Since its surprise conquests in Syria and Iraq two years ago, the Islamic State militant group has killed thousands. Its distant supporters, such as the shooter in the Orlando, Fla., massacre, have killed hundreds more. The group has been called an apocalyptic cult with a death wish. In fact, a video by IS aimed at the West boasts that it “loves death like you love life.”
The group’s focus on violence as a path to salvation seems horrific. Out of such tragedies as the Orlando mass shooting, people everywhere keep looking for answers and preventive solutions. Amid all the brutality committed by IS and similar groups, “the impulse to understand what might appear beyond comprehension is a vital one, especially now,” writes American scholar Shadi Hamid in a new book, “Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle over Islam is Reshaping the World.”
IS’s death-filled violence is designed to instill fear and weaken the resistance of its perceived enemies. The group welcomes counterviolence, which only raises its appeal as martyrs. It revels when its opponents argue and split over how to respond, such as the current debate in the United States over gun regulation or whether the president should use the term “radical Islam.”
What clearly unites the rest of the world against IS – and sets it above the group – is the way that the victims of IS are treated with life-affirming compassion and truth that helps restore their dignity and identity.
On Thursday, for example, President Obama met privately with families of the victims of the mass shooting in Orlando, as well as with the doctors and other first responders. He consoled them and promised a full accounting of what happened in the Pulse nightclub on June 12.
Finding the truth about a tragedy can promote healing for its victims. It serves to remind all of the need to uphold a reverence for life and other ideals that bound and bond humanity.
The greatest victims of IS violence so far have been the Yazidis, a religious minority in Syria and Iraq whose homeland was overrun by IS in 2014. In an odd timing with Mr. Obama’s visit to Orlando, the United Nations released a report Thursday that details the systemic slaughter and enslavement of thousands of Yazidis.
The report, which is based on interviews with dozens of survivors, denounces IS’s actions as genocide. The designation is important because it sets up the possibility for the UN Security Council to recommend that the International Criminal Court prosecute members of IS.
More than 3,200 Yazidi women are still being held by IS, many as sex slaves, the UN panel stated. The goal of defeating IS must include the rescue of those women, an effort that depends much on Iraq’s political unity and its military. It is that sort of life-affirming action toward the victims of IS that will puncture the group’s illusion of death as an ennobling reality.