Category Archives: Politics & Society


2015-12-21

Fearing to Understand Terrorism and ISIS

by Neil Godfrey

Several excellent articles have appeared recently on the nature of ISIS and terrorism, and some appalling ones have also been published. I normally prefer to share what I understand the experts themselves to be saying, but here I’m stepping back a minute to pause. Some (it sometimes seems like most) readers do not want to hear the experts, or they read into their words almost the very opposite of what they are attempting to convey. Discussions too often (not always but certainly very often) degenerate into exchanges where one or both sides are merely scanning for keywords from which to leap into their own polemic.

Jerry Coyne not so long ago wanted his readers to enjoy an article by Nick Cohen because, Coyne pointed out, Nick Cohen may be seen as an heir to George Orwell for his intellectual insights and honesty! So I read the article and had to rub my eyes into the third paragraph to grasp that Cohen set out with a complete distortion of John Kerry’s remarks about the factors underlying terrorism.

Cohen’s conclusion underscored his ability to see black where he had read white:

Every step you take explaining radical Islam away is apparently rational and liberal. Each takes you further from rationalism and liberalism. In your determination to see the other side’s point of view and to avoid making it “really angry about this or that”, you end up altering your behaviour so much that you can no longer challenge the prejudices of violent religious reactionaries. As you seek rationales for the irrational and excuses for the inexcusable, you become a propagandist for the men you once opposed.

“Explaining radical Islam away”?

“In your determination to see the other side’s point of view . . . you end up altering your behaviour so much that you can no longer challenge the prejudices of violent religious reactionaries.”??

“As you seek rationales for the irrational and excuses for the inexcusable”???

Who on earth does all of these things?

I once studied the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Germany and Italy in the 20s and 30s, and also the rise and history of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in Britain. Never once did it cross my mind that understanding how a host of international policies, economic and social turmoil, the particular psychologies of key individuals and social psychology more generally, and the history of specific ideas, — never once did it cross my mind that acquiring such an understanding, of coming to see the point of view of those who followed Hitler, Mussolini (and Mosley) so well, was an act of “explaining fascism away” or “seeking excuses for the inexcusable”.  read more »


2015-12-16

ISIS is a Revolution, born in terror (like all revolutions)

by Neil Godfrey

A long essay by Scott Atran comparing ISIS to past revolutions to find out what is new, and what likely can and cannot be done against it. . . .

ISIS is a revolution

World-altering revolutions are born in danger and death, brotherhood and joy. This one must be stopped

Excerpts follow —

Asymmetric operations involving spectacular killings to destabilise the social order is a tactic that has been around as long as recorded history

The revolution:

What the United Nations community regards as senseless acts of horrific violence are to ISIS’s acolytes part of an exalted campaign of purification through sacrificial killing and self-immolation: Know that Paradise lies under the shade of swords, says a hadith, or saying of the Prophet; this one comes from the Sahih al-Bukhari, a collection of the Prophet’s sayings considered second only to the Qu’ran in authenticity and is now a motto of ISIS fighters.

This is the purposeful plan of violence that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s self-anointed Caliph, outlined in his call for ‘volcanoes of jihad’: to create a globe-spanning jihadi archipelago that will eventually unite to destroy the present world and create a new-old world of universal justice and peace under the Prophet’s banner. A key tactic in this strategy is to inspire sympathisers abroad to violence: do what you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are, whenever possible.

The study:

To understand the revolution, my research team has conducted dozens of structured interviews and behavioural experiments with youth in Paris, London and Barcelona, as well as with captured ISIS fighters in Iraq and members of Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria). We also focused on youth from distressed neighbourhoods previously associated with violence or jihadi support – for example, the Paris suburbs of Clichy-sous-Bois and Épinay-sur-Seine, the Moroccan neighbourhoods of Sidi Moumen in Casablanca and Jamaa Mezuak in Tetuán.

While many in the West dismiss radical Islam as simply nihilistic, our work suggests something far more menacing: a profoundly alluring mission to change and save the world. . . . 

read more »


2015-12-08

So why did militants turn to attack the West? — The Saudi Arabia driver

by Neil Godfrey

This post follows on from The Origins of Islamic Militancy. This time I change pace and copy a small section from pages 92 to 94 of Jason Burke’s book, The New Threat: The Past, Present, and Future of Islamic Militancy (2015). I have a lot of time for Burke’s books on this topic. He is one of the few to get out into the field, sometimes at risk to his own life, to talk with terrorists and their associates. Formatting and bolding are mine.

So why did militants turn to attack the West? One important reason is to be found in Saudi Arabia.

Abd al-Aziz ibn Saud

Abdulaziz ibn Saud

As a state, Saudi Arabia owed its foundation to the alliance of the battle-hardened latter-day followers of Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who had preached an austere, puritanical interpretation of Islam in the Arabian peninsula since the late eighteenth century, and an ambitious, capable tribal leader called Abdulaziz ibn Saud.

In 1979 came three events that shook the Saudi monarchy:

  • the seizure of the grand mosque in Mecca by a group of local extremists,
  • the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets
  • and the Iranian revolution. 

Each involved a different enemy — violent local militants who branded their rulers apostates, atheist Communists and Shia Islamists — but each revealed a new and potentially deadly threat to the reign of the house of Saud.

One response of the kingdom’s rulers was to use a substantial amount of the vast wealth generated by their oil revenues to expand the proselytisation of the Wahhabi creed, one of the most rigorous, intolerant and conservative existing in Islam, throughout the Sunni Muslim world. This had been a policy for some time but now the effort was massively expanded in an updated though much more far-reaching version of the original strategy that had brought them to power sixty years before. The aim was to reinforce their own religious credentials at home while increasing their influence overseas, allowing them to reassert their claim to both religious and political leadership in the Islamic world.

Over the ensuing decades,

  • tens of thousands of religious schools, mosques, Islamic universities and religious centres were built worldwide. 
  • Hundreds of thousands of scholarships to Saudi universities were offered and stipends paid to preachers.
  • Tens of millions of copies of holy texts and, more importantly, deeply conservative interpretations of them, were published and distributed.

This strategic choice was to have a huge impact on the Muslim world, fundamentally altering faith, observance and religious identity for hundreds of millions of people. It also contributed, as intended, to a shift of cultural influence from Egypt, once the unchallenged intellectual centre of the Arab world, to Saudi Arabia, its religious centre.
read more »


2015-11-25

The Origins of Islamic Militancy

by Neil Godfrey

newthreatBased on my reading of the first chapter of The New Threat: The Past, Present, and Future of Islamic Militancy by Jason Burke. . . .

carlos

The earlier generation of terrorists before “Islamic terrorism”

The turning point was in October, 1981, argues Jason Burke. Prior to the 1980s the most well-known terrorists were Leila Khaled and Carlos the Jackal. Religious agendas were very rarely found in the mix of ethnic, nationalist, separatist and secular revolutionary agendas.

The terrorist act that changed all this was the assassination of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt in Cairo in October 1981. Sadat’s killers were very different from most of the terrorists of the decade before. (p. 24)

An ideological movement had taken root in the broader Muslim world — “a generalised rediscovery of religious observance and identity, coupled with a distrust of Western powers and culture.”

The historical matrix

History is necessary to enable us to understand. Burke points to the century between 1830 and 1930. These years saw the Russians, the Han Chinese and especially the Europeans invade and subjugate the Muslim regions from Morocco to Java, from the central Asian steppes to sub-Saharan Africa.

Almost all the invasions provoked a violent reaction among many local people. Resistance took many forms but, naturally enough in a deeply devout age, religion played a central role. Islam provided a rallying point for local communities more used to internecine struggle than campaigns against external enemies. (p. 25)

European armies and their local auxiliaries fought rebels whose motivations ranged widely but who all shared

a profound belief that they were acting in defence not only of their livelihoods, traditions and homes but of their faith. 

The superior technology of the foreign powers guaranteed the defeat of the rebels but these defeats were interpreted by the devout as evidence that they had neglected to please God and lost his favour.

Though by the twentieth century most movements had withered away a few remained active: British India’s North-West Frontier, Italian Libya, Palestine. The Afghans were not ruled by foreigners but in the 1920s they did throw out their king who had attempted to introduce foreign ways into his country.

Others chose withdrawal to open revolt, and to isolate themselves from the corrupting influences of alien cultures: e.g. the Deobandi school of India.

Some, however, fully embraced Western ideas in a spirit of rivalry. They sought to out-do their invaders: e.g. the University of Aligarh.

ed-husainEd Husain (author of The Islamist and previously posted about here) recalled as a boy growing up in a mainstream Muslim household when and the context in which he first heard the name Maududi:

“I liked Grandpa. Most of all, I used to delight in watching him slowly tie his turban, wrapping his head with a long piece of cloth, as befitted a humble Muslim, though he also seemed like a Mogul monarch. (Muslim scholars and kings both wore the turban in veneration of the Prophet Mohammed.) Whenever Grandpa visited Britain to teach Muslims about spirituality, my father accompanied him to as many places as he was able. My father believed that spiritual seekers did not gain knowledge from books alone, but learnt from what he called suhbah, or companionship. True mastery of spirituality required being at the service, or at least in the presence, of a noble guide. Grandpa was one such guide. . . .

“He often read aloud in Urdu, and explained his points in intricate Bengali, engaging the minds of others while I looked on bewildered. As they compared notes on abstract subjects in impenetrable languages, I buried myself in Inspector Morse or a Judy Blume. I heard names such as ‘Mawdudi’ being severely criticized, an organization named Jamat-e-Islami being refuted and invalidated on theological grounds. All of it was beyond me.” (The Islamist, p. 10, my bolding)

maududi

Abul Ala Maududi

What interests us, however, are those who took the middle road. The first was the work of Abd Ala’a Maududi [Abul Ala Maududi/Maudoodi/Mawdudi]:

In India, a political organisation called Jamaat Islami was founded in 1926. It sought religious and cultural renewal through non-violent social activism to mobilise the subcontinent’s Muslims to gain power. This approach involved embracing Western technology and selectively borrowing from Western political ideologies, while rejecting anything seen as inappropriate or immoral. (p. 26)

.

Hassan al-Banna

Hassan al-Banna

In Egypt, 1928, Hassan al-Banna founded a very similar group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Like the South Asian Jamaat Islami, it combined a conservative, religious social vision with a contemporary political one. For its followers, the state was to be appropriated, not dismantled, in order to create a perfect Islamic society. This approach was later dubbed Islamism

There were others across the Muslim world who rejected the compromise and non-violence of Jamaat Islami and the Muslim Brotherhood as the means to achieving their common goals.

By the early 1960s European powers had for most part withdrawn from the Muslim world leaving behind new regimes that had adopted Western ways and ideas: witness the new states founded in varying degrees of secularism and socialism. And of course there was Israel:

The establishment of the state of Israel, now recognized by the international community after a bloody war and the flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from lands they had worked or owned for generations, acted as a new focus for diverse grievances among Arab and Muslim communities. Anti-Semitism had long existed in the Islamic world but, fused with anti-Zionism, gained a new and poisonous intensity. Defeat in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 deepened a sense of hurt, loss and humiliation. (p. 27)

Something more important was happening within the newly independent nations themselves: “immense demographic change”.

  • Population explosions
  • Urban population mushroomed and rural populations relatively declined
  • Urban areas of poverty and unhealthy conditions proliferated — inadequate electricity, sanitation, education, health services, policing
  • Food in short supply and expensive
  • Previous decades had produced many university graduates whose future expectations were now dashed
  • Traditional communities were being shattered: new shanty towns and apartment blocks meant that extended families were broken up, village communities were vanishing, traditional leaders lost their authority
    • For the older people there was loss. For those young enough not to know anything of the former rural life, there was disorientation.
Cairo slums

Cairo slums

Egypt’s President Sadat represented to many the worst of these changes. Sadat was opening up Egypt to the new capitalism and foreign investment that accelerated the extremes of the rich-poor divide. Middle incomes declined dramatically.

Worse still, a growing economic gap between rich and poor was accompanied by a growing cultural gap. During the riots in Cairo in 1977, favourite targets for arson and vandalism were nightclubs — of which more than three hundred opened during the decade — and luxury US made cars — of which imports had gone up fourteen times. Both were symbols of the lifestyle of an elite that was enjoying greater connection with the rest of the world, and particularly the West, but which was increasingly detached from the majority of Egyptian population. By the end of the decade, more than 30 percent of prime-time television programming was from the US, with episodes of Dallas repeated ad infinitum. Inequality was combined with a sense of cultural invasion. It was an explosive mix. (p. 28 – my bolding in all quotations)

Amidst those swayed by Western influence nationalist and socialist commitments were those who turned to their religion in various ways, some withdrawing into mysticism, for example, others looking for wider change. Islamism was spreading through the universities and professional bodies.

Islamism promised to re-establish confidence and pride and to provide a solution to the many pressing challenges now faced by tens of millions of people. (p. 28)

Jason Burke identifies this moment for the birth of the militant Islam so prominent today: read more »


2015-11-19

ISIS: The First Step To Combating It

by Neil Godfrey
The first step to combating Isis is to understand it. We have yet to do so. That failure costs us dear. — Scott Atran in Mindless Terrorists? The truth  about ISIS is much worse (The Guardian)

We must fight their growing power any way, anywhere, we can. With words, with weapons, with sincere efforts at warm embrace for those who might otherwise be pulled or pushed into their dark world that would exterminate all who dare be free and different.

I think that most of us comfort ourselves with the thought that “they can’t win,” at least in the long run, that they must burn themselves out in their frenzy . . . . But this may be dead wrong. Why is it that so many young people are being drawn into this increasingly powerful destroyer of human rights, which despises the very idea of government of and by the people? — Scott Atran in correspondence with Professor Hoodbhoy in wake of UN address

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 8.01.17 pm

Military operations are obviously necessary but ISIS is not a conventional army. The risks of the wrong kind of military attack are warned against by Stern and Berger in ISIS: The State of Terror:

Even ground forces would likely not be enough to completely destroy ISIS. Absent a military invasion that would somehow— improbably, magically— transform both Iraq and Syria into truly viable, pluralistic states in which Sunnis and Shi’a both feel secure, ISIS would likely remain, at least as a terrorist group, for many years to come.

Beyond the necessity to oversee political change in both Iraq and Syria, a tall order indeed, the international impact of ISIS must also be considered, as it inspires oaths of loyalty and acts of violence in nearly every corner of the globe. As with its military might, ISIS’s potential to wreak terrorism has been limited until now, although the alignment of regional terror groups such as Jund al Khalifah in Algeria and Ansar Bayt al Maqdis in Egypt raise serious concerns going forward.

6 Millenarianism involves the expectation of sweeping societal change, possibly as a result of the apocalypse.

The broader problem is that jihadism has become a millenarian movement6 with mass appeal, in some ways similar to the revolutionary movements of the 1960s and ’70s, although its goals and the values it represents are far different.

Today’s radicals are expressing their dissatisfaction with the status quo by making war, not love. They are seduced by Thanatos rather than Eros. They “love death as much as you [in the West] love life,” in Osama bin Laden’s famous and often-paraphrased words. In this dark new world, children are seen to reenact beheadings with their toys, seduced by a familiar drama of the good guys killing the bad guys in order to save the world. Twitter users adopt the black flag by the tens of thousands. And people who barely know anything about Islam or Iraq are inspired to emulate ISIS’s brutal beheadings.

ISIS has established itself as a new paradigm, one that is more brutal, more sectarian, and more apocalyptic in its thinking than the groups that preceded it. ISIS is the crack cocaine of violent extremism, all of the elements that make it so alluring and addictive purified into a crystallized form.

ISIS’s goals are impossible, ludicrous, but that does not mean it can be easily destroyed. Our policies must look to the possible, which means containing and hopefully eliminating its military threat and choking off its export of ideas.

But certainly the history of ISIS and al Qaeda before it show that overwhelming military force is not a solution to hybrid organizations that straddle the line between terrorism and insurgency.

Our hammer strikes on al Qaeda spread its splinters around the world. Whatever approach we take in Iraq and Syria must be focused on containment and constriction, rather than simply smashing ISIS into ever more virulent bits. read more »


2015-11-12

Expulsion of the Palestinians: Caution and Discretion during the War Years

by Neil Godfrey

Nur-MasalhaContinuing the series from Nur Masalha’s Expulsion of the Palestinians. . . .

One bible myth stands out today as bearing a major responsibility for modern wars, ethnic cleansing, and ongoing bloodshed. That myth is that a modern race has a right to the land of Palestine by virtue of a history found in the Bible.

This series of posts has not examined that biblical myth itself (nor wider public receptions and political influence of the myth) but it has been exposing another myth that has ridden on the back of the first, the myth that the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is ultimately the result of Palestinians failing to respect the right and necessity of the Jewish people to settle in peace alongside them. This secondary myth is actually a recasting of the biblical myth of the hostile Canaanites proving to be the ungodly thorn in the side of the people to whom God had given the land. The new settlers, the myth relates, are for most part innocently seeking only a safe refuge in their historic homeland but have been met with unjustified hostility by the existing inhabitants. The impetus for the new settlement came with the revelation that an attempt had been made to wipe out the entire Jewish people in Europe and the survivors and their descendants only wanted a small piece of historical real-estate alongside a hospitable fellow-semitic race.

To support this additional myth another must be sustained: that one race is responding in bad or immature character (as we would expect of biblical Canaanites) while the other is fundamentally decent and caring (as we would expect….). And many of our news sources filter the story through these mythical constructs.

That is all part of the secondary myth.

The reality, as these posts have been demonstrating on the basis of Israeli records, is otherwise.

The modern state of Israel was founded upon an ideology, a belief, an expectation among its key leadership that the Palestinian Arab population would have to be expelled from their long-held homes and lands. This belief among Zionism’s founding fathers that the state of Israel would require the removal of the bulk of Arabs from Palestine preceded World War 2, preceded the Holocaust, and made possible the forcible expulsion of thousands of Palestinians at Israel’s founding in 1948. The difference that the Holocaust made to the argument for Israel’s founding was that it facilitated international support for the new Jewish state. Popular sympathy for the horrors suffered by the Jews in Europe blinded many to the injustices being foisted upon the traditional inhabitants of Palestine.

There are many other secondary myths that serve to support the above myths. Among these are myths about the events that precipitated the flight of many Palestinians in 1948 and the respective views and actions of the governments involved in that war and subsequent wars. I will address these, too, and again on the basis of Israel’s archives, and in particular through the works of Jewish historians sympathetic to Israel.

In May this year Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely addressed foreign ministry staff in Jerusalem and 106 Israeli missions overseas by video link, and declared:

This entire land is ours. All of it, from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River, and we are not here to apologise for this. . . . 

She afterwards added:

We expect as a matter of principle the international community to recognise Israel’s right to build homes for Jews in their homeland everywhere.

The Telegraph‘s correspondent Brian Tait noted that her speech was

laced . . . with biblical commentaries in which God promised the land of Israel to the Jews. 

Hotovely, as we have seen, merely expressed what has been the conventional thinking and beliefs of most of Israel’s founding fathers from the very beginnings of the nation. As we have also seen, the same figures have found it more politic at times to not be so open with Western media about such sentiments.

The situation so far

The previous post brought us up to August 1938 with the British government finally deciding not to support immediate hopes of Zionists for a Jewish state in a partitioned Palestine.

Problems: 

  • It was clear to the British government from the Arab reaction that the recommended population transfers for even a two-state solution could not be carried out without violence and injustice to the livelihoods and deeply rooted feelings of the local population;
  • Without a state of any kind the Zionists understood that there was no way to effect a transfer of Palestinians at all.

The British therefore:

  • Decided it was time to slow the pace of their support for a Jewish state until they took time to consider seriously the Arab grievances;
  • Called for a general conference on Palestine to consist of Arab, Palestinian and Zionist representatives — due to be held in London in February-March 1939.

The Zionist leaders therefore:

  • Continued to press the British government for more liberal Jewish immigration into Palestine;
  • Continued to lobby for more freedom to to purchase land from Arab landowners;
  • Judged it prudent to avoid embarrassing the British government with further public calls for the transfer of the indigenous Arab population.

It was clear that the British were not going to risk antagonizing the Arabs at a time when the clouds of war were rising.

The Jewish Agency therefore turned its attention towards that other promising power and potential supporter, the United States.

Ben Gurion’s memorandum

read more »


2015-11-09

Another study of ISIS

by Neil Godfrey

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 8.01.17 pmAbout a week ago I wrote a few notes on my reading of ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan. I followed that with Jessica Stern’s and J.M. Berger’s ISIS: The State of Terror. It’s a great companion to former work; don’t hold off thinking it might be redundant if you’ve already read the former.

One small detail but a most valuable asset is an appendix by a Brown University doctoral student, Megan K. McBride, providing one of the most readable and informative outlines of the history and nature of Islam and where the various movements that culminated in ISIS fit in to that overview. My first reaction to reading it was to want to contact the author and seek permission to post it in Vridar.

A principal difference from the Weiss and Hassan study is that Stern and Berger explore in much greater depth the way ISIS is really such a modern phenomenon with the strategic ways it has exploited modern communication technologies, especially social media. I first heard the expression “barbarism empowered by modern technology” as a graduate student to refer to the Nazi machine of World War 2. ISIS is reverting to the most primitive forms of barbarism but empowering that barbaric message through modern communications technology. Beheadings have been historically employed as a “mercifully” swift means of execution; not for ISIS where some deliberately seek out blunt knives to do the job. The object is to strike fear, of course, as well as demonstrate to idealistic potential recruits just how serious they are. Bizarrely bloodthirsty messages are somehow mixed with video shots of an ideal visionary society, a caliphate where children are happy (even if playing with decapitated heads on corpse-lined streets) and the true ways of Allah ensure a purified “utopia”. Gone are the defeatist messages of the old terrorists like Al Qaeda with their expectations of being overwhelmed by godless forces and hopes for a future paradise. The heavenly kingdom is here now; the jihadists are strong and terrifying in their strength. That is their message and that is what makes them different from other terrorist groups. read more »


2015-10-31

ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan

by Neil Godfrey

ISIS-Inside-the-Army-of-TerrorThere was a time I needed to read Marx and Mao to orient myself to the essential thought of the ideologies challenging the West. Never did I imagine that in my lifetime those works would be gathering dust and I’d be seeking out the likes of al-Maqdisi’s Democracy a Religion and Naji’s The Management of Savagery (and more recently, al-Suri’s – original name Nasur – Call for a Global Islamic Resistance)  to get a handle on contemporary threats.

Not long ago I devoured a cluster of works on Islam and terrorism and posted on snippets of that reading; the last few weeks I’ve been trying to catch up with Islamism (as distinct from Islam the religion and even “terrorism” per se — though there are obvious overlaps, of course). So most recently I’ve read Islam and the Future of Tolerance: a dialogue (by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz), Maajid Nawaz’s experience as a leader in a group with a long-term strategy of establishing Islamist regimes, Radical: my journey from Islamist extremism to a democratic awakening, Ed Husain’s The Islamist : why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left, and Isis: inside the army of terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan. (Still on my to-read list are three other very recent works on ISIS — by Stern & Berger, Cockburn and Burke.

I recommend Radical and The Islamist to anyone who thinks all Muslims are by the nature of their religion somewhat medieval in their values. Nawaz’s upbringing was not particularly religious but Hasain’s certainly was. Reading the lives of these two, especially that of Ed Husain, is an eye-opener to the stark difference between the religion of Islam and the ideology of Islamism.

ISIS: inside the army of terror is a depressing yet informative study of the group’s origins, its brutal nature and strikingly sudden emergence. Michael Weiss (Twitter) and Hassan Hassan (Facebook Community) interviewed many persons closely associated with terrorist organisations and others among the military and political establishments that have been directly involved with events connected to the rise of Islamic State.

The roots of ISIS appear to go right back to Saddam Hussein’s preparations for an American led invasion of his country. Well before the occupation he had prepared safe-houses, secret arms storages and underground economic machinations that would help sustain their secret networks and ongoing armed struggle against the occupiers. Much of Iraq’s army melted into this underground network after March-April 2003 and became the backbone of the various resistance and terrorist movements that followed. read more »


2015-10-26

The Conflict between Islamism and Islam

by Neil Godfrey

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 9.11.15 pmThe following passages in Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening by Maajid Nawaz caught my attention: I thought it made a few points worthy of wider attention. Maajid Nawaz was once a leader in a radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and is now the chairman of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think-tank.  Radical is his biographical account of how he become involved in an Islamist extremist movement and what led to his leaving extremism behind. Formatting and bolding are my own.

Islam and Islamism: the difference

Important to grasp is how Islamism differs from Islam. Islam is a religion, and its Shari’ah can be compared to Talmudic or Canon law. As a religion, Islam contains all the usual creedal, methodological, juristic and devotional schisms of any other faith. . . . 

Superseding all these religious disagreements, and influencing many of them politically, is the ideology of Islamism.

Simply defined, Islamism is the desire to impose any given interpretation of Islam over society as law. Understood this way, Islamism is not another religious schism, but an ideological thought that seeks to develop a coherent political system that can house all these schisms, without necessarily doing away with them.

Whereas disputes within Islam deal with a person’s approach to religion, Islamism seeks to deal with a person’s approach to society. (Kindle, loc 1034)

Is there a problem if Islamism remains non-violent?

If the dangers of racism are apparent, even in a non-violent form, then it was the same for Islamism.

But what was the problem with Islamism so long as it remained non-violent? Was it not the right of Muslims to adopt whatever ideology they chose? Of course, it was the right of Muslims to believe that one version of Islam must be imposed as law over their societies, just as it was the right of racists to believe that all non-white people should be deported from Europe. But the spread of either of these ideas would achieve nothing but the division and Balkanisation of societies. If the dangers of racism are apparent, even in a non-violent form, then it was the same for Islamism. Communalist identity politics, self-segregation and group-think are far more damaging to societies in the long run than the odd bomb going off here or there, because it is such a milieu that keeps breeding bomb-makers. . . . .

Maajid Nawaz spent four years in an Egyptian prison and began to piece past and recent experiences together anew: read more »


2015-10-10

Why they join ISIS — and how deradicalisation works

by Neil Godfrey

An interesting account on Indonesians being attracted to ISIS and what the subsequent deradicalisation programs look like appeared yesterday on various ABC site recently: Islamic State training new generation of Indonesian terrorists…. (Not sure if the video segment will be available to anyone outside Australia, though); Young Indonesian jihadists explain who and what lured them to Islamic State; — preceded by an SMH article back in August, Islamic State contagion growing in Indonesia

The program focuses on a group of 500 South East Asian fighters in ISIS. The main recruiter of Indonesians uses social media from within ISIS to recruit other Indonesians.

The following quotations come from a mix of the reporting of Sarah Dingle and presenter Leigh Sales.

The role of networks

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: My dad sent me to an Islamic boarding school when I was 12 in an Islamic boarding school and the school was founded by the founder of Jemaah Islamiyah, so literally, I share room with those Bali bombers when I was 12 for six years.

Why the different paths?

“Because of different trajectories, I missed the chance to get a scholarship to study in Pakistan back then Afghanistan,” he said.

“Because I was tainted, and I took a date with the daughter of the founder of the school, I was considered as not devoted enough to pass that test.”

Noor Huda Ismail made a documentary film showing how ISIS radicalises young men in Indonesia. One of these was Akhbar . . . .

AKHBAR (Jihadi Selfie documentary): When I was six, I had big dreams, really big. I wanted to be an Islamic scholar. I was lucky to get a high school scholarship to study religion and science and social studies in Turkey.

SARAH DINGLE: In Turkey, Akhbar had become aware of another Indonesian student, Yazid, who had gone to Syria to join IS.

AKHBAR (Jihadi Selfie documentary): I wanted to contact him because I wanted to go to Syria too. I felt bored with my life because it was the same every day. Live a glorious life or die a martyr.

SARAH DINGLE: They began to chat and over several months, Yazid became Akhbar’s key advisor on life in the caliphate.

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: Yazid told Akhbar that if you join ISIS, if you come here, you get a lot of fun things to you, you can carry guns, you can running around with horse, you can shoot and the bonus, you get girls, you get laid. You know, that’s basically – that’s such an attractive call for young people like Akhbar. read more »


2015-09-24

Sam Harris modifies his views on Islam — Encouraging step forward

by Neil Godfrey

I have just finished watching both Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz discuss their book Islam and the Future of Tolerance and was pleasantly surprised.

I don’t recall reading anything by Maajid Nawaz but my introduction to Sam Harris was his 2005 book The End of Faith, a book that disturbed me for reasons I explained in my review back in 2006. Since then I have written a few times in response to anti-Muslim bigotry that has sometimes referred to Harris for its backing. But after viewing the above video I really do hope for something more positive to be coming through Sam Harris in this wider discussion. Harris continues to struggle with his painfully ill-informed views on the nature of religion and the relationship between beliefs and behaviour but — and this is a major step I think — he has moved in his understanding of the difference between Islam and Islamism.

Thanks to his dialogue with Maajid Nawaz. As I said, I don’t recall reading anything by Nawaz but I have from time to time heard negative things. If anything I suspected Nawaz may have been one of those ex-religionists/ex-cultists who turns on his erstwhile faith with as much venom and ignorance as any other bigot could possibly muster. But no, — without knowing any of the background or reasons for criticism, I have to say I agreed with almost everything Maajid Nawaz said in the discussion with Sam Harris. (I maintained my reservation on one detail that I am currently exploring through wider reading.) (Jerry Coyne, sadly, has not moved forward very much, it seems, and is still preoccupied with the negatives of his “apologists for Islam”…. Still, there is hope…. a little…?)

As I listened to the video I took a few notes. The minute markers are only a rough guide — Where I write, say, 12 mins, the relevant section could appear anywhere between 12 and 13 mins or even a little later.

Here are my notes for anyone who wants to see a reason to watch the video for themselves …  read more »


2015-09-22

Comparing Jewish and Islamic Terrorism

by Neil Godfrey

anonSolThere are a number of interesting similarities between

  • the West’s response to the anti-British terrorist campaigns of the Jewish terrorist groups Irgun and Lehi in the 1930s and 40s 

and

  • “our” response to Islamic terrorism in more recent years. 

There are also obvious differences but this post is taking a look at the similarities that struck me on reading Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917-1947 by Bruce Hoffman.

Before looking at the parallels notice Hoffman’s striking concluding remarks on the relationship between the two terrorisms (my own bolding and formatting, pp. 483-4):

The Irgun’s terrorism campaign in fact is critical to understanding the evolution and development of contemporary terrorism. The group effectively directed its message to audiences far beyond the immediate geographic locus of its struggle — in New York and Washington and Paris and Moscow as much as in London and Jerusalem. This taught a powerful lesson to similarly aggrieved peoples elsewhere, who now saw in terrorism an effective means of transforming hitherto local conflicts into international issues.

  • Less than a decade later, the leader of the anti-British guerrilla campaign in Cyprus, General George Grivas, adopted an identical strategy. . . . the parallels between the two are unmistakable.
  • The internationalization of Palestinian Arab terrorism that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s would also appear to owe something to the quest for international attention and recognition that the Irgun’s own terrorist campaign . . . .
  • And the Brazilian revolutionary theorist Carlos Marighella’s famous Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla, which was essential reading for the various left-wing terrorist organizations that arose both in Latin America and in Western Europe during the 1960s and 1970s, embodies Begin’s strategy . . . .

Thus the foundations were laid for the transformation of terrorism in the late 1960s from a primarily localized phenomenon into the security problem of global proportions that it remains today.

Indeed, when U.S. military forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001, they found a copy of Begin’s seminal work, The Revolt, along with other books about the Jewish terrorist struggle, in the well-stocked library that al-Qaeda maintained at one of its training facilities in that country.

.

Extraordinary Rendition and Guantanamo for the “worst of the worst” 

The cabinet approved the decision two days later, and on October 19 [1944], 251 imprisoned Jewish terrorists whom the authorities deemed the most dangerous were secretly flown from Palestine to British-occupied Eritrea aboard eighteen DC-3 transport aircraft accompanied by fighter escort. (p. 153)

From there, Lankin was transferred under heavy guard to police headquarters at the Russian Compound for interrogation. Later that day he was brought to the adjacent central prison facility and, deemed the most dangerous of the lot, quickly transferred to Acre prison and then exiled to the secret terrorist detention facility in Eritrea. (p. 189)

International monitoring bodies like the Red Cross and problematic access to these remote prisons. . . .

The Geneva Convention said not to apply to terrorist prisoners who do not have POW status . . . . read more »


2015-08-19

Good place to plant a bomb

by Neil Godfrey

Heavy on my mind at the moment is the bombing at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok. Just pausing to put up a few photos and one video I took of the shrine when I was there two months ago on a family visit to Bangkok. No way of knowing who was responsible yet — I’d be surprised if it came from Redshirt activists from the rural and North region or from the Muslim separatists in the South; Thailand did return Uyghur refugees to China a month or so ago . . . Who knows. Horrific. These pictures were taken around middle of day. The bombing was in early evening when the site was much more crowded.

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shrine

dancing

prayer2

These details are superfluous, but for the record it’s a Hindu deity but the worshipers are mostly Buddhist.
Seven more pics and one video . . . read more »


2015-08-15

Forgotten Past: Saint-Domingue, Slave States, and the Second Amendment

by Tim Widowfield
Battle at San Domingo, a painting by January Suchodolski

Battle at San Domingo, a painting by January Suchodolski

In the fury that followed the murderous rampage in a South Carolina church back in June, we Americans found our attention diverted from yet another gun incident to the ubiquitous Confederate battle flag and the unhealed wounds that its presence calls to mind. And in the ensuing noisy debate, I happened to see a right-wing meme in my Facebook stream that gave me pause. It complained about what today’s schoolkids aren’t taught, and it ended with this provocative statement:

Whites were the first people to stop slavery in modern times, whereas slavery continues in Africa to this day.

Presumably, the author of this bit of copy-and-paste truthiness couched this statement with “in modern times,” because he or she knew that Chinese governments had banned slavery at least twice in ancient times. Even at that, China did not permanently free its slaves until the 1720s in the Yongzheng emancipation, and de facto slavery continued for decades.

The long road to emancipation

In fact many nations took steps, however slowly, toward abolition throughout the 18th and 19th century. We can’t be entirely sure what the author meant by “stop slavery,” but I would argue that it must encompass participation in the slave trade and the use of slaves in colonial territories; it has to include more than just the abolition of bondage in the homeland. Nor can we forget serfdom. For while we may marvel at Russia’s abolition of slavery in 1723, we must also note with dismay that its serfs weren’t freed until 1861. (See the Abolition of Slavery Timeline at Wikipedia.)

We could cite the 1777 constitution of the so-called Republic of Vermont, but the slavery ban contained therein had rather spotty enforcement. Moreover, Vermont was a “reluctant republic,” and sought absorption into the Union as soon as it could do so.

The United States itself, of course, did not eradicate slavery nationally until the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865. Before that, several nations in the Western Hemisphere had already freed their slaves. Even Great Britain, which had taken halting steps toward full emancipation in the late 18th century, did not effectively end all slavery in the empire until 1837.

We could possibly point to Norway and Denmark as the first two countries to halt participation in the transatlantic slave trade (effective 1803); however, Denmark still allowed slavery in its colonies until 1848. We might also note France, whose revolutionary government briefly outlawed slavery, only to see its return under Napoleon.

A successful revolution

But clearly, of all the places in the world with well-entrenched, industrial-scale slavery, Haiti (originally, the French Colony of Saint-Domingue) is one of the first, if not the first, in which immediate and permanent emancipation took place. And the African slaves did it themselves. In The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Edward E. Baptist describes how the revolution started: read more »