With the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or IS), an old apologia meant to exonerate Islam of violence has become prominent again. Because ISIS is killing other Muslims, so the argument goes, obviously its violence cannot be based on Islam, which bans Muslims from killing fellow Muslims in its name.
This point is always stressed whenever Islamic jihadis commit massacres in the West. Speaking soon after the San Bernardino terror attack that left 14 dead, U.S. president Obama, who earlier insisted that the Islamic State “is not Islamic,” elaborated:
ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death…Moreover, the vast majority of terrorist victims around the world are Muslim (emphasis added).
Similarly, after last November’s Paris terrorist attack, which left 129 people dead, the UK’sIndependent published an article titled, “Paris attacks: Isis responsible for more Muslim deaths than western victims.” And the Daily Beast argued that, “Before the Paris horror, ISIS was killing Muslims on a daily basis. We Muslims despise these crazy people more than anyone else does…. But the number one victim of this barbaric terror group is Muslims. That’s undisputed.”
Along with distancing Islam from violence—real Muslims are not supposed to kill other Muslims in the name of jihad—this argument further clouds the issue of who is the true victim of Islamic terrorism: Why talk about the Muslim slaughter of non-Muslims—whether Western people in Paris or California, or Christian minorities under Islam—when it is Muslims who are the primary victims most deserving of sympathy?
Yet this argument is flawed on several levels. First, the Islamic State does not view its victims as Muslims. Indeed, mainstream Sunni Islam—the world’s dominant strand of Islam which ISIS adheres to—views all non-Sunnis as false Muslims; at best, they are heretics who need to submit to the “true Islam.”
This is largely how Sunnis view Shias and vice versa—hence their perennial war. While Western talking heads tend to lump them together as “Muslims”—thus reaching the erroneous conclusion that ISIS is un-Islamic because it kills “fellow Muslims”—each group views the other as enemies. (It’s only in recent times, as both groups plot against the West and Israel, that they occasionally cooperate.)
Overall, then, when Sunni jihadis slaughter Shias—or Sufis, Druze, and Baha’i, lesser groups affiliated with Islam to varying degrees—they do so under the same exact logic as when they slaughter Christian minorities, or European, American, and Israeli citizens: all areinfidels who must either embrace the true faith, be subjugated, or die.
In fact, that ISIS kills other “Muslims” only further validates the supremacist and intolerant aspects of Sunnism, which is hardly limited to ISIS. Just look to our good “friend and ally,” Saudi Arabia, the official religion of which is Sunni Islam, and witness the subhuman treatment Shia minorities experience.
But what about those Sunnis killed during the Islamic State’s jihad? These are rationalized away as “martyrs”—collateral damage—destined to enter Islam’s paradise… Keep reading