How can ISIL be so evil?

How can ISIL be so evil?

The other day, a suicide bomber who appears to have been enlisted by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) exploded himself in the middle of a wedding ceremony in the southeastern Turkish city of Gaziantep. More than 50 people died immediately at the site. 

Working on the scattered body parts and the testimonies of the families and relatives, the police soon identified the victims - and their ages. Here is a full list of the ages of the victims: 4, 4, 7, 7, 9, 9, 10, 11, 11, 11, 11, 11, 11, 12, 12, 13, 13, 14, 14, 14, 14, 14, 14, 14, 15, 16,  21, 21, 22, 22, 23, 23, 26, 26, 28, 28, 30, 32, 35, 38.

In other words, most of the victims were children. In other words, this was truly a massacre of the innocents, which should make any human being with a heart weep. 

What is even more tragic was that the suicide bomber was also a child. According to Turkish police estimates, he was a 12 to 14 year old boy who walked into the wedding crowd wearing a belt of explosives. The monsters who sent him there were using a remote control tied to the belt, and they pushed the trigger at the most effective moment: The moment when they would kill as many innocents as possible.

This heartbreaking incident will go down in history, along with many of its kind, as a shocking testimony of the evil that lies behind this band of monsters called “ISIL.” Yes, theirs is pure evil. I cannot find any other word for an ideology that justifies the mass murder of children by other children who are turned into walking bombs. 

All religious believers, and especially Muslims, must ponder how in the world such an evil can emerge from within their creed. Of course, ISIL is particularly extreme. It does not define Islam and it does not represent Muslims. But it does have something to do with Islam, in the sense of being a very twisted, hateful, bloodthirsty reading of its texts. It does have something to do with the hatred of “infidels,” “apostates,” or “heretics” that one can find in religious texts beyond narrow ISIL literature.

So is “the problem” Islam, as some non-Muslims are ready to identify these days? Well, a historically informed reading of religions would render that argument a little too sectarian. Because almost all major religions have had manifestations similar to ISIL. This includes Christianity, whose founding texts have an admirable emphasis on “love” and “forgiveness.” Somehow, the Crusaders did not get those teachings, as was evident in their bloodlust. “Kill them all, God will know his own,” was the slogan of the Crusaders who massacred a whole city at the infamous Massacre of Béziers in the year 1209.

Religious scholar and cleric Charles Kimball addressed this poisonous strain in religions in his famous 2002 book: “When Religion Becomes Evil.” He identified five warning signs that could make any religion, which are normally a power for good, a power for evil. These were: 

- Absolute Truth Claims.
- Blind Obedience.
- Establishing the “Ideal” Time.
- The End Justifies Any Means.
- Declaring Holy War.

 ISIL has all of these features, if not more. It is imperative for Muslims to face this poisonous interpretation of Islam, and develop the religious teachings that would counter it. Denying that ISIL has anything to do with Islam — or that it is a Western conspiracy against Islam, as many in Turkey chose to believe — is not going to help anything. It will only help the evil in the name of religion spread further.