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

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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 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.

The Sunni insurgency was primarily an attempt to restore their power after the de-Baathification of Iraq’s government. This is why Shia Muslims, backed by Iran, were as much the targets of their bombing campaigns as the foreign forces. Further, the US forces essentially facilitated the coordination and spread of underground terrorist networks every time they imprisoned large numbers of suspects. The same contacts and recruitment activities could never have been conducted so easily, if at all, outside the prison system. Prisons became furlough and conference opportunities as well as radicalization centres. New and more extensive networks were made, new recruits were enlisted.

Zarqawi’s Sunni terrorist faction became the foundation of what was to emerge as the Islamic State. Bin Laden, still the Al Qaeda leader at the time, deplored the way he targeted Shia Muslims and focused on Sunni power in Iraq so the relationship between the two groups was never a true meeting of minds. It is also essential to understand the tribalism of the region to understand Zarqawi and the intentions of many of the terrorist attacks.

The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) continued the struggle on behalf of the Sunni tribes against the Shia tribes and the Shia-serving brutal dictator (officially “prime minister”) Maliki.

ISI evolved into ISIS as a very sophisticated military power. It’s military power was led by very well trained former members of the former Iraqi army. It’s brutality was an extension of the brutal machine established by Saddam Hussain. Weiss and Hassan even argue that the ISIS leader al-Baghdadi tapped in to the iconography of Saddam Hussain who in the latter half of his rule linked himself to the rise of the ancient glories of Baghdad and Arab imperial power. The authors even suggest that Baghdadi and ISIS can be rightly understood as a resurgence of Saddam Hussain’s rule, only with a stricter religious aspect and an even more barbaric modus operandi.

Weiss and Hussain interestingly quote several sources suggesting the possibility that in Syria Assad himself was responsible for the emergence of terrorism and even inroads by Islamic State. The argument is that Assad found it useful to present himself to the West as the bulwark against terrorism. Time will tell how valid these suspicions have been.

Populations who find themselves under ISIS rule on the whole are relieved to experience peace and order once again in their lives. Usually prior to the ISIS takeover their lives were disrupted by the bloodshed of rival terrorist factions and conflicts with the State authorities. ISIS, not unlike the Taliban in pre-9/11 Afghanistan, bring about quick and firm settlement to disputes. Guns are not carried around in non-combat zones. (As with all states, violence is monopolised by the ruling authority.) Most do not reject the ideology of ISIS and do not agree with their brand of Islamic legislation, but for the sake of peace and security they have removed themselves from the pool of potential sympathisers for any efforts to undermine ISIS’s authority.

The terror of what to expect that preceded the arrival of ISIS also helped. The first acts of ISIS on entering a new area are to set up an open area where “justice” with often barbaric punishments are meted out but after that, the “peace and security” remain.

And what of the sex-slaves and throwing gays off tall buildings? Such acts are actually motivated by a form of “self-fulfilling” prophecy. We know of the apocalyptic view of history of these radical Islamists. Passages are read in the light of this “last days” view of history — it is to be a time when homosexuals are thrown to their deaths and sex slaves taken, so ISIS sees itself acting in fulfilment of these “prophecies”.

ISIS has made effective use of modern web technology for their recruitment drives, as we know. Indeed, at one point early in the occupation it was the less-technically sophisticated resistance fighters (those who communicated naively through their cell phones) that were the most easily found and killed, leaving the more technologically sophisticated surviving. In order to bypass UN sanctions Saddam had set up secret networks to enable core areas of the economy to continue to function (e.g. smuggling in essential goods, selling oil via the black market) and it is this system that has largely continued in support of ISIS.

There is a chapter covering the wide variety of backgrounds and motivations of people who continue to make up ISIS’s leaders and recruits. Very few are there for purely religious reasons. Some join for economic survival and profit. (Especially ex Baathists who have been trained in specialist skills and who have no other job opportunities.) The propaganda machine is sophisticated. The same patterns have been described by Husain and Nawaz in their biographical works, The Islamist and Radical, and I recognise the principles well as standard among other types of cult recruiting techniques. I could probably devote an entire post to the range of political, pragmatic, adventurist and other reasons so many join ISIS rather than go into details in this post. It’s a topic of particular interest to me.


The book ends on a depressing note. The authors see ISIS as being around for quite some time yet. The victories we read about in the media (so many stronghold bombed, leaders killed, territory regained) are only tactical. ISIS still holds the strategic initiative. And who knows what will transpire in the immediate and longer-term future with Russia as an actor in Syria now.


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Neil Godfrey

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24 thoughts on “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan”

  1. I have erased E.Harding’s ignorant troll comment but am using his entry space to reply with citations to reviews that actually say something informative about the book . . . — Neil — 31 Oct 2015.

    1. “An Army of Terror Like No Other” by Michiko Kakutani The New York Times (Apr. 3, 2015)

      “Rolling into town; Global jihad.” The Economist 21 Feb. 2015: 80(US).

      Review by Dina Esfandiary. International Affairs 91: 5, 2015

      “An attempt to understand why they fight” by Steve Negus, (2015, April 04), International New York Times.

      And in brief: “Under the Black Flag: ISIS, by MICHAEL J. TOTTEN / MAY 1, 2015, https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/under-the-black-flag/

      Informed and intelligent comments welcome.

  2. Propaganda—Perhaps the effectiveness of (toxic) propaganda may give credence to claims of some that “Belief” has a profound effect on human behavior. Yet, history may also give credence to the idea that despite various toxic beliefs and systems humanity has progressed….therefore…maybe beliefs effect humanity to a degree…but humanity also effects beliefs to a degree…..?….If so, the future is not pessimistic at all.

    It seems political Islam is understood as Wahabism in Russia—Since ISIS and other groups are influenced by Wahabism—one might assume there is a link….The use of Wahabism by Saudi as soft-power—might be interesting—in that it is an ideology suited to harsh conditions—that of unstable or failed states—in which case destabilizing a country using that country’s own resistance movements would be one way to get a foothold in the country and expand Saudi influence….The U.S. uses a similar strategy but with hard-power (military)—helping out any resistance movements by supplying arms or enabling conditions for proxy wars and such….a merging of Saudi and U.S. geo-political interests…?….seen from Russian POV…….(the trajectory of Afghanistan may fit such a scenario)…

    What is even more interesting in the above post —- is that people apparently want peace and security AT ALL COSTS….(this can also be seen in secular countries where people put up with surveillance, and other intrusive (and even unethical) practices in the name of security….)
    —So Taliban /ISIS seem to have grasped a fundamental aspiration of humanity that the U.S. “nation-building” efforts failed to grasp—that it is LAW that builds a nation—not any outward circus labelled “democracy”—democracy as a “system” is nothing without law—but with a strong law—one does not need “democracy” to begin to build a nation.

    Which then brings us back to the dilemma Muslims face—-In order to have a “just” nation—they need “just” laws—to have “just” laws, they have to be ethical and moral–and in the Muslim tradition, ethics and morality is the province of Deen (Wisdom Teachings/”religion”)……

    —to put it another way—How does one distinguish between good “Islamism” and bad “Islamism”? —IMO, one is based on the principle of the unity/equality of all humanity—the other is primarily based on hierarchies and divisions of humanity(—and such divisions include those based on race, ethnicity, nation, religion…and any criteria that demands excessive exclusivity). —-This is a characteristic that can be applied to any ideology including secular nationalism as well as Hindu nationalism, Buddhist nationalism and other political projects….)…..if humanity is to progress, there is a direction it needs to go…and that is towards inclusivity rather than exclusivity…

    Here are some opinions about ISIS

    1. I may be misunderstanding you but I get the impression you have a limited and poor view of democracy. Democracy is a system where both the law-makers are held accountable to the public.

      The problems you seem to refer to above relate not to democracy but to anarchy and tyranny — it was the violence and insecurity of living in areas experiencing war, conflicts between rival militias and insurgencies against government forces. Democracy itself was never a problem — it was never anywhere on the horizon.

      Under ISIS people are free from violence (bizarre as that seems to us — recall weapons are not seen in public) — and are free to travel without the inconvenience and fear of having to pass through a myriad of check-points, and their disputes are settled quickly and firmly. That’s why they prefer ISIS rule to the insecurity of the life they experienced before ISIS according to Weiss and Hassan.

      “Nation building” without democracy sounds suspiciously like totalitarianism where lawmakers are free to deny the rights of minorities or other groups they deem to be divisive.

      If by Islamism you mean the desire to have Islamic laws rule a society then there is no such thing as “good” Islamism. I think certain people today who have rights in a secular/liberal democracy would be denied rights in your system.

      Islamism as I understand it (from Nawaz and Ed Husain) is a desire for one group to enact their beliefs as laws which would necessarily mean denying certain rights to minorities.

      As such “good” Islamism (seeking the above through peaceful means) looks like an attempt to exploit the democratic system for its own group-interest and undermine that very democratic system — which you seem to be suggesting would be a good thing. Am I correct?

      1. If Islam can be interpreted many different ways, and if Islamism is Islamic Laws based on Islam, then surely there can be many different types of Islamism – why should we then treat all forms of Islamism as the same? Do Nawaaz or Husain actually examine that there can be many different types of Islamism? Do they explore the possibility that some forms might give a lot more rights to minorities than others?

        For my generation, Islamism is the Communism of the older generation – find the worst possible aspects of it, and use those to depict it in binary terms of evil as opposed to the good that we are. The reality of course is very different – there are some aspects of those ideologies that would bring benefit to some people in society, and there are some aspects of our system that bring immesurable harm to others in the world.
        I was speaking to a security guard from Bulgaria where I was working before, he was in his 50s and had lived through Communism there before moving to the UK, and he said that Communism wasn’t as bad as they made it out to be in the West, everyone got education, healthcare and housing, you did not get homeless people, the worst aspect about it for him was that travelling outside of Bulgaria was very difficult. Now I wouldn’t like to live under Communism or some conservative form of Islamism, but I will not depict them in binary terms as some unmitigated evils that the civilised world must unite and defeat at all costs, I would much rather look at them pluralistically and engage with people who believe in those ideologies in the hope they are willing to be more liberal in those beliefs of theirs that are oppressive.

        1. Nawaz and Husain distinguish between Islam the religion and Islamism the desire to impose Islamic law on society. Their distinction is essentially that of our idea of the separation of church and state.

          Certainly peaceful Islamists are better than violent ones but what they wish to defend is the democratic way of life (secular and liberal democracy as the guarantor of human rights and liberties for all) against even the peaceful ones. These peaceful ones they view as seeking to exploit the very system that is giving them security and peace to practise their religion in order to undermine it.

          I am just as opposed to Christian right wingers attempting to influence our legislation to make it more in line with their religious beliefs. Fortunately most Australians have little time for them. But there are communities where they do wield a sizeable enough bloc to win political representation. A balance of power position gives them power to harm groups they oppose for dogmatic reasons: unionists, gays, arts they see as blasphemous or immoral, rights of Muslims to build places of worship…..

          I think Nawaz and Husain worry that some of the best-intentioned Westerners, in bending over for the sake of the interests of Muslims, are unwittingly facilitating the Islamic social programs that some of those Muslims are seeking.

  3. “Islamism as I understand it (from Nawaz and Ed Husain) is a desire for one group to enact their beliefs as laws which would necessarily mean denying certain rights to minorities.”

    If this is really so—they have an inadequate understanding of both Western and Islamic history.—the part about—“necessarily mean denying certain rights to minorities.”
    Islamism(?—not sure what term to use) was relatively (though inconsistently in practice) egalitarian and tolerant in the Golden ages for its time—without the freedoms of expression and choice—Both the Islamic and Jewish “Golden age” would not have happened. There was also freedom of movement—resulting in a robust transfer and exchange of knowledge.
    Democracy—The First 4 “rightfully guided Caliphs” were “chosen”—though it wasn’t democracy as we know it today—one might say, the principles of democracy(empowered citizens) are not alien to “Islamism”. Nor is the concept of human rights—though Islam(philosophy) tends to balance this concept with the idea of responsibilities of humans….

    One could point out that the “West” and its institutions were founded on an unjust principle—denying the right to property of the indigenous peoples while protecting the property rights of the privileged (entitled) few. (The Magna Carta—protection for the Barons) The whole colonial project was based on this principle. Because of this foundation—“democracy” cannot work properly—unless there is an overhaul of all institutions and systems based on this foundational principle. It is because of this concept of entitled few—that Multinational Corporations and their top shareholders can get away with bailouts, tax evasions, favourable laws, and protection of privileges…..and for some—protection from law as well.

    It will be counter-productive to go back in history in order to re-enact some past socio-political project today or in the future. Rather–we have to re-imagine our societies for the better while taking into consideration both the success and failures of past human endeavors. I acknowledge that Christianity as a political project has not been beneficial to humanity both past and present…..The idea of entitlements of the privileged might even be traced back to the Christian idea that all humanity are sinful barbarians except for the few who are “saved” by Christianity and therefore entilted…?….(The Valladolid debate–justifications used to support the privileged)—Yet, failures can be building blocks to success if we can become wiser because of it.

    One way to think about good “Islamism” is as an effort of a Muslim to contemplate on how to be a contributing citizen of his nation. Groups that are exclusive and prejudiced may harm others, with or without religion. They will do so even under a “democracy” (the U.S. —redlining policies and other racist policies and laws). Those that assume “democracy” is a guarantee may have failed to realize that “voting” for the least worst candidate or option is not the best way to run a complex group system….Both Secularism and Democracy have been beneficial to humanity—but they also have flaws—If Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Confucian humanists and others can contribute to making a better society either within the framework of secularism and/or democracy or some other framework…it may at least be worth a listen….?…..Is it not time for the West to critically examine their own legacy, heritage?….what can it contribute to the future and what needs to be discarded or changed? To be blindly dogmatic of the rightness of their “way”/system may close their vision to many other possibilities?…..

    The Modern political project would not have been possible without thinkers/scholars such as Locke, Paine and others reflecting about human nature and its needs and organization of human beings so that political systems serve these needs…..what it means to be a citizen and so forth….These are universal questions that people from other paradigms and value systems should also think about so that they can become beneficial contributors to the future of humanity…..

    “I think Nawaz and Husain worry that some of the best-intentioned Westerners, in bending over for the sake of the interests of Muslims, are unwittingly facilitating the Islamic social programs that some of those Muslims are seeking.”
    —This is a rather amusing statement—-What is freedom of speech/thought?—only those that are acceptable? If we are afraid of unacceptable speech/thoughts and therefore place limitations—to what degree do we have freedom of speech/thought?
    According to some scholars—this dilemma and the conclusion that was reached—was the “end” of the (Islamic) Golden age…because some people were too afraid of unacceptable thought/speech.
    As an Easterner my grasp of the concept of freedom of speech/thought may not be very sophisticated, but as I understand it—this is almost a sacred value in the West?—yet, is this only a right extended to those who “think” appropriately/acceptably?—if so, then we are back to the notion that there are rights and privileges that some are entitled to but not to others?…..

    I agree that takfirism (exclusivity) is worrisome, as are other forms of prejudice…but such toxic ideas can only be robustly contested in an environment where the concept of freedom of speech/thought is well-understood and practiced. I might also point out that in such an environment, contestations and debates may lead to creative thought and imaginative solutions (Ijtihad)……which may mean that bad social programs, even if implemented, may have a short shelf life–in which case, Nawaz, Hussain and best-intentioned Westerners should have more confidence in human nature and human intelligence?—it is a far better alternative than being constantly in fear of the worst of our human nature…?….

    1. You continue to confuse economic systems with political ones. Yes our democracy is being compromised by economic imbalances but that is the reason we need to be challenging the economic imbalances. The struggle for democracy has never been “finally won” but needs constant vigilance and activism.

      You also confuse the imperialism led by economic interests with democracy. It is democracy that enables us to challenge past injustices as is being done in several countries today.

      You prefer a medieval “golden age” that produced freedoms and education and opportunities for elites? Forget about slavery, serfdom, tribute…. etc?

      The human rights we speak about today were the product of the Enlightenment era. The very idea of “rights” stems from that period. It means we do not have to trust on the “good character” of a few power elites.

      What would happen to gays and Christians and the intellectual freedoms we have today under your system? Muslims are protected in places like Australia and free to build mosques without special penalties. But as ideas and beliefs such as yours about our way of life become more widely known and associated with all Muslims in the minds of many Westerners then yes, there will be rising tensions and hostilities against Muslims. What you are saying here is what Westerners fear all Muslims believe — that they want to undermine our values of human rights and public accountability and replace them with your own “superior” Allah-ordained rules.

      The West has experienced too many experiments in “ideal” societies and “divine laws” — they always end up in tyranny. We’ve learned that the messiness of secular public accountability with its ebbs and flows of successes and failures is what enables us to get by without one group “with all the answers” telling the rest how to live.

      When I defend Muslims and oppose Islamophobia here it is on behalf of the sorts of Muslims I read about by Nawaz and Husain — and the Muslim families they came from — who flatly oppose your Islamist ideology.

      Why don’t you join those of us who are challenging neoliberalism and are activists for indigenous rights within the system instead of seeking to propagandize your Islamist ideals?

  4. What is democracy to you? is it only voting? To me, any governing/political system is primarily about laws/regulations. Laws encompass economics since without laws and regulations we cannot run economics (system) or the bureaucracies that facilitate them….

    To be able to challenge injustice—one needs good laws….if the laws are such that dissent is labeled as criminal or terrorism then you cannot have dissent—regardless of the label of your governing system. And regardless of the label of a bad system—if the people do not give assent—it will fail—this goes for dictatorship, monarchy or democracy…..the degree to which the failure causes bloodshed will be to the degree the powers try to hang on to their powers despite opposition.

    Enlightenment—I can agree with you that human rights in the West were a result of the Enlightenment. But in Islam the purpose of law (Maqasid al Sharia) as well as law/jurisprudence in general (Fiqh)–rights (and responsibilities) of men, women and children (Yes—children too had rights) were discussed by scholars. (…because the Quran touches upon these subjects)
    Enlightenment thinkers proposed that their philosophies/ethico-moral principles were “Universal” (The “Universal” of the Universal declaration of human rights) If this is correct—then it won’t matter what “label” particular ethico-moral principles are labelled—“Allah-ordained” of Confucian inspired or what–because the universal nature of these principles means that they are part of all human traditions. (Or are you now proposing these are uniquely western?—if so then you are imposing specifically and uniquely western values onto everyone else…?….)

    Here in the East there are toxic exclusivist religious nationalist movements—but there are also scholars and philosophers that are not exclusive—but inclusive–yet, work from within their traditions to bring wisdom and generate new ideas. I would like to see such wisdom and ideas flourish. I would like to see humanity reach a maturity of spirit where all peoples are encouraged to be the best they can be within their paradigms. A “Plurivarsal” system….

    1. Where are you living? What is your experience with democratic systems?

      Democracy is not just about voting. Dictatorships have voting. We know the travesty of the voting system in the U.S. and an increasing number of Western states — but we also still have many democratic freedoms to be able to openly challenge these systems.

      You and I clearly have very different understandings of the nature and history of democratic systems. I would be interested to know what your background is to understand where you are coming from.

      Democracy is the freedom for all citizens to take part in the process of law-making and holding authorities to public account.

      What would happen to gays and someone accused of blasphemy in your state and the laws relating to music and theatre in your state? What would the fashion police enforce upon us? Would Jews and Christians have to pay for the privilege of living in your state free to practice their faith?

      Do you grasp that people vote for law-makers — that is, the laws we have are the responsibility of the public and the public holds the law-makers accountable. Now there are times and places where such a system is sometimes placed under enormous strains but even in these places today there are freedoms to challenge and work towards correcting the system.

      You somehow think democracy was based on inequality and dispossession of ethnic minorities. That’s a gross distortion of history. One could just as easily say your golden age was based on slavery and serfdom.

      Everyone can use words like “universalism” and “brotherhood” but in effect mean something different in practice. That’s why totalitarian systems and reigns of terror have begun as movements to establish “ideals” of equality, liberty, etc — Ideal states don’t work. They have a very nasty track record of turning into their opposites. That’s because there always comes a point where compulsion must be used and safeguards to ensure the safety of the new authorities who are no longer accountable to the general public.

      We have learned to keep religion and politics separate. Christian fundamentalists are trying to undermine this heritage, and now Islamists such as yourself are another threat to our system of public accountability. You do not understand the basics of what we have, or what democracy is if you confuse it with the very economic systems and injustices it empowers us to fight and to change.

      We need an Islamist society like we need a Christian fundamentalist or any other religious totalitarian one.

      Secular democracies guarantee religious freedom. Religious societies do not.

      Example: you read a lot about corporate and political corruption in the West. Does that mean our “democracy” itself has failed? What it means is that in our system we have the freedom to report on such corruption and hold authorities to account. Sometimes we fail. But we also often succeed. I’d rather be in a system that gives the public the freedoms to often succeed than in one that leaves it all to a supposedly pious elite.

    2. I would like to see humanity reach a maturity of spirit where all peoples are encouraged to be the best they can be within their paradigms.

      Ah — this is a religious statement. Not a scientific one. “Maturity of spirit”. We would all like to see everyone “be the best they can be” — but who decides what is “the best” for everyone? That’s where the compulsion and totalitarianism begin.

      Sam Harris, I believe, thinks “what is best” can be determined scientifically. That’s a damn dangerous idea — as dangerous as any idea upon which past fascist and religious totalitarian systems have been built.

  5. “We have learned to keep religion and politics separate.”
    The way I would read such a statement is “we have learned to keep ethics/morality and politics separate”. (This may indeed have been a good idea for former “Christendom”.) But it would contradict this concept—people vote for law-makers — that is, the laws we have are the responsibility of the public and the public holds the law-makers accountable. Now there are times and places where such a system is sometimes placed under enormous strains but even in these places today there are freedoms to challenge and work towards correcting the system.—that is, if people make the “Laws” obviously the value systems and paradigms of the people have an effect on the laws?

    1. No. People are moral creatures. They vote for law-makers according to their moral values and they hold them accountable according to their moral values. We do not need religion to be moral. If a lawmaker is being bribed we can hold him accountable for dishonesty. That’s how public morality works in politics. No need for religion to detect and punish dishonesty.

      Same with tolerance and fairness for all. We don’t need religion to tell us when someone is mistreating another person. We can hold bigots and bullies to account because we believe in standards of common human decency.

      Religion is nice for many who like to believe but moral progress does not need it.

  6. I agree we do not need religion to be moral. Fitra–the Islamic concept of humanity proposes that there is inherent goodness in humanity…perhaps that is why I have more confidence in humanity and its progress…..

    But—-if as you have just implied—there are certain universal standards of human decency—then the label under which these standards are articulated should not matter? If I see “universal human rights” in Islam and you see them in Enlightenment–should the label make a difference? If you propose that the label makes a difference—you are giving assent to the proposition that Universal human rights are actually not universal?On the other hand—if you are confident they are indeed universal—then there should be no problem in discussing these human rights principles and their implementation with those who come from different paradigms and value systems……universal means that their values are your values too. —this would mean that Islamic values and Enlightenment values have a convergence……!!!!is that a horrifying thought? or can it be acceptable?

    1. It is just as horrifying and unacceptable a thought as is a Christian telling me there is no difference between Christian values and those that are based on secular rationalism and Enlightenment principles — because I know when it comes down to actual application there are indeed divergences after all.

      As I pointed out earlier, just talking the same words at a very high conceptual level is meaningless — everyone believes in justice, kindness, tolerance, honesty. A Fascist justifies his program with the same talk; so does the religious ideologue — and the Islamist. What counts is the application and the devils in the details.

      Such human rights are not universal in the sense that they belong to human nature for all time — they are historically derived from the Enlightenment era. They need to be jealously guarded and fought for to be preserved and extended.

      So what does you golden age of Islamist rule mean for gays, for the arts, for the freedoms we currently enjoy to challenge the system and hold our leaders to account, and for the way we dress and the intellectual pursuits we follow and the way we express ourselves? Where do you live? What experience do you have with Western democracy? What are your information sources and experiences? Why do you remain anonymous?

      And who in your system decides what is “best” for us all?

  7. What would happen to gays and someone accused of blasphemy in your state and the laws relating to music and theatre in your state? What would the fashion police enforce upon us? Would Jews and Christians have to pay for the privilege of living in your state free to practice their faith?

    It is not my intention to prove Islam/ism? is “superior”—I would accept it had (and has) many flaws—but then, all human endeavors have some degree of flaws……multiple perspectives may be more informative than singular ones….?…..

    ….A shallow overview to the above questions…..


    Blasphemy—Unlike freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief (Article 18 of the UDHR and ICCPR) which is absolute, freedom of expression can be limited under the international human rights framework.
    There are 8 European countries that have Blasphemy laws according to 2011 Pew survey—-http://www.pewforum.org/2012/11/21/laws-penalizing-blasphemy-apostasy-and-defamation-of-religion-are-widespread/
    —-But I agree these laws should be re-evaluated in a nuanced way that protects rights and human dignity.

    Music, theatre, arts—http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/orna/hd_orna.htm


    (Fatimid Dynasty) http://cmcsoxford.org.uk/governing-diverse-communities-a-medieval-muslim-illustration/

  8. Christian telling me there is no difference between Christian values and those that are based on secular rationalism and Enlightenment principles — because I know when it comes down to actual application there are indeed divergences after all.

    —so then who decides?
    The majority? the Secular philosophers? whose vision and values are imposed?

  9. My background is difficult/confusing to explain—I “am” from the Far East and South East Asia—but have also lived in the U.S. for a short while.

    Sayyid Hussain Nasr, Tariq Ramadan and Amina Wadud are some scholars who have expressed ideas on what it might mean to be a Muslim and a citizen…..Tariq Ramadan, Timothy Winters (and some others) have also contemplated on what it Means to be “Muslim” and “Western”. There are many interesting perspectives……

  10. I would rather the majority decide than an elite of imams. Yes indeed. That’s what democracy means, you don’t agree?

    I understand you disapprove of Western values regarding intellectual freedoms and human rights and would limit these to accord with what Islamic law says is “best” for us. That’s not the society I want to live in. I especially do not want to live in a society that will decree the enforcing of these laws upon those who would otherwise dissent. That’s where the tyranny enters.

    Just pointing to a few websites tells me nothing. Do you really believe every value that those sites hint at at some corner of the Muslim world when you have been telling me that there is an absolute standard applicable to all? So only Indonesia has it right about gays, yes? And in your ideal golden society Indonesia’s laws would override the laws of all other Muslim countries, yes?

    Why bother with Islam at all when it comes to human rights. There is no need. We have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Why is that not enough for you — or threatening to you in some ways?

    P.S. — added later ….

    I am in Indonesia now (have been here many times before) and am not particularly impressed by websites promoting the freedoms and rights that exist here. Sure gays are allowed freedom here, but that’s the law of a government that is opposed to Islamist groups — that is opposed to Islamic law entering politics in the way you are advocating. And the democracy we see here is “built upon” the murders of untold numbers of sympathizers with socialist and left-wing groups, and it is well-known that Islamists in Indonesia would love to institute sharia law rolling back some of the freedoms and rights that currently exist. Need I address Jordan or Muslim nations mentioned in the other sites you listed? No thank you. If you are trying to convince me that Islamic law is compatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights then you have no need to bother. Simply forget Islamic law in politics and keep the Declaration and push for its deepening implementation in our respective societies.

  11. Majority wins.—-Majority consensus is important for the efficient running of any complex group system—but as you have pointed out—it can also create problems (voting in fascists or accepting unethical laws for “national security”, oppression of minorities…etc)..and today there is also the problem of “manufactured consent”—the use of propaganda to promote particular agendas. Another problem is that solutions for social issues/social justice can become inefficient and ineffective when addressing only the needs of the majority without concerns for the specificity and diversity of needs of particular communities. To solve these problems one may have to re-imagine a society where the distribution of power is structured differently—one that balances the distribution of power in such a way as to create empowered communities whether they comprise a minority or majority and where macro (the large community —such as nation, state or province etc) and micro (smaller community groups neighborhoods, city/town etc) needs and rights are met and negotiated. In a globalized future—there may be considerations of a much larger community than the national community—the regional groupings and transnational communities and the power balance will have to accommodate such groups without compromising the empowerment of the smaller group systems. (We already have the United Nations, BRICS, European Union, ASEAN…etc)
    Some of the major world religions already have structures and systems that can be developed to accommodate and empower micro communities and also the macro transnational/global communities.

    elite Imams—Like the Rabbis of Judaism, Islam is also structured upon scholars. When it comes to lawmaking—or at least good lawmaking—a methodology is involved. (usul al Fiqh=methodology of Jurisprudence) Many factors such as customs (al-urf), majority consensus (shura and ijma), public interest(al-istislah), reasoning (qiyas) precedent(sunnah) and sources of law have to be considered, debated and negotiated to arrive at law. To leave this practice to public majority vote is to have “laws” made by the ignorant for the ignorant….good laws have to be made by good Jurists who have integrity, character (ethics/morality) and knowledge. For these laws to be “just” public consent is necessary as to impose laws that the public do not give assent to is oppression. Therefore to impose (force) “Islamic” laws upon people who have not given assent to them—is oppression….all peoples have the right to live under their own laws to which they give assent.

    Western values—I happen to agree with the enlightenment scholars that some ethico-moral principles are universal—though their articulation and implementation would be specific/particular to the different paradigms….so…I find (as do many Muslims) that many Western values are “sharia-compliant”. My problem with Enlightenment values is that they may be outdated, inconsistent, or unbalanced.

    enforcing laws on people who dissent—But that is precisely what Modern systems do—and you have implied as much when you said Christian fundamentalists are dissatisfied with some laws—“Secular” laws based on enlightenment values and principles are being enforced on people who dissent—-is that secular tyranny?—if so, how would you re-imagine your society to be much more egalitarian and place greater value on freedom of conscience and the right to human dignity and respect of all peoples?–even people whose values you may disagree with?

    One set of laws overriding all others—-is oppression is it not? no matter what label you put on those laws (Secular, Buddhist, Communist…etc)—any system that forces those who dissent is a system that has not yet achieved a high degree of sophistication in terms of freedom of conscience? or in the principles of human dignity and the right to respect…..

    Islam has a plurality of laws (Sharia) there was never only one system of law/sharia. If I have implied such then I apologize for causing a misunderstanding…there are 5 major schools of Sharia/Fiqh. Islam as a set of ethico-moral principles is “universal”—there is only one Quran and it is the source for extracting universal principles upon which ethical laws are based—nevertheless, universal principles will generate specific interpretations, articulations and implementations. Large, complex, group systems that have not yet grasped this point may be outdated….
    (Islam(as religion) does have an overall framework or paradigm (Quran, 5 pillars..etc) and this limits its diversity, relatively speaking—so Islam may not be as diverse as Christianity or Hinduism….thus, it has a stronger component of social cohesion which may give the impression it is a monolith—but Muslims see it as “diversity within Unity”, (Ummah)….IMO, it is a good balance)

    UDHR, CEDAW, Geneva Conventions etc…are great achievements of Modernity (and progress of humanity). But we should do better. Some Hindu scholars have pointed out that Modernity values tolerance—but humanity needs to progress beyond tolerance to sincere respect. As a Muslim, I agree–We need to progress to a level where we give sincere assent to the notion of the inherent equality of all humanity and the right of every person and group to dignity and respect. One aspect of this is that we need to develop systems that respect the particular identity constructs and paradigms that different people and groups come from—-not call on them to neutralize this into some “secular” language that strips them of their particular articulations.

    “Modern” Islamists—Purists (a Modern Movement) such as Wahabis want to impose a single system onto everyone—but then so do you—as you have just suggested—you want me and everyone else to work with UDHR….Its a good system so why not?—right—but that is also what the Wahabis say…their system is “good” according to their arbitrary criterion….Such problems is precisely the reason Muslims must think about, engage in, and work out “political Islam”/Islamism. Disengagement is not a wise option to advocate—-ethical civic institutions and policies, ethical governance and ethical laws should be a concern of all peoples of belief and nonbelief…..because our future is global. It is no longer enough to think in terms of “nation-state” alone….

    (The term “Islamist” is open to a variety of definitions….maybe I am one, maybe I am not—-in any case, IMO, civic and political engagement by people of different backgrounds is beneficial for society and for humanity…simply because without striving for betterment we cannot improve/progress.)

    In an age when war has become the means of providing identity, purpose and meaning to an aimless, alienated, global youth—there may be an urgency for Muslims (more so than other communities) to be more engaged and proactive….? If Muslims are able to do so in co-operation with a diversity of communities of belief/nonbelief to create spaces of active engagement of socio-economic-civic issues of their neighbourhoods, communities etc…then such a system of co-operation could extend to a global scale…with the internet…it may be possible….?….
    When people of different backgrounds work towards common goals (for the benefit of humanity)–it can create good social cohesion—diversity within Unity.

    1. You’ve missed my point. Democracy is not voting. We’ve discussed all of this and are now going around in circles. It is community involvement — and public accountability. You seem to have forgotten we’ve discussed all of this.

      We’ve also mentioned the independence of the judiciary. We know all about manufacturing consent etc. Your Islamist solution is a religious form of fascism. We will never have a perfect system and if we do demand perfection then we have tyranny — fascism, mob rule or minority rule. Neither is democracy.

      We have an educated and secular public set of values. Once we lose those then we’ve lost our democratic society where Muslims are free to worship as they wish — so long as they do not harm others.

      The system I want to see is freedom for all groups to practice their beliefs. The only limitation is that they do not harm others. Your Islamism would impose your beliefs on others in a way that denies them their rights and does them harm in their own eyes.

      The only “harm” I want to impose is the harm that comes when a would-be tyrant or robber or imam or priest wants to harm others by imposing his will on them — just because he thinks it’s for their good. That’s tyranny.

      If you call UDHR a tyranny then you have no idea what you are talking about. Only fascists and would-be religious tyrants want any other set of values to govern society.

      Your Islamism wants to get rid of some of those laws you boast are allowed in Muslim countries right now.

      If you want to do better than we have now then you won’t want to overthrow it with fascism or Islamism. You will want to work with the democratic freedoms and institutions to guard our existing system and improve it though democratic activism — not religious alternatives.

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