March 29, 2016

Horse 2091 - ISIS and Ireland - 100 Years But Not Poles Apart

One of the things that we've been hearing a lot of in the news of late is not only the hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising in what would eventually become the Republic of Ireland but how that is to be reinterpreted in a modern context. Unlike other conflicts such as the First World War, where the past is in the past, the "troubles" in Ireland still extended deep into the then future. There were still bombings by the IRA even in my lifetime.

I make mention of the Irish Question because the answer (which still hasn't been adequately resolved in my opinion) is at its heart, a question about power: who has it and how should it be exercised? The current disaster, tragedy, conflict and whole sort of general storm of cussedness which is being waged across Syria and Iraq; between more sides than one can keep track of and where there are really no "goodies" and everyone are "baddies" (as if this was even a morally clear cut conflict), also has at its heart that same question; the question about power: who has it and how should it be exercised? The problem is that the question is being answered as though power were the means and ends to itself; while the vast majority of people suffer under it. Essentially, the refugee crisis which has followed the trail of destruction wrought by the Assad regime, ISIS et al, is normal people's response to the answer of how power is being used. Fleeing a situation where you are powerless to respond and where the exercise of power has left physical destruction, to the point where what has been left behind is rubble and rubbish, is a perfectly rational response in my opinion and if I was given that set of circumstances, I would respond identically.

As far as I can make out, the intent of ISIS is to establish a caliphate and rule the country that they have carved out. The word caliph presumably comes from the Arabic "kalif" which means a successor. The problem that I see with that, based on my limited reading of the Quran, is that the one who they intend to be a successor of (Mohammed), didn't really intend to establish a physical country at all. The idea of jihad, that is the idea of a struggle, seems to me to be more of an internal one, where individuals struggle against their own nature in order to please Allah.
The establishment of a caliphate, seems to me to be the taking of power for its own end and then using religion as the justification after the event. This is identical to a regime change where a dictatorship is established. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to take power, power is taken and then a dictatorship is established after the event in order to keep and maintain it for its own sake.

I find it interesting, especially considering that it is the Easter weekend, that Christians celebrate not only the death and resurrection of Christ but the beginning of his kingdom. This kingdom actually doesn't talk about the taking of power at all; indeed Paul wrote to the church in Rome, that they were to submit themselves to the authority of their government, knowing full well just how brutal the Romans could be.
This idea that the church and the state should be utterly disentangled and separate was well established in the Christian and existing Jewish tradition. Christ himself when quizzed, asked people to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to give to God what is God's and long before that, Jewish Law as laidd out in the Torah specified that the Priesthood and the administration of the state were kept separate and distinct. Kings couldn't be priests and priests couldn't be kings.

I know that this is going to sound incredibly insensitive but if you remove the emotional Aspen of the situation, then what I'm about to say sounds reasonably logical. The troubles in Ireland of a century ago, are in essence the same troubles of Syria today. Although the Irish Question is painted over with the colours of Protestants and Catholics, in reality it had nothing to do with religion at all. Those colours may have provided hues and tints with which to paint the conflict but at no stage was either side actually concerned with the spiritual well-being of then citizenship. Strip back the painted veneer of religion and all that you're left with is a naked grab for power. One hundred years later and the conflict between the Assad regime, ISIS, et al, is another naked grab for power, however either side chooses to paint over it. Not once have I heard of even a single instance where ISIS has built a mosque, or established a masjid; so it's little worse that I think that their name of the "Islamic" State is an outright lie. I also think that it's brutally unfair to blame Islamic leaders and followers on the other side of the world for the actions of people they are unconnected with.

When ISIS attacked and vandalised the ancient city of Palmyra, it did so, not because it found the religion of a nation which had functionally been dead for 1600 years offensive but because it wanted to give a giant one fingered salute to the world, through a display of power. When shots were fired in Dublin in 1916, it wasn't really because the Irish people had decided they they didn't like Protestantism but because they wanted Home Rule of Ireland and ultimately to be an independent Republic, which was free from the rule of London.
The biggest difference between Ireland and ISIS is that the Irish had a pretty good idea of what would be done with power once they got it; ISIS seems to exist only to acquire power and keep it for its own sake.

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