What causes the chaos in the Middle East? What is ISIS? What are its intentions?
News of ransacked cities, public executions, stolen artifacts and propagandist videos from the Middle East may result in a swarm of questions in the minds of Americans. Analysts say the source of much of the unrest is not a string of unrelated events or random violence. The actions of the terrorist group called the Islamic State are calculated movements toward what members believe to be their part in the end of times.
Graeme Wood, lecturer on political science at Yale University, wrote an analysis in The Atlantic this month about the motivations of ISIS. He said the Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. “Our ignorance of the Islamic State is in some ways understandable: It is a hermit kingdom; few have gone there and returned,” he wrote. “But …we can gather that their state rejects peace as a matter of principle; that it hungers for genocide; that its religious views make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even if that change might ensure its survival; and that it considers itself a harbinger of—and headline player in—the imminent end of the world.”
Father Andre-Sebastian Mahanna, pastor of St. Rafka Maronite Church in Lakewood, said Christians need to do their part to condemn and stand up against ISIS’ destructive path. As director of the Office of Ecumenism and Interfaith Relations of the Maronite Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon in the United States, Father Mahanna has worked to achieve unity and peace between Christians and Muslims.
But he said fear is preventing Christians from actively fighting the terrorist group since its founding in 2006. Since that time, ISIS ransacked Iraqi cities including Mosul, forcing millions of Christians and Muslims to flee from their homes and travel to surrounding areas.
ISIS’ power grew as it took control of Syrian cities and oil fields. An estimated $2 billion was garnered from oil, smuggling, extortion and stolen artifacts to fund its operation, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit think tank that promotes bipartisan policy.
The United States ordered targeted airstrikes to stem violence when it escalated in 2014. News of beheadings and brutal massacres spread over the internet with the help of social media. ISIS has used modern technology to issue threats and show the decapitation of aid workers and journalists, including James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Pentagon officials estimate ISIS has about 20,000 to 30,000 fighters, some of whom travel from outside countries to join. Many more victims have been claimed including Egyptian Christians and hundreds of Assyrians captured this year, the Bipartisan Policy Center reported.
ISIS differs from other extremist Islamic movements in that it believes it’s a central character in the countdown to the apocalypse. With the capture of Dabiq, Syria, ISIS awaits the arrival of an enemy army referred to as “Rome.” Prophets foretell of a battle in Dabiq between an Islamic army and infidel army—perhaps an American one—where Islam is predicted to prevail and the world will end, Wood explained.
“Now that it has taken Dabiq, the Islamic State awaits the arrival of an enemy army there, whose defeat will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse. Western media frequently miss references to Dabiq in the Islamic State’s videos, and focus instead on lurid scenes of beheading,” he wrote.
ISIS poses a threat to Middle Easterners and to the world for its mission to defeat Westerners, even if it means its own demise.
“It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the prophetic model,” Wood wrote. “Ideological tools may convince some potential converts that the group’s message is false, and military tools can limit its horrors. But for an organization as impervious to persuasion as the Islamic State, few measures short of these will matter, and the war may be a long one, even if it doesn’t last until the end of time.”