People have flocked to the Islamic State for different reasons and one of these is the religious experience it offers. That religious experience runs much deeper than its apocalyptic hopes for “the end times”.
Atheism, not anti-theism
I am an atheist and deplore the immeasurable damage “religion”, both organised and personal, has wreaked upon so many lives. At the same time I cannot deny that many people find deep spiritual meaning for their lives in religion. (I use the word “spiritual” for convenience and sometimes use “religious” as a synonym. Normally I’d prefer to speak of the rich emotional life many find through the awe of existence and experiencing the universe, and as well as through companionship and the arts, music, and so forth.) It is for this reason I cannot bring myself to be an anti-theist. If it is true that “it takes religion to make a good person evil” it is also true that “it takes religion to turn bad person good”. I personally wish people could find some other idea or experience to make them good or in which they can find personal fulfilment, but that’s how people are.
Why are people like this? To help us with answers we have our own experiences to draw upon and works like Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the spell : religion as a natural phenomenon (2006), Scott Atran’s In gods we trust : the evolutionary landscape of religion (2002), Newberg, D’Aquili & Rause’s Why God won’t go away : brain science and the biology of belief (2001) and especially Pascal Boyer’s Religion explained : the evolutionary origins of religious thought (2001), along with dozens of others on fundamentalisms, new atheist critiques, and more.
Merely attacking religion’s unscientific and illogical beliefs and moral failings is entirely misdirected energy. That approach only advertises the barrenness of the author’s understanding of the psychology of religious belief. Perhaps some New Atheists who are the most savage of critics of religion would modify their approach if they paused to investigate what some of the literature has to say about the origins of religion and why it is so deeply embedded in the human experience.
Thomas Hegghammer, a specialist in Islamist violence, wrote in an article in The New York Times (Dec 15, 2015)
When jihadis aren’t fighting — which is most of the time — they enjoy storytelling and watching films, cooking and swimming. The social atmosphere (at least for those who play by the rules) is egalitarian, affectionate and even playful. Jihadi life is emotionally intense, filled with the thrill of combat, the sorrow of loss, the joy of camaraderie and the elation of religious experience. I suspect this is a key source of its attraction. (Soft Power of Militant Jihad)
In seeking to understand the world of jihadis Hegghammer made it his business to understand everything they do, delving into “autobiographies, videos, blog posts, tweets and defector’s accounts”, and what he found he overviews in his NYT article which he titled The Soft Power of Militant Jihad.
Weeping, music, poetry
Zarqawi, the one who introduced the world to online viewings of the beheading of hostages, the one who launched the bombings of Shia mosques and market places to provoke civil war between Iraq’s Sunnis and Shias, earned the nickname Slaughterer, was also known in jihadi circles as He Who Weeps a Lot. The Slaughterer was known to weep during his prayers and when speaking about the sufferings of Muslim women under occupation.
For these violent extremists “communal sobbing”, viewed as a sure sign of devotion to God, “is as common as car bombing”.
Imams sometimes cry in the public performance of their duties and jihadi devotees weep along with them. The sound of religious hymns, the viewing of propaganda videos, talk of the plight of Sunni Muslims and discussions of the afterlife — all these activities can evoke weeping. Some do so more than others and those who weep the most are looked up to by those who weep little or not at all.
Why have tens of thousands of people from around the world chosen to live under the Islamic State’s draconian rule and fight under its black flag? To understand this phenomenon, we must recognize that the world of radical Islam is not just death and destruction. It also encompasses fashion, music, poetry, dream interpretation. In short, jihadism offers its adherents a rich cultural universe in which they can immerse themselves. (Soft Power)
Music is a significant part of jihadi life. In training camps, in their safe houses, dorms, in the battle fields, on Twitter and Facebook, thousands of jihadi songs (without musical instruments) are being played and sung.
Some use them to mentally prepare for operations: Ayoub El Khazani, a 25-year-old Moroccan man who attempted a shooting attack on a Paris-bound train in August, listened to YouTube videos of jihadi anashid [a cappella hymns] just minutes before his failed operation. (Soft Power)
Poetry may have gone out of fashion for many of us but it is widely appreciated in the Arab and Muslim world, and it remains “another staple of jihadi culture”. Islamic State leaders often recite lines of poetry in their speeches.
Foot soldiers in Syria and Iraq sometimes hold impromptu poetry performances or group recitals in the field. (Soft Power)
And then there is dream interpretation. Recall from the Bible how often dreams are the communications from God.
Perhaps more important than poems for jihadis are dreams, which they believe can contain instructions from God or premonitions of the future. Both leaders and foot soldiers say they sometimes rely on nighttime visions for decision making. Omar Hammami, the Alabama-born man who fought with the Shabab in Somalia in the late 2000s, said he thought of defecting, “but it was really a few dreams that tipped the scales and caused me to stay.” Mullah Omar, the mysterious one-eyed Taliban leader who died in 2013, reportedly made no consequential strategic decision before getting advice from his dreams. (Soft Power)
Thomas Hegghammer in his article additionally refers in passing to styles of clothing, in-group etiquette and personal habits — “a whole new lifestyle”.
Music, rituals and customs may be as important to jihadi recruitment as theological treatises and political arguments. Yes, some people join radical groups because they want to escape personal problems, avenge Western foreign policy or obey a radical doctrine. But some recruits may join because they find a cultural community and a new life that is emotionally rewarding.
. . . . We are not only confronting organizations and doctrines, but also a highly seductive subculture. This is bad news. Governments are much better equipped to take on the Slaughterer than they are He Who Weeps a Lot. (Soft Power)
William McCants describes other facets of the same communal-religious experience of jihadi life in The ISIS Apocalypse. Foreigners who travel to join Islamic State call themselves “strangers”. Says the hadith:
It was narrated from ‘Abdullah that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
“Islam began as something strange and will go back to being strange, so glad tidings to the strangers.” It was said: “Who are the strangers?’ He said: “Strangers who have left their families and tribes.”
Such passages are in the apocalyptic end-time section of the Book of Tribulations, placing these “strangers” at the time of the Final Judgment on the unbelievers.
Other end-time prophecies — the war in Syria, the black flag, the return of slavery, and many more — are also studied and talked about and rationalised, binding the comrades in the tense excitement of the times and events they believe they are privileged to be experiencing. The prototype of the Islamic State, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), when led by Masri after the death of Zarqawi, even made the blundering strategic military decision to begin the conquest of the whole of Iraq on the basis of his sincere belief that within three months the Mahdi would come on prophetic schedule. (Spreading his forces so thinly only resulted in major military setbacks.)
David Cook, author of two specialist studies on apocalyptic writings in the Islamic tradition and more recent times, has shown that the Quran and mainstream Islam has very little (i.e. nothing) to say about the end-time prophetic views of the Islamists. Sources for these ideas have been the Bible, fundamentalist Christian tracts, UFO literature and global (anti-Semitic) conspiracy theories, words attributed to Muhammad.
ISIS is using apocalyptic expectation as a key part of its appeal. “If you think all these mujahideen came from across the world to fight Assad, you’re mistaken. They are all here as promised by the Prophet. This is the war he promised — it is the Grand Battle,” a Sunni Muslim told Reuters.
— Stern, J & Berger JM 2015, ISIS: The State of Terror, Collins, London.
The religious-communal experience
All of this is what led anthropologist Scott Atran to make the following comment:
We are missing an important part of the power in attraction and joy of the movement. I remember in Pakistan and among immigrants in Barcelona people would always lie or equivocate about how strongly they supported AQ or the Taliban. But their poems never lied.
There is a serious and intense poetry associated with the jihad. there are captivating acapella chants, and the serious sharing of nighttime dreams that characterize the culture of the Islamic State. A deep part of the human experience common to premodern cultures but increasingly absent from ours (and whose power and meaning the neo atheists and neo clausewitzians just don’t get).
Among the Itza’ maya I lived among families who would gather in the morning and interpret one another’s dreams, and sometimes take those dreams and interpretations to shamans for guidance. Jihadis often do this (with imams and amirs replacing the shamans) to guide even battlefield decisions. The jihadi culture is thick and 3-dimensional. Its atavistic elements, folklore more like the fascist revolution than others.
I see little if any attempt to deal with this, which ultimately determines the staying power of this culture given sufficient material means.
Thanks to Mark Erickson for alerting me to the discussion page where the informal comment appeared.
Misunderstanding terrorism’s relation to religion
Attacking the Muslim religion as somehow being the inspiration for Islamist terrorism is like attacking Christianity and the Bible in order to counter the Christian Identity movement or any other pernicious cult. Not only does it let the responsible religious beliefs escape untouched, it completely overlooks the real nature of the psychological-sociological forces that draw young men and women to follow after the “sacred vision” that bestows on them a new identity, a new life, even in death.
What will happen when the prophecies fail? No doubt some will be disillusioned. Yet we know that prophetic failures alone rarely mean the complete dissolution of eschatological sects.
Some people might be initially attracted to a religious group for reasons of doctrine. They see it as a source of “Truth”. But those who stay and experience the religious life sometimes shift their grounds for continuing with the group. I recall from my own experience what I have since read in the experiences of many others that one comes to learn that some doctrines are not as secure as one originally believed, but by then the attachment to the group is no longer an intellectual one grounded just in the teachings, but in the experience of close family bonding with others, and in what one comes to interpret as a close relationship with a higher Being in whom one fuses one’s own identity.
There are others who have come under the authority of ISIS who have not been so spiritually moved. Many of these were compelled by violence so extreme that according to most theorists it should never have been capable of building a viable state. But how that happened is another story.
Cook, D 2005, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature, Syracuse University Press, Syracuse
Cook, D 2002, Studies in Muslim Apocalyptic, Darwin Press, Princeton
Hegghammer, T 2015, The Soft Power of Islamic Jihad, NYT.
McCants, W 2015, The ISIS Apocalypse, St Martins Press, NY.
Stern, J & Berger JM 2015, ISIS: The State of Terror, Collins, London.
Atran, S 2015 in response to question asked by Pam Weintraub, Is the revolutionary violence of Islamic extremism any different from other revolutions in history?
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43 thoughts on “The Religious Thrill and Bond of the Islamic State”
“There is a serious and intense poetry associated with the jihad. There are captivating a cappella chants, and the serious sharing of night time dreams that characterise the culture of the Islamic State. A deep part of the human experience common to premodern cultures but increasingly absent from ours (and whose power and meaning the neo atheists and neo clausewitzians just don’t get) .”
-Except… Sam Harris, who’s written about precisely this (can’t find the link now, but it’s there).
Yeh, of course it’s there. Somewhere ….. which explains why he’s never till he met Nawaz been able to distinguish between the Muslim religion and the jihadi beliefs, and why he’s even begun to backslide on that point since. And why he accuses researchers who make the very points I have discussed above of denying the role of religion altogether in terrorism!
Surely it is plain that there is something amiss with Harris’s explanations when he disagrees, with erroneous claims, with the very people who in reality make the arguments he says he himself is making — and that he flatly denies they make!
To be sure, criticizing just the falsity of religious miracles, is not enough. But once you have done that, it’s easy enough to move on to criticize its spiritual side as well. Since even religions warned that even spirits can be deceptive, “false spirits.”
So for example, you might feel you are following the good spirit of a proper humility, when you bow before your God. But perhaps you are really experiencing the evil spirit of excessive servility and credulity, before a false idol.
This applies even especially to those who sincerely think they are Christians, following Christ. Since they may actually be following a false idea of Jesus, or a “false Christ. “
“Merely attacking religion’s unscientific and illogical beliefs and moral failings is entirely misdirected energy. That approach only advertises the barrenness of the author’s understanding of the psychology of religious belief.”
Why should these things be off-limits? Why is this misdirected energy? Sounds like PC to me. Who is misunderstanding whom? How will us (whoever the hell we are) understanding them ( all relgious fanactics including those in Wash DC) make them any different?
I did not say they are “off-limits”. Of course they aren’t. But if you want to undermine the power of religion you need to understand first of all how the religious mind works. Religious belief comes with its own in-built defences against mere logic applicable to the “real-world”, and any argument against human weakness. Merely gunning for these things is water off a duck’s back to the religious believer.
Far better is to focus on the dream religion offers and to demonstrate its falsity (e.g. highlighting the failures of Islamic State and hypocrisy of some of its leadership) and offer an alternative.
Great answer. Thanks
I know that the supernatural is nonsense, but what’s the harm in letting the little people have their delusions if it helps them feel better.
The late Chris Hitchens used to argue a point I strongly agreed with for quite some time — that once we bestow respectability on the holding of “faith”, we are opening the gates for easy irrational (and therefore dangerous) actions. It’s only a matter of time and circumstance before these turn to something really horrific.
Yes, there is a certain truth in that point, but it also misses the real attraction of religion, I think. The irrational, the life of the imagination fuelled by group camaraderie is, like it or not, a side of the human experience in which many do find rich meaning.
It’s the same sort of pull that I see was at work in the rise of fascism when I look at interviews and documentaries of Germany in from the 20s to the 40s. I watch interviews with those who were wrapped up in the Hitler Youth and SS, for example, and I hear the same refrains we expressed as members of a more recent American religious cult. It’s about “good attitudes” trumping genuine criticism, the thrill of being part of making history in the critical hour, of self-sacrifice for something far, far greater than the individual . . . .
What’s needed is to not only advertise the failings and failures of jihadis but especially the promotion of a real alternative. Moderate Islam or another round of State-Sponsored propaganda, for example, do not even begin to make the cut.
For many of us, being part of the modern scientific exploration of the vast and infinitely fascinating material cosmos, evokes strong sentiments. Deep feelings that are one powerful alernative to religion, even at its most emotional.
I don’t think Hitchens’ point misses the attraction of religion, it just points out the most likely result of faith/magical thinking. The attraction is clear. Strong emotional group experiences are compelling. Some talk about the “God-size hole in our heart”. Though I don’t agree with the label, there is clearly a sense of truly being that comes with group bonding rituals…especially those where the rational side or our being is subdued in favor of group/cooperative music, rhythm, poetry, movement, postures and even more libertine activities.
I think these experiences can and are created regularly without the need for imposing supernatural beliefs. But per the Hitchens quote, incorporate faith into the experience, and it gets dangerous. As an ardent anti-theist, I see no reason that we can’t have fully human group bonding experiences based on our emotional brain without tying them to supernatural beliefs. I go to a monthly drumming circle where we employ movement Goodman’s postures. It creates amazing individual and group experiences way beyond mere camaraderie–indeed, the elation I used to equate to mystical/religious experiences.
I do believe this type of visceral group bonding experience is a key aspect of fully experiencing our humanity and would not want to have that removed from our society. I see this opinion as being totally consistent with my anti-theist perspective. I think working toward a religion/superstition/magical thinking-free society is not at all the same moving to a society that is free of the same neurological experiences that so many equate with religion and mysticism.
I could not deny having feelings similar to what I experienced with religion when I was part of a political activist group — the camaraderie, the intellectual discussions, the plans for actions to make an impact and raise public awareness. Unfortunately jihadis like neither drums nor secular politics.
Deprogramming those adrenaline junkies who have become warriors or terrorists is not so easy. Fortunately though, most Muslims by far, live calm, ordinary lives as shopkeepers and farmers and so forth. The emotions they experience and value, are the calmer emotions of families, and everyday domestic life.
Most of us in the world of blogging and politics, are emotionally hooked on arguments, debates. We are warriors, posing one side of a question, and defending it to death. We enjoy the sense of fighting, contest, wrestling, and hopefully besting an opponent.
However, most of us know deeper down, that there are things to be said, often, for two or more sides of any argument or question. And after much wrestling, in a calmer more academic, objective or “disintrested” frame of mind, we are finally prepared to entertain not just one, but countless points of view, on our old hobby horse.
Personally, I will now and then equally entertain two or more sides to a question. Though eventually I will return to the side that I feel has the most truth. Or whose truth has been most egregiously neglected.
Arguably, most bloggers are emotional, metaphorical jihadists, fighting one holy war or another. But most of us can pull back now and then, for a more balanced, cooperative discussion.
I was reading earlier tonight about our propensity to stereotype “the other”, and how it’s as natural as breathing, and how its more a rule than an exception that we fail to recognize our own racism or other form of distancing “the others” from the daily realities of being human. Stereotyping comes with the emotional distancing, too.
What disturbs me is when we see people speaking of “the Muslims” to refer to a collective of warring and non-warring sectors of entire Middle Eastern countries — as if the word “Muslims” conveys anything meaningful about them all.
I try to be aware of my own biases. I’d like to think some posts on this topic are as well researched as anything I might write on biblical studies, although I’ve been doing biblical studies much longer and have more knowledge in that department under my belt.
It’s striking how we can be so thoroughly critical and careful in the way we study one topic, say the bible/christian origins, but how when it comes to far more important topics all that care and critical approach seems to go out the window and heated emotion takes over.
Several times someone has expressed a hope for open, civil discussion of different perspectives — but it’s very rare that that ever follows through. As I said before, it’s a real shame. It really is.
Much conflict, polemic, extremism, comes from the habit of thinking of discussions and of life as debates. Debates pose every discussion as an antagonistic contest or war between two over-contrasted extremes. The other side, the other, can only be seen as a jousting opponent, to be bested.
One remedy for overcoming the war or debate mindset, would be Hegelian dialectic. Where the tentative solution or higher truth, is expected to arrive out of bits of both of the two opposed positions.
Having recently read Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life (1994) I am more inclined to see all our discussions as being expressions (in part) of our inbuilt desire to enhance our social status. Competition is part of how we are. Fortunately there are other competing strategies that work for our benefit through cooperation and displays of humility. Like Wright, I find myself thinking it is “nearly miraculous” that we get along and work together for learning at all.
Attacking “Islam”—by those outside of Islam can make matters worse—however, for Muslims—it is a responsibility to confront any toxicity that is causing harm…because addressing and countering the particular nuances and vision can best come from within….
But—because of the specific characteristic of Islam—state-sponsorship may cause any such attempts to loose legitimacy—that is why such efforts must be independent and in-built…
Charity—Islam has a very strong focus on Charity (its one of the pillars)…If this drive and duty can be used for the benefit of society in which these youth live—and make a difference in their lives and the lives of their community—a positive and pragmatic alternative can be produced. If a state works with mosques to create programs beneficial to all members of the community Muslim and non-Muslim—it will create a sense of belonging, pride and communal identity—a better alternative than war….traditionally, zakat (obligatory charity) was used to provide healthcare, education, welfare needs of the poor, orphaned, widowed…etc. (there is also sadaqah—voluntary charity).
If the sate does not want to get involved—then encouraging interfaith charity may be an alternative—Christian Churches are better organized and together may create real/actual and active benefits for all in their communities…especially if these programs are paired in an organized way with schools and universities where most of the youth are….especially if social justice vision comes from the youth themselves—it will empower them and they will be not just passive participants —but stakeholders in these programs….?….
What sorts of programs do you think would succeed at creating a “sense of belonging, pride, communal identity”?
Most modern Imams encourage such things. Our sacred messenger, Mohammed, told them to never be angry. The very word “Islam” means submission.
Oddly though, just gradual exposure to and assimilation of western life, modern civil life, accomplishes much.
For those who are already radicalized? Just growing up often helps. Learning to see that things weren’t as black-and-white as they thought earlier….
Different communities have their own unique set of problems and needs based on their environment and demographics….if young people become active and empowered members of their communities, find the needs that need to be met and strive to find solutions to those needs–then put this vision into action—the energy and enthusiasm of youth can be used for benefit.
But solving problems could be the first step—-which could lead to rethinking about how to organize communities that efficiently think about and care for all the needs of its members—or visions of “community-building”….of systems and civic institutions….
Asia/East is young—demographically—Globally, Muslims are also demographically a young population—this means that excessive energy, enthusiasm and creativity of these youth would better serve humanity if it were given a positive direction…..
The 19th and 20th century calls for Reason, a rational society, though dated in the West, might be an captivating rallying call for young Asians and others. Or? In my younger years, the discovery of formal logic was a revelation. For that matter, there is positive emotion there too.
Unsurprisingly, there are postmodern arguments against science, reason, positivism. But those objections and demands can be fairly easily met.
Easterners balance reason and superstition—this may seem like a paradox to those not from this type of culture. As for Islamic history—Muslims knew of Greek philosophers and their works way before it became popular in Europe during the Rennaissance—Al Farabi (950 CE), ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rush (Averroes), Al Tusi….and many others….and—Europe came to know some of the Greek philosophy through Latin translations of these works….
Postmodernism is useful in breaking certainties of the “received tradition” of the West…knowledge can only progress where there is doubt…
Al Gazzali (1058-1111)—another Islamic philosopher said “Doubt is to find truth—those who do not have doubt cannot think and those who cannot think cannot find truth”. (Challenging Greek philosophy and the primacy of reason has also been done in Islamic history—one of the philosophers that did so was the very one I just quoted)
(Islamic philosophers favoring Greek philosophy and reason were the Mutazilites and those taking a somewhat middle road were the Asharite–there were other groups with a diversity of views too——–“Early Islamic philosophy or classical Islamic philosophy is a period of intense philosophical development beginning in the 2nd century AH of the Islamic calendar (early 9th century CE) and lasting until the 6th century AH (late 12th century CE). The period is known as the Islamic Golden Age, and the achievements of this period had a crucial influence in the development of modern philosophy and science; for Renaissance Europe, the influence represented “one of the largest technology transfers in world history.”This period starts with al-Kindi in the 9th century and ends with Averroes (Ibn Rushd) at the end of 12th century. The death of Averroes effectively marks the end of a particular discipline of Islamic philosophy usually called the Peripatetic Arabic School, and philosophical activity declined significantly in Western Islamic countries, namely in Islamic Spain and North Africa, though it persisted for much longer in the Eastern countries, in particular Persia and India where several schools of philosophy continued to flourish: Avicennism, Illuminationist philosophy, Mystical philosophy, and Transcendent theosophy”. —–https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Islamic_philosophy)
Even in the West, many balance reason and superstition; science and religion. But your historical philosophical citation suggests to me the solution to this uneasy mix: a return to the partly earlier philosophical emphasis on reason, over superstition.
We need a sort of second Renaissance, or post-poststructuralist realism. One which would address and partly incorprate poststructuralist insights. But which would finally confirm that however, the success of science shows we can still uncover reasonably objective truths.
There are a few potential philosophical, science-based criticisms of structuralism, subjectivism, that begin to do this. Though much more remains to be done here, to be sure.
In the meantime, most ordinary people, Muslims, can be impressed with the value if science and its adjunct, technology. Most like our cell phones, or modern medicine, air conditioning, or space travel.
Let’s just make it clear to the people that it was reason and science that produced these valuable, spectacular, and often emotionally gripping goods.
It is not a paradox. It is a myth — like the Trinity: something illogical palmed off as a paradox beyond the understanding of the unwashed but really a nonsense contradiction of terms.
Postmodernism did not introduce us to doubting received traditions. Doubt and scepticism have been with us long before postmodernism and postmodernism is also subject to doubts and scepticism by very many.
“a return to the partly earlier philosophical emphasis “—considering that ISIS gets its “philosophy” from “Islam for dummies”…it does seem that the solution to ignorance is knowledge….but I think a deeper overhaul is also necessary—as you have pointed out–we live in an age of global communications, our social interactions are different. We need to rethink our notions of “community” and “identity”. It is important to revisit the earlier Islamic philosophical tradition (for Muslims)—because IMO, it offers a better understanding of human nature and human being than “Modernity” does. But after that, we also need to come up with new solutions (ijtihad) for a global age…
“Let’s just make it clear to the people that it was reason and science that produced these valuable, spectacular, and often emotionally gripping goods.”
—precisely the problem with Modern Capitalism….it focuses on material acquisitions for temporary happiness at the expense of higher meaning and purpose. Human nature has to be balanced between self-interest and altruism. Modern capitalism causes an imbalance.
Joceyln Cesari has an interesting pov regarding Islam and Modernity…..
“Modernity”(nation-state), made Islam a tool of power instead of the traditional role of Islam as a balance of power (pluralism)….
Well, behind the exciting new technologies, after all, is calm reason. It may be that capitalism distorts this somewhat, by at times over-commodifying science. But after the excitement of technology, hopefully our STEM programs will be directed to help students know that a quiet love of calm logic and reason and nature, is behind it all.
You’ve rightly mentioned one of the problems caused by the old modernism: nationalism. Here note that today, when faced with the old emotional nationalist Islam, countless Syrians have fled to the transnational EU.
So a sense of the unity of all nations and all humanity is attracting many. In part science earlier assisted this. By noting we are all one species. And by stressing calm, rational interaction.
@ Syria???—they are fleeing because the NATO, Russia and the U.S. are bombing them!!!!—or is this reality too uncomfortable to be mentioned?
Yes, part of the problem is western pressure, bombing. But it is also local factionalism. And with the country falling apart, and given only those two competitors and choices? Many bilingual Sryrians are choosing the West.
Yesterday I talked with a visiting scientist from British Columbia who had befriended a refugee couple. They had two stores and a house in Syria, all of which had been reduced totally to rubble by bombing raids that ironically (not miraculously) missed the local mosque. They had no sympathy for Assad, ISIL, or the “democratic” opposition, such as it is. He spoke English and his wife French, so they went to supposedly bi-lingual Canada, but would love to return to a peaceful and rebuilt homeland. “Ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.”
Yes, I am sure most would return to a peaceful Syria. But that looks pretty far off for now. And in the years to come, many immigrants will build a new life in the West. Where finally their children especially, may prefer to stay.
Hopefully the US and the EU can reform things enough on our own side, to justify such new loyalties.
One of my resolutions for 2016 is to disambiguate the word “Islamophobia”. The word is now used to as a club to shut up legitimate criticism of Islam and Islamism by conflating it with Muslim bigotry. Often that criticism that is silenced is offered in support of Muslims and their access to basic human rights. Ideally, we would stop using the word completely. But if used, it should be used strictly as “anti-islamist”. If one believes all of Islam is harmful, one would be “anti-islam” or “anti-islamic” This would be similar to being “anti-theist”. Finally, if one believes there are problems with all Muslims (or a lot of them), one could be called…..”anti-muslim” or said to be exhibiting anti-Muslim bigotry. Similar to “anti-semitic”. IMO, this disambiguation will be difficult to effect as there are many powerful in the authoritarian liberal west and the reactionary Islamist community who benefit from the conflation and don’t seek clarity in communication and response.
The context should be able to tell us if the word is used to silence discussion or with more reasonable nuance. There really are people who deplore anything associated with the Islamic religion, anything from halal diet to terrorism. These people are usually ignorant and have a genuine fear that Muslims are attempting to take over, say, Australia and replace our democratic system with an extreme form of Sharia law. These people truly are Islamophobes.
I am happy to use the word to describe these people.
Others are deeply troubled by some of the more injurious customs found among many Muslims. These are no more Islamophobic than I am a racist for strongly opposing some Aboriginal customs still practiced in some remote areas. Human rights must always trump religious precepts.
Another concern is Islamism. And this concern breaks down into two strands:
Nonviolent Islamists seek to exploit our democratic systems to impose on local communities (or even larger communities) laws that violate basic human rights.
It is a mistake to conflate Islamism with human rights concerns related to the Muslim religion. The two are quite separate issues.
My understanding is that sometimes the term Islamophobe is used to shut down debate that is critical of either the wrongs in some regions of Muslim practice and/or either one of the Islamist issues.
I avoid using the word in these contexts.
Kinda like the distinction of being anti semitic, anti-zionist and against the human rights violations that are part of the practice of some times of Judaism. Fortunately, we don’t use the same word in these contexts (though there is an effort to deem all anti-zionism statements anti semitic).
I have personally avoided the very considerable literature on ISIS/Daesh as far too much to sort through, but recently saw a TV program in Britain which claimed that the core fighters were largely former supporters of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, particularly Mosul. Unlikely, but true or false?
Very true. I have posted about this at ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan and Islamic State : How it came about and how it works.
Saddam’s army did not (on the whole) stick around to fight the US led invasion of 2003. Ditto for the main body of the Taliban in Afghanistan earlier. That’s why calls for a major military invasion of Islamic State fail to grasp the nature of the enemy they are wanting to destroy. A conventional invasion would be very easy because past form tells us that most of the enemy would simply melt away only to re-emerge later to undertake their plan as set out in The Management of Savagery. Terrorist attacks on key targets in the occupied areas until it becomes ungovernable and locals have no choice but to support the terrorists (to save their own necks) and the occupiers forced to evacuate.
There were practical reasons many of the Iraqi army joined (recall, for example, Paul Bremer dumping them all out of work overnight) but once in they were compelled to support its ideological agenda — or lose their heads.
The Islamic State’s military strength has often been badly underestimated — portrayed as a bunch of untrained young adventurers. (See, for example, Why Pentagon falsified reports about military successes in fight against ISIS?) They are very well trained (and equipped very often with US weaponry that was initially supplied to non ISIS rebels in Syria).
We read recently of the recapture of Ramadi. No-one knows what will happen next but if what the literature about ISIS is reliable then we can expect a steady stream of terrorist bombings in newly “liberated” Ramadi and the same tactic of “management of savagery/chaos” that led to ISIS’s rise in the first place. Sure enough, yesterday I read of the first car-bomb in Ramadi — surely the start of many more to come.
Thanks for a helpful summary.
One current proposed solution is a small permanent presence out there. Like the US bases still in Germany and Japan or Okinawa. At least, some ask, a base or two.
Likely Obama could not approve that, due to campaign promises of total withdrawal. But the next administration might do this.
Now this sounds interesting: