The title is taken from Mona Eltahawy, although this post has nothing to do with her. This article reflects my personal understanding of terrorism as of 6/8/2017. Disclaimer: Some material is quoted directly from ISIS propaganda, so don’t read if it’s too disturbing.
When discussions on extremism take place, one of several possible reasons is usually cited as the main motivation behind groups like Daesh:
- Extremists attack the West because they “hate our freedom.”
- Extremists attack the West purely out of hatred for Western foreign policy.
- Terrorists warp Islam to justify their twisted desires.
- Terrorist attacks take place because Islam itself promotes civilian murder and forced conversion.
The last possible reason is easily dismissed–if Islam itself promotes terrorism, why is “radical Islam” a relatively recent phenomenon? Islam itself has existed for 1,438 years. Why weren’t Muslims crusading and perpetrating atrocities for 99% of this time? Have they only recently discovered what’s written in the Qur’an? This is obviously implausible.
The second and third reasons, however, are less easily ignored. I would argue that extremism is caused both by errant Western foreign policy and misguided religious convictions.
The foreign policy aspect of terrorism is relatively simple to decode. During Operation Cyclone, the CIA armed and funded Afghan groups they termed the mujahideen. The aim was allegedly to fight Soviet troops during the USSR’s war in Afghanistan. Muslims from other countries also rushed to Afghanistan to aid the “jihadists.” One of them was Osama bin Laden.
Later, offshoots of the mujahideen provided the basis for groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban to establish themselves in the area. After 9/11, the United States apparently realized its mistakes, and declared war on Afghanistan. As of August 2016, over 31,000 civilians are estimated to have died in the war.
The United States, however, was not done. After fostering pseudo-religious fervor and radicalization throughout Afghanistan, the US helpfully played the victim. Americans, we were told, were faced by an ominous threat. This threat was called Radical Islam–and to eradicate it, a massive War on Terror needed to be waged.
And the hypocrisy continues to play out. America funds and arms “Radical Islamist” groups when it suits them, but then realizes its mistakes, plays the victim, and takes thousands of (Muslim) civilian lives in the process.
America’s logic seems to be this: “Terrorism is bad, folks, because it involves murdering innocent people. So let’s wage War on Terror–by killing more innocent people.”
And it is Muslims who are most affected by this lapse in logic. As Islamophobia mounts throughout the West, extremist groups like Daesh and Boko Haram capitalize on the tension, furthering the “Islam vs. the West” mentality that fuels radicalization in the first place.
As much as Western officials cower to admit it, Western foreign policy is directly linked to extremism and “radical Islamist” groups throughout the world.
This was further exemplified during America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. Iraq was left fractured, its civilians’ lives destroyed. This created a convenient power vacuum that Daesh was clamoring to fill. A mere “unintended consequence” of the United States’ destructive foreign policy, it seems.
Again, US officials appeared flabbergasted by the horror they’d helped to create. The War on Terror had to be continued, this time by targeting Iraq and Syria with airstrikes (or, according to Trump, “bombing the sh*t out of ISIS”). Over 200 civilians are said to have been killed in Mosul alone.
The United States is a nation built on genocide and slavery. Although it claims to have renounced its past and now allegedly acts as a “beacon of humanity and democracy,” it is clear that American compassion only applies to Westerners.
For instance, US officials don’t mind unleashing the “mother of all bombs” on Afghan children in the name of fighting terror. After all, white civilian lives matter far more than Central Asian/MENA lives do.
The hypocrisy of Western nations throughout the War on Terror is shocking in its magnitude. The facts remain–we simply cannot have a discussion on terrorism without delving into the ill effects of Western foreign policy.
The West also has a reputation for allying itself with corrupt “Muslim” leaders, such as those of the current Saudi regime. Saudi Arabia and the US constantly collaborate in destroying Yemen. The US’s recent hundred-billion-dollar arms trade with Saudi resulted in the horrific deaths of Yemeni civilians as white phosphorus was unleashed on them, in flagrant violation of international regulatory law.
Additionally, during Iraq’s war with Iran, the US openly supported Iraq, aiding Saddam Hussein to help his regime avoid defeat. This was before the aforementioned invasion of Iraq, through which Saddam was deposed and Daesh was birthed.
Ismail Royer, a former member of multiple jihadist groups, spent 14 years in prison housed with notorious bombers such as Richard Reid. On Reid’s motivation for extremism, Royer states:
“He had been immersed in the ideology of Al Qaeda and he had been in Afghanistan for a long time. So he was able to intelligently debate me using the arguments he had absorbed, that had motivated him to try and blow up an airplane [full] of innocent people. Their belief really revolves around their hatred for the rulers of the Muslim world. And their hatred of the West really stems from their belief that the West is…supporting these people. Their strategy is that they want to attack to West to cause the West to retaliate against Muslims. They believe that the deaths of other Muslims [are] justifiable if it means awakening Muslims to their cause.”
Royer’s interactions with terrorists clearly display these extremists’ roundabout reasoning: “We don’t like Muslim leaders, and Muslim leaders are backed by the West, which also murders our civilians on a daily basis. Maybe if we attack the West, Muslims living there will retaliate and help us.”
But is it only foreign policy that fuels terrorism? I would argue that it isn’t. Terrorism is too complex to be decoded simply by geopolitics. No matter what some Muslims insist, religion plays a significant part. The causes behind terrorism seem to be twofold–there are theological arguments behind extremist mindsets as well. Western invasion of Muslim lands forms the bedrock that terrorist attacks are built upon, but radicalization also derives support from widespread theological perspectives and misguided “religious” reasoning.
Daesh’s most recent propaganda invention, Rumiyyah, is a disturbing trove of extremist thought. “Updated” and slightly shorter than Dabiq, it features “exhortations to warfare” and elaborations on “Just Terror Tactics” interspersed with fragments of Qur’anic verses and hadith.
Daesh’s favorite Qur’anic excerpt seems to be “…and kill them wherever you find them…” (in reference to the idolaters, 9:5). Needless to say, Daesh members conveniently ignore the preceding verses, which give the context for this command and explain that idolaters who maintained their treaties are exempt from the declaration of war (9:4).
Daesh’s warped view of Islam allows them to take Qur’anic verses on self-defense out of context and cherry-pick commands as they see fit. This is aided by the secondary hadith corpus, which contains (likely false) reports of horrific punishments the Prophet allegedly meted out. These “punishments” included amputation and mutilation, cited in Dabiq.
In Rumiyyah‘s second issue, Daesh discusses “Just Terror Tactics.” These include running over innocent civilians with vehicles, which is what occurred during the 2016 Bastille Day attack in Nice, France. Daesh backs up their unspeakable crimes with manipulated Qur’anic verses as usual, and urges self-proclaimed jihadists “not to be squeamish when fighting the kuffaar”:
“When considering a just terror operation, an ocean of thoughts might pour into one’s mind, clouding the ability to make a final decision. Whether in regards to the type of operation one seeks to conduct or the details of that operation, it is easy for someone to be defeated by doubt if they have not received proper guidance or training. Yet, one need not be a military expert or a martial arts master, or even own a gun or rifle in order to carry out a massacre or to kill and injure several disbelievers and terrorize an entire nation. A hardened resolve, some basic planning, and reliance on Allah for success are enough for a single mujahid to bring untold misery to the enemies of Allah, inshaallah…any…squirms and discomforts are never an excuse for abandoning jihad, as the All Knowing and Most Wise said, “Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it contains that which you dislike. But perhaps you dislike a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah knows, while you know not” (Al-Baqarah 216). In compliance with this and other verses on jihad, generations upon generations of mujahidin rose for the sake of Allah and struck the necks of the kuffar with their swords, severing limbs and piercing the fleshy meat of those who opposed Islam. “So when you meet those who disbelieve, strike their necks, until, when you have overwhelmed them with killing …” (Muhammad 4).”
Daesh also operates a system of institutionalized sexual slavery. It has taken thousands of minority women and children as prisoners since August 2014, when its fighters overtook villages in northern regions of Iraq. Yazidi women are specifically targeted, since Daesh views them as “polytheists”:
“Mr. Barber, of the University of Chicago, said that the focus on Yazidis was likely because they are seen as polytheists, with an oral tradition rather than a written scripture. In the Islamic State’s eyes that puts them on the fringe of despised unbelievers, even more than Christians and Jews, who are considered to have some limited protections under the Quran as ‘People of the Book.'”
The Qur’an does not allow sexual slavery of any kind. It prescribes 100 lashes as punishment for extramarital sex (Chapter 24) and explicitly prohibits men from forcing servant girls into prostitution/”lewdness” (24:33).
Daesh likely derives its permission for sexual slavery from misinterpreted verses of the Qur’an regarding ma malakat aymanakum (lit. “what your right hands possess”). It conveniently disregards other Qur’anic verses that disprove its twisted misinterpretation.
Daesh also enshrines the theology of takfir, or excommunication. They dictate that anyone who opposes their particular warped brand of “Islam” is a kafir. This lends them perceived license to fight “Muslim moderates” and other adherents of mainstream Islam.
With respect to its worldview, Daesh is far removed from most aspects of normative Islam (but not all). It is seen by most Muslims as a violent kharijite/deviant group, already prophesied by the Prophet Muhammad (sws).
However, Muslims who actively oppose Daesh also fail to recognize that some facets of extremist thought do find support in traditional Islamic discourse. This is not to say that they find support within the Qur’an–rather, the Qur’an fully disproves extremist ideologies.
What I mean to say is that some parts of traditional Islam are opposed to the Qur’an, to the extent that un-Qur’anic directives form the basis for civil law throughout much of the Muslim world.
Muslim-majority countries are racked with divisive rhetoric and pervasive intolerance. Minority Muslim sects often face inhuman levels of persecution, as do religious minorities. Execution is often used as a legal penalty for alleged blasphemy and apostasy, in explicit violation of the Qur’an.
According to BBC, in Pakistan alone, a total of 633 Muslims, 494 Ahmadis (seen as non-Muslims), 187 Christians and 21 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law since 1987. The recent mob lynching of Mashal Khan of Mardan stirred controversy throughout the world, drawing attention to Pakistan’s massive human rights violations.
Violence against women and honor killings are also unconscionably frequent, with victims usually denied justice.
Stoning to death is seen as an appropriate punishment for adultery in multiple nations. It is a fundamentally gendered practice, targeting mainly women, and often lacks witnesses to prove that a “crime” was committed in the first place. The WLUML states:
“Stoning is on the law books as a death penalty in 11 countries: Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria (in one-third of the country’s states), Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Additionally, in Malaysia stoning is sanctioned as a death penalty regionally, despite being banned under national legislation.”
Under the Taliban, “adulterers”–particularly (sometimes underage) women/girls–were stoned to death in public to atone for their alleged “sins.”
When faced with statistics like these, some Muslims will fervently deny that Islam has anything to do with such abominable legislation. However, the fact remains that many practices linked to extremism find support in mainstream Islamic discourse. This is a reality that cannot be avoided if Muslims truly wish to combat extremist/violent ideologies.
We can no longer go on pretending that mainstream Muslim rhetoric contains no parallels to terrorist thought. It does.
I suggest a double-sided solution to terrorism: Firstly, grievances over Western foreign policy should be acknowledged and dealt with. Secondly, Muslims must examine their own theological positions and eradicate un-Quranic legislation from their governing bodies.
Groups like Daesh and Al Qaeda should be categorically denounced, but this isn’t enough: Their motives must be investigated and cut off at the roots. If we don’t take action, the cycle will perpetuate itself, and the devastating civilian death toll will continue to rise.
- Sahih Bukhari 4:52:261, cited in Dabiq: https://muflihun.com/bukhari/52/261
- Rumiyyah, Issue 2: [WARNING: This is ISIS propaganda] http://clarionproject.org/factsheets-files/Rumiyh-ISIS-Magazine-2nd-issue.pdf