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It is hard to believe that ISIS (sometimes also called "Islamic State"), now such a prominent force in world events, exploded onto the world's consciousness less than two years ago when in June 2014 it declared itself an Islamic Caliphate after conquering the northern Iraq city of Mosul.
Yet, in that short time, some 20,000 foreign fighters from around the world are estimated to have flocked to the Middle East in support of ISIS's crusade to establish a Caliphate in Syria and Iraq. This fighting force includes 700 from the United Kingdom, 600 from Germany, 1,200 from France, 250 from Australia, and 100 each from the United States and Canada.
Here in Britain, news reports have described the shocking number of teenagers and young adults who—without any apparent warnings or signs of disaffection—disappeared from Britain and travelled secretly to Syria or Iraq to join ISIS. Hundreds of shocked and grieving families have been left behind, wondering how this could have happened to them and why.
Particularly disturbing is ISIS's religious pretext; the organization preaches a powerful apocalyptic narrative concerning the imminent end of the world and the rise of a new order—and does so in a manner shocking to many Christian believers. So, why does ISIS attract even some young Britons to its cause, and what does this mean for our world?
Simply put—indeed, very simply put—ISIS presents itself as the legitimate heir of the original teachings of Muhammad. As such, its strong proclamations may at first sound to many like an authentic and credible manifestation of what Islam must really be all about.
ISIS strives to follow Muhammad's teachings and example in punctilious detail, and consequently sees itself as the first truly Islamic regime in a thousand years. Though currently ruling an area the size of the U.K. within Syria and Iraq, with a population of around 10 million, ISIS asserts religious, political and military authority over all Muslims worldwide, and aspires to bring the rest of the world under its absolute control and authority.
To further the organization's goals, ISIS supporters have become expert in the use of propaganda via broadcast media—radio, television and the Internet—to attractively and professionally present their message and entice new followers. They have been phenomenally successful in the use of Internet social media and adept at circumventing numerous attempts to close them down.
Small wonder, then, that vulnerable and innocent young people (predominantly Muslims) fall prey to ISIS propaganda. Thousands have been radicalized to a narrow, extreme and violent worldview and, having been seduced, have migrated to Syria or Iraq to live in the caliphate and join in the cause.
The ISIS ideology proposes a continuous "offensive jihad"—the forcible expansion into countries ruled by non-Muslims. Its methods are extreme violence, intimidation and humiliation, indoctrination, terrorism, horrific and bloody public executions glorified on the Internet and enslavement of women and children. Women under ISIS rule may legally be used as concubines and sex slaves, and rape of non-believers is specifically allowed—even encouraged in some cases.
ISIS has garnered a well-deserved reputation for barbaric, uncivilized behavior and bloodthirsty violence to anyone in jihad's way. Its human rights record is lamentable; observers have called on ISIS to account for mass atrocities and war crimes, forcible conversions and ethnic and religious cleansing on an almost industrial scale.
In late July, Prime Minister Cameron, describing the fight against ISIS as "the struggle of our generation," began to unveil a comprehensive Counter-Extremism Strategy ("Extremism: PM Speech," www.uk.gov, July 20, 2015) to be debated and implemented over the coming weeks and months. A new Defense Review is expected to reverse defense cuts imposed over many years, and provide for increases in the numbers of Special Forces, spy planes, drones and other equipment in what Defense Minister Michael Fallon described as a "new Battle of Britain" against an implacable and determined fascist enemy.
Cameron is set to mount an ambitious and determined defense of British values at home and abroad, undergirding what he described as an extraordinarily successful, open and free, multi-racial and multi-faith democracy. The aim is to counter ISIS and all it stands for at every level. Efforts will be made to bring communities together, and to defuse the identity crisis sometimes felt by the young, which can leave them vulnerable to extremist thinking.
One of ISIS's core, underpinning doctrines is the belief that the end of the world is imminent. ISIS considers itself to be the key player in these end-times; indeed, the harbinger of events that will bring about the apocalypse.
ISIS doctrine anticipates the imminent arrival of the Mahdi—a messianic figure destined to lead the Muslims to victory before the end arrives. They believe the armies of "Rome" will mass to meet the armies of Islam in northern Syria at Dabiq, near Aleppo, where Rome's forces will be defeated. It is not clear whom Rome represents, but Turkey or America have been advanced as suitable candidates. Islam's final showdown with an anti-Messiah figure will occur in Jerusalem. All but 5,000 of the caliphate's forces will perish, but Jesus, the second-most-revered prophet in Islam, will return and lead the remaining Muslims to victory ("What ISIS Really Wants," Graeme Wood, The Atlantic, March 2015, pp. 17–18).
From the perspective of the Bible, most of the above beliefs are simply without foundation, as are many of ISIS's other beliefs, even if there seems to be a kind of distorted echo of the biblical reality.
That reality is described in Zechariah 14, written centuries before the appearance of Islam. All nations will be gathered to fight against Jerusalem (v. 2), but the returning Christ defends the city, delivers it and makes it His world capital (Jeremiah 3:17), ushering in an unprecedented period of peace, reconstruction and salvation, as for the first time the whole world will have the opportunity to learn from and obey Him.
Bloodthirsty jihad, crucifixions, beheadings and rampant terrorism in the name of a Muslim caliphate—potent manifestations of misguided and deceived thinking that afflicts people of all religions, and of none—will become a thing of the past; gone forever; superseded by the perfect government of the true Messiah, Jesus, King of kings and Lord of lords (Isaiah 9:6–7; Revelation 11:15–18: 19:11–16). God speed that day!