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Brooks: Obama Not Acknowledging the Islamic Component of ISIS a ‘Stupid Debate’

On Friday’s broadcast of PBS’s “NewsHour,” New York Times columnist David Brooks weighed in on the argument the Obama administration has repeatedly made on whether or not to address Islamic component of ISIS and instead calling it a perversion of Islam.

Brooks questioned the wisdom of the interpreting religion and suggested that the Obama administration is viewing this through a secular prism.

“Well, are we allowed to called the Islamic State Islamic?” Brooks said. “They are. In some sense, it’s a stupid debate, because is it true Islam, is it perverted Islam? The fact is, religion is all interpretation. God doesn’t come down here and tell us exactly what he means. We have interpretations within Christianity, within Judaism and within Islam. If you call yourself a Muslim, you’re a Muslim. They have different interpretations, but it’s all interpretations. So, one is a perverted or a sick form of Islam. A lot of people fortunately have a much more peaceful form of Islam, but it’s all an interpretation of a faith. What’s the real one? It’s all a matter of interpretation. I think they should probably call it Islamic extremism. It is Islamic extremism. The second, I think, and more important issue is how we diagnose the problem. And there are three elements to this sort of terrorism, as we just saw in the segment about that Egyptian young man.”

“First, there’s economic and political dysfunction,” he continued. “So that young man wanted to be a personal trainer and he couldn’t. So he was alienated from that and marginalized from society. But, second, there’s a spiritual ardor. A guy wants to be a hero. The guy wants to be seen as strong and a hero, like that young man. And, third, there’s theological conviction. And Islamic State has theology to it, real, substantive theology. We’re comfortable talking about the economics and the politics because we live in a secular society and we’re comfortable talking about that stuff. But if we don’t talk about the spiritual call that they feel and the theological content, then we’re missing the core of the thing. And if we’re going to fight it, you can’t just say we’re going to give you a higher standard of living. You don’t need to go to the Islamic State. That isn’t going to work. You have to have a spiritual, better alternative.”

Without acknowledging what motivates the religious aspect, Brooks said, is missing the point.

“I think it’s a perversion because they’re so inhumane,” Brooks added. “What’s the Pascal phrase, they try to be higher than the angels, they end up lower than the beast. And so that’s clearly what is happening to them. They have turned themselves into monsters. But there was lot of monstrosity in the wars of religion in the 15th century in Europe. They were certainly religious wars. And so I do think you have to take the religion seriously, that these people are — it’s not like they can’t get what we want. They want something they think is higher than what we want. Their souls are involved. And I’m saying you have to conceive of them as moving, as acting in a religious way. And you have to have religious alternatives. And they are driven by an end times ideology. They think there’s going to be some cataclysm battle and Mohammed will come down. And if you ignore that part of it, write it off as sort of marginal, that they are being produced by economic dysfunction, I just think you’re missing the main deal.”

Follow Jeff Poor on Twitter @jeff_poor

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