Opinion: ‘Holy war’ ISIS’ best hope

The number one goal of ISIS — the one accomplishment that would make its brutish leaders truly ecstatic — would be to set off a holy war between Islam and Christianity.

And some extremely foolish people want to give ISIS the victory they cherish most.

Earlier this week, for example, Bill O’Reilly solemnly announced to the world that with the execution by ISIS of 21 Christian Egyptians, “The holy war begins.” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has called President Obama “an apologist for radical Islamic terrorists” for refusing to cast the conflict in religious terms. The Rev. Franklin Graham complains that Obama is protecting Islam because “his whole life, his experiences have been surrounded by Islam. He only knows Islam.”

That is also the subtext of the conservative insistence that Obama utter the words “Islamic terrorist”. What changes once he utters that magic phrase? Nothing, except that it validates those who cast this as a conflict between religions.

The emotional appeal of that approach is obvious. It excites people. It gets them feeling all righteous. It reduces a complex situation to us vs. them, with “us” and “them” defined in religious terms. And as history tell us, human beings succumb to that all too readily. Something deep down and dark inside us likes that kind of fight, and once we get started on those terms, it never ends well.

But consider the following:

  • In this supposed holy war, ISIS has killed many more Muslims than Christians. The ratio of Muslim to Christian victims is probably in the range of 1,000 Muslims for every Christian.
  • Muslims have fought harder against ISIS, have killed many more ISIS members, and have suffered many more casualties against ISIS, than have Americans and other Westerners. Every Muslim government in the region is a bitter foe of ISIS.
  • ISIS terrorists have burned a Jordanian pilot, a devout Muslim, alive in a cage. They have killed thousands of Muslim girls and women in "honor killings." They crucify — literally — members of rival groups for the sin of being too "moderate."
  • The Arab League has condemned ISIS for its "crimes against humanity." Ahmed al-Tayeb, grand imam of the al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and the most powerful religious leader in Sunni Islam, describes ISIS as satanic. The International Association of Muslim Scholars condemns it as an "extremist organization (that) does not represent Islam in any way and its actions always harm Islam."

Think about it: Once we cast this as a struggle between Christianity and Islam, what role have we assigned to the many Muslims — Iraqis, Egyptians, Syrians, Jordanians, Kurds and Iranians — who have joined us in fighting ISIS? Suddenly, they become collaborators with the Christians and traitors to the Islamic faith, which is exactly how ISIS wishes them to be seen.

This is not complicated: ISIS wants to make this a battle about religious identity. If we join them in making this a battle about religious identity, ISIS wins and everybody else loses. In short, the president is absolutely right:

“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war.”

Of course, that president was George W. Bush.