Search Results for: Jason Burke


2006-12-01

Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror / Jason Burke (2003). A short review

by Neil Godfrey

When this is required reading for all “coalition of the willing” political leaders and no-one in power can make a public statement or foreign policy decision without having passed a test on their comprehension of it we will at last begin to see the beginnings of rationality and humanity in our dealings with the Middle East. I bought this after reading a piece by Chomsky in which he said this was probably the best book written on terrorism. Burke knows his subject well and gives a clear ground-eye view of who the terrorists are and how they operate. Burke demonstrates that there is no such thing as a Dr Evil type monster out there, but the real danger is our inability to see how our western leaders have so humiliated and raped and despoiled and oppressed (by proxy or directly) the democratic and human rights aspirations of Arabs and how there are literally as a result thousands of would-be suicide terrorists incognito and freelance the world over. I can just add to Burke’s book the comment that it’s not a problem with Islam — otherwise we would have seen this sort of terrorism non-stop ever since the west has encountered islam. The 9/11 plotters and Bin Laden made their aims and motivations very plain (why do so many in the west still remain ignorant — why do our leaders continue to deny it in public?) and the US conceded on their major demand (withdrawal from Saudi Arabia) after establishing new bases in Iraq. And Australia fully supported and backed the US proxy occupation and oppressoin of Moslem holy lands and peoples — hence Bali. No prizes for guessing the motivations of the new wave of terrorist activities since then.


2019-08-07

Understanding White Nationalism and Its Terrorism

by Neil Godfrey

Arie Perliger, Director of Security Studies and Professor, University of Massachusetts Lowell, had the article From across the globe to El Paso, changes in the language of the far-right explain its current violence published in The Conversation a couple of days ago. In case you missed it, he writes . . . .

What’s New

“Lone-wolf” is probably not the best term. See Jason Burke’s 2017 article, just as relevant for today’s terrorists: Burke, Jason. 2017. “The Myth of the ‘Lone Wolf’ Terrorist.The Guardian, March 30, 2017, sec. News.

. . . a new trend among perpetrators of far-right violence: They want the world to know why they did it.

So they provide a comprehensive ideological manifesto that aims to explain the reasoning behind their actions as well as to encourage others to follow in their steps.

In the past, only leaders of far-right groups did this. Now, it’s common among lone-wolf perpetrators . . .

Then,

In the past decade, the language of white supremacists has transformed in important ways. It crossed national borders, broadened its focus and has been influenced by current mainstream political discourse.

Compare Patrick Cursius, the El Paso mass murderer, in his manifesto:

The best solution to this, for now, would be to divide America into a confederacy of territories with at least 1 territory for each race. This physical separation would nearly eliminate race mixing and improve social unity by granting each race self-determination within their respective territory(s).

Since the 19th century, the American white supremacy movement has stressed the superiority of Western culture and the need to preserve the dominance and racial purity of the white race. Racial segregation is essential. An example given by Perliger is 1980s KKK map of allocating set areas of the U.S. to particular races: Jews in New York, Hispanics in Florida, etc.

From Genes to Culture, “Unite the Whites”

But recently, a growing number of far-right activists have preferred to focus on cultural and social differences between communities, rather than on attributes such as race and ethnic origin.

They justify their violence as a way to preserve certain cultural-religious practices, rather than relying on their old justification – maintaining the genetic purity of the white race. In these activists’ view, the battle has moved from genes to culture.

For example, a member of the National Socialist Movement, an American neo-Nazi organization, wrote in a 2018 online post that white American is an identity like African American or Jewish American. In a statement that probably wouldn’t have been made by previous generations of neo-Nazis, the member wrote that all whites should come together, using their knowledge and weapons, to stop non-Europeans from pushing their secular agenda via government and media power.

Kicking Back at the Left’s Cultural Influence

read more »


2019-08-03

The Quiet Before the Next Storm?

by Neil Godfrey

Jason Burke discusses the most recent UN report on the ISIS threat in The Guardian, New wave of terrorist attacks possible before end of year, UN says — UN report warns threat from Islamist extremist groups remains high

The UN report’s summary:

With the fall of Baghuz, Syrian Arab Republic, in March 2019, the geographical so-called “caliphate” of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)a has ceased to exist and the group has continued its evolution into a mainly covert network. Its leadership is primarily in Iraq, while its centre of gravity remains in Iraq, the Syrian Arab Republic and areas of the immediate neighbourhood. The leadership aims to adapt, survive and consolidate in the core area and to establish sleeper cells at the local level in preparation for eventual resurgence, while using propaganda to maintain the group’s reputation as the leading global terrorist brand – the “virtual caliphate”. When it has the time and space to reinvest in an external operations capability, ISIL will direct and facilitate international attacks in addition to the ISIL-inspired attacks that continue to occur in many locations around the world.

Al-Qaida . . . remains resilient, although the health and longevity of its leader, Aiman Muhammed Rabi al-Zawahiri (QDi.006), and how the succession will work are in doubt. Groups aligned with Al-Qaida are stronger than their ISIL counterparts in Idlib, Syrian Arab Republic, Yemen, Somalia and much of West Africa. The largest concentrations of active foreign terrorist fighters are in Idlib and Afghanistan, the majority of whom are aligned with Al-Qaida. ISIL, however, remains much stronger than Al-Qaida in terms of finances, media profile and current combat experience and terrorist expertise and remains the more immediate threat to global security.

The most striking international developments during the period under review include the growing ambition and reach of terrorist groups in the Sahel and West Africa, where fighters aligned with Al-Qaida and ISIL collaborate to undermine fragile national jurisdictions. The number of regional States threatened with contagion from insurgencies in the Sahel and Nigeria has increased. The ability of local authorities to cope with terrorist challenges in Afghanistan, Libya and Somalia remains limited. Meanwhile, the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka show the continuing appeal of ISIL propaganda and the risk that indigenous cells may incubate in unexpected locations and generate a significant terrorist capability. These and other ISIL attacks on places of worship, alongside the attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, of March 2019, offer a troubling narrative of escalating interfaith conflict.

The related issues of foreign terrorist fighters, returnees, relocators and detainees in the conflict zone have become more urgent since the fall of Baghuz. Member States also report pressing domestic security concerns, including with regard to radicalization in prisons and releases of terrorist prisoners, while only a few have the expertise and capacity to manage this range of counter-terrorist challenges successfully.

The full report:

read more »


2019-06-04

Tiananmen Square — Khartoum

by Neil Godfrey

4th June 1989, the images are still fresh (link is to Four Corners program). Time will tell if the State can erase memory of 4th June 1989 from future Chinese generations.

I learned last night watching the Four Corners program that soldiers came to the homes of students in the middle of the night to take them away. Hours later the parents would be given papers to sign acknowledging that their children had died in an accident or while trying to escape if they wanted their bodies returned for burial.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-06-04/my-memories-of-the-tiananmen-square-massacre-as-a-young-boy/9832850

Meanwhile, 4th June 2019, with less worldwide publicity “for some reason” —

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/05/sudan-death-toll-rises-to-60-after-khartoum-pro-democracy-sit-in  Jason Burke is the author of a book surveying the rise of Islamist extremism that I have discussed here. See posts at https://vridar.org/?s=Jason+Burke


2019-03-16

Rightwing Terrorism in Context

by Neil Godfrey
illustration
Jason Burke

We have posted on Jason Burke’s books on Islamist terrorism (The New Threat: The Past, Present and Future of Islamic Militancy and Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror) so I was interested in read what Jason had to say about the recent terrorist attack in The Guardian, “What does Christchurch attack tell us about rightwing extremism?

What stood out most for me was his reminder that terrorist attacks in the 1970s and 1980s took far more lives in Europe than have modern Islamist attacks. I have copied the relevant section from Wikipedia:

Burke observes similarities between the current rightwing terrorists and the Islamists: read more »


2018-01-05

Why Blaming Islam for Terrorism is Misguided

by Neil Godfrey

Yes, we know that suicide terrorists regularly announce that they are killing in the name of Allah and they quote the Koran to justify what they are doing. And, of course we should, must, listen to what they say and take it seriously.

Far from denying any of that, I think it is all necessary information that needs to be registered and understood if we want to understand why some people proclaim that they “love death as we love life”.

One Vridar reader recently invited me to read an article that presented a point of view contradicting the one in my two recent posts on Jihad and Death. The article is Islamic Terrorism is Motivated by Religion, Not Retribution.

Let me explain as simply and clearly as possible why I believe the article is misguided.

The article’s fundamental argument is that

  • if we can show that the terrorists cannot be motivated by a desire to seek vengeance against Western powers for their policies in the Middle East,
  • and if we can show that the terrorists themselves repeatedly claim to be motivated by religion and quote the Koran to justify their killing,
  • then obviously we are forced to conclude that Islam is responsible for terrorism.

The article makes the comparison with neo-Nazis. It is obviously the ideology of the neo-Nazis that motivates their hate and racism; it ought to be just as obvious that it is Islam that motivates the Islamist terrorists.

The first point of the argument (to demonstrate that it makes no sense to blame Western powers foreign policies as the motivating grievance of the extremists) can be accepted. Terrorist movements have changed over the decades. (Western powers have certainly exacerbated and even created conditions that have fanned radicalization, but it is evident that many of the terrorist attacks are not directly related to seeking retribution for Western policies.)

It is the second point that is ill-informed. Islam has been around for a long time but the Islamist terrorism that we are witnessing day is a very recent development. It is a very “new thing” claiming to be inspired by something very old. It is like a modern day Jonestown type cult claiming to have rediscovered long-lost “truths” in the Bible of which the mainstream churches have for centuries forgotten or even heretically left behind. Look into the cult’s origins and you won’t find the Bible despite the insistence of cult members that the Bible is their sole authority. No, they have learned to interpret and apply Bible verses the way a cult leader has taught them in other writings and sermons. The question to ask is, What factors cause a person to join such a cult in the first place?

Ed Husain wrote of his own experience with extremism in The Islamist: why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left, and recalls the horror with which the Islamist ideology was met by most “ordinary Muslims” when they first heard of it. His recollections as a child spending time with his devout grandfather:

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. . . . (p. 10)

Then later when Ed was 16 years old:

. . . I recalled Grandpa and his students, many of them clerics trained in madrassas in India and Bangladesh, talking about the Jamat-e-Islam in disparaging terms. I had heard many of these conversations taking place between imams in various towns, and they complained about the increasing influence of jamat-e-Islami activists in their mosques. They had sought clarity from Grandpa about the nature of the Jamat-e-Islami, and Grandpa had spoken repeatedly about a man named Abul Ala Mawdudi.

Born in 1903, Mawdudi was a Pakistani journalist who translated the Koran according to his own whims, without reference to or within the paradigm of classical Muslim scholarship. He developed and promoted a new brand of Islam, highly politicized and deeply anti-Western. Mawdudi . . . was the first Muslim to reject Islam as a religion and rebrand it as an ‘ideology’. (pp. 22f, my bolding)

Likewise with Islamist violent extremism. Modern day “prophets” have written their own politico-religious ideologies that they claim to be based on the “long-forgotten truths” of the Koran and hadiths. The first was Qutb with Milestones. (The links are to Vridar posts on the topics. See the side box for the initial reception among religious Muslims on another early jihadist ideologue, Mawdudi.) Others have followed. One of the most influential is The Management of Savagery by “Naji”. My recent post mentioned Al-Awlaki, a major influence among English speaking recruits.

Those writings, not the Koran, are the Mein Kampfs of jihadism. Those writings lead persuaded readers to reject the preachings and Koranic studies of the imams and to quote-mine the Koran for proof-texts to justify their political and ideological agendas.

Understanding why

If we want to understand radicalism we need to go beyond what the extremists themselves say about their motives. Yes, we must listen to them, of course, and understand their world-view. But to take an extreme analogy, if someone says he believes God told him to kill someone, we don’t necessarily take his word as the whole story. We ask, Why did he believe God told him to do that? Is he mentally ill? Schizoid?

Some extreme Christian cults do horrible things, but it is hard to say that Christianity is to blame when most Christians deplore what they do. Instead, scholars study  psychological and sociological factors that are associated with persons joining extreme or bizarre cults. Same with Nazism. It would be ignorantly simplistic to blame Nietsche or even Socialism for the National-Socialist (Nazi) movement.

If we want to understand poverty we can blame the laziness and self-indulgence of the victims or we can take a more comprehensive view that includes a study of the institutional factors that have created a class of down-and-outs.

Many communities are enlightened enough to know that policing alone is inadequate to confront the problem of youth crime. Most parents know that youth behaviour is complex. So positive youth programs, clubs, recreational venues, and so forth are also very important.

Any attempt to blame Islam for terrorism runs into a few facts that belie that charge: jihadism is a very recent phenomenon — that is, it has only very recently emerged to become associated with the Muslim world; it has attracted only a very few, many of whom are largely ignorant of the details of the Koran and Islam and who often do not practice a religious life; and most Muslims deplore terrorist violence and are even overwhelmingly the victims of it.

If the religion of Islam is responsible for modern jihadism then we have to somehow explain why Islamist suicide bombers and other murderous jihadis were not part of our landscape for most of the twentieth century and earlier. We need to explain why most Muslims condemn their violence and why, given the larger picture, terrorists target mostly Muslims.

We need to build up a big picture. That will include listening to what the jihadis say about their motives but it will not naively assume that that is the entire story. After all, most followers of the Koran deplore terrorism so saying Islam causes terrorism makes no sense. It does not explain why a handful of people, contrary to the overwhelming majority of believers, say they are so motivated.

This post is only addressing the reason I am convinced that we cannot accuse the religion of Islam itself of being responsible for terrorist violence. I am not addressing here the studies that do explore, through data-based research, a more comprehensive understanding of what lies at the root of this modern horror.

Some of the past posts that do address those studies:

The most recent ones, of course, on Olivier Roy’s Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State

A series on Riaz Hassan’s Inside Muslim Minds

A series on Clark McCauley and Sophia Moskalenko’s Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and to Us

Series on Jason Burke’s of The New Threat: The Past, Present, and Future of Islamic Militancy

On an article by Scott Atran and a series on his book, Talking with the Enemy

Several on Thomas Hegghammer’s publications:

A key quotation in Raffaello Pantucci’s “We Love Death as You Love Life”: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists

On Nate Rosenblatt’s All Jihad Is Local

On William McCants’ article How Terrorists Convince Themselves to Kill and other writings

And several on ISIS, including….

A post on by Mohammed Hafez’s Manufacturing Human Bombs: The Making of Palestinian Suicide Bombers

On Robert Pape’s Dying to Win

Then there are a number of posts on Islam more generally:

On Lily Zubaidah Rahim’s Muslim Secular Democracy: Voices from within

John Esposito’s Who Speaks for Islam?

A post containing an extensive bibliography:

There are many more posts accessible by searching for terms like “terrorism”, “islamism”, “islam”, “islamic state”.

 

 


2017-08-28

Another Muslim Voice to Listen To

by Neil Godfrey
Elham Manea — From her University of Zurich staff homepage.

I concluded a recent post with an acknowledgement of Maryam Namazie as a voice worth listening to in any discussion relating to Islamic and Islamist controversies today. Having just listened to an ABC’s Religion and Ethics Report interview, Muslim scholar says the burka isn’t Islamic, I have to add Elham Manea‘s name alongside Maryam’s.

The interview has been mutated as a “news story” by Siobhan Hegarty, Burkas are political symbols not Islamic ones, Muslim scholar says. You can listen to the full thirteen minute interview here here [link is to mp3]

Key points:

  • community and political speakers targeting violent Islamist movements in public debate miss the core problem; focus needs to be on the Islamist ideology that currently gets a free pass because it professes non-violence, yet it is in fact the extremist ideology that is spawning not only the terrorist violence but also an Islam that promotes segregation and a denial of full human rights.
  • If Islamophobes say all Muslims are essentially alike in a negative sense (potentially violent, in denial of fundamental human rights, etc), so a certain liberal defence of Muslims is just as “dehumanizing” by likewise viewing them as all alike in a “positive” sense, defending their head coverings, sharia institutions, etc.
  • the full burka (total covering, including veiled eyes) and even the “moderate” head covering hijab have become identified as “Islamic” since 1979 and the promotion of Wahhabism ultimately from Saudi Arabia’s petro-dollars.

(On the first point I have posted on Jason Burke’s detailed account of how that happened. I also appreciated Elham’s comment that the 1979 Iranian revolution saw a betrayal of the Iranian middle class and left-wing movement. How that sort of thing happens too often with revolutions!)

And I’ve just bought her new book, too, Women and Shari’a law: the impact of legal pluralism in the UK

(Afterthought — I don’t really “know” that Elham is still a Muslim, but no doubt she has a Muslim background at least, and certainly addresses Muslims with understanding.)


2017-03-23

Proven Wrong in 5 Hours; A More Expert Response

by Neil Godfrey

Well it was a mere five hours from the time of my previous post before I was proven wrong. The name of the attacker was released shortly after I went to bed. If I had my wits about me I would have added a question mark at the end of the title and been more careful to couch my theme as a tentative hope.

So here is someone more qualified to discuss some critical aspects of this event, Jason Burke. I’ve posted on his work several times before on Vridar.

The first post discusses the re-emerging threat of Al Qaeda as Islamic State suffers battlefield reversals.

Crude nature of Westminster attack suggests limited Isis network in Britain

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Jihadis are using vehicles to commit atrocities as military defeats degrade their ability to mount anything more ambitious

. . . . . . 

The veteran rival of Isis – al-Qaida – has long backed such actions and has also repeatedly targeted London. In 2005 the group commissioned and trained the leader of the 7/7 plotters who went on to kill 52 on the London Underground.

When such attacks became logistically difficult, al-Qaida sought to execute or inspire smaller scale operations, although its leaders rejected a suggestion that blades be attached to a tractor which would be driven through a crowd. However, al-Qaida publications did encourage strikes using vehicles.

Britain’s only Islamist-related terrorist casualty since 2005 was Lee Rigby, an off-duty soldier who was killed in south-east London in 2013 when he was run down by a car driven by two Islamic militants and then stabbed to death. 

The threat has increased “exponentially” since 2011, security officials have said. As Isis disintegrates, al-Qaida remains resilient and while the Islamist extremist ideology continues to attract new followers the threat will not decline substantially in the near future.

The second article I found interesting for its analysis of the wording used by Islamic State and what it reveals about the weakness of the movement.

No surprise that London attacker Khalid Masood was born in UK

A vast proportion of attacks over the 16 years since 9/11 have involved local volunteers attacking local targets

The news that the London attacker was born in Britain and inspired by extremist Islamist ideology was entirely predictable, as was his criminal record.

The standout detail from the sketchy profile we have of Khalid Masood is his age: 52, nearly twice that of most contemporary attackers.

The attack was claimed on Thursday by Islamic State. The group has been selective with such statements, which are credible, and careful in its vocabulary.

Significantly, Isis described a “soldier” who responded to its “call”, indicating the group probably did not have prior contact with Masood before the killings.

. . . . . 

Other words tend to be used to describe attackers like those who made up the network responsible for attacks in Paris and Brussels last year. They, for the most part, were trained, commissioned and dispatched by Isis planners after spending time in Syria. 

One aim of Isis is to give the impression of global reach. 

. . . . .

Finally, the nature of terrorist trends gives a false impression. On Thursday a man was arrested for trying to drive a car into a crowd in Antwerp. He had a shotgun and bladed weapons. Tactics spread quickly across international frontiers. A global plot? Or simply the copycat effect? The latter is almost certainly the case.

The reality is that contemporary Islamic extremist violence has never been as international as often imagined by the terrorists or their victims. The 11 September 2001 attacks involved hijackers who flew thousands of miles from homes in the Middle East and lived in the US for months before striking. But this was an anomaly, though one that distorted thinking about the nature of the threat for a decade. 

. . . . . 

There are exceptions. The Berlin attack before Christmas involved a transient Tunisian. A handful of the Paris attackers were from the Middle East.

Many of these men had previous involvement in serious and petty crime. For those already living on the margins of society and the law, the step towards violent activism is smaller than it might otherwise be. Prison is a key site of exposure to radical ideologies and people. Criminal contacts can provide essential – if often inadvertent – logistical help.

The significance of Masood’s age will later become clear. For the moment it simply underlines the variety of extremist profiles, and the unpredictability of the threat. Most Islamic militants have been between the ages of 18 and 35, with the average age declining in recent years. Some analysts see their attraction to radicalism as partly a generational rebellion. Violent rightwing militants tend to be much older. Thomas Mair, who killed MP Jo Cox last year, was 52.

Every case is, of course, unique. And the reality is that, much as all politics is essentially local, so is terrorism. Islamic extremist strategists have wrestled with this challenge to their global vision for years, and have yet to evolve an adequate response. Western experts argue interminably over whether the motives of individuals are 10% ideology and 90% local context or vice versa.

But the sad reality is that, though it may be reassuring to blame bad guys, or bad ideas, from a long way away for violence at home, no one should be surprised that the man who attacked one of Britain’s most symbolically charged locations was born in the UK.

Finally, an important article from a year ago explaining the reality behind the image of “the lone wolf”:

Talk of lone wolves misunderstands how Islamic militancy works

Terrorism is a social activity and the militants we encounter are often a product of a much broader environment – repeating the same tired tropes of jihadi thinking


2017-02-13

Radicalisation — whether extreme sports, cults or terrorism

by Neil Godfrey

Yes, time for me to finish blogging on what the research has shown about how radicalisation works, how people are recruited into terrorist organisations, religious cults, . . . even extreme sports . . .  As Jason Burke (whose works I have blogged about here, most recently on “the new threat“) points out: it’s all the same mechanics.

https://twitter.com/burke_jason/status/830797108059971585

 

https://twitter.com/PeterRNeumann/status/830462741987131393

 

Now to complete those posts on Friction, How Radicalization Happens to Them and to Us


2016-10-07

Muslim Nations and the Rise of Modern Barbarism

by Neil Godfrey

This post is the third in my notes from Inside Muslim Minds by Riaz Hassan.

The second response among Muslims to their experience of colonialism and its aftermath is salafism.

Response 2: Salafism

muhammad_abduh
Abduh

Whereas apologetics was a direct response to colonial rule, salafism emerged out of apologetics but in the post-colonial era. When independent nations experienced the failure of their ruling elites to bring about the reforms and better life — “jobs, economic development, welfare for citizens and equality of citizenship” — that they had promised.

Building on apologetic thought the salafists concluded that this failure was the consequence of using secular laws instead of the laws of God.

sayyid_dschamal_ad-din_al-afghani
Al Afghani

Some of the founding ideologues of the salafist movement were Mohammad Abduh, al-Afghani, Muhammad Rashid Rida and (one that we have discussed on Vridar before) Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi.

rashid_rida_1
Rida

Like the apologists these early salafists believed that the Islamic religion was entirely compatible with modernism. Recall that the apologists argued that modern western ideals like democracy, constitutional governments, socialism etc were all to be found in early Islam. What was required of modern Muslims was to interpret their sacred texts in the context and according to the needs of adapting to the modern world. Moreover, there was no single interpretation that could demand a monopoly on “the correct interpretation”.

Salafism as it originally developed maintained that, on all issues, Muslims ought to return to the original textual sources of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet and interpret them in the light of modern needs and demands without being slavishly bound by the interpretive precedents of earlier Muslim generations. In this respect, it was a distinctive intellectual project. Salafism advocated a kind of interpretive community in which anyone was qualified to return to the divine texts and interpret their messages. . . . [I]t was not hostile to competing Islamic juristic traditions, Sufism or mysticism. (p. 43)

Further, read more »


2016-10-06

Islam and the Rise of Barbarism

by Neil Godfrey

insidemuslimmindsSuch violent, repulsive and publicly visible acts could be interpreted as  the by-product of social malignancies that have festered for a long time. Dr Khaled Abou El Fadl—an eminent Islamic jurist . . . . —provides a succinct description of how historical and social conditions interact to form a particular mentality . . . .

[W]hen we speak about the meaning of Islam today, we are really talking about the product of cumulative enterprises that have generated communities of interpreta­tion through a long span of history. (p. 37)

The shocking injustices and brutality in the Muslim world that we hear about far too often are not isolated acts of a few troubled psychopaths. They are systemic and carried out with considerable (though fortunately not always unanimous) popular support.

Such acts take place because of social dynamics that have desensitized and decon­structed a society’s sense of moral virtue and ethics. Theological constructs and social responses that tolerate the commission of acts of cruelty are the product of a long process of indoctrination and acculturation. Indoctrination facilitates their com­mission; acculturation mutes or mitigates the sense of outrage over the offensive behaviour. (p. 37)

Boiling the frog

Each act of barbarism becomes a historical precedent for further similar acts and for increasingly easier public acceptance. (As for indoctrination, we are also looking at how that works first hand.) Each act becomes another topic of community discussion; explanations and interpretations that emerge become part of the social group’s identity and moral foundations. Theological perspectives of these same events are meanwhile being transmitted through generations of families, communities and institutions. The point is that community interpretations and practices adapt, evolve, change emphases and focus over time and that’s true of most societies throughout history. So the question that arises is, What historical changes have been emerging in “recent” history in the Muslim world? And when we say “recent” we are reaching back to the eighteenth century when European powers made their first takeovers of large numbers of Muslim populations (e.g. India, Egypt).

Three responses to Western colonialism

To make sense of the incidents described, we need first to analyze three streams of Islamic consciousness that developed under the historical conditions faced by Muslim societies over the previous few centuries. Under the conditions of economic underdevelopment, technological backwardness and powerlessness prevailing today in the Muslim world, elements of these three streams have somehow fused to give rise to a new hybrid Islamic consciousness: salafabism . . . . (p. 38, my formatting and highlighting in all quotations)

As we saw in Jason Burke’s historical narrative Saudi Arabia used its windfall from rising oil prices in the 1970s to propagate its vicious brand of wahhabist Islam. In addition to wahhibism Fadl points his finger at two other strands of Islamic thought, the first being apologetics. Let’s take them in order.

Response 1: Apologetics

A common feature of most Muslim societies is a shared history of colonialism under European dominance. This sociopolitical experi­ence was accompanied by a culture of orientalism: an assumption of Western superiority combined with a condescending trivialization of Islamic cultural achievements. The onslaught of these processes led not only to loss of power by political and religious elites in the lands of Islam, but also to the devaluation and deprecation of Islamic beliefs and institutions. The dominant intellectual response of Muslims to this challenge from around the mid-eighteenth century came from the apologetics. (p. 39)

Conquered peoples typically find ways to resist their conquerors even if only by symbolic means. Recall the way some Jewish leaders responded to the conquest of Judea by the Greco-Romans who justifiably took great pride in their cultural achievements. “Plato is so wonderful?” some Jews (and subsequently some Christians) challenged. “Ha! Plato filched all of his ideas from Moses!”

Among the conquered and humiliated Muslims were those who responded in a similar way to their Western overlords. Anything of value that the Europeans had produced was thought by Muslim apologists to have owed its origins to Islamic science or philosophy or political ideas.

According to apologists, Islam

  • liberated women,
  • created democracy,
  • endorsed pluralism,
  • protected human rights
  • and introduced social welfare

long before these institutions ever existed in the West. One implication of this orientation was that, since Islam had invented most modern institutions, there was no incentive to engage in any further thinking or analysis, except on very marginal issues. (p. 40)

So it was that Western orientalists (those who looked down upon oriental culture, ways and beliefs with a certain contempt) found themselves mirrored by Muslim apologists who in turn looked down upon Westerners with the same disdain. That’s one time-honoured way of a defeated people holding on to their self-worth and dignity.

But that kind of response has a serious down-side: it ossifies one’s religion.

Religion is no longer an evolving and adapting system that is constantly being critically studied and subject to adaptation in the face of new circumstances. An idealized construct is created, and this is sanctified and set in stone as a foundational golden age. Anything that falls short of that ideal is the fault of the enemy. Trying to cope with the humiliation that came with European conquest and hegemony some Muslims found refuge in a conviction that their ancient texts, ways, beliefs had from the beginning of time been superior and well in advance of anything associated with their new rulers.

So for Muslim apologists the superiority of Islam became a mirror reaction to their European masters’ presumptions of superiority. As cultural arrogance made it impossible for Europeans to bend and adapt so the same arrogance of apologists made it impossible for them to analyse and adapt their own traditions and belief systems.

Apologists treated the Islamic tradition as if it had fossilized at the time of the Prophet and the Rightly Guided Companions (the four Caliphs who succeeded Muhammad).

And if there is nothing to reflect upon except to bask in the superiority of one’s beliefs then anyone can become an authority. The true Muslim intellectuals are marginalized into irrelevancy. The door is open to anyone becoming “the voice” of “truth”. The solutions become easy. If the Muslim peoples are under the boot of the aliens, unable to match the Westerners in political and military might and so liberate themselves, it is because Muslims are not faithful and devout enough.

The way to liberation and self-respect, apologists believed, was to become more fervently dedicated to the myth of the old ways. And those old ways proved to have even preceded the best the West had to offer such as democracies and human rights.

Islamic apologists were ultimately motivated by nationalistic aspirations for political, social and cultural independence from the West.

Islam thus came to be seen as a kind of anti-colonialist resistance ideology capable of restoring Muslim pride and political power. Political liberation anchored itself in a religious orientation that was puritanical, supremacist and opportunistic. (p. 41)

That was one response. The other two I’ll cover in another post. We also need to examine the empirical evidence of how these different types of responses took hold in varying degrees in different regions of Muslim peoples and fused into an ugly ideology. We will see that those differences can be correlated with respective historical experiences with the West.

 


2016-09-16

Tom Holland: Still Wrong About Christianity

by Neil Godfrey
holland
Tom Holland

Historian Tom Holland has made a public confession that when it comes to his morals and ethics he is “thoroughly and proudly Christian”. (Tom Holland is a very talented writer and historian whose study of the rise of the Arab empire and birth of Islam I have discussed here. I was also fascinated by another work of his, Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom — a period of history I specialized in when studying history as an undergrad.)
Now Christian blogs are crowing that the renowned historian has “come out” in defence of Christianity. The Enlightenment philosophes got the Church all wrong, he implies.

Dr. Platypus, Darrell J. Pursiful’s Bible and Faith Blog, posts Tom Holland Was Wrong about Christianity and Michael Bird on Euangelion posts Tom Holland: Why I Was Wrong about Christianity. I imagine there will be many more to follow. The excitement is over Tom Holland’s article just published in New Statesman, also titled Tom Holland: Why I Was Wrong about Christianity.

Holland tells us of his younger fascination with the great empires and generals of ancient history (an interest he says morphed out of his boyhood love of dinosaurs) and how they made the Bible’s heroes looked so anemic in comparison.

He had long embraced the view of history bequeathed us by the Enlightenment era (via Gibbon, Voltaire, etc) that Christianity ushered in an age of intolerance, superstition and ignorance. One had to look further back to the ancient “classical era” to find values more worthy of humanist ideals.

His epiphany dawned over time as he reflected upon the barbarism of Sparta and Rome:

The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment – that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born – increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable.

For once I can say something I have never written before and never imagined myself saying. A historian from outside the guild of biblical studies can learn something from a Professor of New Testament; in this instance the professor is Gregory J. Riley. (There are surely many others; but as an outside amateur I think of Riley as the most well known scholar addressing the contribution of ancient “classical” values to Christianity.)

Christianity was not born mysteriously out of a womb unrelated to the body of which it was a part. Every human creation is a product of a human environment. It would be unique, unnatural even, if Christianity emerged from a virgin birth.

gregory-riley
Gregory Riley

By way of explanation I think the titles of two of the following posts on Gregory Riley’s works should tell the story, though the titles are also hyperlinked to their original content:

See also Peter Kirby’s page: Historical Jesus Theories: Gregory Riley

Then there are the scholarly works addressing Paul’s debt to classical ethics with nary a word of credit to Jesus. I mention just a handful that I can identify quickly from my own collection:

  • Engberg-Pedersen, T. (2000). Paul and the Stoics. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press.
  • Engberg-Pedersen, T. (2006). Paul’s Stoicizing Politics in Romans 12-13: The Role of 13.1-10 in the Argument. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 29(2), 163–172. http://doi.org/10.1177/0142064X06072836
  • Lee, M. V. (2009). Paul, the Stoics, and the Body of Christ. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Malherbe, A. J. (1989). Paul and the popular philosophers. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
  • Rasimus, T. (2010). Stoicism in early Christianity. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic.
  • Thorsteinsson, R. M. (2006). Paul and Roman Stoicism: Romans 12 and Contemporary Stoic Ethics. Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 29(2), 139–161. http://doi.org/10.1177/0142064X06072835

Julius Caesar and Leonidas were not the only figures to speak for ancient values. Seneca was ordered by Nero to commit suicide, if my memory serves.

And as for the utter callousness of Caesar’s treatment of the Gauls and Sparta’s legendary treatment of helots, yes, it would be soul-destroying to think humanity has made no progress in two thousand years. Yet we do ourselves a serious injustice if we fail to recognize that our Christian nations have on the whole fully approved the extermination of entire cities of innocents for what they believe was the purpose of saving the lives of their own soldiers, and continue to approve of the slaughter of innocents in order to achieve specific national and strategic goals.

Tom Holland might be advised to turn his attention to historians of modern realities (his compatriot Jason Burke comes to mind) and learn that enormous strides in propaganda and hypocrisy have possibly exceeded advances in morality. No, that’s not quite fair or true. It really is a lot harder today for national leaders to do what they want without regard for public opinion and I have little doubt that leaders today really do have consciences more refined than those of their ancient counterparts (except for the psychopaths, of course). But, but…. it does pay sometimes to look behind the headlines.

 


2016-06-05

Jesus in the Muslim Apocalypse

by Neil Godfrey

Rogier_van_der_Weyden_-_Saint_George_and_the_DragonRecently I was curious enough to learn what today’s Muslim teachings about the “end times” were to pick up and read two books:

filiuFiliu’s work is by far to be preferred for anyone wanting a more complete overview. The 2005 publication has its strengths — I was fascinated by the historical accounts of the various Mahdist movements, in particular the nineteenth century Mahdi of the Sudan of Gordon of Khartoum fame — but it does lose some credibility with its clearly failed analysis of modern extremist Islamist movements, in particular with respect to the questions it was raising in relation to Osama bin Laden. Furnish is determined to focus on Sunni Muslim movements in order to “balance” the much vaster literature on Mahdism among the Shia Muslims. (The Shia dominate Iran but are also significant forces in Lebanon-Syria and parts of Iraq.) That’s a key reason Filiu’s book is to be preferred by anyone interested in Muslim end times teachings more generally.

A reassuring message that comes through is just how unimportant are teachings about last days and end time apocalypse in the political and everyday thinking of Muslims generally. As among Christians (and my impression is that even more-so than among North American Christians) the overwhelming majority of Islamic teachers and general body of believers tend to look down upon minorities in their midst who get too carried away with apocalyptic speculations. Both books were published before Islamic State burst on the scene in 2014 but little that I have read about IS changes this overall balance of interest.

Of interest to me were the sources of the various apocalyptic beliefs. Comparable Christian beliefs are taken from canonical sources like the books of Revelation and Daniel. These are generally interpreted through the dispensationalist concepts originating with the Scofield Reference Bible. Add a touch of Hal Lindsay and maybe a little Nostradamus for the most extreme and that’s basically it. Islamic apocalypticism is more eclectic by spades. Much of it even draws upon the Christian sources just mentioned! There are Islamic texts, certain hadiths, that do form the basis of Muslim apocalyptic but they are relatively light on with respect to details and narrative flow.

As for dates, 1979 was a turning point for the Islamic world.

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

For the significance of 1979 compare Jason Burke’s analysis of the rise of global Islamic militancy. Two Vridar posts discussing Burke’s explanation:

Khurasan_and_Afghans
The triple shocks of 1979 were a turning point although various clear ideas of what to make of these events did not coalesce overnight. This period was the beginning of the fifteenth Muslim century and nothing eschatalogical had been foretold of this period so it took a little while to reinterpret and understand anew various prophecies. Afghanistan and Iran may look remote to Christians but they are the centre of Khurasan, a “mythical land” long associated with Afghanistan and where the Messiah’s appearance was foretold.

I could not fail to be interested in various prophetic views of Jesus. They vary from Jesus returning to condemn everyone who failed to convert to Islam to Jesus inspiring a special tolerance and place for Christians. Another reminder that the Muslim religion is anything but a monolith.

Some of the predictions involving Jesus

First comes the Antichrist to the land of Sham, or Syria. Other prophecies locate him in Khurasan. read more »


2016-02-20

On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare

by Neil Godfrey
quote_begin By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.
I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

— Sylvia Plath, quoted by Charles Camerson in So: How Does It Feel at World’s End?, an exploration into the eschatological lure of ISIS.
quote_end

Charles Cameron is blogging about a book of his that is hopefully will be published soon: Jihad and the Passion of ISIS: Making Sense of Religious Violence. The first of these blog posts is On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare, 1: its sheer intensity.

Cameron builds on a number of works that I have posted about here on Vridar, so I am looking forward to his own contribution. He writes:

We now have, I believe, a strong understanding of the Islamic State and its origins in such books as Stern & Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror, Jason Burke, The New Threat, Joby Warrick, Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, and Weiss & Hassan, ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror. Delving directly into the key issue that interests me personally, the eschatology of the Islamic State, we have Will McCants‘ definitive The ISIS Apocalypse. My own contribution will hopefully supplement these riches, and McCants’ book in particular, with a comparative overview of religious violence across continents and centuries, and a particular focus on the passions engendered in both religious and secular movements when the definitive transformation of the world seems close at hand.

What follows is the first section of a four-part exploration of the horrors of apocalyptic war.

Cameron draws upon a dramatically colourful Winston Churchill account to convey the power of the Mahdi on the imaginations of followers in his day.

In his second post On the horrors of apocalyptic warfare, 2: to spark a messianic fire he encapsulates the sense of apoclyptic fervour in a passage from another book on my “to-read list”, Richard Landes’  Heaven on Earth: The Varieties of the Millennial Experience:

For people who have entered apocalyptic time, everything quickens, enlivens, coheres. They become semiotically aroused — everything has meaning, patterns. The smallest incident can have immense importance and open the way to an entirely new vision of the world, one in which forces unseen by other mortals operate. If the warrior lives with death at his shoulder, then apocalyptic warriors live with cosmic salvation before them, just beyond their grasp.

I’m looking forward to the remainder of Charles Cameron’s series.

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