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The Meaning of “Being News”: The Persecution of Religious Minorities by ISIS

The rise of The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and its extreme form of intolerance, persecution of Christians and Yezidis, and brutality have shocked the world. As noted by many commentators, ISIS is too violent and intolerant even for al-Qaeda, which is some feat to achieve.

ISIS’s campaign of terror, as al-Qaeda’s actions used to do, has made many people raise questions about the dogma driving these groups. For most, these are questions about unwitting or deliberate misinterpretation of Islam, but for some Islam itself has been called into question, with the actions of ISIS being presented as genuinely Islamic. A third, apparently agnostic view I have also heard states that someone who is not informed about Islam cannot tell whether such actions are genuinely Islamic or being falsely committed under the name of Islam. This at times implies that it is difficult to tell and that this undecidedness is reasonable. It is actually not difficult to tell, so this position is not reasonable.

It is the person’s right to seek or not seek knowledge about a particular religion, philosophy, or indeed any subject matter. But this right must not be extended to not having a view on a question as serious as whether ISIS’ ways are genuinely Islamic or not. Let me explain.

According to the Pew Research Center, there are 1.6 Billion Muslims in the world. To put this number in perspective, it is slightly below a quarter of the world population. In other words, one in every four people is Muslim. Now, any person has the right to think they do not need to know much about what Muslims believe about God, how they worship, and their religious life in general. But no responsible person would take the view that they do not care to know about the attitude of 23% of the population of the world toward the rest of humanity. By any measure, the number of Muslims is very large, and how these people see the remaining three quarters of the population is bound to impact everyone. To bring this argument closer to our subject here, no responsible person would be disinterested in knowing whether or not Muslims in general are tolerant of non-Muslims.

The next question, then, is how difficult it is to tell whether Muslims are tolerant or not. This question is currently being raised specifically by the actions of ISIS, and this fact itself has the clue to the answer. The persecution of religious minorities by ISIS is “new” which is why it is making the “news.” Christians, Jews, Yezidis, and other religious minorities have peacefully lived with Muslims and under Muslim rule for some thirteen centuries. This is why their current cruel persecution by ISIS is “news.” It would not have been news if this persecution is what they have been getting over the centuries. In fact, they would not have existed in those areas if they used to be the subject of such persecution.

ISIS’ is the latest form of extreme sectarianism that has been sweeping that part of the world since the Iraq war in 2003. The incredibly naïve idea of “democratizing” Iraq through the illegal, chaotic, and ill-thought war handed over the country to “democratic” Shia sectarian politicians. I came from a Christian family from Baghdad. I lived in Iraq for 30 years, most of which was under the rule of the Baath party and Saddam, so I know well how the country was. Saddam’s exclusion of the Shia did not create a Sunni Iraq and did not encourage sectarianism. People knew that Saddam’s actions were not driven by Sunni dogma but by his dictatorial fears. He simply did not trust the Shias. Saddam was your everyday brutal dictator for whom religious thought of any denomination was a potential political danger that had to be managed and controlled. The war replaced him with highly sectarian politicians who identified themselves more as Shias than Iraqis and militias that set out to inflict revenge on the Sunni minority. When the world media was busy reporting and celebrating the popular demonstrations of the Arab spring in various countries, the demonstrations of the persecuted large Sunni minority of Iraq were being completely ignored. Iraq was supposedly a successful liberation project, so there was no appetite to tamper with this sanitized image.

ISIS has suddenly got this momentum because it is supported by Sunni tribes and groups. The latter did not ally themselves with ISIS because they shared its inhumane dogma but because they sought liberation from the sectarian persecution and policy of exclusion that the Iraqi government has been exercising for years. This sectarianism got worse when the Americans left Iraq and the Iraqi fanatical politicians got a free hand to carry out their oppressive and exclusive agenda. Nouri al-Maliki and his governments have played a major role in the creation of the current sectarian Iraq. They might be Shia fanatics, but they are also responsible for the creation of Sunni fanaticism.

Admittedly, this is a simplified picture of a complex political situation, but it captures the basic elements of how things developed. It is understandable why many people would not know much about the history of ISIS and why it persecutes other religious groups. But it does not take much effort to know that ISIS’ extreme form of intolerance is a new phenomenon to that region. Indeed, it is inexcusable to claim to know about what ISIS is doing and to claim at the same time that one cannot tell whether its actions are Islamic or not. This allegedly agnostic position is the equivalent of claiming to not being able to decide whether the centuries-old tolerance of religious minorities or the new persecution of them by the likes of ISIS is the “real” Islam. As for those who deliberately choose new events over the long history to claim that ISIS represents Islam, they have a serious credibility problem. Clearly, their view is not based on analysing facts but is reflective of predetermined prejudice.

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4 thoughts on “The Meaning of “Being News”: The Persecution of Religious Minorities by ISIS

  1. When Muslims are faced with being the oppressor, we fall silent ( or way below the volume that is heard for Gaza ), since this counters our dearly-held narrative of being the oppressed. When there were troubles in eastern Timor & Bali , Indonesia diplomatically couched it in terms of dar ul Islam being confronted with Christendom or kufr (ie, supported by NZ & Australia) & most of us bought that.

    When Malaysia under Mahathir attempted to drag the Penangs kicking & screaming into ‘civilization’ as he defined it, we also said nothing.

    Again I notice we’re not as concerned about the Yazidis & Christians being murdered in Iraq ;it is convenient to dismiss the Yazidis as mushrikeen & the Christians as the West’s Trojan Horse. I wonder whether our Muslim TV channels will feature this ongoing genocide with as much coverage as when we the Muslims are the oppressed?
    I’m simply referring to the Quranic insistence on justice for all. Even at the expense of one’s own self, if the case demands.
    I suppose the only caveat to that Louay, is that we cannot fight every battle everywhere; even the West picks its fights .

    Moreover I understand the resonance Palestine has for Muslims (alQuds/ al Israa) and why we would be more exercised over the massacre of Muslims there than the massacre of Muslims in the Central African Republic.

    The Palestine issue as pointed out by Fuad Nahdi last night on Ch4 news is 60 years old; that of the Yazidis & Iraqi Christians only a few weeks’.

    So I understand there are extenuating circumstances but I stand by my status; Muslims DO have a tendency to do what ALL other nations do: view the ‘tears of others as just water’. And that is NOT al-Islam. It simply isn’t.

  2. What i find alarming is the latest strategy by France and Germany to arm the Kurdish rebels with fresh weapons. These same weapons can easily fall into the hands of ISIS or even be used by the Kurds to inflict their own wave of terror my demanding to set up their life long ambition of an independent homeland for the Kurds.
    Personally, the choice of sending fresh supplies of weapons was a very irresponsible move by the Europeans. Let us not forget what happened in the case of the Afghan Mujahadeen during the Afghan-Russian war.
    The ISIS can only be eradicated by a joint Middle Eastern operation supported by the West.

  3. Salam Ibrahim, I understand your frustration. I do not think “Muslims” as a nation are necessarily more objective than other nations. After all, this broad description of a nation is not a confirmation that its people share or represent certain characteristics. Unfortunately, even the likes of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and fanatical Shia and Sunni sectarian groups are in some sense “Muslims.” There is no question that some Muslims or Muslim groups use double standards, but it is not necessarily even about Muslims versus non-Muslims. For instance, a number of Arab Muslim countries have been suffering from civil wars in which various factions seriously abuse the rights of one another. Yet those same people would unite in declaring their sympathy and support for the oppressed people of Palestine. As stupid as it may sound, this is a fact. It is important, however, that this contradiction does not obscure the facts that abusing human rights even of enemies is wrong and that supporting the rights of an oppressed people is right.

    There is also a big difference between being indifferent to a violation of a human right, supporting it morally, or contributing to it directly. I understand why people in various parts of the world might not be aware of what happened in Gaza or even do not care much. But what I find extremely disturbing is the strong and proud support of the destruction of a whole city and savage killing of hundreds of innocent civilians. This for me is what makes what I like to call Gazacaust stand out and be extremely serious. 

    So, the fact that Muslims or any other group fails to acknowledge its own failure to respect the human rights of others should not deny it the right to raise legitimate concerns about any violation of its rights. In fact, this is the best way to help people become more aware of their own failings and get them to change. 

  4. Tarik that’s exactly whats going to happen…eventually the Kurds will then say ‘hey lets do our own thing’…as for the West they absolutely do not care who is in power so long as they serve their interest

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