Monday, February 16, 2015

On Religion, Islamic Terrorism and Islamophobia

If groups such as ISIS/Daesh and alQaeda have any very long-term religious objectives those seem to resemble the end times ideology of extreme right-wing US Christians.  In the former case the equivalence may not be to end times but the end of all religions except a certain type of Islam.  That era will be preceded by a global war between Muslims and the various types of infidels, and Islam will win, which provides a warped type of incentive for both extreme Christians and terrorists to root for that final war and perhaps even aid its arrival. 

For ISIS "infidels" cover everyone who is not an extremist Salafi and/or Wahhabi type Sunni Muslim, preferably more extremist than what the Saudis have managed to achieve.

Here's the thing:  Those are by far the most extremist movements in Islam which have any wider support.  Most Muslims are not Salafis or Wahhabis and most Salafis or Wahhabis are not terrorists, either.

But the roots (the code-book, if you like) of the current Islamic terrorism is very much in those two movements. They both view the few centuries after Mohammad as demonstrating everything that is necessary for the correct Islamic way of life.  They are both based on literal interpretations of the Koran and other sources, with the assumption that the messages are literally correct and can never be re-interpreted for new times or practices.  They frown upon the idea of contact with non-Muslims and they are extremely strict and narrow in terms of the allowed spheres of life for women and inflexible in their demands of male custodianship of all women.

Wahhabism used to be limited to Saudi Arabia.  The outflow of money from that oil-rich country to the rest of the world has spread Wahhabism.  This is a purposeful strategy:

Wahhabi mission, or Dawah Wahhabiyya, is to spread purified Islam through the world, both Muslim and non-Muslim. [224] Tens of billions of dollars have been spent by the Saudi government and charities on mosques, schools, education materials, scholarships, throughout the world to promote Islam and the Wahhabi interpretation of it. Tens of thousands of volunteers[161] and several billion dollars also went in support of the jihad against the atheist communist regime governing Muslim Afghanistan.[162] 
Still, it's crucial to understand that the total number of Salafis or Wahhabis is very low when we count all the different Islamic sects in the world, and we should be extremely careful not to confuse terrorists with Salafis or Wahhabis in general and especially careful not to assume that every single Muslim is a terrorist.

What the money from Saudi Arabia has managed to achieve is a very loud message about the "most correct" interpretations of Islam as the Wahhabi ones:

Estimates of Saudi spending on religious causes abroad include "upward of $100 billion",[294] between $2 and 3 billion per year since 1975. (compared to the annual Soviet propaganda budget of $1 billion/year),[295] and "at least $87 billion" from 1987-2007[296]
Its largesse funded an estimated "90% of the expenses of the entire faith", throughout the Muslim World, according to journalist Dawood al-Shirian.[297] It extended to young and old, from children's madrasas to high-level scholarship.[298] "Books, scholarships, fellowships, mosques" (for example, "more than 1,500 mosques were built from Saudi public funds over the last 50 years") were paid for.[299] It rewarded journalists and academics, who followed it and built satellite campuses around Egypt for Al Azhar, the oldest and most influential Islamic university.[154] Yahya Birt counts spending on "1,500 mosques, 210 Islamic centres and dozens of Muslim academies and schools".[295][300]
This financial aid has done much to overwhelm less strict local interpretations of Islam, according to observers like Dawood al-Shirian and Lee Kuan Yew,[297] and has caused the Saudi interpretation (sometimes called "petro-Islam"[301]) to be perceived as the correct interpretation—or the "gold standard" of Islam—in many Muslims' minds.[302][303]
Bolds are mine.

All that is background for trying to understand what ISIS and other related terrorist organizations desire in religious terms, assuming that they have longer-term plans.  Some of those groups are certainly trying to build a caliphate joining together all Muslims in the world under the strict rule of Wahhabism.  Some appear to aim at creating a global war between (Salafist and/or Wahhabist Sunni) Muslims and all other faith groups, with the belief that the ultimate result would be their global victory.

But most of those movements are unlikely to think in the long-term at all, and it's also important to remember that the events in Syria, Iraq and Libya have as much to do with local politics, the impact of old colonial and current oil politics, the recent US foreign politics in the areas,  tribal loyalties, desire for resources and in Iraq the old festering hatreds between the Shias and the Sunnis while in Syria the hatred is aimed at the ruling group of Alawites.  The Palestine/Israel deadlocked crisis contributes to the anger of Muslims everywhere.  In short, it's dangerous to oversimplify the motives of the terrorists.

Still, it's pretty obvious that the specific religious tone of the current terrorism in Islam is something that has been funded and supported by Saudi Arabia.   That's the country which pays for certain interpretations of Islam, not only at home but everywhere.

Now juxtapose all that with what just happened in Libya and in Copenhagen, then juxtapose all that with the killing of three young Muslims at Chapel Hill in North Carolina and the burning of a mosque in Houston, Texas and other similar possibly anti-Islam crimes, and you might just start believing that the terrorists who aim at creating a global religious war are winning!

It is the innocents who have lost their lives, of course, and that is what makes me grieve.  That is also what makes me feel awkward writing a dry thought-and-fact based (I hope!) post on these events.  But this is one area where emotions will make us go in the very opposite direction we should be going!

And the only remedy is calm thought.  If we label all Muslims as terrorists because of our fear horrible violence can erupt.  If we label all non-Muslims as infidels and then look up what happened to infidels almost two thousand years ago as a guidebook for their proper treatment (cut off heads), horrible violence can erupt.  When all this is fueled by fear and hatred and in many cases real injustices of the past or the present, violence can erupt.  That violence will breed more violence.

The most recent Libyan "messages" ( beheadings) to Italy* (Libya's old colonial overlord) are an attempt to increase violence in that region by getting European countries involved in it directly.  Similar disgusting beheading videos in Iraq and Syria are attempts to get the United States and European countries more involved directly.  That looks sweet to those who believe in a final war between the faiths, of course**.

That's why the reaction of fear and anger aimed at "the other" is the very opposite one we should take.  The correct reaction is to fight the ideology of Salafism and Wahhabism, to find alternative voices in Islam and to give them the financial backing they need.  The correct battle is the battle of ideas, not the battle of people, and certainly not the killing of innocent non-Muslims or Muslims. And it would certainly help if the Palestine/Israel crisis could be solved and if the countries in the Middle East and North Africa could be recreated in a more democratic form, this time first with the institutions democracy is built on.

I hope cooler heads and warmer hearts will prevail on all this, not the hotter heads and colder hearts I've spotted in action.

*Killing Christians in such a manner is, in fact, not what the Koran allows, even if the book is interpreted the way the Devil would interpret the Bible.  That's because Christians are "people of the book" and Mohammad classified them differently from polytheists.  So the assumed religious basis for at least some of the recent terrorism is clearly only assumed.

**This I do not understand.  It's pretty obvious to anyone who thinks about such a horrible possibility as global religious war for more than a few seconds that the non-Muslims would win it.  Enormous numbers of innocents would be slaughtered, true, but the final outcome is not in doubt.