Rethinking social antitheses: ISIS and the Islamic State

Recent events cast an intriguing light on the notion of social antitheses within our world capitalist system. The previous notion that all forms of social resistance to capitalist hegemony are a good thing is no longer acceptable for the 21st century. Tolerant, rational, and scientific socialists can understand the desire to resist imperialist aggression; but they cannot necessarily condone an “any means necessary” approach to resistance. Such is the nature of social movements; the long-term goal cannot be sacrificed for short-term, emotionally-driven gains. I say this in consideration of ISIS and the supposed Islamic State that might result from their existence.

Ignoring the blatant war crimes of the Obama Administration, in part because this is not atypical of the United States’ state-capitalist machine and in part because this is a topic that can be addressed better elsewhere, the conflict in Syria and Iraq demonstrates a new example of the dynamics of social development. Antithetical movements, sometimes called anti-systemic or revolutionary movements, are typically lumped together as playing for the same ball team; in the sense that their existences are dependent on some sort of antagonistic relationship with a dominant trait in society. Anti-racism, for example, coupled well with anti-war movements, pro-labor movements, and anti-fascist movements during the 1930s. And again, anti-racism coupled with anti-war during the Vietnam era. Even during the Bush administration, anti-war movements coupled with movements that sought to revitalize the image of Islam and push back against anti-Muslim discrimination. But 2014 brought us a new game, with a new set of players.

Throughout the Middle East and around the world, Arab nations along with Islamic leaders are condemning the actions of ISIS, the revolutionary movement in Iraq and Syria that seeks the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. ISIS caught attention for its actions against Christians and Jews within regions it controlled as early as June 2014, and after the broadcast beheading of a British journalist. Slamet Effendy Yusuf, executive council chair of the Indonesian Islamic society Nahdlatul Ulama, condemned the ISIS “jihadists” as a “group working for its own cause and gains from a sectarian issue.” The antithetical movement in Syria and Iraq can be best described as a chaotic and haphazard resistance effort waged by desperate and opportunist devotees. The United States’ response to it can be best described as expected and predictable. What this means for the future of anti-systemic movements however, is revolutionary.

Previous antithetical movements had the flexibility of opportunism. If there was a way to challenge Hitler, it was an acceptable way. If there was a way to promote an end to Jim Crow, it was a way that was tolerable to the civil rights movement. ISIS however has clearly shown that there most certainly is a wrong way to resisting the encroachment of imperialism, the world-capitalist system, and western hegemony. The boundaries created in this age, by these conditions, are revolutionary for future movements; they show us the limits, in both the positive and the negative, of resistance efforts around the world. It gives voice to the voiceless by showing us what means the voiceless have at their disposal, and which of those means is preferable and acceptable to the masses.

We should learn from ISIS’ existence and consider their actions to be an example of the limitations of antithetical, or anti-systemic, movements within our society. They stand as a testament to everything that can be wrong about an approach, and how the utilization of an idea, be it religious or political, can be wielded for any purpose, good or bad.

Photo: ISIS fighters use captured U.S. military eqipment and guns. AP