Before you panic at the headline of this article ... no, ISIS is not (as far as I know) targeting Ireland. The reference to Ireland (and by implication the so-called “Protestant-Catholic” struggle there) comes from an insight offered by one of our guests on Interfaith Voices last week as we discussed what really motivates ISIS (or the Islamic State).
One guest was Graeme Wood, a lecturer in political science at Yale who wrote an article for The Atlantic that has been the most widely read Atlantic article ever, entitled “What ISIS Really Wants.” He argued that ISIS is “Islamic, very Islamic,” and that pretending that the so-called Islamic State isn’t actually a religious group, with a coherent theology, has led the rest of the world to underestimate its power. He describes a medieval, even apocalyptic, Islamic theology to which ISIS appeals to explain the founding of its “caliphate” and to justify the brutal actions against those who disagree with them.
One of Wood’s most thoughtful critics, and my other guest, was Muslim scholar Yasir Qadhi, a professor of religious studies at Rhodes College in Tennessee, who says the problem with Wood's analysis is what he doesn't say: that the root causes of ISIS’ actions do not come from Islam; they are "the hellish conditions Western powers created in the region." He acknowledges that members of ISIS are Muslim (“after all, they are not Buddhists or Jews,” he says), but he made a strong case that it was the U.S. invasion of Iraq (not some Islamic theology) that created the conditions that gave rise to ISIS. He described the brutality of that invasion in words that cry out to be heard by more Americans.
As he made that argument, he used the analogy of the Protestant-Catholic struggle in Northern Ireland. Yes, he noted, each side in that struggle claimed a religious identity, and the struggle was often described in religious terms, but religion was NOT the motivator. The economic and political injustices felt by the Catholic population were the motivator.
So the upshot of all this is clear: those who believe that the way to deal with ISIS is more U.S. military intervention in the Middle East are sadly mistaken. And in the end, both guests agreed: that is not the way to deal with ISIS. They made the best case against military intervention in the region I have heard in a long time.