Odds and Ents

“The Holy Roman Empire is neither holy nor Roman nor an empire” — Voltaire

If you were a politician attempting to make sense of the following:

  1. A rise in horrific attacks on unsuspecting people around the world
  2. Significant deterioration in ground conditions across a particular region
  3. Worsening rhetoric from various talking heads in that region
  4. Increasingly disturbing atrocities perpetrated by extremist forces
  5. Sinister forces attempting to subvert legitimate governments

The above scenario, if set in JRR Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’, would see our hobbits (a nice metaphor for today’s lay person) wandering about the enchanted forests and encountering the Ents – the mythical tree herders; nature’s opposite of the trolls (of which the internet boasts some particularly virulent varieties).

Perhaps the best name for this mob is ‘Inhuman Criminals'

Perhaps the best name for this mob is ‘Inhuman Criminals’

Today’s Ents – primarily good natured and sensible politicians around the world – are a confused lot though but much like their Tolkien counterparts, would spend the first few hours trying to grapple with the most important question: just what does anyone CALL these things?

That’s right – European politicians have been debating the important subject of whether the terrorists who style themselves the Islamic State should be accorded this name; or should they be called by other names ranging from the abbreviation ISIL (Islamic State In the Levant), ISIS (Islamic State In Syria), Daesh (the Arab acronym of the above names) or perhaps a new moniker like ‘Marauding Murderers, Molesters and Rapists’. Okay, I may have made that last one up although not by much.

How very Ent-ish of the politicians. I mean, quite literally the entire Middle East threatens to go up in flames and here are these chaps sitting around in panel discussions on the right name with which to address the central menace of our times.

“A rose by another name” and all that.

Still, this is a useful exercise in ways other than the mundanely pedantic because what we have here is a discussion on how to address an entity that could well be seen as a dishonorable enemy or just a foolish friend. Or both.

If we break down the words comprising the name, one usually gets to understand whether the entity is appropriately described. For example, ‘United States of America’ is a perfectly good description for the union of multiple states, located in the continent of America.

The notion that these are ‘states’ implies that a certain leeway exists for definitions of life and liberty; while the ‘united’ moniker confers a certain minimum standard for debate and discussion between the states.

In contrast, the name ‘European Union’ means little as it essentially confers a notion of a voluntary combination in Europe but fails to specify – beyond the obvious geographical moniker – any notion of values or principles.

Evaluated from pure semantics, ‘Islamic State’ is a head scratcher. First the word ‘Islamic’ itself – what does it mean when you append the suffix ‘-ic’ to a noun, in this case Islam? This means more than it first appears because the word Islam itself could connote any number of the following meanings:

  1. A religion of people who follow the teachings of the Holy Quran
  2. A religion of people who follow the principles and teachings of the Quran along with other bodies of works including the Hadith
  3. A religion of people who believe themselves to be Muslim because of cultural and historical affiliations

Each of these potential sub-definitions is problematic because of course, no religion is ever observed in its entirety (or at least not plausibly); but more usually in the context of its shadow on modern life.

Thus a man can be Jewish or Christian if he broadly follows the precepts of the Torah and the Bible but doesn’t stop being Jewish or Christian if he doesn’t observe one of the key teachings (e.g. not stoning homosexuals to death just because this is prescribed in some books).

The trouble with that more Catholic way of thinking though is that the specific intention of the people coining the phrase ‘Islamic’ is precisely the opposite, namely that they lay claim to an absolute dogma, without doubt or deviation, that seemingly originates from a single standardized source.

This absolutism that is claimed is also to the exclusion of anyone else claiming to be the rightful followers of the same – essentially, to be Muslim you’d need to be part of the Islamic State – or so they aver.

People of the alarmist persuasion tend to side with the logic that since the terrorists of the Islamic State claim to uphold the values of traditional Islam, and their aim is not questioned by other authorities, the definition of ‘Islamic’ does work here. This though excludes the hundreds of millions of Muslims who do not follow these principles, and who would be aghast at being classified alongside these terrorists.

To be sure, I am not in any denying the signature appeal that the terrorists of Islamic State seem to possess in attracting hundreds of new recruits from the disaffected youth of the UK, France and other countries into their ranks of bloody murderers; nor am I diminishing the very real threat of expansion that this dogma poses for the semi-stable nations such as Pakistan and Indonesia where economic disaffection and rampant corruption have helped to radicalize vast sections of the population.

That though is a battle for another day (in the not too distant future, just in case you were getting comfortable) but as of today, the application of these radical tendencies espoused by the Islamic State does not seem far enough or deep enough to warrant the use of the name ‘Islamic’.

The second word in the name is equally problematic – ‘State’. In no classic sense of the word does it apply to this situation – especially as it does not encompass a particular people (by stated objective the state is an ‘emirate’ that seeks to expand its borders across the known world).

It does not meet the Max Weber definition either: “any human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”.

The trouble here is not the monopoly on violence (that the Islamic State thugs appear to possess and deploy in great measure) but the pre-requisite of ‘legitimate’.

The people overrun by these thugs did not vote for them, and certainly did not invite them to park over there either. Instead, they were victims of violence from another regime (Syria) that saw those soldiers being displaced by another group of thugs – thus the community is correctly described as prisoners of war rather than a functioning community of like-minded people.

It is also to be borne in mind that barring references to the barbaric executions of innocent journalists and taxi drivers, the Islamic State is not recognized as a functioning government by any other State, at least not officially.

Thus to paraphrase Voltaire on the Holy Roman Empire, the Islamic State is neither Islamic nor is it much of a State. If it is then not what it claims to be, can we then call it by what it IS?

Therein lies the problem – we do not see what it is beyond the more obvious or stated intentions of turning into an army of soldiers who are bent on defending a particular version of Islam, but more importantly wreak havoc on the non-believers and perhaps more pertinently, the “innovators”.

This word is particularly dangerous in Arabic, as it refers specifically to the non-Salafist branches of Islam that includes the Shia and other communities as well.

Hence the violence during the holy month of Ramadan that concluded a week or so ago: a large portion of the terrorist acts were directed at Muslim communities that are not within the Salafist mode; such as the attack on a Shia mosque in Kuwait that was carried out by a Saudi member of the Islamic State.

Other acts of terrorism claimed by the Islamic State targeted such global threats as British beachgoers in Tunisia and the manager of a small factory in France. The only uniting factor seems to be the sense of revulsion that these acts elicit from the general population.

So what are the exact characteristics of these people who want us to call them by the moniker of ‘Islamic State’?

  1. Violent occupation of lands mainly in the formerly Ba’athist states of Syria and Iraq — commonly referred by moronic news anchors as the Levant even though classic definition of the Levant excludes Iraq and includes other parts of the region including Israel, Lebanon, Greece and Cyprus; thus rendering the moniker of ‘Levant’ useless as in the case of ‘Islamic State of Syria and the Levant or ISIL’
  2. Murders of innocent volunteers, journalists and aid workers
  3. Instigation of terrorist acts in countries such as France
  4. Attempted de-legitimization mainly through the media of regimes in the Gulf including those of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE
  5. Mass rapes and appalling treatment of captured women especially those belonging to ethnic minorities
  6. Destruction of pre-Islamic sites of archaeological interest across the Levant
  7. Financing of the above activities through the sale of oil and antiques

The only uniting factor for the above is that all are crimes against humanity. Perhaps then the best name for this mob is ‘Inhuman Criminals’, although that is too generic as well. The search continues.

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Categories: Asia Times News & Features, Chan Akya, Middle East

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  • Jay

    I’d focus on who benefits from their actions, rather than agonize over what to call them.

  • Janek

    Good article and good attempt to analyze and at the end to synthesize the whole mess the idiot political class in the Globalistan has created. The whole mess arises, in my opinion, from the very low quality of the people in politics and in the media who ‘represent us’, the word ‘represent’ is a great exaggeration, more appropriate would be: who are confusing and exploiting us. All this mess in the Middle East and elsewhere in Globalistan is the result of all of the above.

    Democracy requires some minimum level of intelligence and honesty on the part of everybody and this is currently lacking everywhere. It looks like somebody somewhere imposed embargo and sanctions on the use of intelligence and decency. We will need more than P5+1 and UN to lift the sanctions and embargo on that. I blame the whole circus we are in on the imbecile political class who meddle in it and try to profit from it. This whole ‘situation’ arose because of the so called neoliberal and neoconservative revolutions from 1970-1980 that have deregulated everything including common sense, polity, economy, decency, logical thinking you name it and in general all aspects of life. Now we have the expected: imbeciles and murderers are running the show and the imbecilic political class is very hard at scratching their heads (if they have them I doubt it) and are trying to think, again ‘think’ is an exaggeration, how to Politically Correct call this murderous show and how to profit from it at the same time.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    To quote Voltaire on the Holy Roman Empire is to quote someone who spent a good deal of his time criticizing the Vatican. The “Holy” is what we believe. the “Roman” is because Latin was used as the language of the Vatican. the “Empire” included the “Byzantine” Empire which is part of the Roman Empire and it was and is Catholic (but they do not recognize the Pope). Voltaire was wrong on the “Holy” aspect for that was not his call and he was wrong on the “Roman” aspect for Latin was the lingua Franca of the Catholic mother church at his time.

    Using that logic India is not a Democracy for India cannot have a thriving caste system that treats humans as unequal and call herself a Democracy.

    In the words of the American Declaration of Independence “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. THAT quote is NOT modern day India who claims to be the world’s largest “Democracy” but has a thriving Caste system.

    America has strived for that goal, doing away with slavery,segregation to Women’s suffrage so that all “men” and ‘women” stand equal. Is America a Democracy today? no. We are an Oligarchy in the strict interpretation of that. An elite group controls the US, so technically the US cannot claim to be a “Democracy”. Even before we devolved into an “Oligarchy” the best the US could claim is to be a Republic (representative government) and not a Democracy in the pure sense of that word.

    There are so many assumptions on every issue ranging from what are human rights? when are they violated? when should the world take action if they are violated? what is the accurate definition of the governance of any nation? Do we really have man made global warming? what in the world is “global warming” when we have more cold spells now than before”? and on and on.

    If this article wants the exact definition on any issue including ISIS then be consistent. Is Hinduism a tolerant non violent faith? no. Is Buddhism a passive non violent faith practiced by her followers? no. Every assumption we take for granted about our modern world can be seen in many ways.

  • Janek

    You nailed exactly the problem: deregulation and disappearance of any logical and moral standards in the name of Political Correctness. Factually India is not a democracy as well as the USA and many other countries, but for politically correct reasons known only to politicians and for political expedience and convenience of the current political mess they make lists for themselves and their clients and subjectively call themselves and their cronies democracies which of course is BS. Splitting hair does not help. The West should go back to time proven standards and call a spade a spade. ‘If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck’ not a white swan.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Glad you answered for I needed to make a correction. the United States is really a “Plutocracy”, not exactly an “Oligarchy”, but you are right. Try to get our elite to admit that the US never was a Democracy but a Republic in the first place.
    The term “Roman Empire” for the Catholic church came from Emperor Constantine. So Voltaire should have taken that into account. For all practical purposes IS did create a state. it has been functioning for a year now.

  • Janek

    Forgive Voltaire: he did not have Wikipedia and may be not even, but probably he did have it, the French Encyclopédie yet.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    No I will not forgive a man who was in a Catholic nation (France). Who was a Catholic and knew better than that. I, as a Catholic, on the other hand grew up in a predominantly Buddhist/Hindu nation (Sri Lanka) and spent the rest of my life to date, in a predominantly Protestant nation (the US). Yet I knew better than he did.

  • Janek

    Your problem. I do not care. I am not a Buddhist, but if I remember correctly in Buddhism the past does not count, only the present counts. What is the point holding nourishing a grudge against somebody or remembering something which does not exist any more. Cheers.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Janek I am a Catholic you bigot. Go read my comment. You are ignorant, stupid and rude. Buddhism comes in many branches. reincarnation is central to Buddhism. Past does count in
    Hinayana Buddhism
    Mahayana Buddhism
    Vajrayana Buddhism
    Zen Buddhism.
    I do not agree with Voltaire’s opinion about the Catholic church and I do not care about your stupid reply to me.

  • Janek

    Thank you for your kind reply: really in Catholic spirit. God bless you.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    It was meant to be a befitting reply to your dismissive tone you took with me. If I need the blessing of Christ I will seek it from someone who can do that. You do not qualify.

  • Janek

    Oh, forget it and do not worry. I do not hold any grudges against you. I already forgotten it. It is already in the past etc..

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    I have a while ago. word of advice. Using terms like “your problem” and “I do not care” is out of context if you are replying to another commenter. If you really do not care about what I wrote and you consider it my problem then it would be better you simply leave it alone. throwing that at my face would only get you a harsh retort.

  • Janek


  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Got your comment. Thank you.

  • Janek

    I could have phrased my post in a little different way and say the same thing. I am sorry if you got offended. Lesson learned.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Understood. that is very easy to do on the internet. Etiquette is easily sacrificed for “in your face” kind of comments. words one would hesitate to phrase or state in a real life.

  • Alex Wijaya

    Just call them human scums.

  • Daniel Berg

    Excellent analyse,,,

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Thank you Daniel

  • Arif Sharifi

    Fuck you daesh all Qaeda Islam state or Isis fuck you all

  • d.g.summers

    Poorly written article.

  • Skalla

    Was this silly quarrel really necessary ? You disrupt the peace of this thread. Most commentators will read each and every comment out of interest for the subject matter. But verbal slaps are not welcome …

  • Daniel Berg

    CHAN AKYA What do you call the parents ( BUSH+BLAIR ) of this THING ?

  • Dan Kuhn


    “Violent occupation of lands mainly in the formerly Ba’athist states of Syria and Iraq — commonly referred by moronic news anchors as the Levant even though classic definition of the Levant excludes Iraq and includes other parts of the region including Israel, Lebanon, Greece and Cyprus; thus rendering the moniker of ‘Levant’ useless as in the case of ‘Islamic State of Syria and the Levant or ISIL’

    Murders of innocent volunteers, journalists and aid workers

    Attempted de-legitimization mainly through the media of regimes in the Gulf including those of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE

    Mass rapes and appalling treatment of captured women especially those belonging to ethnic minorities

    Destruction of pre-Islamic sites of archaeological interest across the Levant

    Financing of the above activities through the sale of oil and antiques”

    According to this description The British Empire and the American Empire are pretty much the same as that of the Islamic State wouldn`t you say?

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    Got your comment. this is not your call. mind your business. Have been a commenter on many forums. I am old enough to handle myself without your “advice”.