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A war of beliefs

This OpEd was written by IWP Senior U.S. Army War College Fellow CH Karen Meeker.

Terrorism expert Peter Bergen said recently on Capitol Hill, “The homegrown terrorist is the biggest threat to the United States.” According to New America’s “ISIS in the West: The New Faces of Extremism,” the most common demographic of Americans recruited by ISIS, or the Islamic State, is a 25-year-old who is socially connected on the internet. What, then, is the special appeal that would drive an American young adult to radicalism and then terrorism, and what can we do about it? The answer has to do with the philosophical and religious dimension of the war against Islamist terrorism, which our government refuses to address.

ISIS articulates the “why” underlying its purposes while the United States does not. Specifically, ISIS is explaining American reluctance to address the core issue of human existence.

The world is in the midst of a war of beliefs. The battle is for the soul. It is not about economic opportunity or catchy phrases or slick promotions. It’s about knowing the why of life. It is a longing for meaning. Helpless before Nazi torture, Viktor Frankl realized, “He who has a why to live for can bear any how.” Human will is incredibly powerful when it connects to something greater. When it doesn’t connect or disconnects, there is despair. When it connects to evil, there is cruelty.

ISIS taps into an innate desire for meaning, purpose and community. This is what makes it dangerous. “Honor is in jihad,” declares an English propaganda video from June 2015. ISIS offers jihad to destroy the depravity of the West. Taqwah, the ascetic life, is a balm to cure Western indulgence; sacrifice, the cure to Western gratification; and piety, an alternative to Western immorality. ISIS seduces recruits with a sense of belonging to a larger community, the Ummah, and guarantees eternal paradise. Once committed, followers have no regard for the inhumane acts of violence they perpetrate on this earth.

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