ISIS: A Crisis of Modernity

Amir Ahmad NasrAudio, Conversations, Ethical, Perspectives, Politics, Values, World Affairs 1 Comment

“In my nearly ten years of observing and writing on current affairs, I have never, ever witnessed anything like the grave, horrifying danger ISIS poses to the Middle East, the West, and perhaps even the world.”

The rise of ISIS is a uniquely 21st-century symptom of a massively complex and tangled knot at the heart of the human condition. And nothing less than an integral approach can possibly hope to unbind it, as evidenced by this discussion.

It would be absurd if it wasn’t so horrifying: a hostile group of pre-modern zealots are using modern weaponry and media tactics to combat modern influences and interventions; all taking place within a twisted circus of postmodern media where internet warriors and keyboard jihadists alike entrench themselves in the front lines of an ongoing global culture war, waging their own battles in perpetuum in comment boards all across the web.

How do we get out of this mess?

Maj. Gen. Michael K. Nagata, commander of American Special Operations forces in the Middle East recently proclaimed,

“We do not understand the movement, and until we do, we are not going to defeat it. We have not defeated the idea. We do not even understand the idea.”

If we wish to combat ISIS, we must first seek to understand ISIS. How it originated, the perfect storm of regional conditions and circumstances that made its emergence more or less inevitable, the global economic and political pressures that only seem to further catalyze the movement, etc.

But alongside these exterior factors, we also need to decipher the interior motivations, morals, and mentality of ISIS members if we wish to truly understand and ultimately defeat the ideas and ideologies that animate them. What is it about ISIS that so galvanizes its followers? How is ISIS able to have such apparent capacity to control massive populations of people? What is it that seems to attract so many people to its cause, even from developed Western nations like America and the U.K.?

We cannot defeat the idea unless we first understand the idea. As Maj. Gen. Nagata indicates, we need to understand the intangible elements of this conflict as much as the tangibles. Without this understanding, all we can do is drop whack-a-mole bombs on miscellaneous symptoms of this global illness, without ever treating the root causes. Which means that, even if every single member of ISIS is wiped off the face of the planet, there will always be someone ready to take their place, unless we begin to understand and address these root causes.

As Amir says in the article,

“The ugly truth is, even if ISIS is militarily defeated in the short-term, the mindset that helped birth it has become far-too-common. Encouraged by the current political dynamics, it will continue unabated in birthing future similar groups to fill the gaps.”

He continues:

“In order to truly defeat ISIS and preempt its future cousins, we must defeat the archaic mindset that birthed it and makes its atrocities possible, even ‘honorable. We need to understand that ISIS isn’t an expression of Islam per se as much as it is an expression of Islam through a medieval, anti-modern worldview, influenced and encouraged by the political dynamics and regional rivalries of today.”

Fortunately, this incredibly rich dialogue helps us find our way through the morass of disinformation and partial truths. Amir and Ken offer a much more comprehensive understanding of the historical, cultural, and developmental roots of ISIS, as well as the fanatical sensibilities shared by their members.

As Amir reminds us,

“It was bound to happen sooner or later, but I must admit, I didn’t anticipate that it could get this ugly, at this scale, this fast. There has never been a more opportune or urgent time to push the conversational boundaries of these subjects.”

“Pushing the conversational boundaries” is exactly what this dialogue aims to accomplish. We hope you enjoy.

Amir Ahmad Nasr

About Amir Ahmad Nasr

Described by The Economist as “puckish” and by WIRED as a “formidable speaker,” Amir Ahmad Nasr, also known by his stage name DRIMA, is a Sudanese-born Canadian author, storyteller, producer, singer-songwriter, recording artist, and Director of business storytelling consultancy Assertive & Co.

Ken Wilber

About Ken Wilber

Ken Wilber is a preeminent scholar of the Integral stage of human development. He is an internationally acknowledged leader, founder of Integral Institute, and co-founder of Integral Life. Ken is the originator of arguably the first truly comprehensive or integrative world philosophy, aptly named “Integral Theory”.


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    There IS now an integral approach that can describe and put forward solutions to such a confused approach. The work of the “Human Givens”, a new organising idea, has set up therapy models, education models, business models and recently a Guild for Concilliators who seek to use this model in the Middle East.

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