David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

ISIS and the Terrifying Power of Bad Ideas

Brandon Sun, September 22, 2014 - David McConkey

Recent news about the ISIS terrorist group in the Middle East presents a chilling look at the power of really bad ideas. Canada is already part of the military fight against ISIS. But do we understand what we are fighting? We seem to have a problem even describing what we are up against. The reason? Because it involves religion.

ISIS is currently wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq. This group has even beheaded Western journalists and aid workers. And there is a new reality: people from other places in the world – including Canada – are joining ISIS.

But we can find it hard to recognize that ISIS is following the religious faith of Islam. Any criticism of a large important religion like Islam is disconcerting, like a taboo subject. As a result, our leaders and the mainstream media often deny or ignore the religious aspect.

"They claim to do this in the name of Islam. That is nonsense," U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said, in response to an ISIS beheading. "Islam is a religion of peace." But ISIS itself says that it is based on Islam. Surely our understanding of ISIS must start with how it describes itself.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has also commented on the nature of ISIS (also called ISIL). "Canadians are rightly sickened by ISIL's savage slaughter of anyone who doesn't share their twisted view of the world,” Harper said last week to Conservative party supporters. “It is evil, vile, and must be unambiguously opposed."

At the same speech, Harper also took the opportunity to take a jab at Justin Trudeau. The Liberal leader has been quoted musing about the “root causes” of why people would join terrorist causes. But Harper dismissed that notion in relation to ISIS. "We know their ideology is not the result of 'social exclusion' or other so-called root causes,” Harper said. Harper’s comment was greeted by laughter from the audience – they were delighted by the dig at Trudeau.

So, there is a political debate in Canada about the role of “social exclusion or other so-called root causes” of terrorism. But while our leaders are trying to score some political points, they often are just dancing around the issue. Our leaders are reluctant to acknowledge the critical link between religion and ISIS.

The mainstream media can also be misleading. Case in point: the Sept. 12 episode of the CBC’s “The National.” First, there was a news story about ISIS. Anchor Wendy Mesley explained that ISIS is much stronger than previously thought. Furthermore, almost one-half of ISIS fighters now come from other countries. The news story was followed by an investigative piece by senior correspondent Adrienne Arsenault. She reported on police efforts here to stop young Canadians from joining ISIS. But, in neither the news story nor Arsenault’s report did we hear the words “religion” or “Islam.” Instead, we heard the euphemism “radicalized.” (Are we being introduced to a new CBC-approved word? A way to obscure reality, in order to be politically correct?)

Unfortunately, there are some really bad ideas in the world. Even worse, these ideas are very appealing to some people. We are involved in the military battle against ISIS; we must understand the situation. For us to talk about religion, however, is often very uncomfortable. But this is about religion: the first “I” in “ISIS” stands for “Islamic.”

We should not shy away from this important conversation. American neuroscientist and commentator Sam Harris reminds us that it is “astonishing” that people from countries like Canada are joining ISIS. We must recognize, he says, “the terrifying power of bad ideas.”
Are we witnessing, as Harris also says, the “failures of multiculturalism”? If not, and if multiculturalism is to succeed, then we must make our case strongly to the world. Canada has a good idea: religious freedom within a multicultural society. But an essential point must be emphasized. As Canadian citizens, we have the right to hold any and every religious belief we want. But we do not have the right to practise every religious belief.

Because there is no place for practising some religious beliefs – like killing non-believers – in a civilized world.

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See also:  

ISIS: Do We Stand on the Sidelines?

Book Looks at Islamic World

Role of Religion in War and Peace

Book Provides Intriguing, Scientific Glimpse into State of Religious Beliefs

Religion and Values in the Public Square



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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Some Reviewed Books:

The War on Drugs:
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Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now


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Islam and the Future of Tolerance:
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Extraordinary Canadians:
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Extraordinary Canadians Nellie Mcclung

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The Greatest Show on Earth:
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