The future of ISIS

June 23rd, 2014

Hate begets hate. Violence begets violence. . . . We must meet the forces of hate with soul force. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. -Martin Luther King, 1953

The most amply funded terrorist organization the world has ever seen is bearing down on the oldest civilization the world has ever known. With over two billion dollars at its disposal, The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is waging a campaign of recruitment and war crimes that are slashing a sectarian divide through the Fertile Crescent. Once again we are confronted with mass graves, mourning children, and a devastated landscape. The United States is posturing to engage the threat as fear grips our imagination and drags western culture back to a familiar dread for the future.

As leader of the civil rights movement in the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. found an accidental corollary in a ‘Father of a Nation’ who started his career as non-white English lawyer thrown out of a segregated South African train. Like Mohandes Gandhi, King battled arbitrary and impersonal political systems by deferring his inferiority and asserting his rights as a citizen. Class sought to define life for both men but their insistent affirmation of authenticity in our consistent common humanity propelled them both as vanguards of a vicarious expression of human potential. Having internalized the radical assertion that an oppressor has the capacity to be converted to a peaceful point of view, King ratifies the auspicious truth of our national constitution that everyone is created equally. The images of civil rights protesters battered in Birmingham, Alabama left an indelible mark on the American conscience. King’s speeches are national treasures that are a reference for our American dream and his discipline of equality is a cherished accomplishment for our healing nation. America now wonders at its great social leader and his methods of affirming human dignity but any aspiration to his non-violent ethic is considered by many a modern-day pipe dream.

It is easy to lament the passing of great non-violent leaders. What Gandhi and King were able to instigate in the past seems too good to be true for our future. What they apparently accomplished has been dismissed by some as the political machine capitalizing their cult of personality or as unique circumstance of the times. Theirs might be great theoretical ideals but it is politicians, special interests, and power brokers who put the political force of will into grubby action on behalf of their nations. Non-violence is simply not an applicable ethic to the modern horrors of racist separatist militias, atheist governments, and radical fundamentalist terrorists.

We must give our non-violent visionaries their due. Turning the other cheek to our enemy in subversive surrender is a practical solution that honors human dignity. Ours is a tradition of revolution and we have defended our Declaration of Independence with arms but an inner yearning as yet fully articulated swells deeper in the currents of human nature. The meek inherit the right to rule. The poor in spirit receive the full measure of dignity, and the peace makers are the true creative leaders that belong to the ages. Any power we might hope to have as a people is based on the belief that humanity is greater than its weapons and tactics and any solution to conflict we offer should reflect a conviction that history is guided toward reconciliation. Authority is moral, not military.

Even with all its resources, ISIS is clutching at air. All the organization knows is what it has seen. We can only imagine the poverty, starvation, oppression, and decrepit infrastructure that defines their existence and its jarring juxtaposition with our hyper-sexualized consumerism funneled through their internet connections. Life has not been fair or kind and history further demonstrates the end for societies built on the material and spiritual vacuum of fear and conquest. Their hopeless condition merits our compassion and our capacity to react creatively gives us a new opportunity to craft a new policy for peace. As peacemakers we have the upper hand.

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