ISIS and the Cross

Paul L. Heck (June 22, 2015)

ISIS. The Cross. ISIS and the Cross. The Cross? Yes, that one. The Cross of Jesus Christ. How many of you have been thinking of the Cross lately? ISIS has. ISIS? Why?

First things first. This will be the most important article you read about ISIS to date. Are you ready? It starts bleak but gets better. Read the whole thing. OK?

Before we get to ISIS, we have to say something about Salman al-Ouda. He’s from Saudi Arabia. He led the Awakening. Not the one where Petraeus mobilized Iraq’s Sunni tribes against insurgents. The one in Saudi Arabia amidst the First Gulf War. (Remember that one?) Saddam occupied Kuwait in 1990. The US ousted him and also sent a bunch of troops to Saudi Arabia. The House of Saud apparently asked for the protection. US boots on the ground. Many saw it as a defilement of their Holy Land. Infidels in the land of the two shrines! (The two shrines are Mecca and Medina.) These citizen believers used it as religious leverage to demand reform from the House of Saud, and Salman al-Ouda was the key figure. He ended up in jail for a good chunk of time (1994-1999). When he got out, he had changed his tone. He no longer criticizes the regime directly, but he does call for limits on power. The association of Islam with authoritarianism has been a disaster in his view. Hard to disagree. He went on to develop a media empire and now has a following in the millions.ISIS terrorist chiseling cross from old church in Mosul, Iraq

Of his countless articles, one recently appeared in Renewal (June 16, 2015, p. 10). Renewal (Tajdeed) is the Islamist newspaper in Morocco. Entitled “The Green Crescent,” the article lambasts the current bloodshed among Muslims. To make his point, al-Ouda refers to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. “Our crescent has indeed become red with the color of blood.” He goes on from there to lament the slaughter. But he can’t resist taking a potshot at the Red Cross: “The Cross is a symbol of polytheism. It’s a baseless allegation.” It’s a simple flip-off. Like the way people used to speak of Jews. No one gave it a thought. A fact beyond dispute. That’s the way they are. And that’s the way it is. “The Cross … a baseless allegation.” The end. No need for discussion.

Three points. First, a question: Is it remarkable that a leading religious voice in the Arab world calls the Cross a symbol of polytheism? His point? Christians worship the Cross. They don’t worship God alone. Polytheists. Hence, the Cross is a symbol of polytheism. In fact, see that guy on the Cross. He’s not Jesus. Just looks like him. That’s the big Christian hoax. A baseless allegation. Second, the fact that al-Ouda can refer to this idea in passing, knowing it will not raise an eyebrow, makes one wonder. How many Muslims view Christians as polytheists? Third, aren’t polytheists supposed to be fought?

It’s not as bad as it all sounds. Lots of people apparently consider lots of other people polytheists. Some Protestants think Catholics are polytheists. Some Muslims think other Muslims are polytheists. What’s a polytheist? It’s not simply thinking there’s more than one god. More precisely, it’s placing your confidence in a being that has no power. So, if you hope a dead person can help you out – intercede for you (get you through the pearly gates) – then you’re delusional. A baseless allegation.

By that definition, atheists would consider all theists to be polytheists. That dead guy in the sky?

Now for the moment you’ve been craving. A salacious word on ISIS. But before we take the plunge, I would like to register my confusion at the obsession with ISIS. It is noteworthy, but I wonder why people can’t seem to get enough coverage. It’s as if we’re obsessed with ISIS’s evil because it makes us feel good about ourselves. That means … the good we attribute to ourselves is ultimately grounded in an evil! That’s how Saint Augustine would put it. The thing is … ISIS looks at us with the same relish. Ironically, we’re the basis of ISIS’s existence!

And a young white man participated in a meeting at a black church and then decided to kill them. Because they’re black. We’re all caught up in the delusion of condemning others unlike us.

But that’s another story for another time.

ISIS obsesses about the Cross. It is enemy number one. (It might actually be number two or three, after the Shi’a and the Saudi rulers, but we’ll get to that.) We all now know that poetry’s important for ISIS. Part of the allure. The Cross features on occasion in ISIS poetry. You’ve got worshipers of the Cross (عباد الصليب). Then, you’ve got the louts of the Cross (علوج الصليب). The poetess laureate of ISIS, a woman by the name of Ahlam al-Nasr (أحلام النصر), has a poem called “Rock the Throne of the Cross” (زلزلوا عرش الصليب). In another poem, one line says, “The future is dreadful, O Community of the Cross” (القادم رهيب يا أمة الصليب).

She’s just one of many. When ISIS foot soldiers attempted a suicide attack at the Luxor Temple (June 15, 2015), one of their fighters, a guy by the name of Abu Zayd al-Soudanee, tweeted the following: “The explosion at Luxor. A burning summer awaits the arch-idol of Egypt, his soldiers, and the worshipers of the Cross. This is only the beginning.” (Arch-idol is a term in the Qur’an for Satan, but ISIS applies it to all worldly rulers. The reference in this quote is to President Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi.)

The examples are countless, but let’s try to grasp what the Cross means for ISIS. First and foremost, it means the United States (US). Here’s how it goes: The US = Christianity. Christianity = Polytheism. Polytheism is to be fought. Hence, according to all standards of logic, the US is to be fought.

It’s more complex than that. We’ll get to some of the variations. But let’s first break it down. In many places of the world, it’s assumed that western power equals Christianity. Crusaders. Colonizers. Christian Empire. (This is particularly true in places with no indigenous Christians. Their presence as neighbor, colleague, or friend could counter the equation of Christianity with the West.)

It’s called projecting local logic. (“Our governments equal Islam. Hence, their governments equal Christianity.”) It’s also called branding your enemy with a religion your troops despise. Makes them all the more ready to fight. (“They’re the enemy. Hence, they must be Christian Crusaders. Go get ’em boys!”) Worse, these Christians (the United States) are allies of the hated Shi’a (the governments of Iraq and Iran). All this shows that those Christians (again, the US) are the enemies of Islam, the religion of God, the religion of ISIS, the heroic band of men and women, strangers in this world valiantly struggling to bring about God’s rule on earth against powers that seek to snuff it out. But have no fear. So long as they are true to God, he will make them victorious. The end goal is Rome. ISIS Empire. The counter empire.