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Think of ISIS as a cult.

Joe

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Jun 6, 2004
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”The Devil can cite scripture for his purpose."
- William Shakespeare

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Lately I have noticed a lot of discussion regarding ISIS-related terrorism so I thought I would go through some of what I have read on the topic (relatively little) and share informative excerpts that I saved.

Note:
  • I am not claiming to be an expert (at all).
  • These opinions may or may not be the best opinions but they are credible opinions based on expertise, research, and experience.
  • All information is copy+pasted from sources but I may have slightly edited for character count purposes.
---

Defeating ISIS by Malcolm Nance



Opinions on terrorism typically fall into one of three camps:
The first group believes that the terrorists are motivated by a radical form of Islam. To them the religion itself is the problem. They derisively refer to it as ”Radical Islam" or ”Islamic Extremism."
At the extreme, Islamophobes in the West hold the view that because al-Qaeda and ISIS are Muslim, they are the vanguard of the Muslim world's attack on the West. These ideologues believe that it is only a matter of time until all Muslims will join.
Hysterical rhetoric such as this is precisely what ISIS wants.
The second group believes that though the terrorists say they are Muslims, attributing their acts to the religion of Islam is incorrect. They assert that the terrorists' behaviors, ideology, and actions fall far outside of the norms of Islam and that makes them un-Islamic.
This opinion is echoed by many Muslim and world leaders who fear that labeling the terrorists as Islamic extremists or calling them Muslim radicals works in their interest.
The third group embraced by military officials at the US Department of Defense and NATO labels the terrorists as criminals whose religious or political ideology is irrelevant. They simply want to put bombs and missiles on terrorist targets as effectively and accurately as possible.
Could all three groups be considered correct? Yes, the arguments have merit. But a fourth argument incorporates the concerns of all the groups:
The global jihad movement is the most wealthy, influential, and virulent cult in the history of mankind.

As an intelligence professional, I do not use this word to insult a group of seemingly brainwashed people. No, I assert that these groups meet the textbook psychological definition of cults.
Many scholars call the Jihadists Islamic extremists, but Christian death sects are not referred to by their religion but instead by the description of their behavior—cults. Why not apply this to religions equally? Why specifically limit the description to groups outside of Islam? Death cultists of all religions are groomed and expected to kill perceived enemies and kill themselves, preferably both at the same time.
Taken at their word, and given their actions, the global jihadi terror groups meet virtually every qualifying item on the mass–mind control checklist.

To the cult of Jihad there is practically no single more important guiding principle than one particular phrase from the Qur'an:
So let those fight in the cause of Allah who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter. And he who fights in the cause of Allah and is killed or achieves victory—We will bestow upon him a great reward. This sentence guides virtually the entirety of jihadist ideology.
Yet the rest of the Qur'an delineates numerous restrictions on jihad, war, apostasy, hypocrisy, and murder. The Prophet Mohammed himself repeatedly cautions and tempers all rash acts with compromise and respect of others specifically and through scholarly interpretations.
The terrorist's adoption of the story of the Prophet Mohammed's hijrah, or ”emigration" from Mecca to Medina to found Islam, has been coopted by the terrorists to mean leaving the modern world and one's family behind. Using the word hijrah in this way gives the prospective recruit a religious justification to run completely away from their past and join the cult.
In al-Qaeda's time, it took direct contact with a member of the group and convincing to become ‘infected', but now the virus of the cult of jihad is spread virtually, through social media. Anyone who wants the disease only needs to accept that they believe in it and then act on those beliefs.

Bin Laden based his doctrine on the works of terrorists and radicals whose beliefs were read only in the most outer fringes. He bound these ideas and concepts into a cult variant of Islam that would stress living like the companions of the Prophet (Salaf), exercising ability to determine who is and is not a Muslim (Takfir), perpetual Holy War (Jihad) and mandatory suicide martyrdom (Shaheed).
From these he would create two new objectives for Muslims to aspire:

  • Establish a New Islamic Caliphate from Spain to the Philippines
  • Eliminate all tolerance and compromise of the last 1400 years from Islam
Then the path to a clash of civilizations against the West would bring about the blessed End of Times with the defeat of the Anti-Christ by the Prophet Isa (Jesus, son of Mary). These beliefs are scripture in Islam but form the main foundation for the Cult of Jihad.

ISIS believes that it is carrying out a chain of events as prophesized by the Prophet Mohammed.
The only way to have the acts of God validated and the wishes of God to come true is the purity of death.
They believe that only the most extremely devout Muslim, one that eschews all comfort, rejects all changes, rejects Bidah (the call for tolerance and respect, and accepts science and art). These all must be cleansed to please God.
In the interpretation of ISIS, their ideology commits them to work solely in the belief that all God wishes is prayer and devotion to God and commitment to the literal words of the Qur'an and the events it predicts. Nothing less will satisfy.
They believe the only way to convince 1.8 billion Muslims that God is pleased with the beheading of children and the rape of women is to characterize those acts as a form of worship. This is the interpretation of ISIS that defines their cultism.
ISIS has taken it upon themselves to bring about, on their own, the literal interpretation of the Qur'an. Instead of letting God's will happen, they are making their interpretation of His desires their own will. Nowhere in the Qur'an does it state that men are to take into their own hands the will of God and make it happen. ISIS argues that since God does not intercede then it is his will.
None of the al-Qaeda written or spoken doctrine ever implied that they were anything but a religious order of the most extremist of orthodoxies. In fact, al-Qaeda was unlike any preceding Arab terrorist groups. The PLO and even Hamas at their peaks embodied less Islamic fever than al-Qaeda/ISIS.

In letters captured in Abbottabad by SEAL Team 6, bin Laden understood that the al-Qaeda brand was slipping from his ability to control who was and was not a follower. The ideology was becoming trendy and popular, almost too popular. Bin Laden wanted higher quality, professional fighters to run the al-Qaeda brand.
Anyone can join ISIS or its affiliates. The era of professionals has given way to the terrorist mobster. No matter what one thinks of the ideology or the new wave of its embrace, with ISIS on the rise and al-Qaeda's older pros observing from the corporate skybox, Osama bin Laden has successfully managed to fight us from the grave.
The beauty of the ISIS Cult of Jihad is that they do not need bin Laden or Caliph Ibrahim alive to lead them. It is now a sentient and self-sustaining series of standing orders that has stood the test of time among the believers.
Real jihadists individually believe that no one on earth can revoke or invalidate the variant of Islam they have been told will take them to Paradise. Indeed, now that the Caliphate has been declared, the cult is on autopilot.
To those who join, the madness is a promise that they will be at the heart of something special. They offer everyone who is filled with hatred, boredom, or who believes that Islam is presently out of proper orbit to come and join.
The cult ideology has an appeal to the disenfranchised, the devout, the bored, the opportunist, and the criminally insane. Untold numbers of individuals and supporters are self-radicalizing through the Internet.
It offers a simple, appealing answer to the questions of how to advance in life or how to fill emptiness. ISIS says, ”Join us, kill for God, and take your rewards both here and in heaven!" And like all ideologies based on perversion and ignorance, the objectives they seek can only occur through human sacrifice.
Everything done by ISIS and al-Qaeda followers—child rape, mass decapitation, sexual slavery, and burning humans alive—requires only the belief that such acts give God, the cult's God, the greatest pleasure and that such atrocities will be rewarded beyond imagination. And God can reward them only if they die.
 

Joe

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Militant Ideology Atlas (Jihadi Literature Analysis – West Point Counter-Terrorism Center)
The Militant Ideology Atlas situates the Jihadi Movement within the various Muslim constituencies that Jihadi leaders seek to influence and persuade:
  • The largest constituency that Jihadi leaders seek to influence is comprised of Muslims: people who follow the Qur'an and the example of Muhammad.
  • Next are Islamists: people who want Islamic law to be the primary source of law and cultural identity in a state. They differ over the meaning of this objective and how to achieve it.
  • Next are the Salafis: Sunni Muslims who want to establish and govern Islamic states based solely on the Qur'an and the example of the Prophet as understood by the first generations of Muslims close to Muhammad. Salafis differ over the final form of these states and the proper means for achieving them. This movement is ideologically akin to the medieval Puritan movement in England and America.
  • Finally, the Jihadis: holy warriors and today's most prominent terrorists, whose movement is part of the larger Salafi Movement (but most Salafis are not Jihadis).

The Jihadis lose credibility among mainstream Muslims when they:
  • Attack women, children, and the elderly
  • Damage the sources of a nation's wealth (such as tourism and oil)
  • Kill other Muslims
  • Declare other Muslims apostates

RECURRING THEMES AND DIVISIVE ISSUES
In addition to cataloging citation information, researchers also wrote detailed summaries of the issues discussed in the works they read. The following themes are well-represented:
  1. Jihadis want unity of thought. They reject pluralism—the idea that no one has a monopoly on truth—and the political system that fosters it, democracy.
  2. Jihadis will fight until every country in the Middle East is ruled only by Islamic law. Once they are in power, the punishments of the Qur'an (such as cutting off the hand of a thief) will be implemented immediately. Not even Saudi Arabia has it right; the Taliban state was the only state that was closest to their vision.
  3. Jihadis contend that the violence they do to their own people, governments, and resources are
    • Necessary
    • Religiously sanctioned
    • Really the fault of the West, Israel, and apostate regime
  4. The Jihadi cause is best served when the conflict with local and foreign governments is portrayed as a conflict between Islam and the West. Islam is under siege and only the Jihadis can lift it.
  5. Countries in the Middle East are weak; they cannot remove tyrants or reform their societies without the help of outsiders. Jihad is the only source of internal empowerment and reform. -

CONCLUSIONS
  • The Jihadi ideology is a subset of Salafi ideology.
  • The West, especially the United States, should be modest about its ability to intellectually challenge Salafism.
  • The movement gained mass popularity during the last century and Salafis now constitute a majority or significant portion of the Muslim population in the Middle East and North Africa. This is despite the fact that it was often strongly opposed by secular nationalist regimes and non-Salafi clerics.
  • Western governments have neither the local credibility nor the cultural expertise necessary to diminish the popularity of Salafism.
  • Label the entire Jihadi Movement ”Qutbism" in recognition that the Jihadis cite Sayyid Qutb (Muslim Brotherhood) more than any other modern author. Muslim opponents of the Jihadis use this term to describe them, a designation Jihadis hate since it implies that they follow a human and are members of a deviant sect. Adherents of the movement consider ”Qutbi" to be a negative label and would much rather be called Jihadi or Salafi. Calling the movement ”Qutbism" would also remove potentially offensive words from the lexicon of public officials (like ”Islamofascism") and disassociate the movement from Islam.
  • Convince Jihadi intellectuals who are truly influential in the movement to renounce certain targets and tactics. Al-Tartusi, for example, shocked his Jihadi colleagues when he renounced suicide attacks after the London bombings.
  • Focus on the divisive issues described above as part of broader efforts to delegitimize violence against non-combatants and to impugn the methods of Jihadis as ineffective and counterproductive means for social change.
  • Counter the recurring themes found in Jihadi literature (detailed above) with the following messages:
    • Jihadis want a totalitarian system of government in which no one is allowed to think for themselves.
    • Not even the Saudi government is strict enough.
    • Anyone who does not share their understanding of Islam will be declared an apostate and executed.
    • If you want to know what a Jihadi state will look like, contemplate the Taliban—the only state in recent memory that Jihadis consider to have been legitimately Islamic.
    • The Jihadi message is so weak and unappealing that they have to use violence to persuade people.
    • They claim to be saving Islam, but they are giving it a bad reputation.
    • They are hurting their own people and national resources.

Finally, a word about ”moderate" Muslims. The measure of moderation depends on what type of standard you use. If by ”moderate" one means the renouncement of violence in the achievement of political goals, then the majority of Salafis are moderate. But if by ”moderate" one means an acceptance of secularism, capitalism, democracy, gender equality, and a commitment to religious pluralism, then Salafis would be extremists on all counts. Then again, there are not many Muslim religious leaders in the Middle East that would qualify as moderates according to the second definition. Until there are, the international community should focus on alienating Jihadis from the broader Salafi Movement. While it may be distasteful to work with non-violent Salafi leaders, they are best positioned to delegitimize Jihadi violence and monitor the activities of the more militant elements of their movement.
 

commedieu

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You get this when you blow up nations with no plan in place to prevent it. That's why you don't give them weapons, training, and money to take care of your enemies.

I don't see that anywhere in these summaries.

Interesting take into the depths and motives. But I can't help but feel like we wouldn't be here with a few changes in foreign policy... I just feel like thinking of them as opportunists supported by other nations directly or indirectly,gives us a straight line on how to defeat this idea.

Or at least weaken it significantly.
 

A Fish Aficionado

I am going to make it through this year if it kills me
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Finally, a word about ”moderate" Muslims. The measure of moderation depends on what type of standard you use. If by ”moderate" one means the renouncement of violence in the achievement of political goals, then the majority of Salafis are moderate. But if by ”moderate" one means an acceptance of secularism, capitalism, democracy, gender equality, and a commitment to religious pluralism, then Salafis would be extremists on all counts. Then again, there are not many Muslim religious leaders in the Middle East that would qualify as moderates according to the second definition. Until there are, the international community should focus on alienating Jihadis from the broader Salafi Movement. While it may be distasteful to work with non-violent Salafi leaders, they are best positioned to delegitimize Jihadi violence and monitor the activities of the more militant elements of their movement.

Apply this to Western World or shut the fuck up.
The GOP is this to a fucking T. Where are my "evangelical moderates?" Speaking to every atrocity committed under His name?
 

Chairman Yang

if he talks about books, you better damn well listen
Sep 14, 2005
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You get this when you blow up nations with no plan in place to prevent it. That's why you don't give them weapons, training, and money to take care of your enemies.

I don't see that anywhere in these summaries.
That's because that explanation is extremely Western-centric and potentially explains only a small fraction of jihadist violence. It's irrelevant when considering, say, Bangladeshi Islamists slaughtering minorities, Filipino Muslims fighting a religiously-flavoured insurgency against their government, or Uighurs in Xinjiang linking their violent disagreements with China to jihadism.
 

vonStirlitz

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Surely we need to recalibrate them as satanists, rather than muslims. After all, their conception of their god is a god that sanctions murder of children, women and men.

If we successfully redefine them as heretical satanists, it could destabilise their self identity (doubtful I know), but at best will distance them from the muslim community they purport ti speak for, and make it very difficulg for sympathetic preachers to speak on their behalf.
 

commedieu

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Is there any need to take this tone?

I think so. Because it's a non solution if you don't have the full picture. This is very much a problem. Contradictory stances only fuel new recruits. Think of what sentiment the wests contribution to the near genocide in Yemen will produce.
 

Joe

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I have a little more info to share but that post took a long time to put together and my eyes are acting crazy. I'll post it up tomorrow if there's still a discussion going on.

Spoiler alert: I have yet to encounter a legitimate and credible expert that states A) religion is the problem or B) Muslims aren't doing enough.

This quote from West Point's Jihadi analysis I posted above says a lot:
Calling the movement ”Qutbism" would also remove potentially offensive words from the lexicon of public officials (like ”Islamofascism") and disassociate the movement from Islam.

(Qutbism is the teachings of Sayyid Qutb of the Muslim Brotherhood)
 
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I have a little more info to share but that post took a long time to put together and my eyes are acting crazy. I'll post it up tomorrow if there's still a discussion going on.

Spoiler alert: I have yet to encounter a legitimate and credible expert that states A) religion is the problem or B) Muslims aren't doing enough.

Please post it even if the thread doesn't seem alive.
 

Azoor

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Ex-muslim here, ISIS does take a lot of cues from Salafism, a lot of salafists genuinely are okay with using violence to achieve their goals. Many of them even want to commit genocide to shias...
 

C4Lukins

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I think with a cult you need a singular leader. You need rules and such.

ISIS is a constantly morphing ball of bull shit. Calling it a cult is giving it to much credit. ISIS just goes from whatever is most convienent at the moment. There is no singular leader. No strict rules. They rape and murder at will without some overlying well documented justification. I do not think it is comparable to your average cult.
 

Condom

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Lol @ 'acceptance of capitalism' as a measurement of moderation, I don't like this world


Interesting text though. He's might be overstating the size of salafism under the population. They're a minority in most counties afaik.
 

Dynomutt

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I have a little more info to share but that post took a long time to put together and my eyes are acting crazy. I'll post it up tomorrow if there's still a discussion going on.

Spoiler alert: I have yet to encounter a legitimate and credible expert that states A) religion is the problem or B) Muslims aren't doing enough.

This quote from West Point's Jihadi analysis I posted above says a lot:


(Qutbism is the teachings of Sayyid Qutb of the Muslim Brotherhood)

Who would make that call in Islam and would it be accepted as so? I know of religious denominations but is this similar? Can you just change the name of a religion? That is a very interesting prospect.

One of the prettiest and smartest women I knew is Muslim. Great conversation! We hit it off but it would not go anywhere because I was not Muslim. Her Dad was actually mad chill and they owned a restaurant we use to eat at. I was absolutely fascinated by Islam. Her family/community had such an amazing support structure people were together. Born and raised and Christian I thought long and hard and will admit the stigma/ignorance/immaturity had somewhat a minor factor but not more my rule to never adopt a religion for love. As someone who has lost faith I always wonder.
 

Azoor

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Who would make that call in Islam and would it be accepted as so? I know of religious denominations but is this similar? Can you just change the name of a religion? That is a very interesting prospect.

One of the prettiest and smartest women I knew is Muslim. Great conversation! We hit it off but it would not go anywhere because I was not Muslim. Her Dad was actually mad chill and they owned a restaurant we use to eat at. I was absolutely fascinated by Islam. Her family/community had such an amazing support structure people were together. Born and raised and Christian I thought long and hard and will admit the stigma/ignorance/immaturity had somewhat a minor factor but not more my rule to never adopt a religion for love. As someone who has lost faith I always wonder.

A lot of people follow the teaching of Sayyid Qutb actually, more than you could imagine.
 

darkinstinct

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Jul 24, 2015
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They are not a cult, they are simply a criminal organisation that exploits religious extremism for their cause. Read up on the documents from when and how they were founded.
 

Joe

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My memory is fuzzy right now but generally speaking the Al-Qaeda/Bin Laden/ISIS doctrine calls for actions so grotesque, and reprehensible that the west is forced to all-out war in the middle east. That would then lead to a war so violent that Jesus comes down from the heavens to destroy the anti-Christ (non-believers and bad Muslims) that results in the entire world is living in a literal translation of the Quran.

They believe this to be Gods will. Not as in "With God on my side hopefully this will happen" - more like "God is willing it so I will do it".

Death isn't a happy accident, it's a goal.

The main splintering differences between Bin Laden and ISIS are:
Bin Laden was thinking on long-term 100-year scale with a structured organization, and vetted and trained professional terrorists.

ISIS is thinking very short-term scale with a completely decentralized structure, and amateur do-it-yourself terrorists.
 
Dec 16, 2015
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How is ISIS a cult? What is the definition used here for labeling a group as a cult? A strict interpretation of a mainstream religion is not imo a cult. Christianity in the past has attacked non-believers and unorthodox sects, and martyrdom has existed since the very beginning. Other than atheists, you can't reasonably call Christianity in those periods as a cult.

The first book seems terrible to me. It's trying to brush away actual grievances Sunni Muslims have against the west and the unhealthy influence of extremist Islamic ideology in mainstream Muslims by calling ISIS and Al-Qaeda as religious kooks. The reasons for worldwide terrorism isn't buried on the internet and it doesn't need talking head "expert analysis". It's on wikipedia straight from Bin Laden's mouth. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_11_attacks#Motives Part of the reason we still have terrorism in the west is because of crap like that book and how the rest of the media reports on the causes of terrorism. If we keep dancing around the cause and the whys and hows, then how can the west solve the problem.
 

C4Lukins

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They have that, he literally calls himself a caliph with his own caliphate.

You ignored the body of my justification on this topic. ISIS is a constantly morphing body. It is not consistent or well organized in the way that you would typically define a cult.

Now it is all just semantics at the end of the day. But your typical cult is not widespread but confined to a small area with a singular perspective from a singular source.

ISIS seems to be widespread, poorly organized, and without a central well defined idea.

ISIS is a semi organized terrorist group. It is not a 100 people in a compound worshiping a fake Jesus. It is not a couple of dozen people committing suicide so that they can ride a comet. It is more complex then that, even if it is equally ridiculous.
 

Joe

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They are not a cult, they are simply a criminal organisation that exploits religious extremism for their cause. Read up on the documents from when and how they were founded.
Yes, I would agree with that. I also believe that they use cult-like tactics to establish and control their operations.

You really did start to hear less about ISIS's stated objectives once they started taking in Iraqi oil and tax revenues.
 

cartesian

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LONDINIVM
They are not a cult, they are simply a criminal organisation that exploits religious extremism for their cause. Read up on the documents from when and how they were founded.
I mean, they 'exploit' religious extremism because they are actually religious extremists. There's little point pretending that they're actually some kind of secular geopolitical group dressed up in religious clothing - ISIS has deeply held theological views stemming from a certain interpretation of Islam. Their long-term goals are theologically-rooted and quite absurd to Western secular minds.

I really think the left needs to come to terms that a small minority of Muslims are evil, and that this evil has some degree of connection to a violent strain of Islam. They hold to a very nasty interpretation of Islam but it is still a version of Islam, warped as it may seem. They are very able to quote Quranic scripture in support of what they are doing - indeed they think they are even commanded to do it.

If we whitewash the issue, and keep insisting that this is nothing to do with religion, we will never understand ISIS or 'Qutbism'/Salafism. There is an major issue in a small part of the Islamic community. Religion plays a role. We are living in denial if we think otherwise.

I have no solutions and I am not implying the answer is deportation or anything like that. I just think, at first principles, we need to begin to start accepting the nature of the problem and then we can go from there. If we leave a vacuum here, the far right will gladly fill it for us.
 

BocoDragon

or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Realize This Assgrab is Delicious
Dec 5, 2005
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Spoiler alert: I have yet to encounter a legitimate and credible expert that states A) religion is the problem

Maybe some things are so obvious that it doesn't need to be stated.

Politically, Wahhabism/Salafism is a field of fundamentalist ideology that grew out of the question of how a religion that views itself as pre-eminent politically responds to a secular/Christian West which has come to dominate the world stage. This isn't an ideology that would grow out of a non-religious context. So, that's religion at play.

ISIS is also the inheritor of a long tradition of Islam shaping political life, going back to the days of the Prophet. Islam has always been political, and it has often involved violent struggle in the aim of establishing correct society (the Prophet himself literally waging battle for the survival of his community). ISIS isn't even close to the first political movement which has waged battle in the name of Islam. So jihadists have inherited a long history justifying war in righteous circumstances, and they have countless theological and historical examples on which to base their struggle. So that's religion too.

It's also a pre-requistive that you are religious in order to find any idea in Salafism coherent and desirable in the first place. This ideology isn't attractive to people who don't already think Islam is the one true faith that is meant to serve as the blueprint for a good society, and that the West's domination is an affront to correct society.

I think in our desire to not paint all Muslims with a broad brush (which we shouldn't. Islamists are a minority), we tend to employ a little bit of doublethink and say things like "Islamism has nothing to do with religion". Of course it has something to do with religion. We can say that without becoming bigots demonizing millions of Muslims who express their faith in healthy and empowering ways.
 

Joe

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You ignored the body of my justification on this topic. ISIS is a constantly morphing body. It is not consistent or well organized in the way that you would typically define a cult.

Now it is all just semantics at the end of the day. But your typical cult is not widespread but confined to a small area with a singular perspective from a singular source.

ISIS seems to be widespread, poorly organized, and without a central well defined idea.

ISIS is a semi organized terrorist group. It is not a 100 people in a compound worshiping a fake Jesus. It is not a couple of dozen people committing suicide so that they can ride a comet. It is more complex then that, even if it is equally ridiculous.

This article covers it pretty well.

I'm going to copy and paste a lot of it here:

First, the "Eight Criteria for Thought Reform"
1) Milieu Control. This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.

2) Mystical Manipulation. The manipulation of experiences that appears spontaneous but is, in fact, planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to demonstrate divine authority, spiritual advancement, or some exceptional talent or insight that sets the leader and/or group apart from humanity, and that allows reinterpretation of historical events, scripture, and other experiences. Coincidences and happenstance oddities are interpreted as omens or prophecies.

3) Demand for Purity. The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here.

4) Confession. Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group. There is no confidentiality; members' "sins," "attitudes," and "faults" are discussed and exploited by the leaders.

5) Sacred Science. The group's doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. Truth is not to be found outside the group. The leader, as the spokesperson for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism.

6) Loading the Language. The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. This jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés, which serve to alter members' thought processes to conform to the group's way of thinking.

7) Doctrine over person. Members' personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group.

8) Dispensing of existence. The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group's ideology. If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the members. Thus, the outside world loses all credibility. In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also.


Foreign Policy Journal (October 2014): Concerning Features of an Apocalyptic Cult in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)

1) The control that ISIS exerts is both positive and negative. The prohibitive aspect is far-reaching, from the typical Islamist enforcement of shari’a by male and female religious police to some unusual rules not allowing members to share pictures and videos on social media other than those put out by the official propaganda agency and death sentences for those who publicize ISIL’s activities without permission.

In terms of education, ISIL has already decided that chemistry and philosophy are not fitting subjects for study in the lands it claims to control.[6] Meanwhile, ISIL also maintains a very carefully orchestrated social media campaign that surpasses any extremist organization by far. Its videos create a mythology of heroes, especially through the repeated use of the term “the Muslims”. Some members of the group are showcased as idols and that leads new recruits to feel excited to speak to them or meet them. There is strong use of “nasheeds,” Islamic songs to bind the activities together. The common theme of the videos is how free and happy the group members are.

Where ISIL has appears uninterested in maintaining milieu control refers to former members and even some current ones. A true cult would be able to control current followers, and exiting followers would generally be bound by guilt and unable to criticize the group even mentally.
2 & 5) Mystical manipulation, and the very similar fifth, sacred science, are clearly present in the Islamic State literature, “They are the agents ‘chosen’ (by history, by God, or by some other supernature force) to carry out the ‘mystical imperative,’ the pursuit of which must supersede all considerations of decency or of immediate human welfare.”
3) Some individuals have a strong urge to organize concepts into good or bad while others avoid categorizing at all. Terrorists in general appear to fall into the first group. Previous examples have demonstrated that disputing group beliefs is seen as apostatizing. In the Islamic State, such behavior can lead to execution. ISIL also leads members to feel guilty by using a technique called “love-bombing.” This means that they flood new fighters with kindness so that they feel guilty for wanting to leave or thinking critical thoughts.
4) While I have seen no indications of the fourth theme, confession, in the upper echelons of the group, I have noticed it in its public enforcement of Shari’ah. The Vice News documentary Islamic State documents how the religious police travel around confronting ordinary citizens for their “sins” such as women wearing see-through veils or vendors selling water during Ramadan.[15] Offenders are re-educated according to ISIL teaching. In addition, a most disturbing video was distributed on Twitter recently showing the stoning of a girl by ISIL fighters in front of her own father while she begged for forgiveness. There is definitely a culture of forcing confession, but so-called criminals might be killed for their offense. Still, there have been no reports of jihadi confessions being used against them by their higher ups.
6) Lifton wittily expresses this as, “The most far-reaching and complex of human problems are compressed into brief, highly reductive definitive-sounding phrases, easily memorized and easily expressed…it is part of an expression of unity and exclusiveness.”

Twitter user “ghazishami”, who claimed to not be part of ISIL and yet for all appearances is a recruiter, often used the term “green birds” on his Ask FM page. It seems to be an Islamist reference to martyrdom. Other common keywords of ISIL are, among others, takfir, kuffar, khawarij, khilafah, tawhid, rafidah, Islamic State, ummah, hijrah, and my favorite, ghanimah (war booty). Not only that, but the one-finger gesture so common in ISIL photographs accompanied by the cry of “Takbir!” and anashid leads to a mind-numbing which is exactly what Lifton describes.

A recent New York Times article confirmed this, “’When you fight over there, it’s like being in a trance,’ said Can, who asked to be referred to only by his middle name for fear of reprisal. ‘Everyone shouts, ‘God is the greatest,’ which gives you divine strength to kill the enemy without being fazed by blood or splattered guts,’ he said.” In addition, the members address each other as akhi, or brother, and this implies that they are all brothers, no longer part of their birth families. This characteristic of ISIL is perhaps its most concerning indication of a mindless obedience to an ideology.
7) In doctrine over person, Lifton discusses the creation of a myth in which the narrative of the member’s life is placed. In the “Flames of War” video posted on Youtube, one fighter said, “From the mujahideen, on the other hand, came the believers who would rebuild the khilafah. They were chosen by Allah. They were the Khorabah, the few of the few, from all corners of the earth, who answered the call of the prophet waha wa sahlan.” There have also been rumors on Twitter of the ISIL obsession with the white mosque (Umayyad mosque) of Syria, believed to be a site of the end times. ISIL ideology hinges upon apocalyptic Islamic theology, and thus their expectations for the future are easily predictable. They believe that the end of the earth will soon ensue, exactly according to the hadith. A simple civil war has thus become the beginning of the end days for ISIL members. Therefore, for them there is no life or death, just ideology. The myth is extremely powerful for the members, and surely the heart of what they discuss among themselves.
8) ISIL does fit Lifton’s final criteria of dispensing of existence in a most frightful way. Young, inexperienced soldiers are sent into battle to fight willingly in a conflict they often know little about. Many support toppling Assad, but ISIL has taken it even further to slaughter Yazidi Kurds and the massacre of hundreds in the Sheitat tribe of Syria, just to name a few. They have had to expand their ideology to encompass this genocide which in their minds is necessary to consolidate their power. In addition, jihadis become what Fathali Moghaddam of Georgetown University calls “fodder” when they are used as suicide bombers. During the battle around Erbil, one Kurdish soldier commented that ISIL jihadis didn’t cover themselves or hide to shoot. They have no fear of death. In that sense, the group has been quite clever to recruit young, often unattached individuals.

While many Islamist extremist organizations have cult-like features, ISIL is perhaps the most cultish in history. The loaded language, myth creation, and strict ideology mean that the members are not participating in what we would call the real world. They live in an imaginary world in which jihadi heroes prepare for the apocalypse. In spite of that intense thought control, some members are repelled by the brutality. Most theorists would agree that Islamic extremists follow an ideology; many would disagree that fighters receive thought reform. However, a careful study of Lifton’s criteria leads to the suggestion that consideration of this aspect might lead to more successful prevention of radicalization, some de-radicalization ideas, and methods to fight the group which has so terrorized such a long-suffering region.
 

Joe

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Maybe some things are so obvious that it doesn't need to be stated.

Politically, Wahhabism/Salafism is a field of fundamentalist ideology that grew out of the question of how a religion that views itself as pre-eminent politically responds to a secular/Christian West which has come to dominate the world stage. This isn't an ideology that would grow out of a non-religious context. So, that's religion at play.

ISIS is also the inheritor of a long tradition of Islam shaping political life, going back to the days of the Prophet. Islam has always been political, and it has often involved violent struggle in the aim of establishing correct society (the Prophet himself literally waging battle for the survival of his community). ISIS isn't even close to the first political movement which has waged battle in the name of Islam. So jihadists have inherited a long history justifying war in righteous circumstances, and they have countless theological and historical examples on which to base their struggle. So that's religion too.

It's also a pre-requistive that you are religious in order to find any idea in Salafism coherent and desirable in the first place. This ideology isn't attractive to people who don't already think Islam is the one true faith that is meant to serve as the blueprint for a good society, and that the West's domination is an affront to correct society.

I think in our desire to not paint all Muslims with a broad brush (which we shouldn't. Islamists are a minority), we tend to employ a little bit of doublethink and say things like "Islamism has nothing to do with religion". Of course it has something to do with religion. We can say that without becoming bigots demonizing millions of Muslims who express their faith in healthy and empowering ways.

I would love to read something by a credible expert that says religion is the problem. Do you have a link?

Also, ISIS targets non-believers by preying on their bleak prospects and turns them into believers.
 

YourMaster

Member
Jan 26, 2006
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Opinions on terrorism typically fall into one of three camps:

The first group believes that the terrorists are motivated by a radical form of Islam. To them the religion itself is the problem. They derisively refer to it as “Radical Islam” or “Islamic Extremism.”
At the extreme, Islamophobes in the West hold the view that because al-Qaeda and ISIS are Muslim, they are the vanguard of the Muslim world’s attack on the West. These ideologues believe that it is only a matter of time until all Muslims will join.
Hysterical rhetoric such as this is precisely what ISIS wants.

This is such a straw-man. I don't think people that are (highly) critical on aspects of Islam or the religion as a whole believe all Muslims will join in. It is perfectly possible to believe that the nature of the religion makes some of its members more open to violence, gender discrimination and/or hatred, without also believing that the people the members of this group that are currently peaceful are simply biding their time to join in with the hatred, rape and violence.
 

spekkeh

Banned
Apr 18, 2011
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ISIS is definitely a cult. Though if you have governance structures, civil servants and a standing army, the boundaries between a cult and a theocracy start blurring. It would be putting the cart before the horse to claim that international terrorism is perpetrated by cultists though (I see in the second post by Joe that the author doesn't, but I'm sure a lot of people here would be happy with such an easy pigeonhole). Unless you travel to Syria you don't join up with ISIS. And I'm sure some listen to the works of Al-Baghdadi, but most probably don't even care. Rather, it's just the latest successful club in a broad international sharing of religious ideals. If AQIM was more successful, people would now be killing in the name of AQIM.

Calling them Qutbis is interesting but probably as successful a strategy as calling them, well, Wahhabis. (Or recently Daesh). Name calling only kind of works if they are poor and impotent. Actions speak louder than words after all. This can only be remedied by reform from within. Current Sunni Islam is entirely too bloodthirsty. That includes most 'moderates'.
 

Joe

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This is such a straw-man. I don't think people that are (highly) critical on aspects of Islam or the religion as a whole believe all Muslims will join in. It is perfectly possible to believe that the nature of the religion makes some of its members more open to violence, gender discrimination and/or hatred, without also believing that the people the members of this group that are currently peaceful are simply biding their time to join in with the hatred, rape and violence.
This is the entire quote from the book, I edited that snippet (poorly) due to character count concerns.

To them the religion itself is the problem. They derisively refer to it as “Radical Islam” or “Islamic Extremism.” This group insists that this faction of Muslims are fighting a wholly religious war, which may be apocalyptic in nature but is most definitely a legitimate clash of civilizations, Islam vs the West.

Graeme Wood, a political science professor at Yale University, wrote a widely read article for Atlantic Monthly where he leads the charge that ISIS is an unashamedly apocalyptic Islamic group which in turn fuels their acts of terror. Other more conservative scholars and pundits say that because the terrorists themselves claim Islam, call themselves Muslims, and quote texts from Qur’an, that Islam is the source of the problem. At the right extreme, Islamophobes in the West such as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer hold the view that because al-Qaeda and ISIS are Muslim, they are the vanguard of the Muslim world’s attack on the West. These ideologues believe that it is only a matter of time until all Muslims will join them and that Muslims, advancement must be checked. Any number of politicians and pundits attempt to legitimatize ISIS’s deviance and urge the Muslim world to hurry up and join the jihadists. They want a clash of civilizations and unending war. Aayan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim, wrote that she believed that Islam is completely violent and must be reformed and transformed into a modest version of Christianity.

Hysterical rhetoric such as this is precisely what ISIS wants and desires and, God willing, the western chattering class will assist them in achieving that goal.
 

BocoDragon

or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Realize This Assgrab is Delicious
Dec 5, 2005
51,641
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I would love to read something by a credible expert that says religion is the problem. Do you have a link?

Also, ISIS targets non-believers by preying on their bleak prospects and turns them into believers.

I wouldn't call religion "the problem". I'd call religion "the context". ISIS is just another chapter in the long political struggle in the history of Islamic civilization.

To be clear, ISIS is the descendant of Wahhabism/Salafism which is a relatively recent development in Islam's answer to the west (~200 years ago). It's a reactionary new ideology that wasn't necessarily a part of original Islam (though it claims to be a restoration of original Islam). But there were plenty of precedent groups throughout Islamic history who prelude ISIS. Even the word "Assassin" refers to an Islamic group that killed a lot of important leaders over the course of 300 years in the name of their version of correct Islamic governance.

Just read a book on Islamic history to get the greater context. I recommend Destiny Distrupted - A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes. What's striking about it that it was written in 2010, before ISIS was a thing. And yet, ISIS doesn't arrive like some anomaly. It seems perfectly natural in light of the long struggle that had come before, and especially in light of the building reaction to Western dominance over the 20th century.
 

C4Lukins

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Feb 27, 2006
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Just repeating the article I was already responding to does not counter my comments.

The point of a message board like this is to have a discussion. I disagree with the overlying argument of the article, and many of the points it makes. Quoting it again in order to argue against my points is not really a discussion. It is just dismissing any counterpoints I may have.
 

Joe

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Jun 6, 2004
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Just repeating the article I was already responding to does not counter my comments.

The point of a message board like this is to have a discussion. I disagree with the overlying argument of the article, and many of the points it makes. Quoting it again in order to argue against my points is not really a discussion. It is just dismissing any counterpoints I may have.
What? That article wasn't posted before and goes further in-depth on ISIS cult-analysis.
 
Oct 24, 2012
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"Tolerance" of the last 1400 years? Fucking lol.

I study classical Islamic civilization at uni and tolerance is not what you could define that timespan. Its just a polemic word to use, you can't define 1400 years of history with one word, its just intellectually dishonest and it's a rose tinted view.
 

darkinstinct

...lacks reading comprehension.
Jul 24, 2015
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I mean, they 'exploit' religious extremism because they are actually religious extremists. There's little point pretending that they're actually some kind of secular geopolitical group dressed up in religious clothing -

The IS leadership actually had judges executed because they were going too far with their religiously motivated verdicts. They are as corrupt and anti-religious as they come. Religion is not their motivation, it is their catch-phrase. Cult-like is the best description, they feed on people in turmoil. Be it personal, financial or other problems. And then they offer a solution by joining the cause and making your life meaningful again. A lot of terrorist weren't religious until weeks or months before their attack. They consumed alcohol, porn, listened to music, ... Something goes wrong in their life and then they turn. It's just brainwashing.

The IS leadership is most certainly in it for money and power, not for their religious beliefs.
 

spekkeh

Banned
Apr 18, 2011
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The IS leadership actually had judges executed because they were going too far with their religiously motivated verdicts. They are as corrupt and anti-religious as they come. Religion is not their motivation, it is their catch-phrase. Cult-like is the best description, they feed on people in turmoil. Be it personal, financial or other problems. And then they offer a solution by joining the cause and making your life meaningful again. A lot of terrorist weren't religious until weeks or months before their attack. They consumed alcohol, porn, listened to music, ... Something goes wrong in their life and then they turn. It's just brainwashing.

The IS leadership is most certainly in it for money and power, not for their religious beliefs.
Ah yes the no true Scotsman. Even as they sacrifice their own life for Islam, they are not really Muslim and it is nothing to do with Islam. What if money and power are part of their religious beliefs? Was not Mohammed a wealthy warlord by the end of his life? Is ghanimah not an Islamic concept? Do Allah and Mohammed not themselves say that Muslims are destined to dominate the world? Money and power, according to these people (and who can honestly blame them if you read the Hadith) are befitting of a Caliph and the Ummah.
Mohammed is not Jesus or Buddha. Far from it.
 

Azoor

Member
Nov 22, 2015
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"Tolerance" of the last 1400 years? Fucking lol.

I study classical Islamic civilization at uni and tolerance is not what you could define that timespan. Its just a polemic word to use, you can't define 1400 years of history with one word, its just intellectually dishonest and it's a rose tinted view.

History of Islamic civilizations if filled with blood and violence, while it doesn't necessarily represent all Muslims today, it gives you a proper context for the geopolitical climate of the region. Mainly the Persian-Arab rivalrary.

I wouldn't call religion "the problem". I'd call religion "the context". ISIS is just another chapter in the long political struggle in the history of Islamic civilization.

To be clear, ISIS is the descendant of Wahhabism/Salafism which is a relatively recent development in Islam's answer to the west (~200 years ago). It's a reactionary new ideology that wasn't necessarily a part of original Islam (though it claims to be a restoration of original Islam). But there were plenty of precedent groups throughout Islamic history who prelude ISIS. Even the word "Assassin" refers to an Islamic group that killed a lot of important leaders over the course of 300 years in the name of their version of correct Islamic governance.

Just read a book on Islamic history to get the greater context. I recommend Destiny Distrupted - A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes. What's striking about it that it was written in 2010, before ISIS was a thing. And yet, ISIS doesn't arrive like some anomaly. It seems perfectly natural in light of the long struggle that had come before, and especially in light of the building reaction to Western dominance over the 20th century.

Salafism/ Wahabism takes a lot of cues from Ibn Taymiyyah, who bu no means a modern scholar and predates Wahabism by few hundred years.