On Watch: Who the Hell is ISIS? or Fifty Shades of Pray

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By Marcus Fisk
“Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion–several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven…..”
Mark Twain – Book of Animals

It’s that time of year again – Spring – when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of….. TERROR.
Three years ago we in the ‘west’ marveled at the popular uprisings all over the Arab world aimed at liberating the oppressed and spreading the seeds of democracy far and wide. We called it the ‘Arab Spring’ and watched in orange sherbet joy at the demise of Qaddafi (Libya), Mubarak (Egypt), and waited for the inevitable shoe to drop for Bashar al-Asad (Syria). Soon, we thought, all our troops would be home from Iraq and Afghanistan (or pick your favorite ‘Stan’ – we’re in almost all of them doing something). We were within a gnat’s breath of completely, finally, and totally, extricating ourselves from the sink-hole called the Middle East and this past summer, when oil prices hit rock-bottom, we thought we had truly died and gone to heaven.

Today, watching the news we are bombarded with dozens of organizations with interchangeable, names, like radical groups in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’, all intent at returning Islam to its traditional roots, since Islam is not conservative enough for their tastes. We Americans, much like the British before us, have been attracted to the Middle East for nearly a century. Back in WW I it was to defeat the Kaiser’s Germany and then later Nazi Germany in WW II according to our leadership. Fast forward to the late 1970s and 80s and to our total surprise we learned that it was really for the oil there and how silly of us to think otherwise.
This relationship between the west and the Middle East has been a strained one to say the least and much like Ana Steele’s addictive, perverse attraction to Christopher in 50 Shades of Grey, we find it tough to shake loose from this abusive, violent and destructive relationship. In short – the west still clings to the Middle East with all its in-fighting, ebb and flow of radical/terror groups, and bewildering alliances, a perversion that defies understanding.
We Americans are the naive, innocent freshmen of international affairs and find it way easier to lump our enemies into nice, neat categories, rather than trying to follow these nuanced theocracies that emerge in the headlines daily. What we westerners fail to understand about ISIS/ISIL is that they don’t care about what we think; they are the new, horrific gangstas of the ‘hood’ and do not believe in any state, country, nor in any established governments. They believe that Islamic or what is called Sharia Law trumps any secular laws any nation could ever devise. Sharia is an Arabic word for ‘The pathway to be followed’ and ISIS/ISIL has adopted it hook, line and sinker. They believe that the old ways are the right ways to behave and anyone who does not subscribe to their ideals, is a heretic and must be punished according to Sharia Law.
Back during our recent Arab Spring Break in Utopia, a small, irritable, boil called ‘ISIS’ started to fester. To the intelligence world and the political pundits wagging their gums on CNN and FOX, to them it looked like Al-Queda, smelled like Al-Queda, sounded like Al-Queda, and it even occupied the e-waves like Al-Queda. But it clearly wasn’t a duck. ISIS/ISIL had been born out of the Sunni Muslim Disgruntled Veteran’s Alumni Association and for nearly a decade had been recruiting young, disenfranchised (read: poor, unemployed and really pissed-off), whack-jobs, and trained them to go do that voodoo that they do so well – with a vengeance.
ISIS/ISIL members are predominantly Sunni Muslims who are on a religious quest to rid the world of , well, you name it – just about any other Islamic faith, Judaism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and certainly anything that even closely resembles Christianity. They have declared that anything ‘new’ or ‘modern’ is flat-out blasphemous. They are strict sticklers to the old, traditional ways, and anyone disobeying their interpretation of Sharia Law or ideologically disagreeing with them is punished in the old, traditional way. To demonstrate to the world their unshakable commitment to the old, traditional ways, they dutifully behead their enemies in the same old, traditional way, of their ancestors – by the sword – and then prove their complete, total dedication by doing it publicly on the old, traditional, internet. Hmmmmmm…
In short, ISIS/ISIL doesn’t care if there are 50 different faiths within Islam or 50 other religions each having 50 shades of how they pray. To ISIS there is only one way. Their way. This perverse distortion of the true tenets of Islam by ISIS is parallel to what E.L. James has done for the modern novel – perverted fiction to the point that abuse, torture, and domination are excused simply because mass-adulation (sales) trumps any criticism whatsoever and therefore redefines what is considered good literature.
To ISIS/ISIL all others are non-believers and therefore heretics. They all must die and ISIS members are only too willing to behead anyone, religious leaders, international humanitarian workers, teachers, medical volunteers, journalists, civil engineers, contractors, and children alike. If any ISIS/ISIL devotee should die in their pursuit of religious purity and world-wide ethnic cleansing – then they will certainly achieve martyrdom.
And as Mark Twain so accurately observed, “Martyrdom covers a multitude of sins.”

Marcus Fisk is a retired Navy Captain, Naval Academy graduate, sometime actor, sculptor, pick-up soccer player, and playwright. He and his wife Pamela live in Connecticut.