Every time a jihadist attacks, we mistakenly think we're the target.
A well-known American politician once suggested a ban Muslims entering the US until “someone can figure out what is going on.” With the massacre of people in Paris, in Orlando, in Nice, San Bernardino, Munich, Dhaka, Istanbul, and seemingly around the world, all being attributed to Islam, this kind of paranoia is common, and our confusion is understandable.
In case you still haven’t figured out “what’s going on” yet, allow me to explain.
What we’re dealing with is called a Cult.
Take a look at this list from the International Cultic Studies Association and see if ISIS meets any of these criteria:
- Cults typically display excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to their leader and ideology. Questioning, doubt, and dissent, are often punished harshly.
- Cults are elitist, claiming special, exalted status, and believing they alone hold the “true teaching,” or are on a special mission from God, the accomplishment for which knows no bounds.
- The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.
- The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members, and making money.
- Members often feel as though there is no world outside the group, and that there is no other way to be.
- Cults often have delusions of persecution, believing the world is against them and out to destroy them, and will often use violence to lash out at the world around them*.
- Cults often employ doomsday prophesies, believing the end of the world is imminent, and make preparations for such.
- Cult leaders and loyal members often have structures of sexual dominance, and make rules regarding such: cult leaders will often decide who sleeps with who (reserving for himself the most sexual partners)
- The cult dictates how people should think and feel, how they should dress and groom themselves, or act in general.
- The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members’ participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
- Cults typically claim affiliation with a pre-existing major religion in order to gain authority, and will often use select lines of scripture (taken out of context) to justify their actions. Their recruitment efforts are often targeted to fringe elements of that religion: non-adherents, living a life “away from God” and going through a spiritual emptiness period.
This may come as a shock to many white, protestant Americans, but Christians do not have a monopoly on fringe wackos who try to hijack mainstream religions to further their twisted ends. Just twenty years ago, we saw a cult in Japan claiming ties to Shinto, use sarin nerve gas on a subway in Tokyo, killing 13 and injuring 5,500 others. Yet when it comes to ISIS and other “jihadist” groups, we persist on naming these people as “Islamic Extremists” or “Radical Islam” because, “that’s what they are.”
No, they’re not.
But what happened?
Under normal circumstances, a cult exists on the fringes of society, stockpiling guns and obeying their leader, until one day, they all drink poison to rendezvous with their beloved comet, and the rest of us move on with our lives.
But what happened?
Someone, something is feeding them. We are. These groups thrive on the idea that 1) they’re Muslims, 2) they’re being persecuted, and by extension, 3) all Muslims are being persecuted.
The first thing we need to do is to stop referring to these people as Muslims. Imagine their position: if you have a radical ideology, your first hurdle is to give your brand credibility. What better way to do that than to make it synonymous with a pre-existing major brand? If I have a cheeseburger I want to sell, why not call it a Big Mac; people buy Big Macs. But then, just because I say it’s a Big Mac doesn’t make it so. I need someone else to repeat my claim to legitimize it. So here we are in the US, perfectly willing to name the actions of this cult something legitimizing as “Islamic Somethingorother,” and there you go.
The second thing we need to do is stop the drone war in the Middle East. Stop creating wars at all, and allow our allies the room they need to handle the situation.
“Just because you’re paranoid don’t mean they’re not after you…”
– Kurt Cobain
The paranoia feeding these groups is very real, and at present, we are doing everything we can to reinforce it. Our justification is that we need these drones to strike our enemies. But the reality is, for every jihadist we kill, we create three more. This war we’re fighting is more propaganda than anything else, and the drones we send serve to feed their propaganda machine by showing our disregard for Middle Eastern sovereignty: every civilian killed, in fact every jihadist killed who can be passed off as a civilian, is proof of “Western oppression of Muslims.”
What many of us fail to realize is that we’re not the target. ISIS’s objective is to cause us to hate and persecute real Muslims. Once we’ve sacrificed who we are and what we believe in, we begin to make regular Muslims’ lives miserable, creating a very real persecution, which drives their recruitment.
This is how we create home-grown terrorists, and this is what we’re up against. And this, by the way, is what the heck is going on.