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Isis are just very un-progressive Open Border fanatics – we need an Atatürk to fight them

20 February 2015

10:42 AM

20 February 2015

10:42 AM

If you haven’t already seen it, I recommend reading this fantastic essay by the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood on What Isis Really Wants. He takes the time to look into the theology of the ‘so-called Islamic State’, as the BBC insists on calling them (I can’t remember ‘so called Irish Republican Army’), and there is no doubting the theological link. To single out just one passage:

‘Many mainstream Muslim organizations have gone so far as to say the Islamic State is, in fact, un-Islamic. It is, of course, reassuring to know that the vast majority of Muslims have zero interest in replacing Hollywood movies with public executions as evening entertainment. But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”’

The depressing conclusion is that, as well as a long war in the field, Isis’s Muslim enemies need to arm themselves theologically against such fanaticism, because Isis really is Islamic, even if just one interpretation.

But what can the rest of us to do to help the good guys in the Muslim world? (And considering the group are now just 300 odd miles from Italy I’d have thought this should be considered with some urgency.)


There is one way we can combat the idea on a secular level. Isis are recruiting followers from across Europe, supporters who are driven by one aspect of Islamic extremism very appealing and accessible to young westerners from a globalised world – open borders. As Wood points out, ‘accepting any border is anathema, as stated by the Prophet and echoed in the Islamic State’s propaganda videos’.

Islamism in particular appeals to young Muslims in the West because they are raised between two conflicting cultures, neither of which they feel entirely part of, and so the universalist Abrahamic faith instead appeals. The universalist ideal is part of Islam and Christianity, and in the latter form evolved into the modern Open Borders creed after the Second World War; Isis are just a very unprogressive group of Open Borders fanatics.

Yet there is another way: one longer-term remedy I’ve not heard much about is Kemalism, the progressive nationalist ideology of Turkey’s leader Atatürk, without doubt one of the greatest men of the modern age. Atatürk utilised nationalism as a liberalising force to reform society and reduce the influence of the clerics, and the result is that Turkey is way ahead of its Muslim neighbours. It is also (still) not as susceptible to Islamism, and Turkish national identity must play some part; although around 1,000 Turks have joined Isis in Syria, this compares pretty well with France, with 1,200 despite having a Muslim fighting age population maybe one-tenth the size and being a lot further away. Tunisia, a small Muslim country with a weaker national identity, has provided over 2,000. Turks, in my experience, love Turkey.

Isn’t the best way to combat Isis long-term to promote the idea of national sovereignty, which would help in building much-needed civil institutions? As the Kemalist slogan goes, Egemenlik, kayıtsız şartsız Milletindir. Sovereignty belongs unconditionally to the nation.

Unfortunately Europeans have stopped believing in national sovereignty as a force for progress, so we are unable to promote it when confronted with a far more dangerous ideology. Where is the 21st century’s Atatürk?


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