An endless war? That is almost the only conclusion to be reached as the Islamic state consolidates itself across Syria and Iraq in this epoch's Caliphate. Meanwhile, the liberal west and its global allies react with bombings and pronouncements by politicians that something must be done to stop the realignment of interests against the western liberalism towards fundamentalist Islam.
Two clearly different world views are staring at each other, offering different perspectives on how society can be organized. These opposing models of society are liberal secularism and religious sectarianism. At it most stark, the contrast is between a world view that acknowledges all beliefs within uncertain, changing boundaries of tolerance, and a fundamentalist world view that tolerates few exceptions to literal interpretations of religious texts.
The tolerance that generally defines liberalism has been considered a universal value system since the Enlightenment. In recent human history, tolerance of differences in belief and action is the hegemonic value system, producing as it were, the State that licenses tolerance. This license is increasing, with, for example, legalized gay marriage in the US in 2015. The Civil Rights Act in the US of 1964 marked the move towards legal equality for all US citizens, in a move that overturned the illiberal idea of racist separation of the races.
And so it goes: incremental shifts in opening up the definition of tolerance. The slow movement toward the universality of tolerance impacts previously entrenched intolerance. The old models of regulation of human nature by any other name, have given way to de-regulation of the same previously regulated aspects of human nature.
It is a complex of contrasts that leads to war.
Openness can be seen in the Internet culture of an idealized non-regulated libertarian space, where the state and the system started from a position that said "Do whatever you want."
The other side insists on preserving regulations within its explicitly codified system of belief . This is the fundamentalist insistence on controlling every minutes of life. It gives and it takes in highly orchestrated public acts - from public beheadings and burnings to crucifixions. These acts are intended to discipline the population who see them enacted in the village square. These same acts are recorded and circulated on the unregulated Internet to make is clear that there are rules and regulations that must be obeyed. These horrifying acts for most people are public expressions of explicit codes. The world watches the embodiment of a system of codes.
(In contrast, the Nazis did not allow people to watch the enactment of their ideological killings of minorities, Jews, the disabled and Leftists because they knew it was against the western code of civilization. There were exceptions. Costa Gavras's 2002 film Amen makes a case for the counterpoint to liberalism by a Jesuit priest and a Waffen-SS officer).
These days, the dominant view is that two contrasting world views cannot inhabit the same space.
On one hand, tolerance for what is considered neo-liberalism is a field of openness primarily for certain State and corporate interests. The organizing logic of neo-liberalism was described by the US Philosopher Wendy Brown nearly a decade ago and she continues to show how liberalism in its "neo" formation, continues to offer apparent licence to enjoy social lifestyles, while reducing options for emancipation, as it was once imagined in liberalism.
The shifting landscape of the universalism of liberalism was noted by French philosopher Michel Foucault: "My thesis is this: The universality of our knowledge has been acquired at the cost of exclusions, bans, denials, rejections at the price of a kind of cruelty with regard to reality."
Is the conflict between western liberalism and ISIS the result of a perversion of this idea: that liberalism pushed some behavior into private spaces, never allowing them. It is difficult to imagine how a universal becomes a universal if it disallows some actions, except through the hand of State regulation.
ISIS and sex slavery
The big recent story about ISIS has been the official sanction of Sex slavery in the ISIS Caliphate. It is enshrined in a closed system of non-liberal reason.
The story came to light in the New York Times August 13, 2015 article, "Theology of Rape" by Rukmini Callimachi. This comprehensive article was premised on the universality of liberalism's concept of tolerance for the dignity of women not to be treated as objects for sexual pleasure.
The important point about the article is the description of the religious codes that allow the Caliphate's sex trade to occur. Within the Caliphate, the theocratic legal system insists that specific rights can be claimed. Reading the article, one can see that the Caliphate marks the end of the west's insistence on its universals. The hegemony of western universals is over.
There are two reasons why the Caliphate will continue: religion and the Internet.
Religion: The ideological texture of ISIS appears to be increasingly informed by legal structures formed around a theocratic State system. As Callimachi's New York Times article noted, the rationality driving the Caliphate is formally constructed in Sunni Islamic theology. There is almost none of the informality of liberalism, which is where liberalism's tolerance comes from: do no harm.
Internet: The structure of Caliphate life in the areas it controls across Syria and Iraq are consolidating. The west can see that from the way ISIS tells the world what they are doing. The publicness of the Internet works in combination with religion, horrifying the liberal world view, even as the Caliphate announces itself.
The only solution to the explicit images of theocracy in action is war from the west. But the west will find that it cannot win.
As Patrick Coburn, the most highly regarded journalist reporting on ISIS noted in The Independent on 30 August, 2015, ISIS says: "You may hate what you are seeing, but there is nothing you can do to stop it."
Entire intellectual maps need to be redrawn along with the Middle East's geographical Broken Borders. The national borders imposed on the Middle East in the nineteenth century by European colonialists are evaporating. The Caliphate is putting an end to them and in so doing has put an end to established ideas of liberalism.
The combination of religion with the Internet - theocracy with communication - allows another set of universals to move into focus. This could mean endless war, or it could mean two coexistent world views.
One caveat: the rise of ISIS and the Caliphate is undoubtedly a major site of disinformation and misinformation. The following headline caught my eye:
Turkey Pays Former CIA Director and Lobbyists to Misrepresent Attacks on Kurds and ISIS
Information warfare is intense, with the west and ISIS using the same digital mechanisms to tell their story on the Internet. In this space it is likely that no one is telling the truth.
Then there are the people writing the laws in the Caliphate, where every step is regulated truth...