We Must Unite to Defeat ISIS

We Must Unite to Defeat ISIS

By Hasan Zillur Rahim

As an American Muslim, I cannot find strong enough words to condemn the barbaric attack in Paris by ISIS that has claimed close to 200 lives and injured many more. I hope that a significant proportion of the estimated 5 million French Muslims, the largest in Europe, will take to the streets to denounce the terrorist organization. The cancer of ISIS must be eliminated not just for the sanctity of human civilization but for its very survival.

It is tragic that Muslims are fleeing their homelands (Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and more) by the thousands because of the persecution and the instability wrought by a band of fanatical Muslims. The Paris attack by ISIS will make their condition worse as suspicion and intolerance against them mount.

Two wrongs, of course, cannot make a right. In this case, there is only one wrong that must be made right, and that is to decisively defeat ISIS and cleanse the earth of its nihilistic ideology.

Some of us fall for the seductive appeal of the “Yes, But” syndrome to explain away any event or catastrophe. Yes, Afghanistan is a mess but isn’t American overreach in the aftermath of 9/11 one of the main causes? Yes, Iraq is an unending disaster but isn’t George Bush’s war against Saddam Hussein based on the mythical weapons of mass destruction the main reason why things are the way they are?

True on both counts but the “Yes, But” explanation cannot be used to justify the horror that ISIS has unleashed around the world. Whatever the dark forces that gave birth to it, this terrorist organization is now bent on destroying anything that stands in the way of its brutal worldview through murder and mayhem.

Which is why we must unite against it, irrespective of our race or creed.

Recent events indicate that ISIS is on the run. Kurdish and rebel Syrian forces, with the help of airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition, have retaken several strategic towns in northern Iraq and Syria. Evidence is also mounting that a drone strike has killed Mohammed Emwazi, the infamous “Jihadi John” responsible for beheading American journalist James Foley, among others.

So what does a terrorist organization do to keep its flickering flame alive in the hearts of its followers? Sow seeds of anarchy by killing people at random when they are out enjoying concerts, for instance, or dining at restaurants. That’s what took place in the City of Light last Friday.

Although lingering echoes of “where are the moderate Muslims” still persist in some conservative corridors of America, by and large this canard is gradually receding. There is a reason for it. All major Muslim organizations in America, and for that matter, around the world, have condemned the attack in Paris.

In the Friday congregational prayers that I attended in recent months in the Bay Area, for instance, the majority of the sermons by Imams were directed against ISIS, how it was violating the most fundamental tenets of the faith through its contempt for life. A YouTube video made about a year ago against ISIS (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJo4B-yaxfk) by Hamza Yusuf, one of the most prominent Islamic scholars in America, has been viewed by close to half a million people around the world.

Some Western pundits ominously claim that ISIS is winning the war of ideas against the West. This leaves most of us Muslims scratching our heads. Really? Exactly where is this happening? Certainly not in our mosques where we have called ISIS by what it is: a terrorist organization that has nothing to do with Islam.

Yet it is also true that some young and vulnerable American Muslims have fallen prey to ISIS’s slick social media campaign for recruitment into its fold. (A recent Danish intelligence report states that the typical age range of foreigners joining ISIS is 16 to 25.) One such was Northern Virginia’s 17-year-old Ali Shukri Amin who was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison last August for helping another teen travel to Syria to join the fight there. In acknowledging his guilt, Amin also stated that when he sought advice about the war in Syria from the adults in his life, including imams, “they could not provide adequate answers” or seemed “too busy to try.”

One could make the case that Amin was unlucky because many American Imams have been counseling disillusioned youth planning to travel to Syria to reconsider their decision. One such is Imam Mohamed Magid of Sterling, Virginia, who was able to persuade several youths from his congregation to abandon their decision to join ISIS simply by asking them to “use your mind.” (http://thinkprogress.org/world/2015/06/04/3665585/talk-someone-joining-isis/)

So while we Muslims condemn the Paris attack, we must also take our youth seriously when they show signs of alienation and disillusionment with their lives and reason with them in ways that make sense to them, instead of being patronizing toward them.