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The Strengths and Delusions of ISIS – Part II

The Strengths and Delusions of ISIS – Part II

October 26, 2016

Social Sciences & Humanities

Dr. Nimrod Hurvitz teaches in the Department of Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. A historian of Islam, his research focuses on medieval and modern Muslim religious movements and the politics of religiosity. He is a co-founder of the Forum for Regional Thinking at the Molad Institute. The full and original version of this article appeared on its website in Hebrew.

Written by Dr. Nimrod Hurvitz
Translated by Michelle Bubis

The Jerusalem Post — Barbarism and self-righteousness are not unique to ISIS, and nurtured each other long before its appearance. Nor is this toxic combination a unique Islamic pathology.

Yet ISIS stands apart from other 20th and 21st century movements in that it is the only one that openly flaunts its carnage.

ISIS speaks to emotional problems. Like Nazism, it attracts people who have experienced humiliation as part of a group, nation or faith and are drawn to a megalomaniac vision in which the oppressed rise up and take over the world as its new moral elite.

The trampling of Muslim honor is a major element in the identity of ISIS members and leaders, who often declare that Muslims must take control of their destiny in order to recover their lost dignity.


Dr. Nimrod Hurvitz

Members of ISIS are convinced they know something that the rest of us either don’t or couldn’t handle if we did: that the human race is on the brink of the end of days. Accordingly, ISIS sees itself as the messengers of God and cosmic goodness who are destined to confront and overcome the forces of evil.

This ideology, which merges past with future, yields a unique interpretation of the present. In order to build up Muslim power for the ultimate war, ISIS is re-establishing the Caliphate — an institution that symbolized the might of Islam until it was abolished in 1924, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

ISIS’s leaders believe that only they can decipher Allah’s plans, and therefore they do not have to bother with mundane military analysis. For example, a rational analysis of the power balance between ISIS and its enemies would have led them to seek ways to ease their confrontations of various fronts.

This self-view moves ISIS to believe that it can function in a parallel universe of sorts, which is fueled by two fantasies: a delusion of omnipotence and a belief that it represents absolute justice.

The fantasy of power that ISIS cultivates is strikingly similar to that of apocalyptic Christian movements in the Middle Ages. ISIS members believe that they have been chosen by God and are directly guided by Him, and are therefore above the limitations of nature and history.

These blinding fantasies are leading ISIS toward a military and political downfall. At the same time, they are also a source of power. The illusion of omnipotence sustains belief even in the face of failure.

ISIS’s fantasies echo the world’s nightmares: both envisage the organization as disproportionally more powerful and threatening than it really is. In part, such rhetoric conveys the sincere, albeit megalomaniac, beliefs of ISIS devotees, as well as the candid anxieties of its potential victims.

Yet in part, it is the outcome of an unscrupulous pursuit of political interests. ISIS’s sinister image is a product both of its own manipulations and of the inadvertent aid it receives from its Western enemies. Western politicians, for instance, often abuse ISIS’s image to attain electoral goals, even at the price of enhancing the organization’s strength.

The key to blocking ISIS’s influence and ability to recruit frustrated Muslims is cooperation with moderate Muslims, who are in face an overwhelming majority among Muslims. Only they have the stature and intellectual know-how to challenge ISIS in religious and spiritual terms.

To do so, Western media must stop exacerbating the fear factor, since such rhetoric has become a weapon in ISIS’s arsenal. Such language alienates potential moderate allies and strengthens ISIS, who utilizes the exasperation that cynical Western politicians arouse in Muslims, in order to recruit them.

If Western pundits and politicians wish to stop being the unwitting accomplices of ISIS, they need to speak about the organization more professionally and responsibly.

Read more on The Jerusalem Post website >>

Read Part I,”The Strengths, Weaknesses and Delusions of Isis,” here >>