Panel Discussion- What ISIS Really Wants

The Diane Rehm Show
February 18, 2015


I stumbled into an excellent panel discussion based on Graeme Wood’s article in the Atlantic on the Diane Rehm Show today.

  • Bernard Haykel professor of near eastern studies, Princeton University
  • Ambassador James Jeffrey former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey.
  • Graeme Wood contributing editor, Atlantic Magazine
  • Akbar Ahmed chair of Islamic studies at American University, former Pakistani high commissioner to the U.K.

As is the case with most panel discussions there will probably be things with which you disagree, but I am delighted the article is gaining traction and that a conversation is happening concerning the deeper theological underpinnings of the “Islamic State.” While it may be true that many recruits are theologically inept and don’t represent true Islam, the ideologues of ISIS represent an interpretation of Islam that has become a problem for Muslims, Christians, Jews, the West and the everyone else who lives on this planet.

Unless you are part of the Islamic State’s perceived elect, you are likely to be treated brutally.  Muslims suffer the most from their edicts, which is why regional actors are responding with force. The panel agreed that military action is needed.  I think they disagreed on the United States’ role in that intervention.  The US really has no credibility to speak into theological issues/disagreements within Islam. These voices will have to come from Muslims themselves.  The conversation is happening as clerics denounce ISIS as acting contrary to the example of Muhammad and the teachings of orthodox Islam, but ISIS has an end-time apocalyptic play in which they see themselves as actors.  One of the acts involves victory on the plains of Syria.  Another act sees them ruling Istanbul then defeated by an army from Iran. These views are seen as revelations from God so the rational actor models by which much of the world has operated since Westphalia, simply do not apply. If God is telling them to kill and be killed, economic sanctions mean nothing. This was a component of my master’s thesis arguing that since 85% of the world claim some type of faith allegiance, we need to engage religion, good religion and bad religion, as an indicator or motivator for the actions of the populace and sometimes the leaders in the countries we engage. (That would be every recognized and unrecognized country in the world)

I suggest you read the article they are discussing before listening to the broadcast.