(Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
"There has to be a clear rejection of this kind of nihilistic ideologies. One thing we can all agree on is that a group like ISIL has no place in the 21st century."
"There is evil in this world, and we all have come face to face with it once again. Ugly, savage, inexplicable,nihilistic, and valueless evil."
John Kerry on ISIS
The issue or topic of ISIS and Islam has been approached with intellectual laziness on both sides of the debate it seems to me. Those who simply claim ISIS is just a bunch of crazy people with a screw loose or those who claim ISIS represents Islamic thought are both simplifying a more complex reality. First ISIS are not nihilists or senseless anarchists as some at the State Department would like you to think. ISIS has an ideological basis and they are religious extremists. Some at the White House and State Department would like people to think of ISIS as nihilists because they feel it is the most outcast terminology they can use but it is a misdiagnosis and intellectually dishonest. They want to cut ISIS off the evolutionary ideological tree of Islam and that is a good goal but it is intellectually dishonest to call them nihilists or claim their ideology is based in nihilistic thought.
Did they forget about Salafism? Wahhabism? Jihadism? These are much more intellectually correct and honest words than what is coming from some government officials. There are to be sure bigots and racists that criticize the religion of Islam based on their prejudice but that does not nullify all legitimate criticism of Islam or strains of Islam.
Depending on the individual one variable will be more dominant than the other and that you have to study by a case by case process. Now as far as the stated ideological foundation for those that are in ISIS it is clearly religious extremism and it is Jihadism. However their personal motivations may vary.
“Our country has been infiltrated by so many foreign ideas, What happened in Syria changed everything, and suddenly our kids are going out of control when they are exposed to this extremist religious discourse.”
Hayet Essaadi, Father of son who wanted to join ISIS
By Robert Zaretsky and David Mikics:
"ISIS, however, recoils from such an encounter with doubt. Far from being nihilistic, the followers of ISIS are instead terrified by the empty vistas nihilism reveals. They parade a twisted version of Islam as truth, insisting that death and blood on earth are a necessary sacrifice for the paradise that awaits the religious warrior. Many of Al Qaeda’s and ISIS’s recruits are disaffected young men glad to turn to a thrilling new belief system that walls them off from the danger of nihilism. As George Orwell, among others, pointed out, a similar role has been played by other belief systems, like communism: No matter how violent the deed, it was done in the service of History, the brutal deity of the communist movement. The worldwide caliphate ISIS aims for is a vision just as galvanizing, and just as illusory, as the communist utopia...We know that ISIS scorns the principle of human justice, but by labeling them “nihilist,” comforting as that may be, we ourselves flout plain language."