Tag: Islamism

On Islam, ISIS and War

In the aftermath of the attacks on Paris, we are getting the usual chorus of think pieces about how ISIS is not Islamic and does not represent Islam. We are getting ridiculously pedantic parsings of words to argue that we are not in a clash of civilizations. While I think there are points to be made here, I think the writers of these pieces are missing the forest for the trees.

First, it goes without saying that most Muslims are not Islamists and radicals. It goes without saying that you can read through the Koran (which I have) and find many passages that support peace and coexistence. But that’s kind of beside the point.

Here we land at the centre of the problem — a centre we have spent the last decade and a half trying to avoid: Islam is not a peaceful religion. No religion is, but Islam is especially not. Nor is it, as some ill-informed people say, solely a religion of war. There are many peaceful verses in the Quran which — luckily for us — the majority of Muslims live by. But it is, by no means, only a religion of peace.

I say this not because I hate Islam, nor do I have any special animus against Muslims, but simply because this is the verifiable truth based on the texts. Until we accept that we will never defeat the violence, we risk encouraging whole populations to take against all of Islam and abandon all those Muslims who are trying desperately to modernise, reform and de-literalise their faith. And — most importantly — we will give up our own traditions of free speech and historical inquiry and allow one religion to have an unbelievable advantage in the free marketplace of ideas.

Islam, like every other religion on that planet, has many strains. You will find many people — some 80-90% Muslims — who take the tolerant passages of the Koran and build their lives around that. But you will find others, basically everyone we are fighting right now, who take the more war-like passages of the Koran and build their lives around that. To pretend that they “aren’t practicing Islam” is a pedantic word game at best. At worst, it is not only inaccurate but censorious, trying to elide periods of history and Islamic writings that are inconvenient.

I’ve linked this before in my previous discussion of the nature of ISIS. It’s worth reiterating:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

Me:

When the President says that violent extremists like ISIL are not the real face of Islam, he is both right and wrong. The face of Islam can be one of tolerance and peace. But it can also be one of intolerance and violence. Islam has gone through periods of enlightenment and gone through periods of horrific fundamentalism. At this point in history, it hangs in the balance caught between hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims and violent sects that, while a minority, wields enormous power and influence. We’ve seen in pre-war Afghanistan and in the ISIL-controlled territory what these people want: beheadings, slavery, crucifixion, stoning. Their ideology recognizes no authority other than “pure” radical Islam. Whether they represent a minority or not is beside the point. The Nazis were never a majority in Germany. The Communists were never a majority in the countries they ruled with an iron fist. But they were able to control massive parts of the world and enormous armies through violence, intimidation and bloodshed.

The “most Muslims are good” argument, while based in truth, has no practical meaning. Most Germans are good people. We still had to defeat them in two wars. Most Russians are good people. We still had to fight a dangerous and tense Cold War against the Soviet Union. Most Japanese are good people. We still had to drop two atom bombs on them. It doesn’t really matter what the vast majority want when the monsters have the floor. The problem is that while most people are good, they are also easily persuaded or coerced to do bad things or stand aside while bad things are done. This is true of everyone in the world. There is not a religion or country that isn’t capable of doing horrible things. The question is: who is in charge? We’ve seen what happens when people like ISIL are in charge: entire regions of the world become unspeakably violent.

And now they are exporting that violence. And, to head off another talking point, they aren’t exporting their violence because of our “aggression”. France and Russia were not leading the campaign against ISIS. And ISIS did not target politicians or military personnel or defense contractors. They targeted civilians specifically because of Western values. They targeted them, according to their own words, because Paris is “the capital of prostitution and obscenity” (by which they mean consensual sex and any entertainment other than stoning women to death).

This is their stated goal. No one out having a good time … anywhere in the world. No one out at soccer stadiums except to watch executions. No one out drinking, obviously. No one at theaters. Women completely covered and regarded as little more than sex objects for the powerful. And they won’t stop if we leave them alone and stop bombing them. They will simply ramp up their attacks.

Call me crazy but when someone says, “this is why we are attacking you”, I think it behooves us to consider the possibility that this is why they are attacking us.

It seems we are destined to be caught between two groups of idiots. The first insists that all Muslims are this way. This ignores, of course, the hundreds who have tipped off authorities to radicals, the thousands fighting an actual bloody ground war against ISIS and the millions who condemned the Paris attacks and prayed for the dead. But there’s a second group who try to insist this violence has nothing to do with Islam, as though ISIS were just a street gang.

Again: we don’t have to guess at ISIS’s motives. They’ve stated them. They want to establish a caliphate, bring about the apocalypse and establish a worldwide Islamic state built on the most radical principles taken directly from the most extreme passages of Koran and the Hadith. That the vast majority of Muslims disagree with them does not change the nature of their ideology. It does not bring back the dead in Paris and more than “that’s not real Christianity” brings back the dead of the Crusades or “that’s not real Judaism” brings back the victims of the Caves of the Patriarchs massacre.

If a Jewish terrorist murdered a bunch of Arab men, women and children and took their daughters as sex slaves, citing the Midian War as his justification, we wouldn’t pretend it had nothing to do with religion. If a Christian terrorist burned down a bank and cited, as justification, Christ turning out the money-changers, we wouldn’t pretend it had nothing to with religion. Hell, when a radical Christian calls for executing gays or murders an abortion doctor — things completely antithetical to the teachings of Christ — we don’t pretend it has nothing to do with religion. But when Islamists murder people in the street and cite centuries-old writings as their justification, we suddenly pretend religion’s got nothing to do with it?

ISIS is a tough problem to deal with and it’s not exactly clear where we go from here. Can we destroy them sans a massive decades-long occupation of the region? I don’t know. I know we can probably decapitate their leadership and cripple them militarily. But, ultimately, this will come down to that majority of Muslims who oppose ISIS and their evil ideology (and are fighting them right now). They are the ones who must stop this horror. We can support and help. But we don’t support and help by covering our eyes and pretending that at least part of this conflict isn’t a war for the heart and soul of the world’s second largest religion.

Texas Shooting

Now that the facts are out, I have a a few random thoughts about Sunday’s shooting in Texas, which apparently involved two wannabe jihadis trying to shoot up a meeting where people would draw images of Muhammed.

First, I have no use for Pamela Geller and her compadres. They spew anti-Islamic invective whenever they can, are frequently factually challenged and hold events like this to be deliberately provocative.

That having been said, the blame for this is totally on the shooters and their vile religious beliefs. Every religion has its critics and its mockers. But you don’t see Christians, even fundamentalist ones, shooting up meetings of atheists or trying to murder Richard Dawkins. As Amy Alkon reminds us, there is no free speech in fundamentalist Islam. The radicals regard murdering “blasphemers” as their duty. We can never forget that.

Second, this event is protected speech no matter how much the pantywaists and thought-controllers try to pretend it isn’t. Our commitment to free speech is most tested with provocative or even insulting speech. And our commitment should stay strong even in the face of gunfire.

Third, according to Mother Jones, this was not a mass shooting stopped by someone with a gun. As I’ve noted many times, they require four people to be killed before it counts as a mass shooting or an attempted one.

And finally … Texas? Seriously? You guys thought you were going to win a shootout in Texas? When I lived down there, I was the least-armed person in my carpool lane.

Tunisia Attack

Here we go again:

At least 17 people — most of them tourists — were killed in an attack Wednesday at the Bardo museum in Tunisia’s capital, Tunisian Prime Minister Habid Essid said.

Two attackers were also killed, while three attackers are at large, according to Essid.

Tunisia hasn’t been as chaotic as Libya but ISIS has been getting a toehold there. I would be surprised if there wasn’t a connection.

The President and ISIL

With recent pushes into Kurdish territory and the beheading of 21 Christians in Libya, there is a growing fear that ISIL is growing more and more powerful. The President has asked for an authorization for the use of military force (finally). I’ll get to that in a moment. But my first concern is that he’s been making the argument, yet again, that ISIL doesn’t represent “real” Islam, even dragging out the old arguments about the Crusades as a moral equivalence.

The thing is that ISIL doesn’t agree with him. They are not like Al-Qaeda, which was an amorphous terrorist movement dedicated to bringing about the caliphate but operating within the modern world. ISIL wants to create the caliphate right now and the caliphate they want to create is violent, barbaric, medieval and based heavily on old-school Islam and literal interpretations of the Koran:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

(You really should read that entire article. Think Regress has posted a lame response that basically ignores Wood’s point: that while many Muslims don’t take the Koran’s more violent texts at face value, organizations like ISIL do.)

When the President says that violent extremists like ISIL are not the real face of Islam, he is both right and wrong. The face of Islam can be one of tolerance and peace. But it can also be one of intolerance and violence. Islam has gone through periods of enlightenment and gone through periods of horrific fundamentalism. At this point in history, it hangs in the balance caught between hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims and violent sects that, while a minority, wields enormous power and influence. We’ve seen in pre-war Afghanistan and in the ISIL-controlled territory what these people want: beheadings, slavery, crucifixion, stoning. Their ideology recognizes no authority other than “pure” radical Islam. Whether they represent a minority or not is beside the point. The Nazis were never a majority in Germany. The Communists were never a majority in the countries they ruled with an iron fist. But they were able to control massive parts of the world and enormous armies through violence, intimidation and bloodshed.

The “most Muslims are good” argument, while based in truth, has no practical meaning. Most Germans are good people. We still had to defeat them in two wars. Most Russians are good people. We still had to fight a dangerous and tense Cold War against the Soviet Union. Most Japanese are good people. We still had to drop two atom bombs on them. It doesn’t really matter what the vast majority want when the monsters have the floor. The problem is that while most people are good, they are also easily persuaded or coerced to do bad things or stand aside while bad things are done. This is true of everyone in the world. There is not a religion or country that isn’t capable of doing horrible things. The question is: who is in charge? We’ve seen what happens when people like ISIL are in charge: entire regions of the world become unspeakably violent.

The President has finally asked Congress to recognize the semi-war we’ve been fighting for a while. I think they should do so, but with some limitations. A land war is not necessarily going to solve ISIL (although letting them overrun Baghdad or Kurdistan — as they’ve threatened to — would be a disaster). In fact, it could play right into their apocalyptic prophecies. But I do know that we can not disengage. It’s important that we keep ISIL and AQ from reconciling (which the President’s rescue attempt threatened to do). The longer ISIL survives and the more territory they conquer, the more legitimacy and power they will accumulate in the eyes of radical Muslims. Stopping them might mean air support, training, weapons and/or money to the forces opposing ISIL. If that means what we end up propping up one side in a bloody decades-long struggle for the soul of Islam … well, that’s what it means. We have a national interest in preventing the rise of ISIL to a real caliphate. The only way it will end is when this supposed peaceful majority rises up and ends it.

The Face of Terror

Yesterday, we watched as a homicidal nut took hostages in Sydney. In the ensuing action, two hostages died and the gunman was killed. While the gunman proclaimed his allegiance to ISIS, there were no official ties. Furthermore, he had some serious criminal issues going on. He was complicit in the murder of his wife, who was stabbed 18 times and set on fire. And he was being charged with 50 counts of indecent behavior and sexual assault. Why he was not sitting in a jail cell is a bit of a mystery to me.

There have been some attempts to divorce his actions from his Islamic fundamentalism, to say that this was just about a crazed nut. Well, the Taliban reminded us yesterday that this is what Islamists are like:

Pakistani Taliban gunmen stormed into a military-run school in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, killing scores of teachers and schoolchildren and fighting an eight-hour gun battle with the security forces, officials said.

At least 145 people were killed, more than 100 of them children, in a siege that lasted more than eight hours before the last of the nine attackers were killed, government and medical officials said.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban said his group was responsible for the attack and said it was in retaliation for the military’s offensive against militants in the North Waziristan tribal district.

So, yeah, this guy helped murder his wife and sexually assaulted women. That makes him pretty much your basic Islamist. That’s practically a job application for Al-Qaeda. These radicals murder children, they shoot teenagers in the face, they throw acid on women and girls, they kidnap women and force them into rape marriages. They engage in honor killing and behead innocents. This is what they do. Why are we acting like this guy in Sydney was unusual?

Whither Turkey

I’ve been a bit pre-occupied this week but have spent part of today trying to catch up to the Turkish situation. I think Fareed Zakaria makes the best case scenario that this is essentially a collision of two backlashes. The first was against the extremely secular government that Turkey had for a long time (veils were forbidden in public places, for example). The second is response to Erdogan’s rather authoritarian approach to bring more Islam into the public space and the natural fears that this will lead to fundamentalism.

I’m not sure how this will play out but I’m more optimistic about this than I was about the Arab Spring. For one thing, Turkey already has an established democracy and a secular society. There isn’t really anything like the Muslim Brotherhood to step in and start to assert true Islamism.

Still, it’s critical that we keep an eye on what’s going on. Turkey is our most critical ally in the region (non-Israel division). What happens in Turkey is far more important than what happens in Syria, Libya or Egypt.

Beheading in the Streets

I’ve been tinkering with a post on yesterday’s cold-blooded murder and attempted beheading of a UK soldier by two Islamic men. But what is there to say? It was senseless, pointless, barbaric and brutal — everything we have to expect from Islamism. And while the video of these men speaking is horrific, I’m glad that people will get to see these men literally soaked in the blood of an infidel while they shout Islamic slogans. Maybe they’ll quit pretending Islamism isn’t savagery.

Some Good News out of Mali

LIke me, I’m sure you were angered to hear of Islamists torching thousands of ancient manuscripts when they left Timbuktu (if you’re like me, this came after saying, “There’s a real place called Timbuktu?”). Well, there’s some good news:

Abba Alhadi has spent 40 of his 72 years on earth taking care of rare manuscripts. The illiterate old man, who walks with a cane and looks like a character from the Bible, was the perfect foil for the Islamists. They wrongly assumed that the city’s European-educated elite would be the ones trying to save the manuscripts, he said.

So last August, Alhadi began stuffing the thousands of books into empty rice and millet sacks.

At night, he loaded the millet sacks onto the type of trolley used to cart boxes of vegetables to the market. He pushed them across town and piled them into a lorry and onto the backs of motorcycles, which drove them to the banks of the Niger River.

From there, they floated down to the central Malian town of Mopti in a pinasse, a narrow, canoe-like boat. Then cars drove them from Mopti, the first government-controlled town, to Mali’s capital, Bamako, over 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from here.

“I have spent my life protecting these manuscripts. This has been my life’s work. And I had to come to terms with the fact that I could no longer protect them here,” said Alhadi. “It hurt me deeply to see them go, but I took strength knowing that they were being sent to a safe place.”

It took two weeks in all to spirit out the bulk of the collection, around 28,000 texts housed in the old building covering the subjects of theology, astronomy, geography and more.

There was nothing they could do, however, for the 2,000 documents that had already been transferred to the new library, to its exhibition and restoration rooms, and to a basement vault. Cisse took solace knowing that most of the texts in the new library had been digitized.

Some texts were still lost. But tens of thousands were saved thanks to this man and others. I don’t know what award this make him eligible for but, whatever it is, he should get it. I’d say a Nobel, but I’d prefer an award that still has some meaning.

A License to Kill

Goodness me, that President Bush is evil. How could he possibly assert that he has the exclusive power to … oh … it’s President Obama? No way!

Yes way.

A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.

The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.

They also killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son for reasons that remain nebulous. Greenwald:

What has made these actions all the more radical is the absolute secrecy with which Obama has draped all of this. Not only is the entire process carried out solely within the Executive branch – with no checks or oversight of any kind – but there is zero transparency and zero accountability. The president’s underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the president – at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as “Terror Tuesday” – then chooses from “baseball cards” and decrees in total secrecy who should die. The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark.

There are many problems with this outline (which is a reduced version of a much longer and still classified policy). The determination that someone is a “senior” Al-Quaeda leader and poses a threat is made entirely by the White House in total secrecy. We’re currently having an argument in the S&P thread about Obama using the power of the justice department to get his enemies. Do we trust them with this power?

Second, the statement that this applies only to senior terrorist leaders who pose an imminent threat is garbage. Once you look past the Orwellian language, the memo eviscerates those headline requirements, noting that there is no minimum requirement. They don’t have to be a senior member. They don’t have to pose an imminent threat. Awlaki’s son was neither. The White House just has to decide that … well … this person needs killing.

In other words, this is not a memo that narrowly defines the President’s power to unilaterally kill those that he considers threats. It massively expands it. It declares it to be essentially without bounds. He can order the killing of anyone anywhere in the world for reasons that can remain secret indefinitely.

Now maybe this sound fine to a lot of people. But Sullum reminds us of something critical:

The problem is that to accept this position, you have to put complete trust in the competence, wisdom, and ethics of the president, his underlings, and their successors. You have to believe they are properly defining and inerrantly identifying people who pose an imminent (or quasi-imminent) threat to national security and eliminating that threat through the only feasible means, which involves blowing people up from a distance. If mere mortals deserved that kind of faith, we would not need a Fifth Amendment, or the rest of the Constitution.

Exactly. If we trust the government with the unaccountable power of life and death, why shouldn’t we trust it with the power to decide what speech is acceptable? Why not dispense with the commerce clause and trust it to only regulate commerce when necessary? Why not save money on all those jury trials and just trust that anyone they arrest is guilty of something? Actually, given the explosion of laws, we probably all are guilty of something.

We spend a lot of time on this blog attacking Obama’s policies and competence. We accuse him of using the Justice Department to attack his enemies and advance his agenda. But we trust him to only kill the bad people?

(Ironically, as all this is going on, we’re delivering F-16’s and M-1 tanks to Egypt. So while the President is assuming unlimited authority to kill Americans over possible dangers, we’re giving weapons to a national leadership that poses a much more serious and real danger. The Egyptians have promised to be nice. I think.)

No President should have this power. Not Ronald Reagan. Not George Washington. Not Abraham Lincoln. Not Franklin Roosevelt. And certainly not Barack Obama. I can concede, perhaps, that in the global terrorism theater, it’s necessary to use drones for targeted killing. I can even accept, perhaps, that an American might be the recipient of this. What I can not accept is that this designation happens in complete secrecy with no accountability whatsoever. That we have to trust that our government won’t mix up a name (as they do with the no fly list), get bad intelligence (as the did with Iraq) or just got it completely fucking wrong (as they did with Maher Arar). Or that they won’t abuse that power to kill someone who really isn’t a threat but is, in some way, inconvenient to them.

I don’t trust government. That’s one of the roots of my fundamental conservatism. If I’m not going to trust government to run my healthcare, why on Earth would I trust them with the power to secretly and unaccountably kill my fellow citizens?

Update: Ta-Nehisi Coates, one of the few liberal Obama supporters who gets it:

I don’t want to be thick-witted here. I understand that on some level a democracy generally elects human leaders who will not abuse the spirit of the law. I think Barack Obama is such a leader. That is for the historians to determine. But practically, much of our foreign policy now depends on the hope of benevolent dictators and philosopher kings. The law can’t help. The law is what the kings say it is.

Lee described the Bush Administration as using “star chamber justice”. Bush had nothing on these guys.

The Fight Moves to Africa

The big news last week was the expansion of the War on Terror in Africa. The conflict against Islamists in Mali — remember when everyone laughed at Mali coming up during the Presidential debates — spilled over into Algeria with a hostage situation which was … eventually … resolved with about 50 of the hostages killed in the process.

US involvement, so far, has been thankfully minimal. I’m not sure that there’s much we can do. At this level, we are really talking about a gang of Jihadi Whack-A-Mole, with attempted revolutions and terror acts popping up in random parts of the globe. I do appreciate that we don’t want Mali to fall to Islamists. But can we defend every weak regime in the world? Should we?