People have asked, “Is it really fair to compare the KKK, a tiny fringe group who define themselves by attitudes to race to ISIS which is enjoys wide popularity in the Muslim world and represents a legitimized, albeit repugnant to some, interpretation of Islam?” Beneath this question are some problematic assumptions. The KKK while now quite small was a major force in the reconstruction south. They were mainstream and politically powerful. The KKK, even today, links its racist attitudes to Christianity. In fact, nearly all racist groups in America including the KKK espouse what scholars of American religion call “The Christian Identity Movement” which roots their racism solidly in Christianity. To this day, the KKK uses the symbols of Christianity, the crusader cross on the uniform and the flaming crosses. The Christian Identity Christianity claims not just to be an authentic interpretation of Christianity but THE authentic interpretation of Christianity. The ADL estimates that there are 25,000-50,000 people who openly identify with this movement primarily in the US and Britain http://archive.adl.org/learn/ext_us/christian_identity.html According to the ADL, they are heavily involved in criminal activity ranging from hate crimes so terrorism. The CIA estimates that ISIS fighters number something less than 40,000. So even the numbers are not so incomparable.
We need to get that it is as painful for Muslims to see their religion represented by the ISIS as it would be for most Christians if the KKK or Skinhead churches were said to represent Christianity. That news agencies and other “officializing” media insist that ISIS is somehow a legitimate take on Islam feels unfair and hatefully discriminatory to Muslims. The meme reminds us that we can legitimately see ISIS both as a band of religious crazies who, like the KKK, cloak their politics and their hatred in a perversion of faith.
Lastly, should we take ISIS seriously? YES, VERY SERIOUSLY. To do that we also need to think about the ground on which ISIS grows. We need to examine our role in supporting a culture of despotism and hopelessness in the Middle East. We need to look at the ways in which we foster a culture of meaninglessness in the West.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught, “If you believe you can destroy, then believe you can fix.”