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Top 10 Reasons Bill Maher is Not “Our Best Weapon Against ISIS”

10. This sort of argument for debunking Islam in the media as the best way to “defeat” ISIS/ISIL misses the fact that ISIS recruits from the United States make up almost certainly much less than 1% of recruits, so that 99% of the problem, even on its own terms, remains completely unsolved.

9. Even if failure to expose Islam and other religions as ancient myths lacking basis in reality were a significant cause of people joining ISIS, it would not approach the primary cause without which ISIS would not exist, namely U.S. violence in the Middle East. Explaining to would-be ISIS martyrs that there aren’t really 72 virgins and isn’t really a heaven couldn’t possibly do as much to reduce ISIS recruitment as explaining to active and would-be members of the U.S. military that arming and bombing and drone-striking distant lands doesn’t actually protect the United States but rather generates so much hostility against it that groups like ISIS produce full-length films imploring the U.S. military to attack it.

8. Of course religion is often a huge part of what motivates members of the U.S. military as well. Congressman Sam Johnson has introduced the “Preserve and Protect God in Military Oaths Act of 2015,” to force cadets at the Air Force Academy to say “so help me God” in their oaths. Ted Cruz just announced his campaign for the U.S. presidency at Liberty University, where students learn to drone-murder for Jesus. What is “our best weapon” against that?

7. U.S. recruits to ISIS enamored of Muslim martyrdom could just as well have risked their lives preaching Islam in Alabama. Why choose to risk their lives attacking U.S. troops? The reason is not simply a variety of Islam. Rather it is alienation from the United States. Anwar Al-Awlaki was plenty Muslim when he supported U.S. wars. It was U.S. racism, bigotry, brutality, and militarism that drove him into opposition to the U.S. — which tragically took the form of advocating violence.

6. Bill Maher pushes racism and bigotry, even concentration camps. The idea that such attitudes are the best response to Islamic hostility and violence is outrageously naive. Were Maher advocating inclusiveness and community at home and abroad, I might take seriously the idea that he was helping.

5. Who is the group to which “Our” is applied in the phrase “our best weapon”? As a human I want an answer to ISIS that works for people in the United States, Europe, Iraq, Syria, and the rest of that region, including Sunnis, and including members of ISIS. The idea that a new war on ISIS is going to repair the damage of the previous wars, which created ISIS, is sadly delusional (but if it leads President Obama to make peace with Iran, I’ll take that result gratefully).

4. What is the “weapon” in “our best weapon”? When speech is understood as a weapon it ceases to be useful as speech. Religion is declining in the West and even in the United States, but thinking of those still clinging to it as wartime enemies is exactly the wrong way to advance that process. Thinking of an actual war that has numerous motivations as a struggle over religious beliefs will, likely as not, cause those sympathetic to one side or the other to adopt those beliefs or to hold them more firmly.

3. Highlighting stories of a small number of would-be U.S. recruits is propaganda aimed at instilling fear and suggesting a local presence and an actual threat from what is after all a small and very distant group of people.

2. Such propaganda hides actual motivations and causes. Causes hidden include: past wars on Iraq, sectarian divisions created by those wars, poverty and desperation, regional power grabs, international power grabs, the flow of weapons into the region (largely from the United States), the brutality and cruelty and incompetence of the government of Iraq, the weapons and trainers provided by the United States to the “moderate” groups that cease to be moderate or that surrender to those that are not. Motivations include: rage, hunger, fear, the desire for revenge, the desire to see the United States leave the region, the desire to achieve power or safety or riches, the profit motives of the weapons sellers and oil barons, and the belief that violence can be used to end violence.

1. Hiding the primary problems keeps us from seeing the primary solutions. Each of these steps would work wonders compared to telling U.S. television viewers that Islam isn’t true: Ceasing to ship weapons to the region; urging an arms embargo on all parties; negotiating a ceasefire with all regional parties including Iran and Russia; sending in a major contingent of nonviolent peaceworkers and human shields, independent journalists, aid workers, and nonviolent activist trainers; providing reparations and aid on a Marshall Plan scale; negotiating a WMD-free Middle East. If those steps were being taken well, I’d be all for finding time to critique religions.

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a 2015 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee.

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David Swanson wants you to declare peace at http://WorldBeyondWar.org  His new book is War No More: The Case for Abolition.

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