Every dispute has two sides and it has been really hard to analyze the questions involving ISIS with the information we get by the media in the west. I am quite sure there some good arguments in favor of the "Islamic State", though maybe not sufficient to defend it.
I'll preface this by saying that I think this is a good question. Those who disagree probably oppose IS on an "us vs them" principle not an ideological one. I oppose them because I don't believe that what they want is desirable. For one thing, it's very Islamic-based and I'm an atheist.
Let's cover morality first. It's important to remember that the Islamic version of morality is very different from what we know in the West. We view morality, generally, as being a maximisation of well-being. We've found that free will is an important aspect of this. The Islamic view is that serving God is the highest duty of every Muslim- obviously, part of that is ensuring that other humans serve God. To many Muslims, their religion is a very important part of themselves- they'll give everything for it. So many don't care about who they hurt. They're not Muslims, they're not serving God, and the best way to get them to serve God is through violence. It's seen as their duty to convert these people or kill them. Obviously, most Western Muslims don't believe this, hence why they don't join IS, but Islamo-centrism is prominent in many Muslims.
The basic idea of IS is an Islamist one. That's what they are- a more extreme brand of Islamists, just a different flavour of what we've seen previously. They believe that the most perfect way of living was achieved during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. Interpretations of what that way of life was vary, but the basics are that there was relative equality, justice was carried out swiftly and effectively, and the nation was generally successful. Beyond anything else, they served God perfectly. Muhammad was speaking to God, so of course they did what God wanted, because he ruled them. Since then, lots of people have come along who claimed to be doing the same, but kept going further from that way of life. So they want that Caliphate back. For many years, people have been trying to do that- that was Al-Qaeda's aim, they just didn't believe it was possible with Western interference. IS have done it- they're ruling over people effectively, fighting back all oppressors.
Here's something that's worth noting. These peoples' beliefs (and willingness to die) are so strong, their enemies are literally fleeing before them. The Iraqi army's reaction to IS has gotten people flocking to them because, to Islamists, it confirms that these people are acting within the will of God. It must seem like Muhammad's reign is being replicated. To them, it confirms both the legitimacy of the Caliphate and the power of God.
Obviously, all this is very religiously-based. I think it's important to understand the mindset of first Muslims and then Islamism. That's something I've been studying over the past few years, and it's truly fascinating to me. There is a definite gulf between Western principles and Islamic ones. Islamic principles are about promoting Islam regardless of other considerations, whereas Western principles promote the most effective way of running a society.
I suspect that looking at this from a purely "what's the most effective ideology" standpoint will always result in Western ideology winning, because they just don't see it that way. It's actually more personal, a matter of doing what you believe in. It's less about the most effective society and more about your own side winning. It's a conflict between cultures and those who have strong feelings on other matters can find that Islamism provides them with an outlet. Their dissatisfaction with Western society (especially given the feelings of exclusion from it) is understandable, and it's exploited to get them to fight for IS. They're vulnerable, and of course, once they're in, they can't get out. The only thing worse than being a Kafir (unbeliever) is being an apostate (ex-Muslim).
PointlessSpike has given an excellent answer, but I would like to add another argument that has a strong power in a period of chaos. In fact ISIS is not as unique as many believes, there is a group that has achieved similar levels of brutality in the past: the Wahhabi sect. From Wahhabism:
In 1901, Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud, a fifth generation descendent of Muhammad ibn Saud, began a military campaign that led to the conquest of much of the Arabian peninsula and the founding of present day Saudi Arabia, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The result that safeguarded the vision of Islam-based around the tenets of Islam as preached by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab was not bloodless, as 40,000 public executions and 350,000 amputations were carried out during its course, according to some estimates (emphases mine)
It is obvious that there is chaos and disorder in Syria, which is in the midst of the civil war, and Iraq, which has suffered more than a decade of violence and disagreement.
In situation like these, a group that promises to estabilish a government that has literally divine perfection and endless stability has an obvious appeal. Especially when other forces have shown that they cannot impose order. We have to remember that ISIS wasn't the first choice neither in Syria nor in Iraq, for many people in that places it may simply seem the only alternative left. On a lesser note you can see a similar phenomenon in many european democracies, which have seen the rise of extreme parties because of what people feel is a lack of meaningful alternatives.
Order may not be the supreme good, but it is the fundamental good. Or saying it more brutally, you can't go to work if you fear that somebody is going to rape you daughters. When it comes to that point you are going to support anybody that has a reasonable chance to reestabilish order, whatever the costs may be.
Many perspectives here, I'll provide a maybe controversial and unsettling view, but I think it needs to be discussed. Terrorism is a response. Since The War on Terror has started there's been quite a bit of data collected on what happens when a nation intervenes and the response to the intervention.
First thing, an analysis from the CATO Institute marked:
Finally, the third possible interpretation of the data is that the War on Terror inadvertently fueled more anti-American terrorism. The argument here is that, had the United States conducted a limited intervention to disrupt al Qaeda, withdrawn quickly from Afghanistan, and not invaded Iraq, many, if not most, of the post-9/11 attacks would not have taken place. Without an ongoing American presence and an active military campaign helping to further radicalize and motivate potential jihadists, observers point out, it is reasonable to expect that there would have been far less incentive for al Qaeda and related groups to attack the United States. Further, had the United States not invaded Iraq, it is doubtful that ISIS would even exist.
This is important, because it demonstrates a mindset that yes, terrorism is a response to conditions rather than something that is naturally occurring.
Quoting the FBI here:
However, the threat from Al-Qaeda is only a part of the overall threat from the radical international jihad movement, which is composed of individuals of varying nationalities, ethnicities, tribes, races, and terrorist group memberships who work together in support of extremist Sunni goals. One of the primary goals of Sunni extremists is the removal of U.S. military forces from the Persian gulf area, most notably Saudi Arabia. The single common element among these diverse individuals is their commitment to the radical international jihad movement, which includes a radicalized ideology and agenda promoting the use of violence against the “enemies of Islam” in order to overthrow all governments which are not ruled by Sharia (conservative Islamic) law. A primary tactical objective of this movement has been the planning and implementation of large-scale, high-profile, high-casualty terrorist attacks against U.S. interests and citizens, and those of its allies, worldwide.
Another from an economist from the University of Copenhagen:
Terrorists are rational actors in many ways. They react predictably when circumstances change. As authorities close in on terrorists, uncovering plots and arresting suspects, they will attack sooner so that they’re not caught first. Unfortunately, increasing efforts against terrorism may, in the short term, increase the risk of attacks.
There's there's the famous Dick Cheney quote about invading Iraq:
Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place? That’s a very volatile part of the world, and if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off: part of it, the Syrians would like to have to the west, part of it — eastern Iraq — the Iranians would like to claim, they fought over it for eight years. In the north you’ve got the Kurds, and if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey.
Finally I want to point the to some of the conclusions the American Psycholigcal Association's conclusions about the appeal of terrorism:
The lure of terror
For years, psychologists examined terrorists' individual characteristics, mining for clues that could explain their willingness to engage in violence. While researchers now agree that most terrorists are not "pathological" in any traditional sense, several important insights have been gleaned though interviews with some 60 former terrorists conducted by psychologist John Horgan, PhD, who directs the Pennsylvania State University's International Center for the Study of Terrorism.
Horgan found that people who are more open to terrorist recruitment and radicalization tend to:
- Feel angry, alienated or disenfranchised.
- Believe that their current political involvement does not give them the power to effect real change.
- Identify with perceived victims of the social injustice they are fighting.
- Feel the need to take action rather than just talking about the problem.
- Believe that engaging in violence against the state is not immoral.
- Have friends or family sympathetic to the cause.
- Believe that joining a movement offers social and psychological rewards such as adventure, camaraderie and a heightened sense of identity.
When any terrorist organization targets a society, it's worth asking "Why". Why were we targeted? What have we done? What motivates them to move against us? In the example of the United States, what motivates a small group of people (30k roughly according the the CIA estimate) to essentially target a nation of well over 300 million people and literally billions in military spending, whose grasp is literally global. The Good Argument to make in favor of ISIS is a self reflective argument. It's a question about methods, ethics and reasoning of our (assuming you're American) decision to essentially destroy what isn't ours, kill what we have no right to and take what doesn't belong to us.
That's not to say in the instance of the US, that the US is to blame. But the "good" argument for ISIS is this: Someone is pushing back. Because these are powerless people being essentially crushed by a global power and that's terrifying if you're just a 22 year old kid from Baghdad and all your family are dead the depleted uranium is killing the rest of your family.
... and unfortunately ISIS is good in that, they're at LEAST pushing back. Because no one in the West is really pushing for justice for the victims of US brutality. In short, it's the violence of a state vs the violence of a religion (the extreme versions of anyways).
This is a heavy topic, but to quote a funny little something... ISIS is good in that it should force us to ask ourselves "Are we the baddies?"
UPDATE: There is a question about people who are in Europe who end up being radicalized. It should be noted, in some instances they might see the actions of a nation abroad as an extension of their conditions at home in Europe. So ISIS can recruit from Europe, as well, because there's a sympathy among migrants in Europe for their peoples at home being attacked by the larger West. This includes also local attitudes that threaten them in Europe as well and reduced economic opportunity:
The CTC found there was no single “profile” for the extremists, although most were aged in their 20s, were unemployed or students and had an immigrant background.
In context of the APA's understanding of what it takes, there's definitely a "perfect storm" of sorts that the actions in the Middle East, taken by the West radicalizes not just local populations but also sympathetic and struggling individuals in Europe, facilitated by the internet; it has also become easier for terrorist organizations to recruit and spread their message to Europe and attempt to recruit in an attempt to link the struggles, both East and West.
In the cities and towns across the desert plains of northeast Syria, the ultra-hardline al Qaeda offshoot Islamic State has insinuated itself into nearly every aspect of daily life. The group famous for its beheadings, crucifixions and mass executions provides electricity and water, pays salaries, controls traffic, and runs nearly everything from bakeries and banks to schools, courts and mosques. While its merciless battlefield tactics and its imposition of its austere vision of Islamic law have won the group headlines, residents say much of its power lies in its efficient and often deeply pragmatic ability to govern.
... In the provincial capital, a dust-blown city that was home to about a quarter of a million people before Syria's three-year-old war began, the group leaves almost no institution or public service outside of its control. "Let us be honest, they are doing massive institutional work. It is impressive," one activist from Raqqa who now lives in a border town in Turkey told Reuters.
The best argument, is that many people in the area actually want it - or at least a governement and society more based on Islam and Islamic values. A new government in Syria, would remove the maniac that's been killing his own people - including using nerve-gas... I would call that clear plus.
It would also fill the vacum left by the USA in Iraq. A government forced upon them by an occupier - especially when it's ignoring large groups of the people - was never going to last long.
Finally, re-creating the Califath, would give muslims across the world an ideological "homeland" and increased national pride... certainly a pluss for the world's muslims, which undoubtfully feels run-over by the West in general and, the USA and Israel in particular (with some cause).
Certainly non of these things would be very positive for us - in the West... But the people of Syria and Iraq should be able to choose their own government - in whatever manner they decide - for themselves... and not to please or plaicate us Westerners. After all, the Founding Fathers of the USA, didn't exactly consult King George and the British - or mind their feelings - when they decided upon a new form of government. Yes, we may find the thought of theocraty aborant, but it's not up to us - nor should it be!
ISIS is a byproduct of destabilized governments and the rule of violence that follows a destabilized government. As many ME governments are on shaky grounds at best, that part of the world is fertile ground for street thugs that adorn themselves with a thin veneer of highly altered religion.
Put simply, residents 'support' ISIS because they're standing on the resident's doorstep with AK47's, demanding support, and there is no one to oppose them. In the absence of a strong and ethical police force, the residents have a choice of cooperating or dying in a rather gruesome manner.
If you had no police force to call, and thugs showed up at your door demanding money and food, or demanding that you hide weapons for them, or come fight with them to keep them from killing your family, what would you do? You'd probably do what they're doing in ISIS controlled areas right now - you'd do what it took to survive.
It is no coincidence that ISIS began in Syria, a highly destabilized region, extended into Iraq, a nation that has at best a semi-stable government, and has also appeared in parts of Libya, that is very destabilized right now.
So, to answer the question, there is no good argument for ISIS, just as there is no good argument for cancer. It is what happens in the absence of a strong government and strong police force and military to back that government up.
If anything, ISIS makes a good argument for not destabilizing brutal regimes directly. The power vacuum that follows, and the street thugs it draws, can be far worse for the residents than the previous dictatorship. Yes, it's a lousy choice, but people in the western worlds need to understand that other parts of the world don't play by their rules, or have their stable governments.
Every dispute has two sides, including military dictatorships.
Serial killers also have a story to tell. Many had unhappy childhoods, and some of them were just compulsively violent by involuntary nature.
Ticks that attach themselves to wild animals to suck blood also have a life to live. They have an animal spirit. Ticks just want to be warm and attached to a fluffy food source and make tick babies. We have to empathize with Ticks, just as we have to empathize with dictators.
The military dictatorship in question is the US-EU dictatorship over the middle east since 1830, not the ISIS sharia government planned for the entire planet.
The serial killers are individuals like George Bush and Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill presided over the 1953 Iranian coup, to deprive the Iranans of their own oil reserves, a coup which has caused the Iran-Iraq war, mass immigration, and the persecution of progressive people, and the Isreal-Egypt-Palestine war. We revere Winston Churchill as an eloquent firebrand, the smotherer of Persia. Churchill would have reprimanded himself had he spent a few years in Persia with the villages affected, The cause of the dispute is distance communications and "media". Media, hypnotic and photographed communications, are the true evil.
The ticks are the distance-banking systems of our countries. Our global trade banking system encourages us to snuggle up to any available money source, any cheap goods made by slave labor in pre-industrial-revolution conditions, like a tick snuggling up to a host.
Both sides have a story to tell, it's a parable from our every day lives.
It is the pre-text of your question. Therefore, religious sect initiates, and religious sect leaders, can be qualified in positive terms.
ISIS are victims of someone. ISIS are manipulated children. ISIS is an illustration and a testament to the hypnotic power of new media and of a viral book, the same communication system that has caused radicalization and outrage in the USA and in India.
ISIS is a religious sect army, intent on conquering the planet, to impose sharia law.
There could have been another timeline in history, if US-UK-France had not attacked and deposed every single middle eastern leader for the last 100 years. For example, if Iran had be let to own it's oil reserves, if the European leaders had encouraged trade and tourism to islamic countries, then the islamic countries would all be as friendly as Casa Blanca and Malaysia.
ISIS is a positive warning to all the 25 million disillusioned muslim children in Europe, about the dangers of devout religious and sect affiliation.
ISIS's leader is a stellar student from a Baghdad University. Imagine what Al Baghdadi would have achieved if he had studied Freud and Lao Tzu.
They have clear goals, They have a very strong belief in moral integrity. They are not scared to die for their goals, because they step into heaven and after life when they attack an adversary.
Many young people have exploded themselves while elated about the Koran's promises, and their family can remember their courage and decisiveness.
The ISIS leaders are a tribal society's equivalent of a protective mother duck, hiding their ducklings and compatriots from the leering jowels of western society, shielding their ducklings from a fearful predator.