Barbarism in the birthplace of civilization
The photo above shows an execution which was recently carried out in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq, which is still under ISIS control. The man in the center is falling to his death after being thrown off a tall tower by ISIS men as a punishment for the crime of homosexuality, which is forbidden in Islam (the Koran includes the story of Lot and Sodom, as it includes many of the same stories as the Bible). You can read more about the execution here; more photos are here. ISIS has carried out numerous executions for homosexuality in the areas of Iraq and Syria under its rule, both by precipitation from tall buildings and by stoning.
As with the Christian Dominionists and Reconstructionists in the US who want to bring back stoning to death for homosexuality and adultery (among many other "crimes"), this is not some sort of distortion or "misuse" of religion. It is simply carrying out what the sacred texts command.
ISIS has also been targeting educated women for death. Islam's prescriptions on the subject of education are murky and conflicting, but female education and the independence it facilitates are, in practice, incompatible with the strict Islamic vision of the proper role of women in society. Recently ISIS also executed 13 teenage boys by firing squad for the crime of watching a soccer game on TV. I'm not sure of the basis for an Islamic objection to soccer, but the game was introduced to Iraq by the "infidel" British, and literalist religion is generally hostile to anything fun.
As we routinely do in the case of Europe, for the Middle East we must always distinguish between the great civilization of the region and the barbaric religion which has ruled over it for more than a millennium. The only reason that any sort of civilization has been possible in Europe or the Middle East since the end of the Classical world is that the Christian and Islamic taboo systems have usually not been enforced to the letter. The more society fell under strict domination by the Word of God, as in the European Dark Ages or under ISIS today, the more human culture was reduced to sterile savagery. The more the sacred texts were "re-interpreted" or simply ignored in favor of a more humane and pluralistic vision, the more culture was able to thrive.
As was the case in the European Renaissance, many of the key creative figures of Middle Eastern literature and culture were homosexual in orientation and/or held "heretical" views on religion. The so-called "Islamic golden age" of the 7th-11th centuries (actually a revival of Hellenism under not-very-strict Islamic rule) could not have happened under an ISIS-like literalist regime which would have executed most of its major thinkers on one grounds or another, any more than a Europe which strictly enforced the taboos of the Old Testament could have produced the Renaissance.
But such regimes can destroy. The shrines at Najaf and Karbalâ are Shiite holy places; given ISIS's fanatical hatred of Shiism, if it were ever to capture those cities, the shrines might well share the fate of the Bâmiyân Buddha statues or the countless Classical books destroyed by fervent early Christians. As Hitchens once remarked, "No secularist would blow up a mosque, but a Sunni fanatic would blow up a Shia mosque and vice versa without compunction" -- as they have indeed been doing in Iraq for several years.
When religion dominated Europe, it was even more of a hideous bloody mess than the Middle East today -- think of the Thirty Years War, the witch-burnings, the Inquisition. Thanks to countless people of great courage and intellectual integrity, religion was neutered and civilization was reborn. Whether in Europe then or the Middle East now, the struggle is the same.