Islamic State Wages War on Religious Freedom
Acton Institute Powerblog

Islamic State Wages War on Religious Freedom

With each passing day, the news is inundated with images of murder from the Islamic State. Anyone they target suffers not only death, but often a horrifically slow and tortuous one. What President Obama considered to be a “JV” team proves to consist of professionally trained, competent warriors bent on annihilating their foes. These terrorists attack any opponent who stands in their way, but reserve particular hatred and brutality for Christians. The war they wage is as much of a military conflict as it is an ideological conflict, their end goal being global subjugation to hardline Islamic Law.

What does this mean for Christians? As the secularization of Western culture further isolates Christianity, an open extermination assaults in the Middle East. In the modern era, the entire world seems to wage a relentless war against Christians. However, compared to what our Christian brothers and sisters living under the Islamic State endure, the trials of Western Christians seem trivial. Louis Sako, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch, said in mid 2014 that there “were about 1 million Christians in Iraq and more than half of them have been displaced. Only 400,000 are left while displacement is still rising.” Christians in the East suffer great hardships, however they display incredible courage and steadfastness in their final moments. The exemplary faith Middle Eastern Christians demonstrate inspires fellow followers of Jesus, but fuels the Islamic State’s persecution. In this context, one truly understands the absolute insidiousness of this group as they single out “People of the Cross.” Christianity may not pose an immediate military threat, but it represents a distinct ideological adversary.

The Islamic State and the West, particularly Christianity, are mutually exclusive; they cannot coexist. A top commander of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, said this past May his goal is spearheading “the war of Muslims against infidels.” Followers of this extremism believe in the establishment and expansion of a caliphate, a state governed through Islamic law. The caliphate is not a peace seeking state; it seeks jihad and conquest of non-believers. Middle Eastern Christians refuse conversion to Islam and integration into the caliphate. This poses a serious challenge to the authority and legitimacy of the caliphate. The audacity of Christians to retain their religious autonomy drives the Islamic State to extreme retaliatory lengths. In fact, this homicidal juggernaut despises Christian resilience so much that many of their taped executions are laced with propaganda specifically directed against it.

Ideologically, Christians represent the strongest threat to Islamic State expansion. Fervent religious dogma guides it, but many Christian doctrines and principles directly contradict Islamic beliefs. Islam explicitly denies the Incarnation of Jesus as the Son of God and the Trinity. This profound doctrinal difference alone is blasphemy according to radical Islam, a crime punishable with outright death. Such Christian beliefs directly insult extreme Islam’s perception of the divinity and omnipotence of God. To the Islamic State, Christians are unrepentant blasphemers, heretics, and capital criminals. Because of these irreconcilable differences in faith, the Islamic State will attempt to persecute Christianity to extinction. Destroying a serious ideological counterbalance provides the Islamic State with greater religious/political unity, critical for the continual growth of their caliphate.

In the short run, the Islamic State aims to eradicate Christianity in their governing sphere. However, they ultimately strive to assault the entirety of Western culture. The West symbolizes potential Crusaders and interlopers, roadblocks to the caliphate. Their propaganda magazine, Dabiq, denounces Western imperialism and calls for dismantling Rome, the Vatican, and the White House. Christianity stands as the ideological enemy, while Western nations stand as the most competent military enemy. Far from satisfaction with a regional caliphate, the Islamic State demands not only world recognition, but world submission to their state. Ending Western interventionist foreign policies cannot solve this stance, as the Islamic State will continue its military campaign to success or failure. There is no middle ground.

The Islamic State effectively poses a similar threat to Western culture as global Communism did during the Cold War. The policy of containment was a United States reaction to Soviet ideologues. Marxist philosophy stressed an eventual global dominion of the working class over the capitalist exploiters. Similar to the Islamic State, the Soviet Union, inflamed with Marxist ideology, embodied a global enemy with whom no peace could be made. The Western response was to “contain” Soviet expansionary measures through any means possible.

How does this historical correlation help manage the threat of the Islamic State? The first step to the policy of containment was the recognition of evil. Before any effective action can be taken, Western nations must clearly identify the enemy and what motivates them. The Islamic State, an organization motivated by Radical Islam, is evil. In their own words, there can be no peace or negotiation: the world must submit to their creed or perish. So long as the United States president refuses to acknowledge them as a radical Islamic group, no policy will produce lasting results. They will not yield and will present the West, especially the United States, with one of the most critical foreign policy decisions in a decade.