Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Apocalyptic Visions and ISIS' Actions

CNN's Peter Bergen posted a column yesterday titled Why Does ISIS Keep Making Enemies?, explaining the violent murders by ISIS as the "ideology ... of an apocalyptic cult that believes that we are living in the end times and that ISIS' actions are hastening the moment when this will happen." He argues that ISIS is focused on a prediction of the Prophet Mohammed that the Syrian town of Dabiq is the place where the armies of Islam and "Rome" will meet for the final battle that will precede the end of time and signal the triumph of Islam. Bergen says that ISIS wants a Western ground force to invade Syria to confirm the prophecy about Dabiq.  (A much longer analysis of ISIS ideology appears in an article by Graeme Wood in the latest issue of The Atlantic.)

As reported by Time Magazine, ISIS' video released Sunday showing the execution of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians is narrated in religious terms. The executioner points his knife toward the Mediterranean and says in English: "We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission."

Yesterday, in an address to representatives of the Church of Scotland, Pope Francis responded to the ISIS killings in equally religious terms (full text):
Today I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians.... They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians.... The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers and sisters who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.
The White House, however, went out of its way to avoid framing its response to ISIS' latest atrocities in the kind of apocalyptic terms ISIS apparently prefers.  Sunday's statement by the White House press secretary (full text) after the release of ISIS' video studiously avoided painting the murders in terms of an Islamic battle against Christianity, saying in part:
The United States condemns the despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorists.... ISIL’s barbarity knows no bounds.  It is unconstrained by faith, sect, or ethnicity.  This wanton killing of innocents is just the most recent of the many vicious acts perpetrated by ISIL-affiliated terrorists against the people of the region, including the murders of dozens of Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai, which only further galvanizes the international community to unite against ISIL.