sunni, Shia and Yazidi had once lived together in peace.
The Battle for Ideas
Western colonialism was mentioned in the documentary via Napoleon and the bloody French Revolution. How an uprising against monarchy unleashed an imperialism to bring the enlightenment not just to Europe by force, but to Muslims via the invasion of Egypt to plunder its riches as Alexander the Great once did. Religion was meant to be the past, reason the future. Instead what we have seen played out over generations is a battle of ideas, which once had gullitones on the ground and now drones in the air, making their deadly point. Potentially we are all in the cross hairs thanks to the past and how it is reimagined today by all sides.
Stature in history is measured by some as the height of a statue on a plinth, the western idea of a great man of history by how quickly people will defend what can only be described as savage. One day perhaps, instead of heroes standing on a pile of corpses to deliver their version of a better world, we might look to others as a model to follow. Yet too many are tied to the idea of an apocalypse to solve humanities woes. One which some pray for, some kill for.
We need something more than religion or the enlightenment. The drones in the sky and the crosses of ISIS on the ground, are not going to deliver that brave new world. Rather being sick at the destruction humanity is capable of delivering in the name of their vision, is what we need.
The world is worth fighting for, and so the fight for what makes it a better world goes on. If history shows us anything, it really does matter who wins.