How to Define ISIS and How Morocco is Fighting It
July 6, 2016
ISIS is a cult – a very specific type of cult
The media and the current U.S. administration have struggled since 2014 to define ISIS. Some have said they are not Islamic at all, which, while well-meaning, seems to fail on its face as ISIS draws upon Islamic texts to justify their actions. ISIS is an apocalyptic, genocidal, Islamic cult. We must address and combat ISIS as a cult to defeat it. The media and the current U.S. administration have struggled since 2014 to define ISIS. Some have said it is not Islamic at all, which, while well-meaning, seems to fail on its face as ISIS draws upon Islamic texts to justify its actions. ISIS is an apocalyptic, genocidal, Islamic cult. We must address and combat ISIS as a cult to defeat it.
About the speaker
Jack Rusenko has lived and worked the majority of his adult life in the Arab world, 18 years of which were in Morocco where he focused on educational projects.
In 1993, he initiated a committee to bring the Internet to Morocco, and in 1998 he founded the largest American school in the region: George Washington Academy. During his years in Morocco he did extensive work on interfaith dialogue as a lay leader of the Anglican church, working with religious and governmental leaders. He is personally acquainted with the Moroccan Muslim intellectuals who have taken the lead in fighting Islamist ideology. He is intimately familiar with the Moroccan government’s counter-radicalization efforts. Jack currently resides in Northern Virginia where he leads the George Washington Amity Series, working with Muslim and Evangelical Christian Communities.
Jack brings a wealth of experience to the subject through the many years he lived and worked with business, government and religious leaders in a Muslim-majority context. He holds degrees in Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University; French Language and Civilization from the Sorbonne in Paris, and Arabic from the University of Tunis.
Robert R. Reilly:
Now tonight we’re very happy to have with us Jack Rusenko particularly because his extensive experience in the Arab world, his mastery of several languages in the country in which he lived for 18 years in both French and Arabic and his astonishing achievement during those years of establishing a[n] extremely successful school titled the George Washington Academy, which continues today and I believe Jack is up to 700 students… 800… 850 students in the George Washington Academy in Morocco.
During Jack’s years in Morocco he did extensive work on interfaith dialogue as a lay leader of the Anglican church, working with religious and government leaders. And this is going to be another particularly interesting thing to hear about tonight is Mr. Rusenko’s acquaintance with leaders in Morocco and that includes government-sponsored leaders who are trying to detoxify the radical Islamist strain of Islam. So without… no I will not go without further ado for a moment because you should know that holds degrees in petroleum and natural gas engineering from Pennsylvania State and French language and Civilization from the Sorbonne in Paris and Arabic from the University of Tunis. Please join me in welcoming Jack Rusenko on the subject, “How to Define ISIS and How Morocco is Fighting It.”
Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be with you and I have enjoyed so much all the different times I have been here for the different events that you have. I’m glad you’re turning off your cell phones. I remember once watching on TV- When you live in a kingdom, the King is a quite central figure. And to meet the King is a big thing. I met King Hassan II once. And you see on the nightly news people walk up and see the King and I remember the day that one of the cabinet ministers was getting appointed and he walked up to see the King and as he was shaking hands his cell phone rang. And they should have a picture of the guy’s face it was like, ‘Oh no. I am dead. I am so dead.’ You know? Anyway.
I would like to start to wish our Muslim friends Eid Mubarak. Today is the fast for the end of Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Saghir, the small one that they have so it’s an important day for them. This is- I use this as a backdrop and then I realized, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to correlate this with ISIS’ in any way. This is Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem… in the Dome of the Rock, the third holiest place in Islam. It was built by Omar in 705. So I want to talk tonight about how we- first how we define ISIS and then- so really it’s two separate parts; how we define ISIS and then secondly what Morocco’s been doing to fight ISIS. It’s been frustrating for me to hear in the press how people have define ISIS and talk about it. There are different ways, different things that you see and I’ll explain them.
The first, we’ll start with the Arabic one, Daesh. In Arabic, it’s ad-Dawlah al-ʻIraq al-Islāmiyah, Islamic State in Araq wa Sham, in Iraq and Sham. And the media says Iraq and Syria. [It] doesn’t mean Syria. There’s nobody in their world that ever says Syria. But Sham is the Levant, which is the eastern Mediterranean, Lebanon and Syria but also Jordan, Israel, and Palestine so when they say the Sham, the Levant, they’re claiming immediately that whole eastern Mediterranean area. Then of course ISIL is the English translation, Iraq and Levant and ISIS would mean Iraq and Sham, so that’s half-Arabic, half-English.
The Obama administration and many others have affirmed that ISIS is not Islamic at all. There’s nothing Islamic about ISIS. I think people can understand that there’s- they can differentiate and I think it’s a good thing. The- kind of the idea behind it, that we not offend Muslims and claim that or try to say that all Muslims are like ISIS or something like that, that’s a good thing. We should I think constantly affirm that but people can differentiate between a mainstream and a twisted deformation of that, I believe. So… the other thing that I noticed is political leaders, ours in particular right now, are saying that ISIS is not Islamic at all but as I’ve gotten to know Muslim theologians and Muslim scholars I have never met a Muslim scholar that says ISIS is not Islamic at all. So I think in the case of religious things it would be better to stick with theologians and not the politicians. I think they would know a little bit more in this area. And so the other thing that I think is that I think we have to be careful when saying this is that we don’t lose credibility.
So when you live in the state and this was pretty much the whole Arab world up until- most of the Arab world up until 2011, and there’s no independent media, what you have- is you have the official truth, that’s what the government tells you, and then everybody else knows there’s the real truth and if you have an independent media that’s good that gap will close very quickly… but if you don’t, you’ll have the state organs out there saying this is what’s happening, this is the truth and everybody knows that’s not right. So what happens is the media says that but the people say, “No, that’s not right. You know what’s really happening here.” So I think that we run the risk of losing credibility. If we’re saying something and the people- I have not met Muslims- I have met Muslims that say- and the King of Jordan said, “It is so far from what I believe, I can’t even recognize it as Islam.” So I can understand that. But to say that there’s nothing Islamic about it I think is a little bit too much.
The other thing is that some say that ISIS actually are the true Muslims and if you’re really a good Muslim, you’ll end up like ISIS. They really do interpret the text literally in a direct way and so there they have the proper way to interpret Islam. And what I would like to note here is that they interpret literally to be sure but they do not interpret it contextually. It’s a disjoint[ed] interpretation and that’s a big difference. And it saddens me to hear Christian leaders and people here in the United States that think, ‘Well, we interpret the Bible in a straightforward literal way and they do that with ISIS and so if I were a Muslim, I would end up like that.’
Again, the difference is it’s not contextual. An example would be if you were reading in the Old Testament Book of Judges and the Israelites are told to dispossess the people, take over the land of Canaan, and God says, ‘Go and basically chase these people out and who’s ever left kill every living thing that’s left,’ right? Now, the ISIS interpretation of that would be if I’m a pastor here in McLean and I get up on a Sunday and say, ‘Well, we’re going to apply that verse today and we’re going over there to Alexandria and we’re going to kill everybody’. Well, no Christian would ever say that. Well, not- no- There are actually- actually… no- no- It reminds me because actually in Rwanda some people said that. Some Christians were saying this is, you know the two tribes, and the other tribe we’re going to dispossess so not that it hasn’t happened but we wouldn’t certainly say that because it’s not contextual. It’s totally out of the context. So we- I don’t think that we should give them the upperhand to say that they have a good interpretation of the Quran and the holy books.
Morocco’s effort that I’ll get to in the second part of the talk is basically saying, ‘No, ISIS doesn’t have true Islam and we’re going to show you why they don’t.’