Do you remember the controversial Atlantic cover story by Graeme Wood -- "What ISIS Really Wants" -- that caused waves of online clicks and almost as many heated arguments in major newsrooms and on university campuses?
Here is that link again, in case you've lost it. It's clear that this essay remains highly relevant, especially in light of that recent Associated Press "Big Story" piece about the degree to which many ISIS recruits do, or do not, understand the basic tenets of Islam.
In an earlier GetReligion post about that Wood essay, I argued that he wanted to show that the leaders of the Islamic State were wrong when they claimed that their radical version of Islam is the true faith and that all Muslims must embrace it or be declared heretics. At the same time, he insisted that President Barack Obama was wrong when he stated that "ISIL is not Islamic."
Thus, here is Wood's thesis:
The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.
Note that Wood separates the leaders of ISIS from the "psychopaths and adventure seekers" drawn to its flame. Wood is interested in the religious views of ISIS leaders -- the imams and the teams creating all of those online videos. For the leaders, this is a religious crusade.
This recent AP piece, on the other hand, focuses on the faith, or lack thereof, of the recruits themselves -- with an emphasis on the testimonies of those who fled ISIS. For many recruits, religion had little to do with their decision to join the cause.