Sam Harris on what ISIS really wants

Regular readers of this blog will know that I admire Sam Harris, but also have some strong disagreements with him. What ISIS really wants is a podcast of his from the middle of last year in which he comments on an issue of Dabiq, that outfit’s mouthpiece titled in deference to their fantasy ground zero, the eye of the apocalypse. His commentary makes me aware that he is far better at making sense of Allah’s finest to those who have never been Muslim, especially those who have never known unfreedom and all-pervading unreason, than I am. I would not have been nearly as able to accessibly comment on Dabiq as he does in this podcast.

I struggle with finding the point, the knot, in the Western mental make-up that makes people reject certain unimaginable things before it even reaches their thoughts, like blinking before you see something heading for your eye. There’s much about the way Muslims are brought up to think (not just ISIS) that Harris lays out very carefully in his commentary. Much of this it would not have occurred to me to explain as I take them to be self-evident. But they’re only self-evident, I’ve come to realise, because I was once a Muslim. If I’d commented on this material, I’d have run into the same tired objections from Western people that I always run into. Harris, I suspect, will do better.

By the same token, I think he still doesn’t quite appreciate what madrassas do to the minds of children. There is a difference between someone who converts to Islam in adulthood, and someone who’d been done in a madrassa. And while the story of the Finnish convert to Islam is horrific and her worldview glows in the same light of insanity as that of her co-religionists around her (and there is no reason to doubt a word of it), it is also misleading. It tends to prejudice the reader into thinking that what ISIS calls for and offers, in fact what the Qur’an calls for and offers, is something that appeals or fails to appeal equally to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It does not. A Muslim who has been through the madrassa experience is primed to be receptive to this and does not require ISIS to turn him or her into a similar monster, indeed, does not require anyone at all, when it comes to it. For as long as there has been Islam there have been people who, if imagined within today’s context, would have been a perfect match for any of the Muslim terrorist groups plaguing the world today. In their own time, they might’ve taken up the sword, or wandered around as isolated, lonely individuals whom others might have politely avoided. I can think of several people I’d known in my childhood (before the world went nuts), who would have been viable candidates for jihad. Muslims turning to practising Islam in the manner the Qur’an demands (for example by joining ISIS) is much more like flicking a switch that sets something in motion, than the voluntarism implied by an appeal a convert might respond to.

Nonetheless, I am very glad that this excellent commentary is out there.

My take on Trump (something I really didn’t want to write)

The most powerful democracy in the world, in every imaginable sense, has recently had a presidential election. It is a democracy often praised for its robustness, not least by those living under it and benefitting directly from it. Key amongst its lauded strengths is the system of checks and balances that comes from three independent arms of government and resulting in a self-correcting system. It is a system that isn’t perfect, some would say far from perfect, what with the corroding influence of money, the dumbing influence of the media and the trivialising influence of celebrity culture. Another of its key strengths is the rule of law. Elections are held every four years without fail and no President serves more than two terms (I believe there has been one in extremis exception).

I was stunned, not by Donald Trump’s victory at the polls, but by the meltdown that hit liberal America in its wake. Sure, this man is a gross specimen of all there is to be embarrassed about in the human character, but didn’t he just get elected fair and square by one-person-one-vote secret ballot? Isn’t he as much proof of the robustness of American democracy as the election of Barack Hussein Obama before him? Indeed, witnessing the apoplexy besetting America’s liberal intelligentsia, I couldn’t help recalling the anguished sound and inarticulate fury of the barely-literate right in the wake of a black man’s moving into the White House on 20 January 2009. Liberal America seems to have forgotten that.

They seem also to have forgotten that Donald John Trump did not elect himself to power. Distasteful and dangerous as many of his views might be, those are the views of enough Americans for the robust democratic system to have cleared him for Presidential office. There was no mistake here, not even a hanging chad. American democracy is intact and working exactly as it should. So far, Donald Trump is no threat to it. Should he get out of hand, well, there are those checks and balances we’ve all heard about. Let’s see whether it’s really the guarantee that it’s made out to be. If he manages to avoid impeachment to make it to the four-year mark, he’s going to have to face another election. That’s what the law says.

So I was more than a little alarmed to read Rosa Brooks’ 3 Ways to Get Rid of President Trump Before 2020 in the 30 January 2017 issue of Foreign Policy magazine, in which she calls for the ousting of the US President by military coup. Ever since the frenzy to seek out and murder Salman Rushdie, I have been implacable opposed to the notion “responsible free speech,” which has only been reinforced by the slaughter of the staff at Charlie Hebdo. Rosa Brooks’ piece is a clear case of irresponsible free speech, one that gave me much pause for thought. Ms Brooks’ irresponsible exercise of free speech does not prompt me to call for responsible free speech, but I have a few things to say about it.

Brooks seems unaware of what fire she is playing with. Equally unaware she seems, of the very a large population in the world, and many generations of them, who are all too familiar with military coups d’états, the people who seize power through them, and the near-impossibility of getting rid of them afterwards, not to mention the ‘clean-up’ they feel obliged to carry out while they hold power. One can only hope that Brooks doesn’t live within earshot of a stadium, for her children’s sakes, if not for hers. The bizarreness of her proposition deepens when one keeps in mind that she proposes a coup because she finds the US democratic system’s checks and balances wanting. She explores each of the three checks-and-balances provisions of the democratic system: the next Presidential election; impeachment; and the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. These will not do, she finds. Call in the generals!

Donald Trump may well turn out to be the catastrophe he threatens to be. But let’s just take a look at this. The first point, and one that Brooks might do well to take note of, is that Donald Trump did not seize power in a military coup. This alone shows him to have more respect for democracy than she has. The judicial arm of government (remember those checks and balances?) has already stepped in to block one of his Executive Orders, and although he is considering further legal action, the point is that it is legal action. At this moment, democracy is safer in his hands than it would be in Brooks’.

The judges who blocked the Executive Order banning travel from a number of Muslim countries didn’t do so because Trump is the crazy maniac of many a commentator, but because his Order did not comply with the rules of American democracy. It is worth remembering that to another section of the electorate, Barack Obama had been a crazy maniac, but he, too, complied with the rules of democracy. Many of those voters wanted extra-judicial action against Obama and his family. But then they are right wing, many of them barely literate; that’s what they do; it’s their dinner-table talk.

Of course Trump’s bigotry against Muslims, against anyone, needs to be opposed. But I know Islam, I know its dangerous agenda and I know how its fifth column operates. I am very familiar with the Muslim track record of turning very unpleasant indeed, once they reach a certain proportion of the population they joined. The Muslim Brotherhood is the organisation through which this infiltration takes place. The task of moving against the Muslim Brotherhood does not go away, just because Trump is a bigot against Muslims. Put differently, Trump’s coming to power does not abrogate the Qur’an. It is still there in every Muslim heart, as ISIS so tauntingly boasts. Trump’s bigotry against Muslims risks all critique and exposure of Islam and action against the Muslim Brotherhood being associated with his bigotry. It tends to silence critique of Islam for fear of association with Trump. How long will it be before the increasingly hapless regressive left accuses ex-Muslims, the ultimate critics of Islam, of complicity in anti-Muslim pogroms? Another side effect is to bog down critics of Islam in endless disclaimers of not being against Muslims (this is, in fact, a double problem because Muslims do need to be criticised, as I do in some of my earlier posts).

Donald Trump has taken Office and placed others of similar outlook into all the key positions of power, another complaint of the liberal intelligentsia. But that’s what all presidents do. Note that none of those he put in power are his children or his brothers-in-law. In most of the world, for example, in the Muslim world or where coups are perennial, that standard remains a fantasy. He has moved against people he perceives to pose a threat to the security of the United States. That is part of the job of the President. Arguably, his main appeal to the electorate lay in his contention that his predecessor had been negligent in this aspect of his duties.

But here’s the rub. When considering impeachment against the President, Brooks enthuses, “the good news is that Congress doesn’t need evidence of actual treason or murder to move forward with an impeachment,” exactly what Trump maintains when he moves against all Muslims. I would grant that Ms Brooks is “not actually insane,” despite her sharing this excitement for extra-evidential coercion with Mr Trump.

Of course Americans are right to protest what they perceive as the excesses of their government, whether holding placards or writing articles in magazines. It is something the intelligentsia have both the skills and the time for. One wonders what scenes will have unfolded on the streets and in the airports of America, had those who were distressed by the previous elected President’s policies and actions had the skills and the time to vent their spleens likewise. We’ll, they have neither the skills nor the time, and what we saw was white rage, the only avenue open to the inarticulate poor. Until Bernie Sanders came along, that is.

The Bernie Sanders campaign reminded us that the working class is not inherently socially backward, and also that they’d been abandoned. The way I see it is, firstly, why would the party of finance capital want to open that particular can of worms? Secondly, why would the liberal intelligentsia, especially its regressive and more vociferous elements, want to rock their very comfortable multiculturalism and diversity boat? The key lesson that I take from the Sanders campaign is that the answer lies not in taking over the Democratic Party, as some propose, but in rendering it irrelevant. That came very close to actually happening, until the diversity button got pressed and all energy had to be diverted to putting a woman in power, even if she was the crooked mouthpiece of finance capital.

And now that same identity politics with its multicultural mind-set, having indirectly put Trump in power, instead of taking a good hard look at itself, doubles down to entrench multiculturalism still further. It is the whine of the regressive liberal, all sound and fury, signifying petulance.

Where I turn to

I’ve been a bit quiet over the last two months. This is partly because I’m devoting more time to developing my writing (fiction), and partly because there’s been quite a lot to think about lately.

What I’d like to share at this point is where I turn to when I’m struggling to figure things out. Honesty, humanity and steadfastness are what attracts me to those I turn to for clarity. The two people who, more than any other, provided that clarity over the last few years have been Maryam Namazie and Yifat Susskind. This does not mean that they are my prophetesses or that I hang onto every word they say or praise everything they do. I am still me, not them. But what wonderful mentors! If you’re not familiar with them, let me share a piece by Maryam that is particularly poignant at present: a debate she’d recently had with Sam Harris. Yifat’s organisation MADRE shows that no darkness is too dark for light to penetrate. For me, their significance lies not only in their boundless energy and unflinching commitment, but that they are, first and foremost and above all else, human. Regardless of the particular theatre or issue or beneficiaries of their efforts, those efforts serve the preservation of humanity in the face of the curse of “us versus them” and the prevailing orthodoxy of infinite social fracturing that ultimately pits all against all. I help them both in whatever modest ways I can. Perhaps you’ll see why, and perhaps you’ll do the same.

I’ll be posting a little less frequently for the time being, but please stay connected.

Taxicab talk: The world has changed

How are you today?

I’m good, ma’am. Where you heading?

Fortieth, Fifth. How are you today?

I’m good. New York Public Library?

Yes. I’m depressed. You must be depressed.

Sorry, can you say that again?

I’m so depressed. Aren’t you depressed?

No, I’m not depressed, ma’am. You are my passenger and I get to take you where you wanna go. Why are you depressed on such a beautiful day — if it’s OK to ask?

You don’t know? Aren’t you depressed? Oh, I’m so depressed.

I’m sorry to hear that.

I don’t know. This is so bad. It changes everything.

Er, I’m sorry. What changes everything?

The election. ­­—Oh, I get it. You only just arrived. Where are you from?

Originally? I’m from Kinshasa. The Congo.

The Congo? Is that in—?

Africa.

I thought so.

So when did you come to the US?

I came to America in 1997. It will be twenty years ago in June.

Your English is very good.

Thank you, ma’am.

You must be really worried since the election.

I can’t say that I am, ma’am.

Aren’t you worried how bad things can get for immigrants.

You mean about Trump?

Yes! He said some really bad things. He’s going to do some really bad things.

I’ve heard some things here and there, ma’am. But from what I know of America, they have elections every four years, guaranteed, no matter what.

But have you considered how much damage he can do before then?

How much damage he can do?

Yes. Affordable Healthcare, marriage equality, abortion, immigration, and all the good things Obama has done. It’s never been so bad. The world has changed.

The world?

Yes, the world.

Then what happens after four years?

Then we have all this damage. You’ve been here twenty years. You must know that.

Maybe I’m still learning, ma’am. But in three years and ten months’ time you can change it all back. No hard feelings. That’s what I like about America.

You like four years of Trump?

I don’t know. I drive my cab, take people where they want to go. They pay me. I feed my children. I’m happy. I don’t vote, but I understand more people are happy with trump than people who are unhappy with Trump. They gave him their votes. Secret votes. Free votes. You can vote for anybody you like. Even a black man can be the President of United States. When Obama became the President, everybody said it proved how great America is: anybody can be President, if he can get enough votes. So I see the same thing again. A man gets enough votes and he becomes President. America is still great. I’m safe.

But Trump? Donald Trump?

I don’t understand, but if I can ask, did Trump take the country by force with his own army?

That’s impossible. There are no private militias in our country. We have the ballot. One person one vote.

Will Trump suspend the Constitution?

That’s impossible. The Supreme Court will not allow it.

Will Trump arrest all the judges and close down the Supreme Court?

That’s impossible. We have the Rule of Law.

Will Trump ban all political parties and keep only his own?

That’s impossible. We have a democratic system.

Will his birthday become a national holiday for seven days?

What?

Will he rename Washington D.C. after himself?

What?

Will everybody who is not his family lose their job in the government?

That’s insane!

My children can still go to school, even if I do not vote for trump?

Where are all these questions coming from?

Will he arrest anybody who insults him?

We have the First Amendment. Why are you asking all these crazy questions?

Will he move all the money out of the Federal Reserve Bank into his own Swiss Bank account?

Of course not. He’d be impeached!

Will Trump declare himself Life-President?

That’s impossible. A President can only serve for two terms.

And for the second time he must again be elected like before.

Exactly.

So he can be elected for a second time after he did all his bad things the first time — no firing squad even?

Yes—I mean, no! I mean it would be really, really bad if he got re-elected.

So even after all that, there is still another election and the one with the most votes still becomes the President.

Yes, but…

Haish! If Congo was like America, I would not be driving cabs in New York.

At least you’ve got an exotic escape. I’m happy for you.

Here we are, ma’am: New York Public Library. That’ll be seven dollars and forty cents.

Keep the change. I’m so depressed. You take care of yourself. Really. I mean it.

“only if you were able to remove the Koran from Muslims’ hearts.”

“O America,” Adnani said. “Would we be defeated and you be victorious if you were to take Mosul or Sirte or Raqqa? . . . Certainly not! We would be defeated and you victorious only if you were able to remove the Koran from Muslims’ hearts.”

Thus reports Robin Wright in her latest New Yorker piece, After The Islamic State, without comment. I am wondering whether this is her clever way of getting the message out there without falling foul of the censorship that Western media have imposed on themselves in respect of Islam, or laying herself open to attack by the “Islamophobia” mobs.

Adnani was a terrorist and, alhamdullillah, he is now working his way through his allotted 72 virgins. As this blog, and so many others have been saying repeatedly, if you want to see Islam, look no further than ISIS. No one knows Islam better than ISIS. No one is more honest about Islam than ISIS. And Adnani, evil as he was, was right. There have been may ISISes down the centuries. One by one they’ve been defeated, and one by one they arose again. Why? Because the victors had failed to, “remove the Koran from Muslims’ hearts.”

If you are not wondering about how to achieve that, then you cannot claim to be serious about solving the problem of Islam, its terrorism obviously hasn’t affected you too badly yet, and you’ve not yet tasted Shari’a.

Islamic apologetics stands firm in the face of Muslim terrorist car rammings and knife attacks

The Star Tribune is not my go-to paper for social critique, and I was not surprised to read a particularly puerile piece of apologia, History abounds with contributions of Islam to civilization, by the “writer and social activist” Omar Alansari-Kreger on its website today. The piece has all the signs of having been thrown together in haste, and I wonder whether the recent spate of terrorist car rammings and knife attacks perpetrated by Somali youths, of whom Minneapolis, the Star Tribune’s base, has a significant number, was the impetus. This is how Alansari-Kreger sets things up.

Islam has been portrayed as something reprehensible. …There exists an impression that Muslims are inherently oppressed by virtue of their faith, portrayed as a religion with little tolerance for dissent, and quick to liquidate detractors. …Certainly, extremists [read: critics of Islam] …help preserve the slanted narrative that drives the modern-day perception of Islam.

He then juxtaposes this with:

Yet, how many outsiders ask the simple questions: What is Islam? What are the beliefs of Muslims? And what are Islam’s core contributions to the world?

Does he then proceed to answer these “simple questions” that many outsiders are supposedly so loathe to ask? No. Instead, he takes his readers back more than a thousand years to what he perceives as safe territory, Islam’s Golden Age, and a safe aspect of the then culture, scientific discoveries and technical inventions. “Contrary to conventional belief,” says Alansari-Kreger, “the Islamic civilization of centuries past was the world’s premier intellectual superpower.”

Not only are Muslim scientists’ and engineers’ contributions to the world not in dispute, the irrelevance of this red herring couldn’t be clearer than from Alansari-Kreger’s own words: “modern-day perception of Islam,” to which he offers, “Islamic civilization of centuries past.” This is how Alansari-Kreger hopes to salvage the damned reputation of his religion (and it might work; if his readers are as willing to be manipulated as he assumes them to be).

Let’s just briefly look at what he does have to say about the world’s premier intellectual superpower of centuries past. He mentions the contributions of three individuals, Hasan ibn al-Haytham, Abbas ibn Firnas and Fatima al-Fihri, by no means amongst either the most important or the most prominent. Nevertheless, almost all of the examples can just as easily serve to answer the begged question that Alansari-Kreger does not ask, “What went wrong?” If Islam was the world’s premier intellectual superpower centuries past, why is it no longer? The answer might lie in the lives of these accomplished individuals themselves.

Hasan ibn al-Haytham was unquestionably a brilliant man. He had the perfectly sensible idea of damming the Nile at what is today Aswan. But his site analysis revealed such a project to be beyond the superpower’s technical abilities at the time. Rather than revealing this truth to the caliph and risking a beheading, he had to pretend to have gone mad and thereby managed to save himself, an effective self-beheading, one might say.

The only reason Fatima al-Fihri had set up her University of Quaraouiyine in Fez is because her family had to flee the bloody persecutions of the Aghlabid Emir in Qayrawan, capital of the then Emirate of Ifriqiya (present-day Tunisia), vassal of the Abbasid Caliphate. So large was the influx of refugees from Qayrawan into Fez, that that part of the city now bears the name Karaouiyne, as does the neighbouring Andalous from the influx refugees from one of the other jewels in the crown of the Islamic superpower, al-Andalus.

One such Andalusian refugee who spent his final years in Fez was none other than the great philosopher and jurist Abu al-Walid ibn Rushd (who died in Marrakech in 1198). He fell foul of the caliph after having spent years trying to reconcile the Qur’an with reason, and coming out on the side of reason. Alansari-Kreger’s “premier intellectual superpower” of centuries past was destroyed by Islam itself, exactly as it is trying to destroy today’s the premier intellectual superpower. Islam’s Somali foot soldiers are ramming cars into students on university campuses and then knifing them to maximise the killing.

…all of which makes me wonder what Alansari-Kreger is really up to.

A challenge to peaceful Muslims and to Islamic apologists

I find it very hard to believe that Robin Wright has actually read Rumiyah, Issue 2 of October 2016. A Muslim ploughed a car into pedestrians at Ohio State University, then got out and attacked the horrified pedestrians with a knife. Of course it was a Muslim terrorist and there was every chance of a connection with ISIS. So tracing his actions back to an actual ISIS source counts to Wright’s credit, though this, too, is a no-brainer. Input: Knife attack + America + ISIS. Output: The Hand Of Isis At Ohio State. Sure enough, ISIS’s knife attack instructions are there on pages 12–13, in all their glorious barbaric detail, and Wright is accurate in her account of those instructions. But how did she miss the conclusion, at the end of page 13?

The overall objective of any just terror operation is to bring horror and misery to the enemies of Allah, and to remind them that their efforts to wage war against Islam and the Muslims will only lead to more and more mujahidin appearing in their very midst, ready to strike them mercilessly on their own soil. So, “Let them find harshness in you” (At-Tawbah 123 [Chapter 9 of the Qur’an]). And remember that Allah’s Messenger said, “Never shall the kafir and his killer be united in the Fire” (Reported by Muslim from Abu Hurayrah [A hadith]).

Maybe it was too general, as in, not specific enough, unlike the meticulous knife murder instruction. Maybe. But Robin Wright has been a contributing writer for newyorker.com since 1988, with a string of other major media outlets to her name. Did this passage that she quoted not at least strike her as uniquely mediaeval?

Many people are often squeamish at the thought of plunging a sharp object into another person’s flesh. It is a discomfort caused by the untamed, inherent dislike for pain and death, especially after ‘modernization’ distanced males from partaking in the slaughtering of livestock for food and striking the enemy in war.

Wasn’t she even tempted to take just a peek at the rest of the thirty-eight pages? If she had, she’d have found the very first paragraph to say:

When mentioning the obligation of jihad for His cause, Allah indicated that some people would have reservations towards this noble commandment. He said, “Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it contains that which you dislike” (Al-Baqarah 216 [Chapter 2 of the Qur’an]). He then reminded the believers to place their trust in Him, by deferring to His infinite wisdom instead of relying upon their limited knowledge. “But perhaps you dislike a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah knows, while you know not” (Al-Baqarah 216). He further taught them that if it were not for jihad, the world would be filled with corruption. “And if it were not for Allah curbing people by means of others, the earth would become corrupt, but Allah has much bounty for the creation” (Al-Baqarah 251).

Three times in an eighty-nine word opening paragraph, the Qur’an is quoted directly as the prelude for what is to follow. And what follows is page after page of incontestable demonstration that not only is the hand of ISIS on the knife, as Wright correctly reports, but the mouth of Allah is behind the commandments that the knife fulfils. ISIS is meticulous (to PhD standard; not just “slick,” as Wright describes, although it is that, too) in demonstrating exactly which command, chapter and verse, is being carried out by which terrorist action. Rumiyah is nothing if not the Qur’an made flesh. Yes, my words are deliberately chosen, for although Wright mentions the blood-covered knife on the cover, how could that picture score over two beheading action shots (pages 22 and 37), and a quadruple-beheading trophy pose (page 24)[1]? How is it possible to miss that all this grotesque carnage is the direct outcome of doing as Allah commands? How is it possible to write a 953-word piece on Rubiyah and not say a single word about the initiating role of the Qur’an in all this?

So here are my two challenges. My first challenge is to peaceful Muslims: it is your holy book that is causing all this — that has been causing this for fourteen hundred years — whether you know that or not, whether you ignore that or not, whether it hurts your sensibilities to be told that or not, your Holy Qur’an is doing this to our world. Your Holy Qur’an creates and sustains these monsters. Straight out of the Qur’an, mass murder is unleashed onto our streets.

You claim to be peaceful. You want the world to be nice to you. You want to get along with everybody. All of that is fine. We would like that, too. But tell us why anyone should believe that you are peaceful? The onus is on you to prove it: you are the one with the holy book that commands you to murder everyone else. Why should we believe you when you hold in reverence the book that commands you and ISIS alike? How can anyone trust you, if you are not prepared to show, like those of us who are not Muslim, that we not only abhor ISIS and its ilk, but that we abhor the source of the commandments they obey (commandments that you, too, are obliged to obey). How peaceful can you be, when you protect the very book responsible, directly or indirectly, for all the beheadings, the crucifixions, the enslavements, the amputations, the rapes, the knife rampages, the throwing off from cliffs and high buildings, the whippings and lashings, the ploughing of cars and trucks into pedestrians, and planes into buildings, and on, and on, and on? You may object that you do not do any of these things yourself, even that they repel you, and you may even be sincere, yet your first reaction to any Muslim terrorist mass killing is always to worry about your religion’s precious “good name,” while the rest of us rage for the victims, and exercise ourselves on how this mediaeval madness can be stopped. There are no ideas forthcoming from you, no suggestions, ever.

You hold silly little talks and quaint little eat-ins to show us how nice Muslims are. We know there are nice Muslims. We are not stupid. We want to stop the mass killings and you are not helping; yet it is your holy book that’s doing all this [2]. What are you doing about that? If nothing, then you should not be surprised to be sidelined when others go about solving the problem in the way they see fit, including treating you as part of the problem. Furthermore, you cannot complain when national governments, such as Hungary, Japan, Slovakia, India, Bulgaria, Switzerland, etc., take blanket actions against you, whether with or without ulterior motives. Your prevarication invites this and, given the overriding priority (for us) to save lives, makes such measures legitimate. By saying, “this has nothing to do with Islam,” you’re saying, “this is not our problem.” I’m sorry: it is your holy book; it is your problem.

The howls of indignation from Islamic apologists in response to such national measures merely bring into focus your apparent insensitivity to what your religion is doing to the world compared to your hypersensitivity to how that religion is viewed. I’m afraid not everyone shares your peculiar blend of sensibilities. Scottish law differentiates between guilty, not guilty and not proven, which is one obvious answer to the simplistic and much abused “innocent until proven guilty,” notion. For as long as you adhere to a holy book that exhorts you to murder, ipso facto, you cannot be proven innocent; the most you can hope for is not proven. When a Japanese Muslim responds to his country’s public safety measure by complaining, “They made us terrorist suspects, we never did anything wrong,” he may well be right about his second statement, but about the first he is wholly wrong. It is not government surveillance measures that make you a terror suspect; it is your adherence to a terror manual that makes you a terror suspect. So far, your best performance has been to keep that suspicion alive, at least amongst those of us who are not naïve or co-opted. You’ve not yet shared whatever knowledge you may have on how to tell the difference between Muslims who live and let live, and Muslims who die to kill. They all adhere to the same Qur’an, the same mass murder manual. Governments cannot be expected to sit idly by while their citizens get slaughtered. In the absence of anything better, blanket treatment is what you’re going to get.

My second challenge is to the Islamic apologists: You’re educated, right? So read Rumiyah and prove to us that what ISIS says about the Qur’an isn’t true. Otherwise, please keep out of this because, whatever your agenda, you’ve done enough damage. Your whitewashing and denials of the Qur’an’s compulsion to terrorism are an affront to the thousands of deaths resulting almost daily from it. Better still, get out of the way altogether so that those who are willing, can at least do what they can to arrest this headlong descent into an epochal nightmare. What? You’re appalled and outraged that a humanist should rely on Right-wing political parties? Do you know any philosopher-kings who are prepared to deal with this problem? Besides, it’s a strange objection, coming from you.

An oft-quoted version of Occam’s razor is, “Everything should be kept as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Robin Wright started out at the simplest possible, and unfortunately made things simpler. If she’d taken into account the rest of the publication, she might’ve done better than the inane, “the event could have come straight out of the Islamic State’s manual—and it appears to have inspired him.” She might’ve realised that the Qur’an, too, advises on when to strike, and which parts of the body to attack, and how, and that the Qur’an, too, glorifies killing and promises great rewards for doing so. She might’ve realised that the passage she quoted flows directly from chapter 2 of the Qur’an. The Rumiyah opening paragraph makes the connection explicit. Knowing this, she might, instead, have said, it came straight out of the Qur’an through the Islamic State’s manual—and it appears to have exhorted him. Inspired? No—that’s the wrong word. Inspired implies an independent creative act. This was nothing of the sort. Islam is nothing of the sort.


 

[1] It’s interesting how this photo is cropped to cut off the heads of the murderers. Who says there’s no art in Islam?

[2] What are we to make of “counter-extremism” think tanks that won’t even touch the Qur’an?

My other problem with Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Thanks to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) recent brazen and aggressive Islamic apologetics, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is again in the news, this time as an alleged “anti-Muslim extremist”. This is an interesting formulation, since “extremists” is what everyone calls those people who go around committing Islam-inspired mass murder, such as Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaida, Boko Haram, ISIS, the Taliban, etc. Their extremism, as it happens, kills many more Muslims than non-Muslims. If the description “anti-Muslim extremist” is to be accurately applied to anyone, it is to these terrorist outfits. So how Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who, as far as I know, has never killed a single Muslim, or anyone else for that matter, can come to upstage an entire slew of the world’s worst realisations of Qur’anic doctrine is staggering. The word “Poverty” in “Southern Poverty Law Center” has just taken on the same meaning as in The Poverty of Philosophy, Karl Marx’s critique of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s The Philosophy of Poverty.

But I’d like to pick up where I left off. In an earlier post I said that I have some difficulty with Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s formulation of three groups of Muslims. While there are many different ways in which one might subdivide the category “Muslims” and there are certainly very great differences to be observed across the world’s Muslim communities, I believe that Hirsi Ali’s grouping is not supportable, or, at most, supportable only in the broadest terms. Her formulation appears in at least one place. Here it is quoted from Islam Is a Religion of Violence that appeared in Foreign Policy magazine just over a year ago, in which she says,

I believe that we can distinguish three different groups of Muslims in the world today based on how they envision and practice their faith.

The first group is the most problematic — the fundamentalists who envision a regime based on sharia, Islamic religious law. They argue for an Islam largely or completely unchanged from its original seventh-century version and take it as a requirement of their faith that they impose it on everyone else. I call them “Medina Muslims,” in that they see the forcible imposition of sharia as their religious duty, following the example of the Prophet Mohammed when he was based in Medina. They exploit their fellow Muslims’ respect for sharia law as a divine code that takes precedence over civil laws. It is only after they have laid this foundation that they are able to persuade their recruits to engage in jihad.

The second group — and the clear majority throughout the Muslim world — consists of Muslims who are loyal to the core creed and worship devoutly but are not inclined to practice violence or even intolerance towards non-Muslims. I call this group “mecca Muslims.” The fundamental problem is that the majority of otherwise peaceful and law-abiding Muslims are unwilling to acknowledge, much less to repudiate, the theological warrant for intolerance and violence embedded in their own religious texts.

More recently, and corresponding with the rise of Islamic terrorism, a third group is emerging within Islam — Muslim reformers or, as I call them, “modifying Muslims” — who promote the separation of religion from politics and other reforms. Although some are apostates, the majority of dissidents are believers, among them clerics who have come to realize that their religion must change if its followers are not to be condemned to an interminable cycle of political violence.

In broad terms, Hirsi Ali is correct: there are Muslims who violently impose Shari’a; there are Muslims who do not observe much of what their religious texts require of them and more or less coexist peacefully with non-Muslims; and there are Muslims who perceive the need to change Islam into something other than what it has been since its inception.

Below this level the formulation breaks down several times. Let us consider each group’s raison d’être. The first group, “the fundamentalists who envision a regime based on sharia, Islamic religious law,” do not argue for anything. The do not “take it as a requirement of their faith that they impose it on everyone else.” And it is not that they “see the forcible imposition of sharia as their religious duty.” This is not a matter merely of their perception and their making a case. Hirsi Ali herself, in the same article, very successfully shows that this is a matter inherent to the sacred texts of Islam. Even if these fundamentalists did not exist — and this is the point of my blog — the wellspring of the violent imposition of Shari’a on the entire world can find outlet in anyone who has been inculcated into the teachings of the Qur’an. The desire to violently impose Shari’a on the world can lie dormant for centuries and fail to trigger in millions of Muslims, but it is always there and can always flare up, as it has been doing repeatedly right from the earliest days of Islam. And, of course, if it is a forcible imposition, as Hirsi Ali says, then it obviously isn’t argued for, unless “argued for,” means something like the glowingly generous Qur’anic mandate towards apostates: first try to persuade them to return to Islam, and if they fail to be persuaded, only then kill them. I’m sure this is not what she means.

But it is Hirsi Ali’s second group, “Muslims who are loyal to the core creed …but are not inclined to practice violence or even intolerance towards non-Muslims,” that I have the biggest problems with. Of course, there is the contradiction inherent to this formulation itself: the core creed is violent and intolerant towards non-Muslims. Again, this she shows successfully in the very piece I’m quoting from. It is not possible to be non-violent and tolerant towards non-Muslims and simultaneously loyal to the core creed. It is either one or the other. Thankfully, Hirsi Ali is right in that this second group, “are not inclined to practice violence or even intolerance towards non-Muslims,” but she is wrong in saying that they are, “loyal to the core creed.” If they were loyal to the core creed, then they would be part of the first group.

My biggest problem, though, is with the classification of these first two groups as either “Mecca Muslims” or “Medina Muslims”. It may be useful to differentiate between Muslims in this way for the purposes of more insightful understanding, but this bears no relation at all to, “how they envision and practice their faith.” No Muslim picks their way through the Qur’an and the Hadith to consider and select/reject those bits that correspond to Muhammad having been in one or the other location when the particular commandment was “revealed,” or the particular saying or practice was first recorded. I would argue that while the first group is simply loyal to the core creed, the second group envision and practice their faith according to their own humanity and sense of decency, learned from their upbringing and social circumstances, independently of the holy texts and early Islamic history. They prefer not to know, or not to be reminded, of those parts of the holy texts and Muhammad’s behaviour that induce their fellow Muslims to behave in ways repellent to them. The only way they can be Muslim is by being ignorant (wilfully or otherwise) of what it means to be a Muslim, while continuing to identify as Muslim. If they were cognisant of the distinction between a “Mecca Muhammad” and a “Medina Muhammad,” then one would have to say that they practice as much of Islam as they are able to stomach.

This distinction between Mecca Muslims and Medina Muslims makes Hirsi Ali’s third group, “Muslim reformers” or “modifying Muslims,” i.e., those “who promote the separation of religion from politics and other reforms,” particularly shaky. If they are neither Mecca Muslims not Medina Muslims, i.e., they are not premised on any of the saying and doings of Muhammad, or, indeed, on any of the “revelations” he received, then on what grounds are the “Muslim”? Certainly, there are many who would wish Islam to be something other than it is. Every schism, and there have been many, attests to this. It is certainly not a recent phenomenon in response to terrorism. It doesn’t take terrorism to see what’s wrong with Islam.

A more useful differentiator, if I were to run with this thought, would be between those who wish to change Islamic practise into what it has never been, i.e., reformers, and those who seek to restore it to what it once was, i.e., revivalists. The reformers may then, in turn, be differentiated between two subgroups: those ignore the Qur’an and the Hadith who start from the premise of ethics and humanity, and retain those Islamic practices that meet their civilised standards; and those who find it necessary to search for their own civilised standards within the core texts of Islam. This latter subgroup is the creative interpreters, the obfuscators and the downright liars (not to be confused with those who lie to non-Muslims in order to advance jihad, protect terrorists and impose Shari’a – another admirable requirement of their faith).

It isn’t clear to me why Ayaan Hirsi Ali felt the need to invent “Mecca Muslims”, “Medina Muslims”, and “Muslim Reformers/Modifier Muslims.” She has enough honesty and intellectual acumen to get to the bottom of the problem of Islam without resorting to such contrivances. Indeed, it is a job she has already accomplished and accomplished well. The thrust of Hirsi Ali’s formulation, and its Achilles’ heel in my view, is a presumed voluntarism. I would suggest that she has missed the most important distinction of all: Muslims who are subject to secular law verses Muslims who are subject to Shari’a (to whatever degree). Had she started from this premise, she would not have missed the single most important group of Muslims in the world today: those Muslims in the Muslim world who have looked at their religion and come to the same conclusions about it as she has. Such people tend not to be interested in reforming Islam, for they recognise it to be irreformable. If they are believers, then they either go off and join or form another sect, or they convert to another religion, but by the time they’ve seen through Islam, they’ve usually seen through all religion. I am convinced that hope lies with the latter.

Hirsi Ali closes her formulation by referring to “clerics who have come to realize that their religion must change if its followers are not to be condemned to an interminable cycle of political violence.” Such clerics are not the only ones who have realised this. Occasionally, one also hears of the rare cleric for whom it comes as a shock that the interminable cycle of political violence is the conditio sine qua non of their faith. To the vast majority of their colleagues, the interminable cycle of political violence marks out their faith as superior to all others. The more mindlessly a madrassa child repeats a Qur’anic command, the more proud such clerics are of their achievement. Am I hinting at another problem I see with Ayaan Hirsi Ali? Lest someone gets the wrong impression, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is someone I admire.