“Don’t listen to those who speak of democracy. They all are against Islam. They want to take the nation away from its mission. We will break all the poison pens of those who speak of nationalism, democracy, and such things.”
— Ayatollah Khomeini, from a sermon at Qom
“Islam cannot accept or agree to a situation which is half-Islam and half-Jahiliyya [separated from God].”
— Sayyid Qutb, Milestones
Those quotes encapsulate the hatred for freedom that defines both ISIS and the Khomeini-guardianship theology of Iran. To be sure, ISIS and Iran harbor deep hatred for each other. Still, their shared malevolence is telling.
These quotes also reveal the authoritarian xenophobia and absolute arrogance that underpin both ideologies. For these extremists, peaceful coexistence with mainstream society is intolerable. For them, resisting modernity is an ordained mission equaled in importance only by the necessity to impose their own agenda.
Their death-cultism is now on full display in Iraq. About a week ago, ISIS released a video of their latest exploits. The grotesque hour-long footage shows ISIS capturing Iraqi police officers and then shooting them as they kneel down and wait to die. In slow motion, ISIS regales us with terrified prisoners digging their own graves, and with assassinations. The ISIS videographers crow in the background. At one point, the camera records a gang of masked men who are slowly interrogating a police officer for propaganda value. Then, two of the terrorists jump on the officer and behead him, slowly, as he flails and struggles. The next scene shows his decapitated head sitting upon his torso. This is the world they seek: a “holy” kingdom of death.
But consider Iran — more strategically astute than ISIS, yes, but no less evil. Whether in its support for Assad’s chlorine-gas attacks in Syria or in its own numerous atrocities at home and across the world, Iran has no qualms about using death and fear as political weapons. A case in point is Iran’s plot in 2011 to blow up a crowded restaurant in Washington, D.C., in order to kill a Saudi diplomat. Former CENTCOM commander James Mattis tells the story here.
Of course, it isn’t only ISIS and Iran. In Yemen, fighters from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) film themselves massacring unsuspecting villagers. In Kenya, Al-Shabaab has just murdered fans watching the World Cup. In Nigeria, Boko Haram slit throats and kidnaps children. (A celebrity-led hashtag campaign has thus far rescued no children.) In Beirut, Iran’s ally Hezbollah casually murders its democratic opponents. These cases are just a few from the swamp of Islamic terrorism.
We need to recognize that whether it’s Iran or ISIS or Islamic terrorists elsewhere, what’s happening around the world is proof of a deeper truth: the rot of political Islam. Far removed from the Islamic age of medieval enlightenment, much of the world’s Islamic political discourse is now defined by corruption and hate.
Take the Sunni Arab monarchies that buy a World Cup and then build the stadium with slave labor. These kingdoms might provide five-star tourism to Westerners, but extremists from Mali to Syria greatly benefit from the Doha fundraising circuit. And Iran preaches democracy but then joyfully crushes the hopes — and skulls — of its own citizens.
Unfortunately, we in the West prefer to delude ourselves about this evil. In recent months, we’ve seen Rutgers University cancel the award of an honorary degree to anti-Islamist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and ABC Family pressured into scrubbing a TV show that highlighted women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Regurgitating terms such as “Orientalism” (an academic theory basically holding that the West exploited and romanticized the East for its own imperialist ends), elites have turned the ideal of tolerance into the practice of censorship. Unlike the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq, most of us have failed to grasp that many Muslims detest extremism and would, if encouraged, stand more actively against these false idols.
The rot is spreading. In the interest of opening our eyes to the danger, let me offer another Qutb quote: “The object of [holy order] is all humanity, and its sphere of action is the whole Earth.”