A circle of destruction: ISIS or tyranny

Is it possible to develop normal relations with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria?

Jamal Khashoggi

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Is it possible to develop normal relations with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria? Even if any of us is willing, ISIS strongly rejects this. Its relation with others is that of war. It rejects international law, which governs the world's relations, as well as agreements enshrining human rights and freedom of faith.

These rights, long accepted by modern Muslim jurists, are viewed by ISIS as infidelity and apostasy. It takes Muslims to before square one, and rejects Muslim jurists’ regulations governing relations with others, Muslim or otherwise. It divides the world into two camps: one of infidelity and one of faith.

On the international level, it takes us back to before the Westphalia treaty of 1648, which established the concept of the modern state that respects borders, rights, good relations and non-aggression. ISIS even rejects the last Islamic caliphate (the Ottoman empire) and its protocols, and views it as an infidel state despite its achievements and although it raised the banner of Islam and implemented sharia law.

ISIS is like someone who enters a huge library, stands in front of a small narrow shelf, and says: “Education is here, and everything else is null and wrong.”

Jamal Khashoggi

To ISIS, we are all infidels around it, with our Arab League, borders and constitutions. Those practising democracy among us are viewed as infidels in particular because to ISIS, democracy is hostile to God’s governance and will. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are viewed as infidels due to their alliances and defense agreements with the original infidels.

When it comes to those around it, ISIS always finds something that contradicts Islam in their acts. Everyone must listen to the caliph and obey him. ISIS has said it is a duty to fight Muslims who accept democracy and participate in elections because they are disobeying the caliph.

Alleged state

On the domestic level and within its alleged “state,” ISIS is no less extremist. Those under its rule do not have the right of choice. They cannot choose their caliph, which contradicts how caliphs were chosen as they rose to power by social consensus. They cannot choose the system that governs them because ISIS thinks sharia is a Godly issue that humans cannot choose or reject.

Their selective version of sharia violates real Islamic law, which is rich in its diversity and sects, and which was formed throughout centuries thanks to the jurisprudence of preachers, scholars and jurists. It was thus able to respond to the demands of Muslim civilization, which expanded over three centuries and included different peoples, races, religions and sects.

ISIS is like someone who enters a huge library, stands in front of a small narrow shelf, and says: “Education is here, and everything else is null and wrong.” It is impossible for such a state and jurisprudence to coexist with the world. This state clashes with the present and the past. Confronting and defeating it will not be achieved merely through military attacks against specific targets.

This is a struggle between a civilized world that accepts and encourages diversity, and a backward idea that distorts Islam and cancels its rich civilization by destroying its relics, history, and the bridges built with the world around it. There is a long struggle ahead of us. ISIS will invade us from within if we do not confront it, as there are those among us who are attracted to its ideas. There are also those among us who are hesitant to take a stance.

The battle is not between Islam and modernity, or between a religious and a civil state, as ISIS and some liberals want us to believe. The battle must be against the tyranny that made the idea of ISIS possible. The battle must be for the sake of freedom, not for the sake of eliminating ISIS. Even if we destroy it, it will return if we do not address its roots and break the deadly circle of ISIS and tyranny, both of which bring destruction.

This article was first published in al-Hayat on December 4, 2014.


Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels.

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