It is important to distinguish between the political and the religious roots of ISIS.
The political roots relate to past Western colonial injustices which include political domination, economic exploitation, imperialistic map-making, cultural marginalization, and the like. It is not unlike the masses in a country rising against decades of the ruthless dictatorship of a tyrant, with shouts of liberty, equality, and fraternity. In so far as this is the only cause, it may be applauded even if it causes the indiscriminate use of the guillotine.
The religious roots of ISIS are more ominous. Every religion, whether human-constructed or Divinity-inspired, has several dimensions. One of these involves the treatment of fellow humans. Here, practically all religions teach love, charity, caring and the like. But most traditional religions also preach caution towards the stranger, antipathy towards the outsider, sometimes bordering on belligerent behavior towards the unbeliever. [There are ample passages in all scriptures that proclaim these attitudes.] Given that some of these are etched in the hearts of many ardent practitioners from an early age, it is difficult to extricate oneself from these.
When and wherever religious groups and leaders fan the fires of hatred and are unwilling or unable to free their tradition from the mindless venom of regarding non-believing fellow humans as deserving of death, the potential for ISIS and its equivalents in other traditions will always be there.
Just as the nobler elements of all religions can sensitize the human heart for attitudes of sympathy and acts of love, their more hurtful dimensions can turn the shade-giving branches of religions into rotting deadwood scorched by the desert sun of vicious hate.
The technological offshoots of science include constructive devices and curative medicines, as well as destructive weapons. Science can at best be a mass of interesting information and a resource for contriving gadgets and chemicals. Without Enlightenment its civilizing possibilities will remain latent, and its capacities for destruction can be let loose. Religion without social and secular enlightenment can become ominously pernicious too, a full-fledged danger to the civilized world. This danger can be/is actualized if the youths of a tradition are brainwashed with the zeal for ruthless killing of the other, and when sophisticated weapons come with their easy reach.
It would therefore seem that the key to resolving the current global crisis lies – aside from maintaining and using the military superiority of the civilized world – in how well and how earnestly the leaders of religious traditions shape the minds of their growing children, inculcating in them the values of love, compassion, and enlightenment. This is not that easy in frameworks that linger in the ancient modes of religious intolerance in a world where there are billions struggling with little education and economic hope, pathetic victims of social injustice and fanatical religious leaders.
October 4, 2014