On the thirteenth anniversary of the attacks of September the 11th, sadly, there is no shortage of Islam-related news: whether it is Nigeria or Iraq, Syria or Pakistan, Islamic Jihadism continues to claim victims in the thousands (mostly Muslims, as it happens). But the “moderate” Muslims, whom we are told nonstop we should court because they are our allies in fighting terrorism, are turning out to be more and more part of the problem every day. Because for any change in the situation, recognition of the problem would have to be the first step; and yet Muslims who are not involved in violence, rather than ever admitting that Islam has anything to do with the motivation of the Jihadis, continue to come up with every conceivable excuse to disassociate the two, hence delaying the reforms that their faith needs to move on past being recognized as the religion most often synonymous with violence. (Which is precisely what Christianity went through in the 17th and 18th centuries.)
Among the most popular fallacies among such people: making the claim that the Jihadis are “unislamic”. In effect what they do is “excommunicate” the Jihadis. (No word on how they got the authority to excommunicate anyone.)
‘Un-Islamic State’. The Organisation of Islamic Conference has said that the ISIS’s killing of US journalist James Foley has ‘nothing to do with Islam’, while the Muslim Council of Britain has called ISIS ‘un-Islamic to the core’.
Muslims’ use of takfir – the process of denouncing rival Muslims as apostates or non-Muslims – reinforces the ideological underpinnings of the very movements they are seeking to tackle. Takfirism is the root and enabler of all modern jihadism; takfirist doctrine enables any ‘true’ Muslim to label those with a rival interpretation of Islam as no longer Muslim. This, combined with traditional Islamic jurisprudence that mandates death for apostates, is taken by jihadists as an open license to denounce and then kill their enemies.
When moderate Muslim groups use takfirism to tackle extremism, this dangerous and intrinsically intolerant doctrine is therefore not challenged but is instead reaffirmed. Illustrating this, one British fighter in Syria, explaining why he regarded the MCB as his enemies, said: ‘The Muslim Council of Britain, they are apostates, they are not Muslims”, ironically the same argument that the MCB itself makes against ISIS.
But the “creativity” of Muslims trying to absolve Islam of all responsibility of violence certainly goes way beyond this. Resorting to conspiracy delusions is certainly a much stronger argument (on the surface) than the lame accusation of the perpetrators being apostates, which after all as the article shows, the Jihadis can toss back at the moderates just as easily. Why go for something like that if you can claim they were never Muslims to being with? (Only that it does your credibility, or even your reputations as a sane person no favors.) Mehdi Hasan, a Muslim journalist whom I am positively not a fan of, phrases this mindset nicely.
Did you know that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Isis, was trained by Mossad and the CIA? Were you aware that his real name isn’t Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai but Simon Elliot? Or that he’s a Jewish actor who was recruited by the Israelis to play the part of the world’s most wanted terrorist? Conspiracy theories are rife in both Muslim-majority countries and Muslim communities here in the west.
The events of 9/11 and the subsequent “war on terror” unleashed a vast array of hoaxers, hucksters and fantasists from Birmingham to Beirut. On a visit to Iraq in 2002, I met a senior Islamic cleric who told me that Jews, not Arabs, had been responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He loudly repeated the Middle East’s most popular and pernicious 9/11 conspiracy theory: that 4,000 Jews didn’t turn up for work on 11 September 2001 because they had been forewarned about the attacks. There is, of course, no evidence for this outlandish and offensive claim. The truth is that more than 200 Jews, including several Israeli citizens, were killed in the attacks on the twin towers. I guess they must have missed the memo from Mossad.
Yet the denialism persists. A Pew poll in 2011, a decade after 9/11, found that a majority of respondents in countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon refused to believe that the attacks were carried out by Arab members of al-Qaeda. “There is no Muslim public in which even 30 per cent accept that Arabs conducted the attacks,” the Pew researchers noted. This blindness isn’t peculiar to the Arab world or the Middle East.
Consider Pakistan, home to many of the world’s weirdest and wackiest conspiracy theories. Some Pakistanis say the schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai is a CIA agent. Others think that the heavy floods of 2010, which killed 2,000 Pakistanis, were caused by secret US military technology. And two out of three don’t believe Osama Bin Laden was killed by US navy Seals on Pakistani soil on 2 May 2011.
Consider also Nigeria, where there was a polio outbreak in 2003 after local people boycotted the vaccine, claiming it was a western plot to infect Muslims with HIV.
Then there is Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, where leading politicians and journalists blamed the 2002 Bali bombings on US agents.
It is worth noting that conspiracy delusions are by no means limited to Islamic nations; here in the US, media personalities such as Glenn Beck and Alex Jones make handsome livings off of peddling them. But when you see such delusions accepted by unbelievably large proportions of the masses in Islamic nations literally spanning the globe, it is time to admit that something is different here. What is more, all these conspiracy delusions have one thing in common: dismissal of the fact the such heinous acts were committed by Muslims, hence making even the need to call them “unislamic” obsolete.
Of course there is an alternative to all these self-delusions, notwithstanding the way they present themselves: that would be for Muslims to admit that Islam itself has a problem; that the doctrine of Jihad, or use of violence in the name of the faith, is misused way too often, and it is anachronistic and needs to be renounced. That, however, wouldn’t be an easy course of action, and among other things, it certainly would draw the ire of extremists, who would then use the “takfir” (excommunication) doctrine to justify terrorizing the reformers. It is sad; a conundrum of their own making.
Update: This post was also featured on my favorite author’s blog.