Useful tips on how to deal with Islamic taqiyya gigolos and deceivers. This is one for keeps:
by Sherry Sufi on 23 December, 2015
As terrorist incidents increase worldwide, Westerners are driven to heightened suspicion of Islam and Muslims, which is sad for some, inevitable for others.
Our leaders constantly remind us that the vast majority of Muslims do not condone terrorism and those who do are a negligible minority.
The terms ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ are used to differentiate between the two and it is presumed that drawing this distinction and leaving it at that is an adequate way of addressing the issue.
The reality is that the political grievances against the United States and Israel that motivate extremists are often shared by moderates who don’t support terrorism.
To use an inverse comparison, far-right groups in Europe are aggrieved by the perceived Islamisation of Europe. But that doesn’t mean they condone Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik’s murder of 77 innocent civilians in 2011 as an expression of their grievances.
Yet when asked to make a comment, their position would be ‘what Breivik did was wrong but he only did it because Muslims fail to integrate in our society in the first place’.
Muslim responses to terrorism are often similarly exculpatory, or evasive. Terrorism is condemned with a “but” followed by an excuse, a complaint or a snide remark.
Following decades of discussions with Muslims of diverse stripes, I have identified 12 categorical responses typically offered when asked about terrorism. Manifest within each position are political grievances against the West and Israel which remain largely unchallenged.
My observation is that unless these are addressed critically, the prospects of political harmony between Muslims and Westerners will remain far out of sight.
Each position has been given an appropriate label. Most of these are not mutually exclusive. Some of these will seem more familiar to Western readers than others. All of these will be familiar to Muslim and Jewish readers. My responses follow in italics underneath:
1. THE UNAPOLOGETIC: “Terrorists are criminals who misrepresent Islam but I as an individual have nothing to do with them, therefore I shouldn’t have to apologise nor make public statements to condemn anything.”
RESPONSE: Think of religion as a company. If some of your rogue colleagues commit fraud and word gets out, it is only fair and reasonable that you make a public statement in order to safeguard the reputation of your brand.
2. THE EQUALISER: “Terrorism is evil but it doesn’t just affect Westerners. The greatest victims of terrorism are actually Muslims whose interpretation of Islam terrorists disagree with, therefore if you are going to mourn the loss of life in terror attacks in Paris, Boston and London then let’s do the same for Beirut, Baghdad and Peshawar.”
RESPONSE: Terrorism within the Islamic world is more like a civil war. When it occurs on Western turf, it is perceived as a civilisational clash by other Western nations, therefore the expression of concern seems more pronounced. The Islamic world is no different, Muslims protested against the US invasion of Iraq in 1990 but remained indifferent to the US invasion of Panama in 1989 and there are countless other examples. That said, since the West has democracy, there are many niches that actually do come out and light vigils for Muslim victims of terrorism. Similar diversity of political attitudes is less likely to be found within the Islamic world.
3. THE UNSYMPATHETIC: “Terrorists go against Islam’s teachings but they are only provoked to do so in retaliation to Western support for Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza and as a reaction to American military invasions of Islamic nations.”
RESPONSE: Let’s start with the root of the issue, Israeli leadership wants a Two State Solution, Palestinian leadership does not. Zionists accepted the 1947 UN Partition Plan, Arab nationalists rejected it and have since been unsuccessful in conquering Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982 and 2006. Yet after the Six Day War of 1967, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt having conquered it in defensive battle and offered to negotiate West Bank and Gaza in exchange for peace. The Arab League’s blatant response was no peace, no recognition and no negotiations with Israel. Still rife today, it is this rejectionism that remains the root of the Israel-Palestine conflict hampering all prospects of a peaceful resolution.
Effective international politics is about building and managing relationships across world regions in pursuit of common interests. Just as the West is not begrudged for its alliance with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, neither should it be begrudged for its alliance with Israel.
The Gulf War of 1990-1991 was a direct consequence of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. United States was implored by besieged Sheikh Jaber Al-Sabah of Kuwait and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to intervene and liberate Kuwait. The operation was supported by the governments of other Islamic nations such as Egypt, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Syria, Morocco and Bangladesh. Given the domestic appetite for the operation, it is unreasonable to think of the Gulf War as a ‘foreign’ invasion, let alone an act of aggression. Liberating Kuwait from Iraqi occupation is in fact a shining example of American commitment to protect its allies within the Islamic world.
As for the War on Terror, it is crucial to note that the United States actually had an isolationist policy towards the Taliban rule of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. It was only after suffering the worst terrorist attack on American soil on September 11, 2001 that the United States government politely asked the Taliban to hand over prime suspect Osama Bin Laden for trial. They refused and were consequently removed from power. The operation was a measured response given the relative scale of provocation.
The Iraq War of 2003 was precipitated by intelligence provided by Iraqi sources such as chemical engineer Rafid Al-Janabi claiming Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. Although that war has since had destabilising effects on Iraq, it is unreasonable to exclusively blame the United States given that the invasion happened at the insistence and cooperation of Iraqis who wanted Saddam removed from power, who was given a trial and sentenced to capital punishment by an Iraqi judge.
Suffice it to say that familiarity with the geopolitical context surrounding these cases negates the suggestion that terrorism is a reaction to Western or Israeli aggression.
4. THE VICTIM: “Terrorism is a problem but people only get radicalised due to constant marginalisation, Islamophobia, unemployment and social exclusion and this is the society’s fault.”
RESPONSE: If modern Australia had a major flaw in its management of freedom, opportunity and social cohesion, we as a society would not have produced so many success stories from diverse backgrounds including those of Muslim Australians such as Federal MP Ed Husic, TV Host Waleed Aly and Test Cricketer Usman Khawaja among countless others.
No single community faces greater enmity than another. Muslims freely build mosques, Islamic schools, Da’wah associations and operate halal businesses despite the fact that providing these freedoms often comes at a cost for the West. Yet there are no institutional barriers impeding anyone’s capability to experience success through hard work and subsequently no excuse for any allegedly disenfranchised individual to kill innocent civilians. Islamophobia is a highly exaggerated social construct.
5. THE CONSPIRACIST: “Terrorism is evil but in actual fact the United States created Al-Qaeda, September 11 was an inside job, and Israel created ISIS. The whole thing is a joint Illuminati, Freemason, Zionist conspiracy to frame Islam and Muslims and set the pretext for further invasions of Muslim nations.”
RESPONSE: The West and Israel already wield the dominance you suspect this secret plan seeks to secure. It is counter-intuitive to have a secret plan to achieve that which has already been achieved. Besides, such a conspiracy would require a large number of powerful actors to collaborate and hold their plan in utmost secrecy. All it takes to fail is one leak. It is an impossible task.
For September 11 to have been an inside job, the benefits of subsequent wars would necessarily have to outweigh their costs. One look at America’s economy in the past decade would confirm they have anything but gained from this experience. It is logical enough that there is no grand conspiracy. American wars in the Middle East have been reactive, as opposed to proactive (see response 3 above).
6. THE EXTERNALISER: “It is true that some interpretations of Islam don’t belong in this century but let’s face it, the United States is itself a sponsor of Islamism where it suits its interests. America trained, armed and funded the Mujahideen against the USSR during the Cold War and supported Islamist rebels against secular dictators in Libya and Syria during the Arab Spring, therefore the West is to blame for all current Islamist terrorism.”
RESPONSE: The enemy of an enemy is a friend. The Islamic world is no different, Muslim Arabs backed the French and British Empires against the Muslim Ottoman Empire for the same reason in World War I. There is little correlation between Islamist terrorism happening worldwide these days and Western sponsorship of Islamist militants in the past. Besides, the United States sponsored militants to fight trained armies during declared states of war, not to deliberately target innocent civilians at random.
7. THE TRIVIALISER: “ISIS is a menace but it isn’t the great big threat Western media makes it out to be. It’s all the fault of facebook and twitter journalism and the 24-hour news cycle pumping hyped up headlines. ISIS wants you to take its message seriously, let’s not give these savages air and act is if everything is normal.”
RESPONSE: ISIS is actually a more ominous threat than your portrayal due to its proven capability to recruit en masse and to persuade ‘do-it-yourself’ terrorists over social media to kill innocent civilians so that ISIS could retrospectively claim responsibility. Let’s not play down their toxic influence. If we simply stopped talking about them, their propaganda would go unchallenged and continue to inspire further recruits without there being a counter-narrative available in public conversation. The more they are condemned and critiqued, the better, as that raises awareness and exposes them for what they are.
8. THE WHATABOUTIST: “Islamist terrorism might be bad but what about the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians killed by American drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as the disproportionate Israeli military raids in Gaza. Why doesn’t anyone come out to condemn American and Israeli terrorism?”
RESPONSE: United States and Israel do not deliberately target civilians. The aim of their military strikes is to neutralise the opponent’s military establishments. Israel’s response in particular is commensurate with the severity of the threat faced by its civilians that are frequently targeted by Hamas. Casualties that result are unfortunate and accidental. Israel offers treatment to injured Palestinians in its hospitals, wherever possible.
Islamist terrorism on the other hand deliberately targets non-combatants with no remorse. There is no comparison. Since the United States and Israel have democracy, each government’s military undertakings are constantly held to account by journalists, academics, think tanks and most importantly, the people. Terrorists are not answerable to anybody and subsequently do not care about the brutality with which they carry out their work.
9. THE APOCALYPTIC: “What’s happening in the world is far from ideal but many hadiths predict there will be chaos before the world ends. The army of the black flag will rise and be defeated. Regardless of who or what is behind ISIS, we must accept things are happening in accordance with the prophecies. These are signs of the end times.”
RESPONSE: Subscribing to a particular form of eschatology is a theological requirement in many world religions. But in fairness, you can never truly ascertain if what you are witnessing in the world is necessarily the fulfilment of a particular prophecy, or simply your interpretation. Many Orthodox Jews and Christians also interpret world events through the prism of Biblical prophecy and conclude that the armageddon must be around the corner. Such ideas should be kept out of politics no matter what your religious vantage point. Once the dogmatic blindfold is lifted, you may appreciate there are good explanations available to understand geopolitical conflicts from a rational standpoint.
10. THE EXCOMMUNICATOR: “Islam is not a pacifistic religion, it does mandate militant action in times of tyranny but there are rules of engagement. One must not target civilians nor kill women and children, nor cut down or set fire to trees, nor target animals, nor vandalise holy sanctuaries and one must treat prisoners of war with respect. Jihad is an acceptable form of self-defense if the cause is just, the problem with ISIS is that it has taken things to another level of extremities and is therefore outside the fold of classical Islam.”
RESPONSE: Deriding ISIS as unorthodox is dangerously inadequate. Unless they are defeated intellectually with evidence-based rebuttals from within the four canonical Sunni schools of thought, they will continue to cherry-pick Quranic aayahs and hadiths to form the jurisprudential basis of their extreme version of militant jihad and their influence will continue to grow. Substantial scholarly effort needs to be pursued to bring about their demise.
As a comparison, Pauline Hanson was not just expelled from the Liberal Party for her far-right xenophobic views and left at that, Liberal Prime Minister John Howard assigned Tony Abbott the task of seeing through the end of her and her One Nation Party and their plan worked.
Far from succeeding in silencing its extremists, in Islam’s case the rulings of extremist Jihadist scholars such as Ibn Uthaymeen, Anwar Al-Awlaki, Yusuf Al-Uyairi, Abu Qatadah, Nasir Bin Fahd, Hamad Ibn Uqla, Ali Al-Khudayr and Abu Jandal Faris Al-Zahrani remain largely unchallenged. Until classical Islam does to extremist Islam what the Liberal Party did to One Nation, the problem will drag on.
11. THE ROMANTICIST: “Terrorism is a form of vigilantism but it has little to do with theology or ideology and more to do with the mindset of a defeated civilisation. Islam during its Golden Age was a world leader in science, mathematics and literature. The Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Seljuks, Mughals and Ottomans are shining examples of Islam’s glorious past based on innovation, tolerance and religious freedom. But today, Muslim consciousness has been scarred by the triumph of Western colonialism. Defeated people tend to produce their share of victimised reactionaries and vigilantes, and that is precisely what Islamist terrorists are.”
RESPONSE: Civilisations do tend to go through cycles as noted by many including the West’s Hegel and Spengler. Islam’s own Ibn Khuldoon makes this very point in his Muqaddimah (trans. Prolegomena) published in 1377. The fact that Islamic civilisation has seen better days is historically indisputable. Yet there are countless examples of great nations falling from grace and adopting a more constructive response to their demise than unleashing their vigilantes upon their perceived or actual enemies.
Japan has for instance made miraculous recoveries following a catastrophic defeat in World War II suffering two nuclear attacks. Yet it recovered and rebuilt itself by focussing on education, research, technology and political stability and today remains a shining example for other defeated nations in overcoming adversity. Forever wallowing over the lost glories of a by-gone era is not constructive.
Jewish people are another excellent example of a civilisation that has had to survive as minority under both Christian and Islamic rules for well over a millennia, having faced institutionalised antisemitism, pogroms, mass expulsions, blood libels and worst of all the Holocaust and yet they have won the world over by producing some exceptionally intelligent contributors to humanity.
12. THE JIHADIST: “The West’s history is itself fraught with religious warfare, crusades, inquisitions, antisemitism, slavery, colonialism and genocide. The United States is a global tyrant that became a superpower due to its use of nuclear weapons, and continues to terrorise the world through military invasions which resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties, therefore legitimate armed struggle against its interests is a religious obligation.”
RESPONSE: Current generation of Westerners cannot be begrudged for actions of prior generations. The Medieval Age is over. Western civilisation has evolved. It has separated Church and State, replaced absolutism with constitutionalism, feudalism with property rights, abolished slavery, enfranchised women and minorities, decolonised practically all of its imperial dominions and donated billions in foreign aid to developing nations.
Western technology and medicine have improved human living standards in unprecedented ways. Western democracies have generously opened their doors to millions of migrants from less fortunate nations, including many from the Islamic world, and given them and their families renewed opportunities at living a prosperous life.
If the United States was half as imperialistic as it is perceived to be, it could quite literally launch a military takeover of the entire globe and subjugate this planet under its direct rule like every other superpower throughout history typically did. It doesn’t lack the power to do so. Instead since World War II, the United States has been the greatest advocate of preventing future nuclear wars.
As contended in responses 3 and 5 above, America’s wars are reactive and responsive to the needs of its regional allies and supported by factions within the target nation. It isn’t simply a case of trying to terrorise the world to expand its hegemony. Let’s stop the hate and give credit where credit is due.
To conclude, the fact is that most people struggle to confront challenges to their worldviews no matter how strongly you argue your case before them. Yet there are always the few that are open minded enough to consider the alternatives and honest enough to change their minds if genuinely convinced. It is such people among Muslims where the difference will be made.
Like most reasonable humans, I ultimately aspire to see harmony between the West and Islam. But that depends on a fundamental paradigm shift in the manner in which Muslims view the West and Israel. While it is ambitious to expect one opinion piece to resolve all of the world’s problems, it is nonetheless my sincere hope that this will kickstart an important and necessary dialogue that needs to be had.
Sherry Sufi is a Political Editor with qualifications in Politics, History, Philosophy, Information Systems and International Studies. He has worked as a Policy Adviser to both State and Federal MPs. Sherry’s PhD research investigates the role of first language in ethnic conflict and nationalism. He can be reached via facebook here.