When people talk about ISIS and Islam, as they are today and will surely be for some time in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, they tend to take one of two positions: either that ISIS has nothing to do with “real” Islam, or that ISIS represents the ugly truth of Islam, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.
The debate, on the surface, often turns on theological questions: is ISIS’s piety sincere or just a cynical tool? Does its horrific ideology have real roots in Islamic text and history, or is it all distortions and lies? Does it violate Islamic law? Just how Islamic is the Islamic State, in its words and deeds?
But, often, there is a deeper debate just below the surface, or sometimes not hidden at all: to what degree is Islam to blame for ISIS? And, just beneath that, the same question put a different way: is ISIS what it is because Islam is inherently violent?
There has been and will continue to be mounds of scholarly research and debate on what role, if any, Islam and Islamism play in ISIS’s actions and its worldview. But, when it comes to the question of blame that will be sadly prevalent in the coming days, I have found that one of the most effective and to-the-point contributions is this 30-second clip from historian Reza Aslan, responding to hostile questions on CNN suggesting that Muslims are inherently violent:
Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion and like every religion in the world it depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is gonna be violent. There are marauding Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering women and children. Does Buddhism promote violence? Of course not. People are violent or peaceful and that depends on their politics, their social world, the ways that they see their communities.