Like many others I’m still struggling to make sense of what happened in Paris. It’s wrong to pretend this act of terrorism has nothing to do with the Islamic world, but it’s just as wrong to try to demonise Islam itself. Most of those killed by ISIS are Muslims. I’ve tried to make sense of things by looking a parallels in Christian history; the Thirty Years War is an obvious one, and you could see parallels between Wahhabism and Calvinism if you squint hard enough.
But unlike some people I’m not going to pretend I actually know what I’m talking about.
ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, call them what you want. They’re an apocalyptic cult masquerading as a throwback to a earlier, purer version of Islam. There are many similar cults and sects in the Christian world, particularly parts of the US, who hold broadly similar beliefs, with a warped and selective interpretation of The Bible.
The only difference is those sects are not committing large-scale non-state violence at an international level. But it’s not impossible to imagine an alternative history where the American Civil War turned out differently and parts of the Old South are a patchwork of unstable failed states and oil-rich theocracies, subject to proxy wars and ham-fisted interventions by rival European powers. Such a world could easily spawn something looking very much like ISIS except for the religious symbols they display.
There are a lot of responses that would be completely wrong from a xenophobic backlash against Muslims to pretending nothing is wrong or blaming everything on the west. As someone once said on Twitter, it’s better to be a zero than a minus one, and one way to avoid being a minus one is to read up a bit more widely than blogs and op-eds that simply tell you what you want to hear. We may all need to absorb some uncomfortable truths and make some difficult collective decisions in the coming months and years.