It’s time the world turned on ‘UnIslamic State’ (ISIS) and destroyed it. It’s time every Muslim who upholds the 5 Pillars of Islam not only said “not in our name” and “not for our faith” but took action, directly or indirectly, to stop these psychopathic arseholes.
Thursday on BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, there was a debate about which was the more serious challenge: the Russian-backed insurgency in Eastern Ukraine and the effect that is having on relations between Russia and the West or UnIslamic State. (Much of the media still insist on referring to them as ‘Islamic State’ in spite of multiple requests from leading Islamic thinkers to use alternative terms such as ‘UnIslamic State’ which do not confer on them a sheen of validity.)
Personally, for all that Eastern Ukraine looks like an era-defining crisis in West-Russia relations, I have no doubt that UnIslamic State is by far the greater threat.
It’s not just the gut-wrenching video of a young man being burned alive…it’s not even the trail of beheadings, crucifixions, mass executions and other atrocities which came before it (and undoubtedly are still being carried out as I write)…it’s the potential for catastrophe that UnIslamic State seem determined to pursue.
The self-styled ‘caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi doesn’t do interviews – though apparently he tweets (or someone tweets on his Twitter account). So it’s difficult to know exactly what drives his thinking and that of his senior henchmen. Certainly there is RED/BLUE zealotry. Only their particular interpretation of Sunni Islam is correct and everyone must be made to believe as they do and follow their incredibly harsh application of Sharia…or else. (Given the sheer number of obvious psychopaths in their ranks, it seems the ‘or else’ is usually preferred without hesitation or consideration.)
Fawaz Gerges (2014) reports that the Shia are UnIslamic State’s prime target: “…al-Baghdadi view[s] Shias as infidels, a fifth column in the heart of Islam that must be wiped out – a genocidal worldview”.
This, as with so much inter-faction religious violence, is driven by the contrasting elements of the Assimilation-Contrast Effect. The Shias believe almost exactly the same as the Sunnis but those minute contrasts become cause for the zealots to exterminate the ‘others’ – and in the most horrible way because they are ‘traitors’ to the ‘true Islam’.
The zealous barbarism of UnIslamic State could yet tip the simmering tensions between Sunni and Shia into open warfare. That risks Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia coming into direct conflict with each other…and that conflict could have the potential to go nuclear. Iran is close to testing a nuclear weapon; the Saudis have an agreement for the Pakistanis to supply them with nuclear missiles (Mark Urban, 2013). Given the Muslim diaspora over much of the world, there is also the potential for conflicts right around the globe. While Muslim populations in Europe, for example, are relatively small, a Middle East conflagration could easily find armed gangs of Sunni and Shia fighting it out on the streets of Amsterdam, Paris or, for that matter, Bradford!
Even if you could ignore the atrocities and the likely body count of millions, it’s these 2 potentials – nuclear and exported via the diaspora – let alone the disruption to international trade and oil supplies – that make a Middle East Sunni vs Shia total war impossible to step back from and far more dangerous than the Russian military arming the Eastern Ukrainian rebels. The let-them-get-on-with-it brigade are deluded. The implications are global. Bad as the conflict in Eastern Ukraine is, we’re very unlikely to see Russians and Ukrainians shooting each other on the streets of London. Nor is Moscow going to attempt a nuclear strike on Western cities over Donetsk and Luhansk. There are enough nukes left in the arsenals of both sides to bring about MAD (mutually-assured destruction). Vladimir Putin may have misjudged the Ukrainian government or even lost control of some of the Russian ultra-nationalists but he is certainly not mad.
On the other hand, if al-Baghdadi could bring about a nuclear strike against a clear Shia target, there is every reason to believe he might do it. In his zealotry, he might even willingly sacrifice a whole load of Sunnis! A wind of radioactive fall-out blowing around the world would be a small price to pay for getting rid of the hated Shia!
A clash of civilisations?
There also seems to a strand of sheer RED nihilism in the thinking of al-Baghdadi and his henchmen. What Sigmund Freud (1920) termed Thanatos, the death drive of the Id – RED in the Gravesian approach can be matched to the Id – revels in destruction for sheer pleasure and will often bring destruction upon itself. Thus, destroying for the sake of destroying may well be part of al-Baghdadi’s mindset. As my former Sociology tutee Yasmeen wrote about Islamist terrorists – see Email from a Muslim Student – “They just want to watch the world burn.”
So, is that a desired outcome for UnIslamic State…that non-Muslims feel so threatened by the extremists that they turn on Muslims, forcing Muslim groups to defend themselves and inevitably turning to the extremists to enable them to survive…and eventually forcing action by Muslim countries? Does al-Baghdadi actually want to bring about the ‘clash of civilisations’ Samuel Huntington (1993; 1996) infamously foresaw?
More than 50 anti-Muslim attacks were recorded across France in the week after the Charlie Hebdo murders, according to Juan Cole (among others), while there were numerous anti-Muslim hate incidents recorded across Western Europe in the wake of the killings. Undoubtedly there exists a massive potential for major anti-Muslim backlashes in many parts of the world, the more people feel threatened by the extremists.
While attacking the Shias may be UnIslamic State’s key priority, they have explicitly encouraged Sunnis around the world to carry out attacks. Back in September Yara Bayoumi of The Independent (amongst many others) reported UnIslamic State spokesman Abu Mohammed al Adnani as saying: “If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way, however it may be. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”
There are also clear indications that al-Baghdadi wants to establish UnIslamic State operations in Asia. Just 3 days ago The Diplomat’s Arif Rafiq confirmed that UnIslamic State had declared a ‘wilayah’ or province of ‘Khurasan’, a region that encompasses Afghanistan and large parts of Pakistan. Since UnIslamic State have yet to develop much of a fighting force in Kuransan, the declaration is more notional than it is real. Much will depend on whether the Taliban are seduced into joining with UnIslamic State there – as the al-Nusra Front seem to have done in Syria – or whether they determine to drive them out of the region. Timothy McGrath (2014) is just one commentator who has wondered whether December’s school massacre in Peshawar – which was a considerable step-up in degree of atrocity for the Pakistan Taliban, was, in part, at least an attempt to show they were just as ruthless as UnIslamic Front and thus stop the small trickle of defections from their ranks to UnIslamic State.
Notional though the wilayah of Khurasan may be and attacks in the West so far sporadic (if deadly), these show al-Baghdadi’s intent to expand his ‘caliphate’ far beyond its current geographical and sociopsychological boundaries.
Thus, UnIslamic State is a threat, immediate or potential, to everyone everywhere, Muslim and non-Muslim, who doesn’t want to live under their brutal version of Sharia. Unchecked, they will continue to seek to expand their territory and to serve as a magnet for psychopaths who find their version of Islam a licence to indulge in murder and brutality.
Can the savagery of UnIslamic State be justified in Islam?
I’m not a Muslim and have a pretty limited knowledge of Islam and the Qu’ran. Nevertheless, it seems clear to me that, while the Qur’an does encourage violence in certain specific contexts – eg: defending fellow Muslims from oppression (Surah 2:191) – generally violence is forbidden – eg: “…whoever kills another human being…it shall be as if he had killed all of mankind…” (Surah: 5:32).
In the wake of the Peshawar massacre Muslim blogger Rafya Sweets (2014) expounded on the notion that Islamic scripture circumscribes quite severely the use of violence: “The Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) prohibited the killing of non-Muslims who have a peace treaty with the Muslims. He said: ‘He who kills a non-Muslim (who has a peace treaty) shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise, and its smell is sensed from a distance as far as forty years journey.’ [collected in Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim] Even in the battlefield, the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) gave strict instructions and outlawed the killing of non-combatants and innocent civilians. A Hadith ( saying of Beloved Prophet Peace and Blessings be Upon Him) goes: ‘Fight in the name of God, but do not kill old men, children and women…’ [collected in Sahih al-Bukhari] Islam is the religion of peace and prosperity. It condemns brutality and wrongdoings , especially regarding women and children. Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) loved children very much, even on His deathbed, He said: Take care of your women and children.”
Certainly the weight of fatwas issued around the world in recent years condemns the kind of violence committed by Unislamic State, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, etc.
Hassan Hassan in today’s Observer notes that UnIslamic State tend to justify their barbarity be referencing what key figures in early Islamic history have done rather than by quoting specific scriptures. While this is certainly proving successful in helping attract a steady stream of would-be ‘jihadists’, the strategy indicates the lack of a strong theological base for many of their policies.
Sunni Muslims must take the lead in destroying UnIslamic state
It’s most definitely not fair but every time UnIslamic State or other extremists commit an atrocity supposedly in the name of Islam, they not only sully the reputation of this great and venerable religion but they make ordinary Muslims unsafe. As the media works and works moral panics over ‘Islamic terrorism’, every Muslim is at risk of being categorised as a folk devil. A relatively small-scale but significant example of this is the bullying and castigation of British Muslim schoolchildren in the wake of Charlie Hebdo. The Independent’s Cahal Milmo reports that they are being labelled by other children as ‘terrorists’, ‘Pakis’ and ‘paedophiles’. Moreover, Milmo reports a number of incidents in which Muslims have been assaulted by other children.
The more frequent the atrocities, the more barbaric the atrocities, the more likely abuse of Muslims is to spread, the more likely Muslims are to isolate themselves into defensive communities and the more likely they are to support extremists. All of which seems to suit UnIslamic State!
Of course, governments, schools, police, social workers, etc, have a responsibility to stop this kind of thing…but Muslims – especially Sunni Muslims – must also must take action. They must not only unequivocally condemn atrocities by UnIslamic State and other extremist groups; they must present and promote the Islam reflected in the concept of ‘Allah the Compassionate’. For that, of course, they also need the active participation of Western politicians and media. The lack of support for leading moderate Muslims by Western politicians and media I have commented on several times – eg: Why is the West ignoring a Leading Moderate Muslim? – must be replaced by a clear determination to support Muslims in presenting and promoting the Islam of ‘Allah the Compassionate’.
This must take place not only in the West but across the world. As my amateurish-but-heartfelt graphic demonstrates: It’s time for Muslims to take back their religion from the extremists and the psychopaths.
A personal anecdote: 6 or 7 years ago I started buying and displaying things like mugs and t-shirts which had the Union Jack on. Some people couldn’t understand. Why, I was asked, do you display something so often associated with racism? My answer was that, for all its faults, I’m proud of being a citizen of the United Kingdom and I want to take back its premier symbol, the flag, from racists like the British National Party. I was fed up with the racists owning my flag – I say ‘my flag’ because it’s the symbol of the country I belong to. A BLUE/GREEN vMEME harmonic was offended on behalf of my PURPLE vMEME that these RED/BLUE zealots had ‘stolen’ my symbol of belonging to my country. So my display of the Union Jack was my ‘bit’, my personal mini-gesture, to rescue my flag.
Now Muslims must rescue their religion.
After watching the video of Moaz al-Kasasbeh’s burning, journalist and television personality Piers Morgan wrote: “This war, and it is a war, will not be won by American military power, although that will play an important factor. It will be won by the Muslim world turning on ISIS, rooting them out of their societies and bringing them to justice. Of the legal or fatal kind…. This…thump…has to come from Muslims; those hundreds of millions of Muslims who’ve had enough of seeing Islam’s name and reputation being desecrated in this way. And the thump has to be hard enough militarily, financially and politically to ensure ISIS is cornered and isolated like a diseased rat wherever it tries to operate.”
Morgan is spot on. The West can – and must – aid Muslims in destroying UnIslamic State. But more than that, it must be Sunni Muslims who take the lead in destroying them. Unless it is their ‘own kind’ who turn on them, treating them like a diseased cancer to be cut out of the body of Sunni Islam, PURPLE differentiators will attribute their destruction to ‘others’ and treat it as illegitimate. To give the destruction of UnIslamic State (and other Sunni extremists) complete legitimacy, it must be done by fellow Sunnis.