I don't like the Islamic State, or ISIS. I try to be tolerant of people's religions and philosophies, but when a group tries to impose its religion (including atheism) using violence, I take issue.
In this essay I want to provide some historical context for the level of violence that has been practiced by ISIS during the last few years. This is by no means meant to excuse ISIS. It is meant to remind people that religious violence this is a long-term problem that has not been confined to any particular religion or ethnicity.
Historical comparisons to choose from are numerous, but I believe the most appropriate religious one is known as the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. Spin the time machine back to Europe in 1572 and a great religious transformation was taking place. Spurred on by the printing press making Bibles more available, a variety of Protestant groups had broken the monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church on religious life in Europe. That monopoly had previously been enforced by Rome killing anyone who disagreed with it from roughly 400 A.D. onward. Martin Luther was simply the first of what the Catholic Church called Heretics to disagree (in 1517) and live.
The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre took place in France in 1572. France was mainly Roman Catholic, but had fairly large numbers of Protestants known as Huguenots. On the eve of the feast of the Apostle Bartholomew, August 23, a well-planned slaughter of the Huguenots was executed under orders from King Charles IX. No one knows for sure how many Protestants were killed, but probably at least 10,000 and perhaps many more.
I don't know how many people ISIS has killed, but we should keep in mind the difficulty in separating out murders conducted for reasons of religion, politics, or economics. Were American Indians slaughtered because they were not Christians, or because they were not paid-up members of the white race, or simply because of greed? All are partly true. The St. Bartholomew's Day massacre had political and economic components as well.
So too with the Islamic State. While it has a distinctly religious character, it also shows a rather sharp interest in business enterprises. It seems to have its own power-hungry elite. While you might think that its Caliph would seek to unite all Islam against all infidels, so far ISIS seems to prefer killing Shia moslems to converting them.
Today it is hard for anyone to imagine the Roman Catholic Church killing people for not being Catholic, partly because people have short memories and partly because the Church changed. After almost enforcing Catholicism on all of Europe during its Fascist peak in World War II, Roman Catholic armies were rolled back by atheists and Protestants, with atheists suffering most of the casualties. The horrors of the Holocaust and the battlefield and defeat left a widespread disgust with the Church that led to the following decades of pretending to be a church of peace. Maybe it has pretended so long now that it has genuinely transformed itself into a peaceful organization.
Being known to be ultra-violent on the battlefield is often a good way to win battles, as ISIS has shown in both Iraq and Syria. It also cows populations and gives them time to think that they might as well profess whichever religion does not get them killed. Most people in the world today who believe in traditional religions have ancestors who decided to convert under threat of death.
I believe, at this point, that ISIS has to be defeated on the battlefield, if it is to be defeated. ISIS would not exist if the United States had not destroyed the government of Saddam Husein and attempted to destroy that of Bashar Assad. But the U.S. should keep its hands off the region from now on, except for perhaps making economic reparations for the harm we have already caused. Let Iran and Turkey fight ISIS. It is their area, they know the cultural landscape, and will doubtless do much better, given that Turkey is predominantly Sunni and Iran Shia. Both are modern nations where Islam is much more liberal, on the whole, than the ISIS version.
If necessary, let the Saudis send their fat-ass princes to the slaughter, instead of sucking on all the delights of the earth bought with their oil money.
Perhaps August 23 would be a good date for all the good people of the world to remember the victims of religious fanaticism, and to pledge to keep religious conversion efforts peaceful.