I have had several of you write me regarding Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly’s call for pastors to speak about ISIS (click here to see the segment). Bill and his guests this last week called for pastors across the country to address the issue of ISIS and to ask their members to put pressure on the President to take greater action to counter ISIS. His guests seemed to suggest they wanted American boots on the ground in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
Like all of you I’ve watched the news with anger and frustration as ISIS has murdered non-combatants and posted videos of their atrocities. This week they captured 200 +/- Assyrian Christians after killing 24 Coptic Christians in Libya last week. Their actions seem clearly designed to evoke the kind of response that O’Reilly and his guests were calling for – to send American troops to fight in Libya, Iraq and Syria.
Is this the right response? I’m not so sure. Yet something must be done to stop ISIS. As many acknowledge, there are two battles to be waged. The first is the military response to an irrational foe. The second is the battle for the hearts and minds of the small number of Muslims who might be inclined to join ISIS in their version of a vision of an Islamic caliphate – a trans-national Islamic state that would be one nation for all Muslims.
There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. What percentage of these are favorably inclined to ISIS/ISIL? It appears a very small fraction. The vast majority of Muslims seem to despise ISIS, including many fellow Muslim extremists. So how does the world wage a battle to defeat ISIS while not encouraging those Muslims that might be influenced by ISIS to join them? That seems to be the question behind current US strategy in our response to ISIS.
I’ve been, like many of you, seeking to read as much as I could about ISIS and what drives them. Most recently I was reading Graeme Wood’s article in this month’s The Atlantic Monthly in which he outlines the case that ISIS embraces an Islamic End Times rhetoric. If they are motivated by this Islamic End Times rhetoric, then the response of all out war with American boots on the ground would seem to play right into the narrative they are telling themselves.
So, again, what should be done about ISIS? I’m not sure, but there are a couple of thoughts that keep coming to mind. The first is the importance of Islamic nations and Islamic clerics countering, as they are now doing, the Islamic views held by ISIS both in terms of the use of violence and in terms of its apocalyptic theology. The second is the importance of supporting Islamic nations in combatting what is an “existential threat” to their existence, something I believe our military is currently doing. The third is to pray and practice what Jesus teaches us – to pray for our enemies and to demonstrate character and humanity in response to their evil and inhumanity, exposing their deeds to those who might be drawn to them. Shame may be a powerful tool in undermining the allure of ISIS among those that might be drawn to its vision of an Islamic state.
I disagree with O’Reilly’s guests, particularly Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress whose own philosophy about ISIS and US foreign policy seems built upon what I believe is an inaccurate reading of Christian apocalyptic literature. And, because neither they nor I are experts in Middle-East policy, in Islamic extremist idealogy nor in military strategy, I am not sure we have the expertise to dictate to our military or the White House how best to combat the threat of ISIS.