In “ISIS: A Primer” (feature, June 3), Professor Bernard Haykel writes that, to understand ISIS, “one must look at the brutal ... realities of the modern Arab world.” Left unsaid is that the brutal realities of the Middle East are nothing new. Genghis Khan sacked its cities in the 13th century, and Tamerlane repeated the horror 200 years later. Then the Turks took forcible control. After every defeat, Jihadi-Salafi-type movements led the people back to an ever-more rigid theocracy silencing all dissidents. This has been a recurring factor for 1,500 years.
History shows that all calls for reform were silenced by the clerics: the Matazilites in the 9th century, the philosophers such as Averroes in the 12th century, and modern secular reformers in the 20th century. Over the last 1,500 years, Muslims have had to choose between an unquestioned faith and progress — because any faith that denies free will, free inquiry, and science will close its adherents’ minds and stifle material progress. Theocracies by their very nature can never provide freedom and happiness for their unfortunate people.