Of the countless threats to world peace and stability today, it would be difficult to establish a priority as to which is the most dangerous. In the not-so-long run, the first priority, of course, should be the rapidly deteriorating environment which endangers the health and survival of the human race and other species. Of second priority, and directly related to the first, may be the imperialism of nation-states in its many economic, political and social transformations over the centuries - now primarily capitalism as corporate globalization - resulting in widespread subjugation, oppression and impoverishment of peoples both within their societies and in non-industrialized societies.
But of greatest immediate concern might be the turmoil in the Middle East and the Arab world, which is de-stabilizing almost every nation there and gravely impacts many nations beyond those territories, most urgently as the flood of refugees into Europe. We seem to be witnessing a struggle of Armageddon proportions between those who aspire to peace and the benefits of modern civilization, and those who reject the negative influences of western civilization upon their religion and their traditional way of life and values. That statement, of course, is a gross simplification of the causes of this turmoil, which may vary with the complexities of each country involved. There are ancient animosities between religious sects, and tribal-oriented societies contending for survival and control of its regional wealth. With Western nations' dependence upon the flow of oil from that region, the situation could escalate to a modern Crusade. The three threats mentioned above have in common a reactionary response: maintaining the world as is or reverting back to a previous state, neither of which is possible in a changing world.
Presently, together with the catastrophe of Aleppo in Syria, the spotlight is upon the upstart Islamic State (ISIS) which suddenly appeared seemingly from nowhere to occupy half of Iraq and part of Syria, and presents itself as the re-incarnation of the Islamic caliphate of medieval glory, with much of the barbarity we associate with those times. You may read elsewhere how this movement came together perhaps out of Al Qaeda elements among the Syrian rebels and discontent Sunni factions in Iraq, capturing modern weapons from disorganized or demoralized Iraqi army units. It's roots may go back to the arbitrarily divided-up Ottoman Empire following WWI or to the time of the Crusades. It remains to be seen whether the Islamic State becomes a permanent cohesive force with substantial resources to impose its reactionary ideology upon large areas of the Arab world and intensify hostilities with western nations, or is just one more vandal-like association of die-hard fundamentalists.
One could draw comparisons of the Islamic State with the Nazis. That movement started as a small fascist group that rose to power by capitalizing on the poverty and disillusionment in Germany after its defeat in WWI, and strengthened its appeal by perpetrating a religious fervor infused with myths of racial purity and a "hero-god" in the figure of Hitler. While the Islamic State alludes to the great Moslem empire of the past founded on pride of religious superiority and cultural distinction, its present strength may draw upon the anger of stagnation and futility in many islamic countries and their diaspora today.
Both the Nazis and the Islamic State, convinced that their goals justified any means, set upon a course of action to eliminate all opposition. Both movements reverted to barbaric practices typical of much earlier times. While there may be some rationale for the reactionary response of the Islamic State to the historic intrusions and demeaning policies of western nations, attracting even some Arab "idealists" to its cause, civil society in the 21st Century cannot tolerate a so-called nation which, to the outside world, is nothing more than a unholy consortium of barbarians who, despite their pretense or delusion of religious motivation, - sanctified by god - engage in mass murder of prisoners and heretics, suicide bombings, raping, and kidnapping for ransom or sale to finance their depraved actions, and, most shocking to westerners, indiscriminate decapitation of hostages and indoctrination of child warriors for suicide missions - acts abhorrent to any benevolent religion or civilized society.
The actions of ISIS are self-justified by their fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia (Islamic) Law. Punishment under strict Sharia law ranges from amputating fingers, hands, or feet for specified lesser crimes, to stoning to death for adultery - here not even a crime. How do they rationalize kidnapping and raping women (OK) with death for adulterers and non-believers? To the modern mind, that is mass derangement.
As of this writing, the outside world seems be at a loss to devise a way to break up or eradicate the Islamic State, while expressing the necessity to do so. There is much mistrust among those nations that have a common interest to do just that. When we examine the motives and consequences of unrestrained military and economic imperialism as practiced by Western and other nations past and present, we may realize that, despite a facade of law and self-righteousness, the pain and damage it brings to the world, in terms of poverty, despair, physical and environmental destruction, and indiscriminate killing is on a far greater scale than that of ISIS. Nevertheless, the predominant peaceful world cultures of science, arts, the humanities and democratic principles - totally lacking in ISIS - gives promise of progress and redemption in this respect, whereas the actions of ISIS represent the descent of mankind into a primitive hell.
In light of the devastating Korean, Vietnam, World Wars, etc. of the Twentieth Century, the Islamic State should command the most urgent attention of the liberal world. It is difficult to imagine anything less than an immediate concerted effort to eradicate this movement. Are there any alternatives to all-out war? The most promising would be to identify the covert supporters of the Islamic State and shut down all its sources of recruitment, supplies and finances. The problem here is that a thorough inquiry into the sources of support of ISIS, according to revelations in the informal media, would probably uncover a far-flung network of states, "friendly" political and religious groups, commercial enterprises, and opportunists who contribute to ISIS - knowingly or unknowingly. In this case, the conflict could not be resolved militarily without expanding the war zone well beyond its present confines.
Alternatively, devout moderate Muslims throughout the world, shamed, threatened and angered by the ISIS version of Islam, could speak out strongly with a united voice, and organize a massive "anti-jihad". Volunteer militias of sympathizers of religious groups and other minority victims of ISIS could be established and trained to fight under a central command, as did the Lincoln Brigade and others in the Spanish Civil War. This is not likely to happen because the "good" muslims are peaceful, rather passive, and lack a single international voice equivalent to the Vatican. Other than that, it would be the responsibility of the United Nations, if it were truly a world government, to mobilize the civilized world to fight ISIS. And how might this be accomplished? Let us start with some fundamental concepts.
All nations and societies are guided by their own laws and customs which define the restrictions and responsibilities of individuals towards each other and towards the governing authority. Over the course of history, through exposure to and exchanges between a diversity of cultures, and as a result of gradual humanistic enlightenment throughout much of the world, a general consensus has arisen with respect to fundamental ethics of human behavior, as stated in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Cannibalism and human sacrifice are no longer practiced. Slavery, torture, rape, murder, thievery, etc. exist but are generally condemned to varying degrees and punishable by law. Nations that do not conform to these universally stated - if not universally practiced - standards of behavior are renegade societies which threaten peace and stability throughout the planet. The ISIS caliphate totally defies these tenets.
At the heart of the matter are the archaic concepts we described that could create such a monster, and those who preach them. Some say that these concepts are literal interpretations of what is written in the Quran. If so, then the Quran itself is the culprit and, for the sake of a peaceful world, must be questioned by its own believers and divested of its aura of literal truth and infallibility, as have the Old and New Testaments mostly. ("It ain't necessarily so.") Where is an Islamic Reform Movement - or a new universal "religion" recognizing the common interests of all mankind, based upon the sanctity of all creation and reverence for life? There is no room in the fragile state of the present world for a way of life based upon myths and historical fictions that promote hatred, violence, murder and genocide. (These remarks could apply equally to the transgressions of imperialistic states.)
Outside of the Islamic faith, most religions in the modern world have evolved whereby an absolute belief in and strict observance according to the words or interpretations of ancient texts have largely dissipated. The time of the Spanish Inquisition and medieval witch hunts has long passed. There is a vast difference between the "religion" of a spiritual belief that inspires a person to cherish life on Earth, to act with kindness, fairness and respect towards others, and treasure the gifts of nature; and, on the other hand, a fundamentalist religion that suppresses individual expression by forbidding any questioning of doctrine as heresy, subject to harsh punishment, imposes strict rituals conceived for obedience by submissive or uneducated people (e.g. commanding men to prostrate themselves in prayer five times daily), confines women to a menial status, and sanctions self-sacrifice and murderous acts in return for the promise of a blissful afterlife in paradise based on nothing but blind faith, myths and ignorance.
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