What You Need To Know About ISIS Right Now: A Primer
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What You Need To Know About ISIS Right Now: A Primer

It’s a sad fact that ISIS has become part of our vocabulary, but many of us still don’t know a lot about this terrorist movement. At Aleteia, news editor John Burger spent time with some people knowledgeable abaout this group, and created a top 10 list. Burger spoke to Father Elias D. Mallon, external Affairs Officer of the New York-based Catholic Near East Welfare Association; Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa of EWTN, and William Kilpatrick, author of Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for The Soul of The West.

Here is what you need to know:

1. What or who is ISIS? How did it come to be? ISIS consists of Sunni extremists who broke off from Al-Qaeda and are now claiming to be an independent state that includes part of Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

2. Why do they exist? Father Mallon gives both ideological and practical reasons for their existence. The ideological is based on what Mallon calls a “romantic” but brutal vision of Islamic history, the practical speaks to the feeling of disenfranchisement with leadership in Baghdad.

3. What is their aim?  How likely are they to be able to accomplish it?

Their aim to re-establish the Caliphate and extend Islamic religious, political and military hegemony as far as they can, says Father Mallon. “To accomplish this they are prepared to violate traditional principles of Islamic warfare.”

4. Is this a global movement? While ISIS currently is working in an isolated area, they are heavily funded by Muslims from around the world. The New York Times suggests they are currently the world’s wealthiest terrorist organization.

5. What is their attitude toward Christianity, particularly in the Middle East? Despite most Muslims acknowledgement of Christians as legitimate spiritual descendants of Abraham, ISIS believes Christians must convert or be annihilated.

6. There have been many reports of atrocities carried out against Christians and other religious minorities, such as behead. What do we know for sure?

Father Mallon says there are “fairly reliable accounts of atrocities” perpetrated by ISIS against Christians, moderate Sunnis, Shi’ites and other religious groups. “Many have been executed—although there is no reliable report of a child being beheaded—women have been reduced to slaves, etc.”

Father Pacwa says that Wahabi ideology does not explain the crucifixions that have ben reported. “The decapitations of children is not normal Islamic practice, nor is the introduction of one’s young sons to treating human heads as trophies,” he says. “Were they madmen, the strong and definite military discipline would not be as good as it is. Apparently they have chosen such darkness in their souls that even Al Qaida rejects ISIS.”

7. Could the US/International Community have stopped them? Can we stop them now? Father Mallon believes that ISIS can be damaged by the international community, but the only way to stop them is “from the inside.” He believes ISIS would lose much support if the leadership in Baghdad acted upon legitimate complaints from the Sunni community.

8. Iraq is in the process of forming a new government. How crucial is the success of this venture? Simply forming a government is not enough. It must be a government free of corruption, one based on democratic rule. Clearly, this is very crucial to stability in this region.

9. What role can the Churches play? Father Mallon is blunt: the Christian churches in the Middle East may be in their worst state ever, far too weak to do much about ISIS. However, the global Christian community can play a role in defeating ISIS, through both material and spiritual assistance to their victims. He also states that Arab Christians are very educated, and can likely help in the reconciliation process.

10. Are there resources that may be helpful in understanding the current crisis?

The West Lacks One Essential Tool to Defeat ISIS

Extreme Wahhabism on Display in Shrine Destruction in Mosul

If Genocide Won’t Unite Iraq, Nothing Will

We Christians can and must pray for the victims of ISIS, and that ISIS will be defeated.

He rescued me from my mighty enemy and from my foes, who were too powerful for me.
They attacked me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord came to my support.
He set me free in the open, and rescued me, because he loves me.
Ps. 18: 18-20

Read “Ten Things You Need to Know About ISIS” at Aleteia.org.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.