ISIS IN THE MIRROR
We know that sounds as though ISIS is gaining and we see it in our rear view mirror. But alas, that’s not what we mean at all.
The US, and the world, has been horrified at the jihad waged by ISIS upon non-Muslims in Iraq and Syria, and probably soon enough in Kurdistan and Turkey. To us this seems like killing for its own sake, pleasurable sadism. That it is done in the name of one religion or another makes it even worse.
But that’s not what we’re talking about.
There is a parallel to what ISIS is doing, and it turns out (it seems to us) that we are already acting as ISIS in the United States of America. Let us explain.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, the US has been invaded by waves of immigrants. Irish, Eastern Europeans, Jews, Italians, Asians. The more benign citizen has accepted this as necessary for our country to grow industrially. The less benign citizen has made every effort to exclude these people from living in this country as its other citizens do. Paths to financial success, to responsible behavior, to integration with the rest of the nation have long been blocked. In education there have been quotas; in the unions there have been quotas; in housing there have been not simply quotas but entire areas marked off as uninhabitable for certain people.
This of course is called prejudice.
The best we can say about it is that it is not religiously based, but ethnically. The end result, however, is identical: men, women, and children are forbidden the fruits of our great country not because of what they do or who they are, but because of WHAT they are, or WHAT they are not. And for at least one hundred and fifty years other people (“Them”) have been excluded from the simplest, most mundane activities one can imagine. Except, of course, in times of war when we insisted that all who lived on these shores fought for our liberty, even though liberty had not yet been extended to so many.
This of course is called tyranny.
Another little item of which the US is guilty is called Lynching.
Thankfully, this was done without a religious reason. But suddenly it begins to appear that the difference between ISIS and the history of the US (or indeed of any colonial power) is minimal. But for the enormous scope of ISIS activities. In this country, prejudice, tyranny, and lynching were not officially sanctioned by a city-state. Our activity was more individualized, almost personal rather than institutional. Catholics and Jews barred from membership in certain clubs … segregation in restaurants and public spaces … field-workers, brick-layers, Chinese “coolies,” as they were called. Grace Kelly’s father was not allowed to row at Henley in England because his father was a brick-layer in Philadelphia. That seems a long way from ISIS but in our mind, it’s really only a few feet.
A gigantic question exists: here in this country we have tried to atone for our errors. Will ISIS make any effort at atoning for its mass-murders? We as a nation were not often interested in acquiring territory under the threat of torture, violence, fire and brimstone. ISIS is. While we hoped that citizens – natives and immigrants alike – would eventually be Americanized, ISIS doesn’t give a hoot. If you’re not of their persuasion, their brand of Islam, you’re a dead man. Or woman or child.
One of the happier facts of this American life is our Constitution, and its corollary, The Bill of Rights, which canonizes the freedom to worship as one will, or one won’t. How lucky we are, especially in view of the fact that so many millions of people throughout history have been done away with simply because they were religious but religious the wrong way. In America, there is no wrong way.
The history of colonialism anywhere on the globe is rife with religious wars, from the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition before to the Mosel Dam and Erbil today. ISIS is, in fact, at war with the world in order to become a colonial power, in order to lay claim to a huge swathe of property from Syria to Turkey. Included in this map insert are oil wells. Oh. Really? Does that make death more an economic problem than a religious one? We don’t think so. We suspect that ISIS would do exactly what it is already doing without oil as a prize. ISIS is fatal partisanship, no more interested in compromise than our own Congress.
As commentators throughout the world have noted, there is no happy solution to what is happening in the Middle East. Most problems do have solutions of one sort or another. But what possible atonement can there be for what is, essentially, ethnic cleansing?
ISIS, and religion, offer the world nothing but death and domination. Religion makes ISIS unconquerable except by total destruction.
Eventually this may make us all as guilty as ISIS is today.