It wasn't all that long ago that we were watching "A Christmas Carol" and once more experiencing Scrooge's transformation. Perhaps you remember the Ghost of Christmas Present's parting words, as he exposed two wretched children, "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both … but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom…"

It is clear that ignorance of ISIS's motivation and goals afflicts almost all of us, myself included. I chatted with one of my old college roommates, a Ph.D in Islamic Studies, to educate myself. His understanding of ISIS is that their advancing the idea of a Caliphate is to return to perhaps the most primitive and fundamentalist form of Islam, including an apocalyptic vision of eternal happiness for true believers and especially the downtrodden, while the rest of humanity endures punishment for their misdeeds. ISIS believes that their activities will help bring about the end of days.

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Not all fundamentalist groups can be considered to follow their religion's precepts. I sincerely doubt that very many Jews think that the Jewish Defense League speaks for them. Christians would not like to be judged by the acts of the Klan, nor should they. So even if ISIS's theology is absolutely in accordance with a literal interpretation of the Koran, the world is 1,400 years removed from the culture that gave birth to it; ISIS does not and cannot claim to represent Islam in today's world, and the President is correct in saying, "al Qaeda and ISIS attempt to use Islam to justify their violence." Obama is spot-on correct, as was George W. Bush, in saying that the West is not fighting against Islam, but rather against terrorism.

Al Qaeda and ISIS think they are faithful followers of their religion. That is their ignorance and hubris. Although it's generally unwise to question someone else's interpretation of their own religion, civilization has moved away from the Koran's (and also the Old Testament's) acceptance of slavery, mutilation and executing "infidels;" there is no place in this world for them.

We are also incorrect in thinking of ISIS as being the extremist wing of al Qaeda. As Graeme Wood pointed out in the current issue of the Atlantic, the two groups have different objectives. Osama Bin Ladin began with the goal of extracting political concessions from the Saudi government; Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed Caliph, wants a different sort of power. The Western world cannot be tone deaf in the way it deals with these two distinct movements. Obama's remarks last week focused on building coalitions to bring the battle to ISIS, a concerted counter-propaganda campaign aimed at sophisticated social networking and recruitment, using economic pressure to cut off funding, and finally, dealing with the economic and social root causes of social disorder: repressive governments in places like Syria, Nigeria and Yemen, coupled with no hope for a better life create the ideal climate for terrorist groups to reap a full harvest of recruits. These are all necessary steps to take, but we need to make certain that we fit our strategies to the different terrorist groups the world is facing. Above all, our resolve to see this through to the end must be clear to all.

The country needs to present a united front to both our allies and enemies in the Middle East. If we allow our internal political differences to spill over the border, we weaken ourselves. Whether or not one approves of the President's foreign policy, he deserves the respect of all Americans. Recent politically inspired acts by the Republican Party, notably John Boehner's inviting Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress and Rudy Giuliani's venomous challenging the President's patriotism are not helpful. Indeed, they are intentionally designed to weaken the President's authority, making it harder for him to form alliances with countries opposed to ISIS and al Qaeda. If the Republicans think it's important to stop ISIS's advances, they need to shut up and support the President's foreign policy initiatives. Our enemies will surely notice whether or not we mean business. So will our friends.

Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com

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