3. What is their aim? How likely are they to be able to accomplish it?
Their aim to re-establish the Caliphate and extend Islamic religious, political and military hegemony as far as they can, says Father Mallon. "To accomplish this they are prepared to violate traditional principles of Islamic warfare."
4. Is this a global movement?
Yes and no, says Father Mallon. "It is global in that is appeals to a broad audience of Muslims who share the romantic idea of a Caliphate in which Muslims rule over everyone. It is not a global movement in that it is probably not sustainable in a number of ways. Not the least, opposition would come from an increasing desire for democracy in many Muslim countries. Democracy is the antithesis of the historically autocratic Caliphates. In addition, Shi’ites are in principle opposed to a Sunni Caliphate ruling over them."
He adds: "Although ISIS uses the most brutal and savage methods, it would be a serious mistake to think of it as a primitive group. It has shown itself disturbingly sophisticated in its use of mass communications and social media. There are reports of a store in Istanbul and a website on which one can purchase t-shirts with the ISIS logo as well as the head band often seen on the foreheads of ISIS combatants as well as access ISIS propaganda.
"The New York Times estimates that ISIS is the wealthiest terrorist group in the world, having access to hundreds of millions of dollars," Father Mallon says. "Most, if not all, ISIS’s wealth comes from plundered cities, banks and individuals. It seems it has carefully avoided becoming dependent on outside sources of financing which could easily be cut off."
5. What is their attitude toward Christianity, particularly in the Middle East?
Father Mallon explains that ISIS’s attitude towards Christianity seems to be built on the belief that any positive references to Christians in the Qur’an (for example, 5:83, where Christians are called “those closest to you in love”) have been abrogated and take Christians as targets either for conversion, humiliation or annihilation. "This is not a position widely held among Muslims."
Father Pacwa explains that Wahabis changed traditional Quranic teaching regarding other religions.
“The Qur’an teaches that Jews and Christians are ‘people of the book,’ since their Bible includes books by or about the ancient prophets that Islam accepts,” he explains. “Jews and Christians who submit to Islam and pay the jizya tax for protection by Muslims will be safe. However, the Wahabi teach that Jews and Christians today have fallen from their original forms and are no longer eligible for the status as ‘people of the book.’ Instead, they are infidels, or kufar in Arabic, whose choice is to convert or be killed, just as applies to pagans or atheists. Amazingly, they ascribe the status of infidel to the Shi’ites and all other sects, such as the Alawi who rule Syria. This explains why they attack Christians, Shiites, Alawi, Yezidi and anyone different than the Wahabis who teach the purest form of God’s oneness.”
6. There have been many reports of atrocities carried out against Christians and other religious minorities, such as behead. What do we know for sure?
Father Mallon says there are "fairly reliable accounts of atrocities" perpetrated by ISIS against Christians, moderate Sunnis, Shi’ites and other religious groups. "Many have been executed—although there is no reliable report of a child being beheaded—women have been reduced to slaves, etc."
Father Pacwa says that Wahabi ideology does not explain the crucifixions that have ben reported. “The decapitations of children is not normal Islamic practice, nor is the introduction of one’s young sons to treating human heads as trophies,” he says. “Were they madmen, the strong and definite military discipline would not be as good as it is. Apparently they have chosen such darkness in their souls that even Al Qaida rejects ISIS.”
7. Could the US/International Community have stopped them? Can we stop them now?
ISIS can be curtailed, damaged or driven underground by the United States and the international community, Father Mallon believes, "but I do not believe it can be stopped from the outside. It has to be stopped from inside Syrian and Iraqi society. When the overall populace was revolted by al-Zarqawi’s violence, the movement lost considerable strength."
He continues: "The ideological/romantic supporters [of ISIS] seem to be little influenced by history, facts or even, it seems, Islamic morality. I believe, however, that the practical/political supporters are in the majority. The practical/political supporters are Sunnis with real and serious complaints against the governments in Damascus and Baghdad. I suspect that if the demands of these Sunnis were met in a fair, equitable and democratic way, ISIS would lose a great deal of support."
It’s a reality he hopes western governments will realize.