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Is ISIS Evil?

CNN published an article by James Dawes called “Is ISIS Evil.”  In a nutshell, Mr. Dawes believes that one of the worst things we can do is to label ISIS as evil.  His solution to the problem of terrorism is to understand the circumstances that led “normal men” to become “monsters.” He asserts that when we use labels such as “evil,” it prevents us from understanding the root causes of such things as terrorism. Below are a few quotes from his article and my response to them.

 “There is only one good reason to denounce a group as evil — because you plan to injure them, and calling them evil makes it psychologically easier to do so. “Evil” is the most powerful word we have to prepare ourselves to kill other people comfortably.”

The flip side is that “evil” is also a word that stops us from thinking.” for example, “Jonah Goldberg tried to shame those who are trying to think seriously about ISIS. In a recent tweet, he mocked the attempt to understand ISIS in its social and political context, suggesting that we should focus instead on one fact: “They’re evil.

“They do obviously evil things for evil ends. The fact is, there are few things more dangerous now than allowing ourselves to think that way.

Contrary to what Mr. Dawes thing, the reason its essential to label something as evil is expressed by Dr. Scott Peck in his Book, People of the Lie. He wrote that, “to name something correctly gives us a certain amount of power over it.” For example, what if we didn’t have proper labels for diseases such as cancer, diabetes or Aids? When a disease is referred to by its name, this implies that certain symptoms are present that justified that diagnosis. Once a patient is properly diagnoses then they can be properly treated. The same idea applies to evil. If we do not know how to define it by it’s symptoms then how can we fight it?

Contrary to what Mr. Dawes asserts, the most dangerous thing we can do is not confront these terrorist organizations like ISIS, which is the greatest evil of our time. Academics like Mr. Dawes, are the product of a secular value system that permeates our Universities which hinder their ability to think clearly when it comes to moral issues.

 

“We must do more than bomb the believers. We must understand them. We must be willing to continue thinking.

“How is ISIS able to achieve the support it needs? What drives people into its ranks? What social pressures and needs, what political and regional vacuums, make it possible for a group like this to thrive?

“We can say they are evil people doing evil things for evil ends. Or we can do the hard work of understanding the context that made them, so that we can create a context that unmakes them.

“We can analyze the ways its violent tactics are effective for its purposes given the local power dynamics, so that we can also better understand its weak spots. And we can ask how it is that normal men — men who were not born evil — get turned into monsters, so that we can work to change the structures that produce terrorists over the long-term instead of locking ourselves into an endlessly repeated, short-term policy of “killing fanatics” until they are gone.

 

Those who believe people are inherently good, as Mr. Dawes does. Blame society and other external factors for producing individuals for their defective behavior.  Dennis Prager explains in his book, Think a Second Time, that the  defining issue that separates those on the left and the right is whether or not they believe people are inherently good or evil.  This is why the left believes in big government because it has the authority and power to make the necessary changes in society that result in making better people, or at least this is what they think.

His approach to dealing with terrorism is a perfect example of what happens when you believe people are inherently good. The presumption is if we can just “understand” the reasons (I.e. external factors) that lead “normal men” to become terrorists, then we could reverse the process by changing their circumstances and prevent the spread of terrorism.

These type of solutions  work well in the minds of academics. Maybe if this Mr. Dawes was around in WWII, understanding Hitler would have been a better strategy than crushing them!  We don’t fight to win anymore because of those in the media and academics think the same way as Dawes.  Had we leveled the cities in Iraq and brought them to their knees I would guarantee you ISIS would not exist.

Conclusion

Psalms 97:10, sums up well my thoughts about the lefts approach in dealing with evil. “Ye that love the LORD, hate evil.” A society can be measured in its “love of the Lord,” by what it considers to be evil. The western world is in great trouble for turning away from the Judeo-Christian values which have produced the greatest civilizations in history. We are seeing more and more of those in the western world loving evil, or in the very least tolerating it, and hating the God of Israel.

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Comments

  1. Shaun,

    Dawes is right. The rhetoric of evil makes American and talk radio show host feel better about themselves, but it does not to actually address said evils. In fact, the evil paradigm led us into Iraq and created the vacuum that made their existence possible.

    Nobody is born evil. We can butcher as many evil people as we would like, but it will not create a better world is we do not understand the causes.

    You seem to think that Dawes is some sort of relativist. However, he is not saying that they are not evil…he is just point out that the rhetoric is useless when addressing real problem.

    The Christian tradition (we will leave the Jew out of it) has produced my great things. It also created The Crusades, plenty of genocide, and served as the background framework of the Holocaust. That said, I see know Christian basis for the concept of butchering all the Muslim that upset us. Is it a very American/Western idea? Yes. But it is not Christian.

  2. “Nobody is born evil. We can butcher as many evil people as we would like, but it will not create a better world is we do not understand the causes.”

    “You seem to think that Dawes is some sort of relativist. However, he is not saying that they are not evil…he is just point out that the rhetoric is useless when addressing real problem.

    When has your approach in dealing with the likes of ISIS ever worked?

    “The Christian tradition (we will leave the Jew out of it) has produced my great things. It also created The Crusades, plenty of genocide, and served as the background framework of the Holocaust. That said, I see know Christian basis for the concept of butchering all the Muslim that upset us. Is it a very American/Western idea? Yes. But it is not Christian.’

    Given the fact that the examples you provided took place century’s ago, let’s look at the last 100 years where 100+ million lives lost were lost as a result of secular ideas. To associate Christianity with with nazis/hitler is ridiculous, Hitler looked at himself as God and demanded his people due likewise.

    When comparing the blood shed by Christians and secularist of the 20th century there is no debate in which believe system is worse. By the way, what the “Christians” did to Jews during the inquisitions is just as evil as ISIS. I doubt the left would take the same approach in trying to “understand” the KKK if they were doing today what they did to blacks in the south years ago. Perhaps I am wrong!

    By the way, you really think we are butchering Muslims in that part of the world? Over 5k of our boys died so Muslims can be free in Iraq, the moral equivalence is quit disheartening.

    As to mankind’s nature. You are correct in that we are born innocent, but Mormons of all people should know that human nature is evil and must be overcome through a higher power. The French Revolution, communism, socialism are all products of thinking that mankind is good. Consider the language of the BOM in describing our condition. Carnal, devilish, sensual, lost, fallen and so forth. Evidence abounds that mankind by nature is not good.

    • The secular vs religious dichotomy you are setting up is itself ridiculous. Whether an idea is bad or good rarely has anything to do with whether it is religious or secular.

      • On the contrary, the kind of secular values that we see in academia today are completely opposed to the religious values system of Christianity. As I wrote in the post, secularism believes that human nature is by nature good, and those who adhere to Judo-Christian values believe that human nature is evil. This belief motivates everything the left and right do. This is why the left believes they can create a Utopia on earth because they do not blame individuals for evil behavior but rather society. The right believes that religious values along with the belief in the God of Israel is what leads to a change in individuals lives, not social constructs. The untold horrors of the 20th century came about with the intention of building a perfect society, and if I may add, all with the best of intentions. The right rejects the idea of a utopia society because they believe a perfect society only exists in the after life.

    • Actually, understanding what made white Christian southerners consistently kill, rape and degrade blacks in the South, is what led to the civil rights movement. Teaching tolerance, rather than murdering all the racist whites is what brought about change.

      You are quick to tell us that ” Over 5k of our boys died so Muslims can be free in Iraq,” but I wonder if you know how many Iraqi citizens the US military killed in the two Gulf Wars. How many children did we kill? How many were left orphaned? How many people were hurt, afraid, and don’t trust you and me, and our government?

      No one is born evil. No religion makes people evil. No religion stops people from becoming evil. Judeo-Christian values are not a magic solution to keeping people from becoming blind to their own prejudice. According to your definition, every person at the Bundy ranch incident should have been immediately killed and in a show of overwhelming force, every right winger who supports them should be killed on the spot.

      I am not a fan of the racists who believe that they have a right to scare people with their “open carry” bullying, or right wing radio hatred being spewed on the airwaves, but I think that we all have the right to expect to have people at least try to see it our way, and that extends to allowing you to share your opinion without having a tactical team take you out.

      By your own argument, and my understanding of Christianity, I would have to label you evil, and respond by “crushing” you, because I can’t use the “presumption is if we can just “understand” the reasons (I.e. external factors) that lead “normal men” to become” someone who is not Christlike. I must simply label you as evil, and crush you and your family with overwhelming force.

      Thank goodness you don’t have to apply your worldview to yourself.

      • “Actually, understanding what made white Christian southerners consistently kill, rape and degrade blacks in the South, is what led to the civil rights movement.”

        What lead to the civil rights movement along with the ending of slavery were the values of those who caught against such evil. Which by the way, their values were based on the teaching of the bible.

        “Teaching tolerance, rather than murdering all the racist whites is what brought about change.”

        If you think that the southerners who murdered blacks stopped because they were taught tolerance than I have no response.

        “You are quick to tell us that ” Over 5k of our boys died so Muslims can be free in Iraq,” but I wonder if you know how many Iraqi citizens the US military killed in the two Gulf Wars. How many children did we kill? How many were left orphaned? How many people were hurt, afraid, and don’t trust you and me, and our government?”

        Truly we will not know the answer to that question unless you trust the U.N. Let me ask you, how many civilians died in WWII in order to liberate Europe and the Pacific? “How many children did we kill? How many were left orphaned? How many people were hurt, afraid, and don’t trust you and me, and our government?” You see, what makes me different from the left is that I blame Hitler and the Japanese for all the dead civilians, with their evil actions we would never have entered a war and those innocent children would still have their parents and be living happy lives (hopefully). The same idea applies in Iraq, it is the terrorists who are to blame, not the U.S.

        “No one is born evil.”

        You didn’t read what I wrote, I said we are born innocent but our natures are evil. If you are a believing LDS it is impossible to not believe this about human nature, also known as the natural man.

        ” According to your definition, every person at the Bundy ranch incident should have been immediately killed and in a show of overwhelming force, every right winger who supports them should be killed on the spot.”

        I was not aware I provided a definition of evil, although I am more than happy to. secondly, I was not aware the Bundy Ranchers were cutting peoples heads off. I thought they just owed the government a lot of money.

        “I am not a fan of the racists who believe that they have a right to scare people with their “open carry” bullying, or right wing radio hatred being spewed on the airwaves, but I think that we all have the right to expect to have people at least try to see it our way, .

        Are you seriously comparing ISIS to talk radio? And what are you talking about expecting people’s rights to express themselves. The topic is ISIS and this guys reluctance to call them evil and instead try to “understand” them.

        “and that extends to allowing you to share your opinion without having a tactical team take you out.”

        What are you taking about, what tactile team took out who. Are you referring to Hamas shooting 20 modern Palestinians in the head last weak because they were accused of being Idraelis sympathy sets.

        “By your own argument, and my understanding of Christianity, I would have to label you evil, and respond by “crushing” you, because I can’t use the “presumption is if we can just “understand” the reasons (I.e. external factors) that lead “normal men” to become” someone who is not Christlike. I must simply label you as evil, and crush you and your family with overwhelming force…Thank goodness you don’t have to apply your worldview to yourself.”

        I am lost, why would you have to label me evil? Being Christlike implies actions, behaviors. What behaviors of mine would justify calling me evil? You see, ISIS has demonstrated by their actions that they are evil, I.e., cuting peoples heads off, killing off men than enslaving their wives as sex slaves, and over the weekend they cut a five year old boy in half. I have a five year old boy, and people like Dawes wants to understand them?

  3. Reductio ad Hitlerum! Nicely done, everyone.

  4. Sun Tsu: “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

    We know neither ourselves nor our enemies, which is why we’ve been losing wars for the past forty-odd years, constantly refighting the same enemies.

  5. Shaun, I thought that this part of your post was superb.

    “Contrary to what Mr. Dawes thing, the reason its essential to label something as evil is expressed by Dr. Scott Peck in his Book, People of the Lie. He wrote that, “to name something correctly gives us a certain amount of power over it.” For example, what if we didn’t have proper labels for diseases such as cancer, diabetes or Aids? When a disease is referred to by its name, this implies that certain symptoms are present that justified that diagnosis. Once a patient is properly diagnoses then they can be properly treated. The same idea applies to evil. If we do not know how to define it by it’s symptoms then how can we fight it?”

    However, I find the rest of the post distinctly lacking. I believe in man’s inherent goodness. In fact, I consider it one of the most fundamental aspects of faith in God. I am LDS, but grew up in almost entirely Jewish neighbourhoods in Israel. Prager might like to look into the teachings of the Rav Kook, the seminal figure in the history of religious Zionism. He taught that not only were all men inherently good, but that they also inherently strove to be holy. Evil arises when these impulses become misguided and mislaid. Dawes is spot-on when he says that we should ask “how it is that normal men — men who were not born evil — get turned into monsters, so that we can work to change the structures that produce terrorists over the long-term instead of locking ourselves into an endlessly repeated, short-term policy of “killing fanatics” until they are gone.” Killing every last member of ISIS is impractical. ISIS should be decisively defeated, but in order to uproot them permanently, we must also understand how they tick, and what socio-religious dynamics are at play.

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  1. […] response to a previous post addressing the question of whether it is productive to label ISIS and similar organizations […]

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