How should we respond to ISIS?

Some questions

  • isisHow should we respond to the evil that ISIS represents?
  • What is our personal response?
  • What should be the response from our nation?
  • Should we respond to violence with violence?
  • Who is setting the agenda: ISIS or the West?
  • Is there a case for a ‘holy war’?

The agenda of ISIS

When we hear of Christians and Muslims being beheaded it can create fear. When we hear of a Jordanian pilot being burnt alive it creates anger. When we hear of rape and gender-based violence against women it creates a demand for justice, action and war.

This is what ISIS wants. They are setting the agenda. They want a reaction from ‘Christian’ nations and from Shi’ite Muslims. By attacking religion, and attacking women and children they strike fear in our hearts. By abusing minorities they hope to cause our natural propensity for justice to be directed into a violent reaction.

The more we react to ISIS, the easier it is for them to radicalise young Muslims and get them to join their cause.


There is no doubt that ISIS is evil, but is it the only evil in the world? I think not!

  • What about the human traffickers who exploit the down-trodden and the vulnerable?
  • What about the owners who hold 27 million throughout the world in conditions of slavery?
  • What about the drug barons who build vast fortunes at the expense of the addicts and the weak?
  • What about our attitude to those living in absolute poverty who see their children die of preventable diseases?

Or historically:

  • What about the regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia that killed millions?
  • What about Mao’s ‘Great leap forward’ in which 20 Million Chinese people died of starvation.?
  • What about Stalin’s purges in Russia when millions of people were executed or sent to labour camps in Siberia?
  • What about Idi Amin’s reign of Terror in Uganda where the number of killings range fro 100,000 to 500,000?

Western nations did not intervene to save lives in these situations, but there is no doubt that these were evil.

A ‘holy war’

Some may describe a war as being ‘just’, but can it ever be described as holy. Jim Wallis, the president of the American organisation, Sojourners, says in his excellent article on ISIS:

There are no “holy wars.” War is always the result of a failure to resolve human conflicts without violence. War is a consequence of our sins. Even when theology is used to justify the use of force, or “just war,” it is still a failed and sinful response to other sins.

There is no glory or righteousness in war. And those who argue for the use of force should be repentant and humble when they do so. All faith traditions and leaders, whether they accept the concept of “just war” or not, must never call war “holy.” The beginning of our response to ISIS must be for all of our faith traditions, leaders, and members to completely reject the concept and language of holy war.

Since Bill O’Reilly claims to be reaching out to faith congregations — asking us to press our American government to fight against a “holy war” — we should reach back to O’Reilly to help him understand why this rhetoric is so wrong and dangerous.

Personal response

What should my personal response be?

Firstly, I should not give way to fear or anger. If I am fearful or angry then they have won at least in my heart.

Secondly, I should not treat them as an enemy. If they have made themselves my enemy then the only response compatible with the teachings of Jesus is to love my enemies.

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.… (Matthew 5: 43-45)

Thirdly, I should pray for those who persecute me, or others who believe the same as I do.

National Response

This is where things get difficult. If the majority are crying out for revenge and violence to ‘right’ the situation, I can express my view but I cannot impose my views on other people.

It is the actions of the United States and its allies (including my home country) which have made things worse and resulted in even more evil. Saddam of Iraq was evil and al-Assad of Syria is evil but wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, based on revenge for 9-11 have removed a dictator but solved absolutely nothing.

If we declared war on ISIS, the consequences are impossible to forecast. It is likely that we would be fighting on many fronts, as what would be seen as a war on Islam, would stir up revolution in many Arab and other Muslim countries. A well-intentioned bombing war in Libya has made the country ungovernable and a hot-bed for ISIS,

War is indiscriminate and would result in civilian deaths and large numbers of refugees. War is in itself evil, and we cannot fight evil with evil. The potential for escalation is enormous and the prospect of a third global war is very present.

The world of Islam is facing a dilemma, much like Christianity faced at the time of the reformation. There is a conflict of ideologies between those fundamentalists who would like to take the world back to the middle ages and the more progressive majority. (There are also Christian fundamentalists who would like to take the world back to 1000 B.C.!)

ISIS would like ‘Christians’ to take sides against them! They would like to see peace-loving Muslims feel that they are under attack. They would like young men and women to feel alienated where they live and be recruited to the side of extremism.

If war is not the answer, then what should we do? The only answer is to show restraint, patience and tolerance. We can treat terrorists as criminals but not as enemies. We can defend our own borders, but need to stop short of offensive action. Communism has run it’s course and now exercises no threat to mankind ­ – it was certainly not worth a nuclear war. Patience may well see the world of Islam rejecting the extremists – but not if we ‘stick our oar in’.

What do you think?

I realise that what I have said is controversial, so please add your comments below.

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

11 thoughts on “How should we respond to ISIS?”

    1. An interesting article by Pilger, but to me at least flawed.

      His criticisms of the USA and those who go along with them is thorough and justified. The American Government has a track record of the most appalling interventions. To list just two points:

      – American Exceptionalism is a deadly dangerous doctrine. If one nation can claim a special destiny, and a special right to intervene, then why not others. America is not special. American history has things to proud of, and things to be ashamed of, just like every other country. In the case of America there are some very serious things within living memory to be ashamed of, the treatment of Blacks for example.

      – America claims to be the World’s policeman, yet America openly states that they will only act in America’s best interest. If I am robbed and call on my local constable for help, I don’t expect him to ask what is in it for himself and his family. He is a policeman, he must uphold the law by doing what is right, even if it is against his own interests, or he is not worthy to be a policeman.

      I’m inclined to accept most of Pilger’s attacks on the USA and its allies as credible and probable. It’s the other side that worries me. He present a series of supposed Good People, all virtuous victims of American oppression

      And I can’t accept Pilger’s claims. He is as gullible as those he opposes. It’s a fallacy to think that just because you can show one side is nasty, therefore the other side must be nice.

      – Yugoslavia was not a multi-ethnic paradise. The different peoples there have been hating each other for decades, just read a very little history.

      – Crimea was invaded. It is dishonest to say otherwise. It may be that the invasion was justified, but it was clearly an invasion. Incidentally by what standards was the 1954 annexation of Crimea to Ukraine illegal, or at least any more illegal than any other act of the Soviet dictatorship?

      – If the Russian army is not involved, then how exactly are the rebels doing so well?

      It’s probably too late now, but there was a solution available. Offer the Russian speaking areas a referendum. Do you want to stay in Ukraine or not?

      It’s simple really.

      If they do want out, then by what right can we deny them? And if we do deny them, then we doom them to long term civil strife at the hands of a Kiev who will regard them as traitors.

      If on the other hand they wish to remain within Ukraine, then that is the perfect answer to Russian aggression. It demonstrates that the rebel governments are simply extremists without any popular mandate.

      But unfortunately it’s too late now. Neither side would ever agree to a fair poll, if indeed they ever wanted one.


  1. I can’t be a pacifist, I’ve seen Dachau and Auschwitz.
    But war is never a good answer. The best it can ever be is the least ghastly, and usually it’s not even that.

    The New Testament says if we do not admit our own sins, there is no hope for us.
    And how can we expect trust from people if we do not acknowledge our wrongs done to them.
    In 1918 we betrayed our promises to the Arabs, and took over their lands, setting up new countries like Iraq, to serve what we thought were our own best interests. If we start by admitting that, then we might get somewhere with the Arabs who also need to admit their wrong actions.
    I don’t have any magic solutions of where to go now, but I’m sure of one thing, our longterm best interests lie in acquiring a reputation for honesty and fair dealing. What Islam will do with itself I have no idea. That’s a question only Muslims can answer.


    1. I am interested – what promises did the western powers make to Arabs and then break? (This isn’t a trick question, I don’t know and I’d like to know.) Thanks.


      1. There was a programme about this on S4C last year. It should have been repeated on the English service, even if it would have meant subtitles. They showed copies of all the treaties involved, with all the crucial wording, so it’s not just propaganda.

        Basically in World War 1 we were fighting the Germans/Austrians/Turks and we were getting nowhere. The Western Front was stuck in trenches, the Russian Front was a disaster, and the best we had managed against the Turks was to invade Gallipoli, which turned into an ignominious disaster.

        So someone had a bright idea of getting the Arabs in the Turkish Wmpire to rebel. The first try they sent a man called Shakespear (Honestly that was his name). He got killed in a skirmish, so they sent out T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence oif Arabia). Through him the Arabs were promised a united independant country of their own if they sided with us. That country would cover the Hedjaz (Mecca and Medina, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria (excluding non-Muslims area such as the Maronite, Orthodox, and Druze. On that promise, made by English Gentlemen, they rebelled and together we destroyed the Turkish Empire.
        This is the promise:
        “Great Britain is prepared to recognize and support the independence of the Arabs within the territories in the limits and boundaries proposed by the Sherif of Mecca.”

        At the same time Mr Balfour, the Foreign Secretary, made a committment to Lord Rothschild to set up a Jewish National Home in Palastine.
        “His Majesty’s government views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

        Also the British, French and Imperial Russian governments secretly agreed a treaty to divide up the Turkish empire. The Russians taking the North, the French taking the middle and the British the South, to be as part of their respective Empires. This was called the Sykes-Picot agreement. Offically the Arabs would have independant kingdoms, but they would be “protected” by British Advisors, a bit like the Indian Princes were. The borders of these new countries (iraq, Jordan, Palastine, etc) were to be decided by the Allies, not the Arabs.

        So we made three separate and incompatable promises regarding the same piece of land to be
        1, A united independant Muslim Arab kingdom
        2, A national home for the Jews
        3, A series of nominally independant protectorates under British/French/Russian control.

        Additionally various other groups asked to be given what the American President Wilson had called ” the self-determination of peoples”. They got ignored.
        This includes the Kurds (divided between 3 countries), the Assyrian Christians (shoved into a Muslim Syria to be a persecuted minority), and probably (though I have no direct knowledge of this) the Druze and the Yazidis.

        What we got was short term control of the Middle East, at the price of the long term resentment of distrust of the Arabs and other peoples who lived there, and the seeds of all the hatred that has happened since.

        What we could have had was a strong, friendly Arab ally. The Kurdish, Assyrian and Druze would had had secure control of their own areas. It’s even possible that the Arabs might have been open to the possibility of negotiating a Jewish National Home on the same basis as the Assyrian and Druze.

        But we blew it. We lied and we cheated and we betrayed. The Arabs have not forgotten, even if we have. That’s why lectures on morality from us don’t go down to well with them.

        If we want others to acknowledge their sins, then we must first acknowledge ours, or there is no forgiveness. That’s what 1 John 1 says.


        Liked by 1 person

        1. Correction to my previous post.
          “the Assyrian Christians (shoved into a Muslim Syria to be a persecuted minority)”
          should have read
          “the Assyrian Christians (shoved into a Muslim iraq to be a persecuted minority)”

          There’s a few other embarrassing typos as well. It was late when I wrote it!


    2. The 1953 Iran coup didn’t help either, and as ever, was all about oil wealth!
      Unfortunately neither the UK, nor the US have an honest government. Money is the only motive that they understand.


  2. George, this is well done. Your box on “Holy War” says it all. Fear sells, especially when you have nothing else to offer. We need more people to call out folks like O’Reilly who are war mongers. I can assure you if the President was for all out war, opponents would be against it. While far from perfect, this President not wanting to dive into this with troops doing what the enemy wants him to do, is judicious. This must be a global and middle east effort in concert with moderate Muslims to tell extremists that this is not the path of Islamic religion. BTG


  3. Yeah, George, I pretty much agree with you.

    It was western intervention led by George W Bush that set back the situation in the Middle East – making it almost impossible for christians in several countries, creating opportunities for regimes and movements far worse than the ones the west toppled or is trying to topple, and making life even more miserable for millions of people.

    It’s hard to see how more of the same can improve things, but hard to see how people can stand by and allow the atrocities, Assisting stable and relatively benign regimes to set up stable societies is probably the best way, but after Dubya’s “war on terror”, there are no good options.

    That’s my opinion, anyway.


  4. Sometimes I wonder about blessings and curses. Is it appropriate to curse evil movements and corporations, or would it simply add more demonic weight to an already demonic entity? Jesus cursed the fig tree, and it withered overnight. Could the same thing happen with a group like ISIS? The old testament is full of occasions where the enemy of Israel turned in on itself, without the Jews even having to fight. I don’t know why that doesn’t happen in Iraq.
    As for your assertion that Saddam Hussain and Bassar al-Assad are “evil”, I suspect you’re probably right, but the war-mongers in this country so fill the media with negative propaganda against them and Putin too, that it’s impossible to get an objective view!


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