Rudnik > ISIS, Aggression, and the Denial of the Human Family

| March 4, 2015

If the militant ideology of ISIS gains say, humanity will, once and for all, give in to our closest held vice.


Nick Rudnik, Valdosta Today Opinion Contributor

In the renowned 1980 documentary miniseries, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, astronomer Carl Sagan posits that the single greatest threat to humanity can be found in all of us. In part, Sagan pontificates man, throughout history, too often appeals “to that reptilian voice within us, counseling fear, territoriality, and aggression.” Aggression, indeed, is man’s greatest primordial vice. In the waning decades of the Cold War, Sagan’s words were timely for the threat of nuclear annihilation loomed over us all. But, if Armageddon is upon us, and the end times are near, whether because of nuclear war or some other conflict, we should take pause to consider what that means.

Sagan eloquently reminds us the consequences of humanity destroying itself: “Perhaps, one day, there will be civilizations again on earth. There will be life, there will be intelligence; but there will be no more humans—not here, not in a billion worlds.” In short, while we cling to our social, political, and religious ideologies to perpetuate war, conflict, aggression, we forget the most important shared commonality: our humanity.

We no longer live under the overt, impending prospect of nuclear war, per se, but that is not to say we no longer live under the prospect of great conflict, great aggression. Asymmetric terror has metastasized since the September 11 attacks of 2001. To say the U.S. “war on terror” has failed—while perhaps an overgeneralization—is not without merit.

To be both honest and clear, the Middle East is the most significant threat to global stability in the post-communist era. And further, the rise in extremism and terrorism has worsened in the last 15 years—since 9/11. Rather unsettlingly, we’ve seen the rise of the worst terrorist organization in memory, fighting under the banner of varying names—notably, Islamic State, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). ISIS is the product of both a leadership and power vacuum in Northern Iraq and Syria.

But it’s their “endgame” that is most troubling. No, they don’t truly want a radical Islamic caliphate in the Middle East, they want to see the world, particularly the West, in a pile of smoldering ruins. ISIS wants to usher in the apocalypse; be the bringer of end times. ISIS hates the West, modernization, secularization, materialism, progress, and a host of other social conventions and institutions at the bedrock of the contemporary Global North. And the $64,000 question is: how do we stop ISIS? The question is far easier to conjure than any answer.

Of course, the West has the military capabilities to rout ISIS and beat them back “to the stone age.” But, as we’ve seen in the last decade and a half in the Middle East, violence only begets more violence. We send in airstrikes, they kill more innocent lives; we kill their leadership, they crucify more Christians and behead more western journalists and aid workers; to ISIS, bloodshed is answered with more bloodshed.

Certainly, we can destroy ISIS; but we’ll have another ISIS, another murderous terror cell, that will take its place. What we need in the Middle East is strong leadership; strong social and political institutions; and a meaningful push towards political and religious pluralism among ordinary Muslims. That will bring lasting stability to the region. Pluralism is the notion that all members of a society may not have the same religious beliefs, political philosophies, or notions of what a generally “good” society is, but they work together nevertheless—rather, they don’t kill each other. The notion of pluralism is among the most consequential gifts bequeathed to man from our early-modern ancestors.

If the Middle East cannot adopt modern pluralist institutions, we will continue to see a maelstrom of great tumult, conflict, and above all, aggression.

To conclude with a parable: Western man’s pluralist foundations began in early-modern times; during the Renaissance. The High Renaissance was marked with art deeply committed to representing the perfection of man and man’s God. Michelangelo’s great David sculpture is inherently humanistic; elevating man to his ideal-type form; strong, masculine, yet pensive. We also have the likes of van Eyck’s Flemish masterwork the Ghent Altarpiece, inherently divine; presenting man and God, trying to understand God whilst trying to understand man; grappling with the absolute truth.

But, both the secular and the religious worldview live in harmony. Both man and God are exalted. Both are disparate worldviews that can be appreciated and exist concomitant. And, both are committed to a conception of peace, that man is superior to the primeval “reptilian voice within us.” We must remember, that if the end is upon us, and the great human civilization is to be erased from existence, humanity will never again manifest; not in a billion worlds.

For this we must never forget that aggression is man’s inherent vice; man’s original sin. It is in our nature, but it does not need to define us. For if it does, man will certainly become a byword, consigned to the past, and earth will be a wasteland, home to a once great, but deeply flawed, civilization—humanity.

rudnik-thumbnailNicholas A. Rudnik is currently pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in American politics at Valdosta State University. Previously, he’s served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 111th Congress and in the Office of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop. Further, Nick has served on staff at an institutional interest group, the Association of American Law Schools, in Washington and has worked in the private sector. He has presented his research, focused primarily on congressional parties and elections, at regional academic conferences and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in political science. Nick is currently completing two manuscripts relating to southern congressional elections and judicial decision-making in the area of campaign finance; he can be contacted via e-mail at Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickRudnik.

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