From our worldview and ideology, we act. From our actions, others can see the evidence of what we truly believe in our souls.
Jesus of Nazareth taught this in parable: “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20, NKJV). In a passage about false prophets, I want to focus on the last line. We will know what people believe by the actions (fruits) of their lives because this speaks of how they see the world according to their perspective.
In the past couple of weeks (and probably beyond that), the blogosphere has been raging with a debate centered around, essentially, “political correctness”. The context has revolved around several articles detailing mass murder and barbaric behavior on the part of The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as well as other radical groups.
Included in the violent rampages were:
A lot more killing and atrocities have made headlines. Meanwhile, our current United States government has taken the stance that they will not use terms such as: “Islamic Extremism”; “Islamic terrorism”; “Radical Jihadism” etc.
” With remarkable consistency — including at a high-profile White House meeting this week, ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ — they have favored bland, generic terms over anything that explicitly connects attacks or plots to Islam. Obama aides say there is a strategic logic to his vocabulary: Labeling noxious beliefs and mass murder as ‘Islamic’ would play right into the hands of terrorists who claim that the United States is at war with Islam itself.” reported the New York Times.
President Obama stated, “No religion is responsible for terrorism — people are responsible for violence and terrorism.” A frequent critic of political correctness and atheist Bill Maher lambasted President Obama for this statement stating that he sounds a lot like the NRA for his statement regarding people being responsible for terrorism and violence.
Here is the question. Is it possible to understand the above violent acts of terrorism that I have pointed out without understanding the radical ideology/worldview that drives the behavior? When authorities are investigating a crime, a key component of establishing what happened at a tragic scene is the motive. Indeed, the motive would have to be established by any prosecutor seeking to obtain a conviction of a person they believe to be guilty.
Let’s go back to one of the worst terrorist acts in France of the past couple of decades- the Charlie Hebdo murders. Were the cartoonists who died at Charlie Hebdo that day victims of random extremist violence? Or was there a very clear and underlying motive regarding how gunmen planned and carried out this devastating attack? In other words and to state more clearly, if Charlie Hebdo had not published cartoons that mocked and criticized the prophet Mohammed, would this attack have occurred?
To many, including myself, it seems glaringly obvious that there is an extreme interpretation of a religious faith (and mixed with different political situations) that is motivating tens of thousands toward radical violence.
Regarding ISIS (and not to mention Boko Haram or other Islamic extremist groups), there is no question about the worldview of the individuals making up this group. Graeme Wood, in an excellent piece in “The Atlantic” writes: “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”
He states in the same article: “The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (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.” In other ways, they have an extremist interpretation of Islam and seek to connect Islamic believers back to (what they view) as the pure, unadulterated religious teachings of Mohammed.
His point in the above quotation, I hope, does not go unnoticed. The West needs to know and understand this enemy as best we can. By doing so, we may be able to some extent to predict the behavior (although, I concede that this doesn’t seem like a certainty based on the nature of these groups). Therefore, the argument against generic terms such as “violent extremist” or “zealots” or “radicals” does not even come close to going the full way toward structuring the defacto motives at play when and where these atrocities are committed.
A “violent extremist” accompanies a very generalized and exceedingly large territory of groups and individuals. The Klu Klux Klan are violent extremists. Timothy McVeigh was a violent extremist. More recently, the atheist who killed 3 Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina was a violent extremist. A rhetorical question: would anyone in their right mind equate the worldviews of these hateful groups/individuals with ISIS? The worldviews and religious faiths (if any) are completely different.
Of course, the statement needs to be made that the vast majority of Muslims and members of the Islamic faith are not radicals or extremists. This actually is very directly implied in the phrase “Islamic extremist”. By the qualifying term “extremist” after “Islamic” we are clearly delineating between moderate, peaceful members of the Islamic faith (the majority in the world) and those who believe in a more fundamental radicalism. Fareed Zakaria writes (responding to Wood’s piece), “There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and perhaps 30,000 members of the Islamic State.” That definitely provides context regarding the sheer numbers.
However, worldviews are important for interpreting actions and determining motivations. By using politically correct and generic terms, we miss out on seeking to understand (if even possible with heinous crimes) the ideology that is fueling such systemic violence. We ignore this at our own peril.