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Religion and the war against ISIS

by Frank Kaufmann, March 2, 2015

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Stomach turning levels of barbarism perpetrated as religiously sanctioned behavior has changed the rules on public
conversation about religion in media and the public square. Open and serious discussion of religion in is no longer taboo
among cultured elites.

During the second half of the 20th century Communist and Western materialisms clashed in global confrontation, and it was
chic to treat religion as anachronism, a thing of the past, a quaint habit of simple folk who knew no better. The fall of
Communism, the war in Kosovo, the 9/11 attacks and other remarkable events forced many to realize that rejection and
ignorance of religion was neither clever nor wise, and in fact left the West vulnerable and flat-footed as it imagined the
world had graduated from superstition.
As horrors, perpetrated in the name of religion grew to dominate news, media, and consciousness by an out-sized
proportion, thinkers as well as folks on the street naturally began to look for insight and wisdom from people familiar with
religion and spirituality.
The decline of condescension and hostility, and the emerging, necessary interest in religion has created a post materialist
awareness that has people more naturally able to spot good, positive, and healthy forms of religion and spirituality. The
natural force of conscience resonates with constructive religious impact so that things like the patience and universalism of
the Dalai Lama, or the nimble efforts of Pope Francis I to nudge his hierarchy toward greater egalitarianism and compassion
tends to be appreciated and admired, even by non-religious people.

Religion and the war against ISIS

by Frank Kaufmann, March 2, 2015
Page 2

As we see the freakish sadism and vicious oppression by ISIS individuals, we now recognize that religiously infused
passion is mighty indeed. The desperation on a global scale to combat such vile fruits of religious perversion, intensify our
search for forms and institutions of good religion capable of responding with authority and persuasion. Sure there are all
sorts of military, economic, and social designs constantly presented as ways to undo ISIS, but the simple truth is that these
cannot succeed without concerted investment and collaboration from intelligent, believers with the capacity to the define
religion properly. A thousand US led summits will never produce an ascendant Islam with true beauty capable of attracting
young people seeking passion, meaning, and purpose. Only people with true religious understanding and belief will be
capable of presenting elevated and elegant Islams that are truly attractive.
Presently two core elements of ISIS are overlooked in current plans and designs to remove this plague from our midst.
Without knowing these, designs to defeat it will fail. The central, defining pillars of ISIS are: 1. There is only one true
religious way, and 2. It is legitimate to use whatever means necessary to extirpate any and all other ways of religion and
The reason why people investing in the overthrow of ISIS are failing is that they do not differ enough from ISIS to be a
conduit for the solution.
Far too many people tapped to combat ISIS are ISIS-like, even if to an infinitely lesser degree. How ISIS-like? They believe
that their own way of life is the one legitimate way, and they are involved in or permit that some forms of violence and/or
oppression are legitimate in order to advance the supremacy of their own way. It could be military, it could be economic, it
could even be diplomatic pressure, but any degree to which diminishing an other is deemed legitimate is ISIS-like.
People are looking to the high-minded religionists for clues to address these wrenching horrors, but the one most necessary
demand from religion and believers at this time is being missed.
The singular advance that must come from the religious world at this time, is this: No matter how passionate and confident I
am about the truth of my way, I cannot ever allow this to cloud my genuine love and support for any other healthy and lifeaffirming person, no matter how differently they live and see the world. Regardless of my passions, commitments, and
beliefs, regardless of my religion, my nation, my race, I must at all times be a champion for all. Only when I as a Muslim I
defend Christians, only when I as a Hindu stand for the Catholics and Buddhists, only when the evidence of my religious
passions is my readiness to protect all believers do I become sufficiently distinct from ISIS to become part of the solution.
Otherwise, I share too much in common with ISIS to be much good, no matter how bright I am, or where I studied political
The second thing I must become, in order to be part of the solution, is someone with no trace of willingness to commit any
form of violence or advantage over others to advance what I believe is a superior way of being, nor to advance the benefit of
my kind, be they my fellow Baptists, or my fellow Americans, or my fellow Muslims. If I have borders and a subset of
people who are right while other constructive life-affirming believers are wrong I have too much in common with ISIS. If I
have a willingness to aggress against others or oppress any other person who is not one of my own, I have too much in
common with ISIS.
Those who understand religion, yet do not have these borders are the ones who will spearhead the path to the solution we so
desperately need at this time.