A Response to Damian Thompson – ISIS and Iraq

I have made it no secret that I have a mysterious history with Iraq. I have been there on holiday, I have been there as a refugee and I have been there for a variety of reasons.

Iraq is where I picked up my nom de plume. Well the Middle East, there are a lot of Ibn Sina Hospitals out there and as part of my vague past, I was born in one and I have lived in one while my parents worked.

I have long said that Islam is a fractured faith. That the greatest victims of Islam are Muslims. That the religion’s fervour, and fanaticism lead it to be rigid and unchanging. And that with the rise of Saudi Wahabbism and wealth, the language and progress of Islam is being re-written to emphasise the glory of the bedouin tribals whose conservative Islam has become the blue print to aim for.

When the ideal Muslim is portrayed as fundamentalist, then what you see is people trying to beat each other in fundamentalism to be the man on top. Just as the Christians try to beat each other in “piety” and being holy, you see the Muslims do the same. Except the Muslim Ideal in many parts of the world is Jihadi. Young men are encouraged to be brainless, violent thugs and this is glorified. I have been to the camps in Palestine. I have been to Pakistan. I have seen people laud Osama Bin Laden and Lakshar, Hamaas and Hezbollah as heroes. Sure there are other reasons for their popularity (Lakshar are seen as freedom fighters, Hamaas and Hezbollah were the only ones to stand up to aggressive loss of land. Put it this way? 

Terrorists don’t exist in a vacuum. There must be conditions met to create them. It is why you rarely see “Western” terrorists. In order to create them? You need real or perceived oppression. 

Let us not beat around the bush. There are terrorists in the USA. The Islamic Militant term for the gun rampage is called a Fedayeen attack. It is the preferred method of attack more than the suicide bomber because the carnage is absolute. The best example was the Mumbai attack. The destruction of the police chain of command let the militants kill 164 people and wound 300 odd people. Suicide bombings rarely cause that many deaths. What difference is the attacks by the school shooters, the misogynists, the libertarians and the white nationalists? Are they not designed to inflict fear and right a perceived wrong?

I have often mentioned that if Camille Marino (an animal rights fanatic) was called Ahmed, the government of the USA would have arrested her and sent her on her way for a long holiday to Cuba.

Even the “home grown” terrorists of the UK and the USA become Jihadi because they sense a perceived injustice. The ones who went to Afghanistan were told they were doing so to fight against imperialism, predations by colonials and the like. The ones in Syria were told they were fighting against a horrific regime. You don’t just drop your life to join a rag tag bunch of Muslim Jihadis for no real reason. Just as you don’t try to shoot up a sorority for no real reason. Elliot Rodger’s terrorism was powered by the notion that he was fighting against women for all men.

But ISIS? ISIS are an extreme among an extreme group.

The relationship between the murderous zealots of ISISand the rest of the Muslim world is too complicated to sum up concisely. It goes without saying that hatred between Sunnis and Shias lies at its heart. They adhere to profoundly different versions of Islam: where radical Sunnis are disgusted by cultic practices or religious art that distract from the teachings of Mohammed, Shias embrace a messianic cult of martyrdom and ritual self-mortification – and claim a line of descent from the Prophet that Sunnis regard as heresy.

To be fair the cult of martyrdom is due to the fact a lot of Shia would end up getting killed for their faith.

As for Ritual Self Mortification? No different from the Catholic Flagellants or the Hindus who starve themselves.

This fault line dates back to the early years of Islam and is familiar to anyone who knows the first thing about the religion. But to make sense of the new Iraqi civil war it’s also necessary to untangle the relationship between the fanatics of ISIS and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, notionally an ally of the West. The pampered aristocracy of the House of Saud may not wish to be publicly associated with terrorists, but it is the Saudis who, since the 18th century, have nurtured the ultra-puritan Wahhabi ideology adopted by those same terrorists. Wahhabis or Salafists (the two terms are almost interchangeable) seek religious purity through iconoclasm. In Mecca this takes the form of the Saudis razing every shrine associated with Mohammed, lest they encourage superstition, while simultaneously building hotels modelled on Las Vegas. In Iraq and Syria, non-Sunni places of worship are also razed, but the iconoclasm is accompanied by the slitting of throats.

The thing is? The Jihadi are not seen as terrorists. See terrorism is in the eye of the beholder.

Imagine if you will a life of being a refugee. You lost your land once to white people. Then they parcelled out your land to another group of people who used a religious pretence to claim ownership in a modern version of manifest destiny. You were moved to a camp and lived there all your life. You are regularly hunted and your people lack the education, skills, universities and indeed structures that make modern life pleasant. People don’t listen. You point out atrocities and no one does anything. They reward the perpetrators of your massacres. No one is safe. Your families are killed often for minor crimes or acts of rebellion such as throwing stones.

And then one day someone fights back. That one man picks up a gun or a knife or a hammer and attacks the “authority”.

If you are thinking about Palestine? I am talking about the Warsaw Uprising. The entire uprising was precipitated by just one man fighting back at injustice. Maybe the  Palestinians have endured less, but the joke is that no one really wanted to discuss peace or Palestinian rights until they started blowing up restaurants.

Sunni and Shia are just different hats. It is an argument over which side of the egg to break.

Wahabbism drives the Sunni. The wealth and power of Saudi Arabia empowers people like ISIS.

The House of Al-Saud came to power on the wings of Wahabbism that granted them their army that lead them to power in the Saudi Civil War. The Wahabbi council quickly became the judiciary while the House of Al-Saud basically became puppets. They have the wealth, the Wahabbi’s have the hearts and minds of the people. They systematic desolation of Islamic heritage has a purpose. To help re-write Islamic History to match that of the Wahabbis. To them? The greatest achievement in Islamic history are the half myths of Mohammed rather than the real thinkers and artists and poets who drove the Islamic world forward.

What we see is no different from the violence between Christians and Protestants.

Many rich Saudis are secretly thrilled by the advance of ISIS, whose atrocities are an extreme manifestation of their own Wahhabi ideology. And they will gloat mightily if ISIS fulfils its ambition of reducing every Shia shrine in Iraq to blood-spattered rubble. As we speak, funds are being transferred from their bank accounts to the organisers of the insurgency, who despise Saudi princelings for their “Western” lifestyles but are more than happy to pocket the cash.

They aren’t.

Saudi Arabia walks a deadly tight rope. The wealth garnered by Oil drives terrorism in the same way that the wealth garnered in America has been used to drive anti-condom drives in Africa. Through “religious charity”. The might of Saudi Arabia lies in its control over the hearts and minds of Muslims and it is not the Saud family that holds the reigns but the Wahabbis. Sure the Sauds may meet presidents and travel the world, but they are puppets. The secret police, the judiciary and the laws are all driven by the Wahabbis.

The money fed to people like ISIS can be one of two things.

A genuine belief that these groups are improving the world.

or Danegeld

The transactions and alliances surrouding this civil war are sordid and cruel on both sides. But this is in the nature of wars of religion, which throughout history have combined barbarism and hypocrisy. The conflict between Catholics and Protestants in early modern Europe produced scenes that were as awful as those we are witnessing today. We did, however, grow out of it. The Muslim world still hasn’t and you can’t help wondering if it ever will.

You do realise “Irish Protestant/Catholic dislike” and indeed Scottish (The two people kissing? Indicates Rangers and Celtic. The clubs were divided on religious sectarian lines and the violence was phenomenal) gang warfare were things that happened in my life time. Maybe it isn’t as bad as ISIS.

No. ISIS exists because of the destabilisation of Syria. In addition the pulling out of the USA left a major power vacuum. The Iraqi Army was subverted at its highest levels. In addition? De-Baathification cost Iraq dearly. You had to be Baath Party to do anything. Be it teach or work in a hospital. Getting rid of all these people lead to a society where the only people who knew how to run things were not allowed to be hired. The “bad guys” simply gave them jobs.

Or worse? We gave the job to someone green. So an allegedly well trained and equipped army broke. ISIS are moving at a rate that boggles the mind considering the US Army faced a stiffer resistance.

The atrocities are simple. If you don’t follow Wahabbism you aren’t a real Muslim. You are apostate and a threat to Islam. A lot of Muslims defend the death to Apostates because they are seen as a real and serious erosion of Islamic values. To them they are no different from traitors or murderers in the USA. The weirdest defence against killing them was someone who said that they can only be killed in a truly Shariah state and no such state exists. I had to point out that even partial adoptions of Shariah have ended miserably with massive human rights failures, but somehow more thorough adoptions would create a utopia.

I have heard a similar argument among libertarians who argued that the current economic crisis due to the deregulation of personal and private banking and securities trading was because it wasn’t completely deregulated. That somehow the gross abuse of the future economy in order to make a quick buck now would somehow not exist if we had even fewer laws that prevented this sort off thing. We know that is laughably naive and plain dangerous. Save us from idealists who have no pragmatic understanding of the issue!

ISIS are just such a beast. In an environment of brutality they have risen to the top. In an environment where the best Muslim is a Jihadi, they are the Jihadiest and therefore the Muslimiest. And if you aren’t with them then you are no different from an apostate who deserves death in their Wahabbi Shariah world.

Islam can grow out of it though. It is like  looking at the worst Protestant and Catholic violence without knowing the future of a peaceful Europe. We don’t know where the future will lead us, but it can lead to enlightenment. It is however up to us to encourage Muslim moderates and indeed the apostates who leave Islam to speak out and have their voices heard. We often ignore these people in our atheism and indeed the wider atheist movements because “it is Islam”. We prefer our Islamic Arguments to be “look at these bastards” rather than “here is a nuanced look at the issue”. Or worse?

We ignore and support oppression of Ex-Muslims. I wrote about wanting to go out in Manchester and consume food that was religiously restricted. For me? It is beef, for many ex-Muslims and Jews it is pork and shellfish. I even included Sikhs and Jains (Halal and Non-Vegetarian food) who wanted to eat food that wasn’t allowed when they believed. And more than one person wrote in to tell me that this was deeply insulting to these religions. Because my lack of belief in Hinduism means that I cannot eat a Big Mac because people from my  old religion will get angry by my flippant attitude towards old dietary restrictions as will other religions. Apparently atheists sitting around eating food are a major insult to various religions. This may be true, but frankly? It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t live our lives and indeed enjoy food that was taboo. Like a Bacon Double Cheeseburger… the most unholy of all foods (Illegal in Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Jainism)

But what can we do?

It is simple. Either we abandon Iraq to fall to ISIS and a civil war. And let us face it? Iraq is under a civil war.

Or we intervene. We are doomed either way. If Iraq falls? It will destabilise the region. If we interfere? We will be back in the same stupid  tar pit where we keep blowing up distressingly large numbers of people with weapons that may as well be made out of magic. The fact is? ISIS pretty much have free reign to do as they please. We will not risk a land war in Iraq and walking back into the tar pit. Our response will be drones and air support.

But lest we forget. The word we are looking for is not sectarian violence or terrorism.

But Genocide of the Shia minority.


  1. colnago80 says

    If you are thinking about Palestine? I am talking about the Warsaw Uprising. The entire uprising was precipitated by just one man fighting back at injustice. Maybe the Palestinians have endured less, but the joke is that no one really wanted to discuss peace or Palestinian rights until they started blowing up restaurants.

    Ah gee, it’s too bad that the Government of Israel is too skittish to apply Hama Rules to the Palestinians. Then the Israel bashers like Avicenna would really have something to whine about.

  2. wannabe says


    But lest we forget. The word we are looking for is not sectarian violence or terrorism. But Genocide of the Shia minority.


    Most sources estimate that around 65% of Muslims in Iraq are Shia, and around 35% are Sunni.

  3. Al Dente says

    colnago80 @1

    You really are a bloodthirsty asshole aren’t you? The stupidity of misnaming Hitler is forgivable. You have the right to be stupid. You do not have the right to gloat over genocide, real or imagined.

  4. Pen says

    Terrorism is in the eye of the beholder because it requires someone to actually be terrified. Well, worried, anyway. I would think many Muslims are currently ‘worried’ by this development and some must be terrified.

    The one thing that stays with me from the whole Iraq catastrophe since it’s inception is this one Iraqi guy who was quoted in the British newspapers. By that time, it was clear the Americans were going to invade and he said: ‘I just hope it’s over quickly so my son doesn’t miss too much of his education.’

    I think a lot of them hoped it was going to be like Kuwait. What can you say?

  5. ragnar1 says

    us must find away from saudi oil and political influence
    oil paid in something than dollars

    shiites used to be the neo con proxies
    now everything is turned around for the so called color revolution..

  6. Holms says

    Holy shit colnago, you truly are obsessed with defending the honour of Israel for some reason. Do you have some sort of RSS or whatever to deliver every post mentioning the word Isreal to you via text or something? Maybe also with an accompanying alarm so as to alert you to the post even if asleep, just to make sure you are able to reply within minutes of every such post.

  7. lorn says

    With all due respect ISIS, the main leader of the organization, the organizational structures, and goals all existed for years before Syria was an issue. One of the reasons the organization has grown so fast is because it was generously funded by Wahhabi mosques and states like Saudi Arabia.

    It has also grown because it has a large population of unemployed youths in the middle east, and few job prospects or outlets for even those who are well educated. (OBL was drawn into the Afghan Mujaheddin because even with a degree in engineering he had few job prospects or outlets for his talents. A life of leisure wasn’t doing it for him.) A mind is a terrible thing to waste and boredom is a gateway for extremism.

    Add to this the resentment of the Sunni youths of Iraq who have faced further humiliation under a Iraqi administration that is heavily sectarian and unwilling to include the Sunnis. Those in the Sunni areas of Iraq who haven’t actively joined ISIS are sympathetic to the cause. The reason ISIS has been able to advance so quickly has to do with the army having little investment in the Iraqi government and understanding that they were in Sunni territory and facing a force motivated by years of discrimination and mistreatment.

    Yes, Syria has played a part. Syria was a relatively controlled environment where ISIS could send its raw recruits for training and experience.

    Having access to large numbers of angry youths, funding, a place to train and have them gain experience and their first major operational undertaking being in a place with a friendly population and easily frightened opponent have made their growth and advances remarkable, but not exactly unexpected.

    The fight between the Catholic church and the Protestants took over 130 years to go from massacres and open warfare to smaller scale sporadic tribal warfare and back biting. The genera trend in history is that hings happen faster and wars involve fewer people. While I would like to think that people could settle things humanely and logically the history seem to be that societies and cultures need to exhaust themselves and face an existential crisis to make major changes. Germany and Japan drastically changed their cultures only after being crushed in detail. So far, over 60 years, the changes have held but the long term outlook remains unsure.

    If Shia and Sunni Islam fight it out until both sides are spent then, and only then, do I think you will see any chance of real change. Before that time every compromise and negotiation will be made with an eye toward advantage and the next round of fighting.

    What should the US do? Don’t allow either side to lose until both sides see losing as less of an issue than permanently stopping the war by any means necessary. When they get to that place both sides can cooperate with an intent to save their own humanity, and the humanity of their children. History tells me that that degree of exhaustion is necessary for people to face reality and change.

  8. RA says

    I say this as an ex-Muslim who is fed up with all the sunni and shia violence. I hope one day we atheists become a larger population in the middle east. We can even start a bus campaign, with the slogan: “Nobody gives a fuck about your religion. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life!” Peace

  9. DutchA says

    Great post again, Avicenna. Thank you for that.
    (I should say that more often, I know).

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