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Deradicalisation is everyone’s business | Letters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 11 March, 2015 - 19:41

The Prevent [counter-radicalisation] programme is supported by the police but not police-led (‘Intrusive’ programmes are to become more widespread, 10 March). It places a responsibility on all public agencies to work with local people and community groups to try to prevent people being drawn into violent extremism; whether Islamic or rightwing. Like similar programmes to prevent people getting involved in drugs, gangs or criminality, it will have successes and failures. Some will believe the counter-narrative, others will not.

Prevent faces particular challenges because many Muslims feel their religion is unfairly portrayed in the media and have had serious misgivings about British foreign policy. Nevertheless surveys show that they have a higher level of confidence in policing than the rest of the population.

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Rabah Kherbane: We Would Rather Believe Jihadi John Was Always Evil

Loon Watch - 11 March, 2015 - 18:04

Jihadi_John_Emwazi

By Rabah Kherbane, Huffington Post

By its very composition, the term “radicalised” accepts a past tense. A past where such a person was not radical, where he or she was normal.

Despite this, all hell broke loose when Asim Qureishi, a director with UK prisoners’ rights group CAGE, said “the Mohammed Emwazi that I knew [based on correspondence between 2009 and January 2012] was extremely kind, extremely gentle… the most humble young person that I knew.”

Admittedly, it was a PR failure by CAGE. They should have picked their words more carefully on such a sensitive issue. Their naivety has cost them dearly. But that was their only crime, being naive.

The general public reacted with disgust. Instead of front-page headlines on the newfound identity of Jihadi John, many outlets focused on some variation of “Important human rights group or apologists for terror?” In reality, CAGE’s role merely sought to highlight the potential reasons behind Emwazi’s radicalisation. They discerned security service treatment as a possible factor, among many.

However, this goes against the perpetual narrative that terrorists are evil “because they are evil”. The masses would rather perceive a dichotomy between Isis and the West which makes one inherently evil, just because they are. And the other morally superior, because they are. Cause and effect become irrelevant. Past and present are blurred into oblivion.

We would rather believe Jihadi John was always evil. He always wanted to behead people. Bomb others. Burn innocents. To argue otherwise is to be an apologist for terrorism, it makes you “part of the problem”. And thus the parameters of discussion are severely constrained; a large chunk of freedom of expression is eroded by baseless stigma.

Yet Owen Jones, on last week’s Comment is Free, indicated an interesting analogy. He said: “Is examining the role of, say, Versailles and economic crisis in the rise of Nazism making excuses for it? If we provide such context for the most barbarous ideology in human history, why not elsewhere?”

The same way, exploring root causes and any possible factors which could acclimate the occurrence of “radicalisation” is not necessarily an exercise in vindication.

If we do not agree with CAGE’s deduction, we should constructively criticise their approach after reading all of the evidence involved. It does no one any favours to lampoon abuse while offering nothing to the discussion at hand.

It is also worth noting that at no point does this absolve the individual perpetrator of any crimes. As Peter Oborne wrote, in a blog about CAGE on the Telegraph last year, “Indeed one of the most important tests of a robust legal system is the way it defends unpopular minorities.”

The same way, one of the most important tests for any government or people, is how we can tackle emotionally charged issues in a rational way which contributes to the overarching discourse. In a way which helps everyone involved, rather than serving to feed and propagate the most simple-minded and impulsive of reactions.

Mehdi Hasan: How Islamic is Islamic State?

Loon Watch - 11 March, 2015 - 17:53

ISIS_Libya

A must read article. Mehdi Hasan touches upon key points in the ongoing discussion over the Atlantic article that argued ISIS was “very Islamic.”

By Mehdi Hasan, The New Statesman

It is difficult to forget the names, or the images, of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning and Peter Kassig. The barbaric beheadings between August and November 2014, in cold blood and on camera, of these five jumpsuit-clad western hostages by the self-styled Islamic State, or Isis, provoked widespread outrage and condemnation.

However, we should also remember the name of Didier François, a French journalist who was held by Isis in Syria for ten months before being released in April 2014. François has since given us a rare insight into life inside what the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood, in a recent report for the magazine, has called the “hermit kingdom” of Isis, where “few have gone . . . and returned”. And it is an insight that threatens to turn the conventional wisdom about the world’s most fearsome terrorist organisation on its head.

“There was never really discussion about texts,” the French journalist told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last month, referring to his captors. “It was not a religious discussion. It was a political discussion.”

According to François, “It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Quran. Because it has nothing to do with the Quran.” And the former hostage revealed to a startled Amanpour: “We didn’t even have the Quran. They didn’t want even to give us a Quran.”

The rise of Isis in Iraq and Syria has been a disaster for the public image of Islam – and a boon for the Islamophobia industry. Here, after all, is a group that calls itself Islamic State; that claims the support of Islamic texts to justify its medieval punishments, from the stoning of adulterers to the amputation of the hands of thieves; and that has a leader with a PhD in Islamic studies who declares himself to be a “caliph”, or ruler over all Muslims, and has even renamed himself in honour of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr.

The consequences are, perhaps, as expected. In September 2014, a Zogby poll found that only 27 per cent of Americans had a favourable view of Islam – down from 35 per cent in 2010. By February 2015, more than a quarter of Americans (27 per cent) were telling the pollsters LifeWay Research that they believed that life under Isis rule “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like”.

Yet what is much more worrying is that it isn’t just ill-informed, ignorant or bigoted members of the public who take such a view. “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” wrote Wood in his widely read 10,000-word cover report (“What Isis really wants”) in the March issue of Atlantic, in which he argued, “The religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

Bernard Haykel of Princeton University, the only scholar of Islam whom Wood bothered to interview, described Muslims who considered Isis to be un-Islamic, or anti-Islamic, as “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion”, and declared that the hand-choppers and throat-slitters of Isis “have just as much legitimacy” as any other Muslims, because Islam is “what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts”.

Many other analysts across the political spectrum agree and have denounced the Obama administration for refusing, in the words of the journalist-turned-terrorism-expert Peter Bergen, to make “the connection between Islamist terrorism and ultra-fundamentalist forms of Islam”. Writing on the CNN website in February, Bergen declared, “Isis may be a perversion of Islam, but Islamic it is.”

“Will it take the end of the world for Obama to recognise Isis as ‘Islamic’?” screamed a headline on the Daily Beast website in the same month. “Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behaviour and that certain religious ideas – jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy – reliably lead to oppression and murder?” asked Sam Harris, the neuroscientist and high priest of the “New Atheism” movement.

So, is Isis a recognisably “Islamic” movement? Are Isis recruits motivated by religious fervour and faith?

The Analyst

“Our exploration of the intuitive psychologist’s shortcomings must start with his general tendency to overestimate the importance of personal or dispositional factors relative to environmental influences,” wrote the American social anthropologist Lee Ross in 1977.

It was Ross who coined the phrase “fundamental attribution error”, which refers to the phenomenon in which we place excessive emphasis on internal motivations to explain the behaviour of others, in any given situation, rather than considering the relevant external factors.

Nowhere is the fundamental attribution error more prevalent, suggests the forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman, than in our navel-gazing analysis of wannabe terrorists and what does or doesn’t motivate them. “You attribute other people’s behaviour to internal motivations but your own to circumstances. ‘They’re attacking us and therefore we have to attack them.’” Yet, he tells me, we rarely do the reverse.

Few experts have done more to try to understand the mindset of the young men and women who aspire to join the blood-drenched ranks of groups such as Isis and al-Qaeda than Sageman. And few can match his qualifications, credentials or background. The 61-year-old, Polish-born psychiatrist and academic is a former CIA operations officer who was based in Pakistan in the late 1980s. There he worked closely with the Afghan mujahedin. He has since advised the New York City Police Department on counterterrorism issues, testified in front of the 9/11 Commission in Washington, DC, and, in his acclaimed works Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad, closely analysed the biographies of several hundred terrorists.

Does he see religion as a useful analytical prism through which to view the rise of Isis and the process by which thousands of young people arrive in Syria and Iraq, ready to fight and die for the group?

“Religion has a role but it is a role of justification,” he tells me. “It’s not why they do this [or] why young people go there.”

Isis members, he says, are using religion to advance a political vision, rather than using politics to advance a religious vision. “To give themselves a bit more legitimacy, they use Islam as their justification. It’s not about religion, it’s about identity . . . You identify with the victims, [with] the guys being killed by your enemies.”

For converts to Islam in particular, he adds, “Identity is important to them. They have . . . invested a lot of their own efforts and identity to become this ‘Muslim’ and, because of this, identity is so important to them. They see other Muslims being slaughtered [and say], ‘I need to protect my community.’” (A recent study found that converts to Islam were involved in 31 per cent of Muslim terrorism convictions in the UK between 2001 and 2010.)

Sageman believes that it isn’t religious faith but, rather, a “sense of emotional and moral outrage” at what they see on their television screens or on YouTube that propels people from Portsmouth to Peshawar, from Berlin to Beirut, to head for war zones and to sign up for the so-called jihad. Today, he notes archly, “Orwell would be [considered as foreign fighter like] a jihadi,” referring to the writer’s involvement in the anti-fascist campaign during the Spanish civil war.

Religion, according to this view, plays a role not as a driver of behaviour but as a vehicle for outrage and, crucially, a marker of identity. Religion is important in the sense that it happens to “define your identity”, Sageman says, and not because you are “more pious than anybody else”. He invokes the political scientist Benedict Anderson’s conception of a nation state as an “imagined political community”, arguing that the “imagined community of Muslims” is what drives the terrorists, the allure of being members of – and defenders of – the ultimate “in-group”.

“You don’t have the most religious folks going there,” he points out. Isis fighters from the west, in particular, “tend to have rediscovered Islam as teenagers, or as converts”; they are angry, or even bored, young men in search of a call to arms and a thrilling cause. The Isis executioner Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John” – who was raised and educated in the UK – was described, for instance, by two British medics who met him at a Syrian hospital as “quiet but a bit of an adrenalin junkie”.

Sageman’s viewpoint should not really surprise us. Writing in his 2011 book The Black Banners: the Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, the Lebanese-American former FBI agent Ali H Soufan, who led the bureau’s pre-9/11 investigation into al-Qaeda, observed: “When I first began interrogating al-Qaeda members, I found that while they could quote Bin Laden’s sayings by heart, I knew far more of the Quran than they did – and in fact some barely knew classical Arabic, the language of both the hadith and the Quran. An understanding of their thought process and the limits of their knowledge enabled me and my colleagues to use their claimed piousness against them.”

Three years earlier, in 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was obtained by the Guardian. It revealed: “Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices.” The MI5 analysts noted the disproportionate number of converts and the high propensity for “drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes”. The newspaper claimed they concluded, “A well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.”

As I have pointed out on these pages before, Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar, the two young British Muslim men from Birmingham who were convicted on terrorism charges in 2014 after travelling to fight in Syria, bought copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies from Amazon prior to their departure. Religious novices, indeed.

Sageman, the former CIA officer, says we have to locate terrorism and extremism in local conflicts rather than in grand or sweeping ideological narratives – the grievances and the anger come first, he argues, followed by the convenient and self-serving ideological justifications. For example, he says, the origins of Isis as a terror group lie not in this or that Islamic book or school of thought, but in the “slaughter of Sunnis in Iraq”. He reminds me how, in April 2013, when there was a peaceful Sunni demonstration asking the Shia-led Maliki government in Baghdad to reapportion to the various provinces what the government was getting in oil revenues, Iraqi security forces shot into the crowds. “That was the start of this [current] insurrection.”

Before that, it was the brutal, US-led occupation, under which Iraq became ground zero for suicide bombers from across the region and spurred the creation of new terrorist organisations, such as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

Isis is the “remnant” of AQI, Sageman adds. He believes that any analysis of the group and of the ongoing violence and chaos in Iraq that doesn’t take into account the long period of war, torture, occupation and sectarian cleansing is inadequate – and a convenient way of exonerating the west
of any responsibility. “Without the invasion of Iraq, [Isis] would not exist. We created it by our presence there.”

Read the entire article…

British Muslims condemn terror laws for creating 'witch-hunt' against Islam

The Guardian World news: Islam - 11 March, 2015 - 15:29

Strongly worded public statement, which includes signatories from Cage and Hizb ut-Tahrir, condemns ‘crude and divisive’ government election tactics

Anti-Muslim rhetoric and “endless ‘anti-terror’ laws” are in danger of creating a McCarthyite witch-hunt against Muslims, according to the signatories of a strongly worded public statement, who include several controversial figures.

The statement accuses the government of “criminalising” Islam and trying to silence “legitimate critique and dissent”, and decries what it describes as “the ongoing demonisation of Muslims in Britain [and] their values, as well as prominent scholars, speakers and organisations.”

Muslim community rejects the state’s criminalisation of Islam and condemns moves to silence legitimate critique and dissent. This joint statement expresses a position with respect to the ongoing demonisation of Muslims in Britain, their values as well as prominent scholars, speakers and organisations.

We, the undersigned imams, sheikhs, advocates, activists, community leaders, community organisations and student bodies of the Muslim community, make the following points in this regard:

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Special Delivery: Flowers for the Mean Lady

Muslim Matters - 11 March, 2015 - 04:00

It was a hot summer day. I had just graduated from high school and was working a summer job to make some side money for college. I was a flower delivery guy – bringing happiness to people and getting paid $7.50 an hour at the same time. It didn't get much better than that.

This was almost 20 years ago now, but I'll never forget one of my deliveries. I drove up to the house, knocked on the door, and a young lady answered. There I was, as cheerful as could be, with a big smile on my face and an even bigger bouquet of flowers in my hands. I introduced myself and asked the lady how she was doing. With a very cold and emotionless face, one that said she hated the world and that I was no exception, she replied: “I've been better.” I was so annoyed that day. You go out of your way to be nice to people and sometimes you get quite the opposite in return. Perhaps she thought she was better than me. After all, I was just a flower delivery boy making $7.50 an hour.

Coincidentally enough, a day or two after that, she got another delivery. I decided to give her another chance. I knocked on her door and was very nice and cheerful. But I was met with the same mean look and unimpressed tone. This time, I was borderline angry.

Lo and behold, she received some more flowers, but this time, I would get my revenge. I walked up to the door, with a stern look on my face far meaner than any look she would be able to make, and said with the coldest voice possible, “You have flowers. Sign this.” I walked away, feeling like I had regained some of my dignity. Thankfully, I was able to build on it when she received more flowers the next day. I made sure I had my stern face on when I went to the door, and spoke as coldly as possible without saying anything that would get me fired. “Here. Sign.” I said as I shoved the clip board in her hands. She took the flowers and I left.

The words that were exchanged between us that day were very few, but I do remember feeling that I had hopefully done just enough to ruin her day as much as she ruined mine a couple of days earlier. And it was a good feeling. Regardless of how it had impacted her day, if at all, I at least felt much better about myself now.

Several days later, I came across an article in the local newspaper. The title read: “Eight Year Old Boy Crushed by a Garage Door.” The article described neighbors who were walking by a house and saw the legs of a little child sticking out of the garage, with his chest pinned under the garage door. They ran and beat on the front door of the house where a family was inside having dinner. It gave details of the boy's mother, running out hysterically, seeing her child and screaming, “My baby! My baby!” as she tried with all her strength to lift the garage door off him, but just didn't have enough strength to do so. More neighbors saw what was happening and rushed over to help, and collectively were able to get the garage door up just enough to drag his limp body onto the driveway. His body was lifeless, his face was blue. One of the neighbors tried to give him CPR, but it was too late. What a horrific scene that article painted, as I tried to avoid reenacting it in my mind. Finally, when I saw the name of the street, it all hit me. I finally understood why so many people would be sending flowers to such a “mean” lady. And now that I'm a father, I can only imagine what must have been going on in her world at that time – an incident which probably still haunts her to this day.

There I was, so upset that she couldn't force a smile back at me, when she was probably going through the most difficult thing anyone has to go through in their life – she had just buried her own child.

 

I learned a very valuable lesson that day. Let the little things go, and have some compassion with people. You never know what struggles they're going through in their lives.

The post Special Delivery: Flowers for the Mean Lady appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Indonesian jihadis could be strengthened by return of Isis fighters, analyst warns

The Guardian World news: Islam - 11 March, 2015 - 01:25

The return of up to 200 Indonesians believed to be fighting in Syria and Iraq could give local terrorist groups ‘a real oomph’, Lowy Institute told

Indonesia’s jihadi movements could be galvanised by the return of up to 200 Indonesians currently fighting with Islamic State (Isis) and other militant groups, a leading analyst has said.

If fighters were to return from Syria with combat experience and increased legitimacy, it could give local terrorist groups “a real oomph”, the director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, Sidney Jones, told the Lowy Institute on Tuesday.

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MondoWeiss: Israel’s Foreign Minister Calls For Beheading Arab Citizens And It’s Not Anywhere in the New York Times

Loon Watch - 10 March, 2015 - 18:46

By Scott Roth and Phil Weiss, Mondoweiss

Two days ago Israel’s foreign minister called for beheading Arab citizens of Israel who are “against us.” Haaretz did the story yesterday. So did Newsweek.

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman has said that Arab citizens who are not loyal to the state of Israel should have their heads “chopped off with an axe”.

The minister, leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and an outspoken critic of Israel’s Arab population, made the controversial remarks on Sunday in a speech to an election rally held in the western Israeli city of Herzliya ahead of the March 17 vote.

“Those who are with us deserve everything, but those who are against us deserve to have their heads chopped off with an axe,” the ultra-nationalist politician said.

The incitement resulted in a call to behead Haneen Zoabi, the outspoken Palestinian member of Knesset, as reported by this Arabic site and (translated by the new head of the US Committee to End the Occupation, Yousef Munayyer):

An Israeli call to behead Haneen Zoabi

An Israeli call to behead Haneen Zoabi

Lara Friedman of Peace Now has been pushing the story, including Lieberman’s call for “transfer,” or ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. “Not the Onion,” she says.

But this story is no joke at all. What would happen if a Palestinian politician called for beheading some Jews? How loudly would our media decry such statements?

This morning the New York Times had still not covered the story.

National Public Radio has given Lieberman a platform in the past. NPR host Robert Siegel also spent an hour interviewing Lieberman at the Brookings institution. Shouldn’t NPR be covering Lieberman’s latest views? Radio silence.

– See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/03/minister-beheading-anywhere#sthash.M3SJQQIm.dpuf

From Che Guevara to Malala

Muslimah Media Watch - 10 March, 2015 - 18:36
In my humble (maybe not so much) opinion, Latin Americans feel a strong attachment to charismatic figures. Think for example, of Che Guevara. Che Guevara is drilled into our minds since an early age as a symbol of justice, leadership and true revolutionary Latin American spirit. In fact, even thinking about challenging the idea of what [Read More...]

Canada: Jason Kenney Tweets Misleading Photos of Muslim Women in Chains

Loon Watch - 10 March, 2015 - 18:33

Not surprising given the Harper government’s pandering to Islamophobes.

Jason Kenney tweets misleading photos of Muslim women in chains

Defence Minister Jason Kenney used the occasion of International Women’s Day to rally support for the war against ISIS by tweeting photographs of Muslim girls and women covered in black and being led off in chains.

“On #IWD2015, thank-you to the @CanadianForces for joining the fight against #ISIL’s campaign to enslave women & girls,” he tweeted along with the pictures on Sunday.

One image shows a group of girls, dressed in burqas and chained at the wrists, being with taken away in pairs. Another shows four women with faces covered, also chained together.

To the casual viewer, these appear to be compelling photographic evidence of the mistreatment of women in some parts of the Muslim world.

And, read with Kenney’s reference to ISIS, they suggest to the reader that these scenes occurred under the terror group’s watch in Iraq or Syria.

But Kenney did not explain that the first image is actually from a ceremonial Shia Ashura procession that celebrates the heroism of the prophet Mohammad’s grandson, Hussein, and his family. The girls and women in the photo Kenney tweeted symbolize Hussein’s sister, who was taken in chains to Damascus after he was beheaded.

That is to say, the girls in the photos are actors in a play that depicts events said to have occurred 1,300 years ago. They are not a depiction of the current enslavement of Muslim women. There are thousands of images of these ceremonies online.

UPDATE: The exact origin of this photo is unclear but it appeared online as early as 2010 — before ISIS’s occupation of Northern Iraq — in a news story about the Ashura ceremony in the Lebanesse town of Nabatieh that year.

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A female Arab TV presenter put a rude male guest in his place. So what? | Nesrine Malik

The Guardian World news: Islam - 10 March, 2015 - 15:47

Rima Karaki’s put-down of Sheikh Hani Al-Siba’i has gone viral – proof that creepy western stereotypes about Muslim women are dismayingly hard to shift

There is a new version of “Dog bites man”, and it is “Arab woman does everyday thing that will amaze you”. The latest example of this occurred last week, when a female Lebanese TV presenter told off a male sheikh guest for insulting her when she urged him to keep his answers short. A video of the incident has gone viral.

Related: Lebanese TV presenter cuts short interview with Islamist scholar

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Mehdi Hasan: How Islamic is Islamic State?

Mahdi Hassan - 10 March, 2015 - 12:39

The conventional wisdom suggests a violent reading of the Quran is at the heart of Islamic State's political violence – but it's wrong.

 Rex FeaturesAn Isis propaganda video purporting to show the execution of 21 Egyptian Christians in Libya. Photo: Rex Features

It is difficult to forget the names, or the images, of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning and Peter Kassig. The barbaric beheadings between August and November 2014, in cold blood and on camera, of these five jumpsuit-clad western hostages by the self-styled Islamic State, or Isis, provoked widespread outrage and condemnation.

However, we should also remember the name of Didier François, a French journalist who was held by Isis in Syria for ten months before being released in April 2014. François has since given us a rare insight into life inside what the Atlantic’s Graeme Wood, in a recent report for the magazine, has called the “hermit kingdom” of Isis, where “few have gone . . . and returned”. And it is an insight that threatens to turn the conventional wisdom about the world’s most fearsome terrorist organisation on its head.

“There was never really discussion about texts,” the French journalist told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last month, referring to his captors. “It was not a religious discussion. It was a political discussion.”

According to François, “It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Quran. Because it has nothing to do with the Quran.” And the former hostage revealed to a startled Amanpour: “We didn’t even have the Quran. They didn’t want even to give us a Quran.”

The rise of Isis in Iraq and Syria has been a disaster for the public image of Islam – and a boon for the Islamophobia industry. Here, after all, is a group that calls itself Islamic State; that claims the support of Islamic texts to justify its medieval punishments, from the stoning of adulterers to the amputation of the hands of thieves; and that has a leader with a PhD in Islamic studies who declares himself to be a “caliph”, or ruler over all Muslims, and has even renamed himself in honour of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr.

The consequences are, perhaps, as expected. In September 2014, a Zogby poll found that only 27 per cent of Americans had a favourable view of Islam – down from 35 per cent in 2010. By February 2015, more than a quarter of Americans (27 per cent) were telling the pollsters LifeWay Research that they believed that life under Isis rule “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like”.

Yet what is much more worrying is that it isn’t just ill-informed, ignorant or bigoted members of the public who take such a view. “The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic,” wrote Wood in his widely read 10,000-word cover report (“What Isis really wants”) in the March issue of Atlantic, in which he argued, “The religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.”

Bernard Haykel of Princeton University, the only scholar of Islam whom Wood bothered to interview, described Muslims who considered Isis to be un-Islamic, or anti-Islamic, as “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion”, and declared that the hand-choppers and throat-slitters of Isis “have just as much legitimacy” as any other Muslims, because Islam is “what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts”.

Many other analysts across the political spectrum agree and have denounced the Obama administration for refusing, in the words of the journalist-turned-terrorism-expert Peter Bergen, to make “the connection between Islamist terrorism and ultra-fundamentalist forms of Islam”. Writing on the CNN website in February, Bergen declared, “Isis may be a perversion of Islam, but Islamic it is.”

“Will it take the end of the world for Obama to recognise Isis as ‘Islamic’?” screamed a headline on the Daily Beast website in the same month. “Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behaviour and that certain religious ideas – jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy – reliably lead to oppression and murder?” asked Sam Harris, the neuroscientist and high priest of the “New Atheism” movement.

So, is Isis a recognisably “Islamic” movement? Are Isis recruits motivated by religious fervour and faith?

 

The Analyst

“Our exploration of the intuitive psychologist’s shortcomings must start with his general tendency to overestimate the importance of personal or dispositional factors relative to environmental influences,” wrote the American social anthropologist Lee Ross in 1977.

It was Ross who coined the phrase “fundamental attribution error”, which refers to the phenomenon in which we place excessive emphasis on internal motivations to explain the behaviour of others, in any given situation, rather than considering the relevant external factors.

Nowhere is the fundamental attribution error more prevalent, suggests the forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman, than in our navel-gazing analysis of wannabe terrorists and what does or doesn’t motivate them. “You attribute other people’s behaviour to internal motivations but your own to circumstances. ‘They’re attacking us and therefore we have to attack them.’” Yet, he tells me, we rarely do the reverse.

Few experts have done more to try to understand the mindset of the young men and women who aspire to join the blood-drenched ranks of groups such as Isis and al-Qaeda than Sageman. And few can match his qualifications, credentials or background. The 61-year-old, Polish-born psychiatrist and academic is a former CIA operations officer who was based in Pakistan in the late 1980s. There he worked closely with the Afghan mujahedin. He has since advised the New York City Police Department on counterterrorism issues, testified in front of the 9/11 Commission in Washington, DC, and, in his acclaimed works Understanding Terror Networks and Leaderless Jihad, closely analysed the biographies of several hundred terrorists.

Does he see religion as a useful analytical prism through which to view the rise of Isis and the process by which thousands of young people arrive in Syria and Iraq, ready to fight and die for the group?

“Religion has a role but it is a role of justification,” he tells me. “It’s not why they do this [or] why young people go there.”

Isis members, he says, are using religion to advance a political vision, rather than using politics to advance a religious vision. “To give themselves a bit more legitimacy, they use Islam as their justification. It’s not about religion, it’s about identity . . . You identify with the victims, [with] the guys being killed by your enemies.”

For converts to Islam in particular, he adds, “Identity is important to them. They have . . . invested a lot of their own efforts and identity to become this ‘Muslim’ and, because of this, identity is so important to them. They see other Muslims being slaughtered [and say], ‘I need to protect my community.’” (A recent study found that converts to Islam were involved in 31 per cent of Muslim terrorism convictions in the UK between 2001 and 2010.)

Sageman believes that it isn’t religious faith but, rather, a “sense of emotional and moral outrage” at what they see on their television screens or on YouTube that propels people from Portsmouth to Peshawar, from Berlin to Beirut, to head for war zones and to sign up for the so-called jihad. Today, he notes archly, “Orwell would be [considered as foreign fighter like] a jihadi,” referring to the writer’s involvement in the anti-fascist campaign during the Spanish civil war.

Religion, according to this view, plays a role not as a driver of behaviour but as a vehicle for outrage and, crucially, a marker of identity. Religion is important in the sense that it happens to “define your identity”, Sageman says, and not because you are “more pious than anybody else”. He invokes the political scientist Benedict Anderson’s conception of a nation state as an “imagined political community”, arguing that the “imagined community of Muslims” is what drives the terrorists, the allure of being members of – and defenders of – the ultimate “in-group”.

“You don’t have the most religious folks going there,” he points out. Isis fighters from the west, in particular, “tend to have rediscovered Islam as teenagers, or as converts”; they are angry, or even bored, young men in search of a call to arms and a thrilling cause. The Isis executioner Mohammed Emwazi, also known as “Jihadi John” – who was raised and educated in the UK – was described, for instance, by two British medics who met him at a Syrian hospital as “quiet but a bit of an adrenalin junkie”.

Sageman’s viewpoint should not really surprise us. Writing in his 2011 book The Black Banners: the Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda, the Lebanese-American former FBI agent Ali H Soufan, who led the bureau’s pre-9/11 investigation into al-Qaeda, observed: “When I first began interrogating al-Qaeda members, I found that while they could quote Bin Laden’s sayings by heart, I knew far more of the Quran than they did – and in fact some barely knew classical Arabic, the language of both the hadith and the Quran. An understanding of their thought process and the limits of their knowledge enabled me and my colleagues to use their claimed piousness against them.”

Three years earlier, in 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was obtained by the Guardian. It revealed: “Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices.” The MI5 analysts noted the disproportionate number of converts and the high propensity for “drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes”. The newspaper claimed they concluded, “A well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.”

As I have pointed out on these pages before, Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar, the two young British Muslim men from Birmingham who were convicted on terrorism charges in 2014 after travelling to fight in Syria, bought copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies from Amazon prior to their departure. Religious novices, indeed.

Sageman, the former CIA officer, says we have to locate terrorism and extremism in local conflicts rather than in grand or sweeping ideological narratives – the grievances and the anger come first, he argues, followed by the convenient and self-serving ideological justifications. For example, he says, the origins of Isis as a terror group lie not in this or that Islamic book or school of thought, but in the “slaughter of Sunnis in Iraq”. He reminds me how, in April 2013, when there was a peaceful Sunni demonstration asking the Shia-led Maliki government in Baghdad to reapportion to the various provinces what the government was getting in oil revenues, Iraqi security forces shot into the crowds. “That was the start of this [current] insurrection.”

A pro-Isis demonstration in Mosul, Iraq, in June 2014. Photo: Associated Press

Before that, it was the brutal, US-led occupation, under which Iraq became ground zero for suicide bombers from across the region and spurred the creation of new terrorist organisations, such as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

Isis is the “remnant” of AQI, Sageman adds. He believes that any analysis of the group and of the ongoing violence and chaos in Iraq that doesn’t take into account the long period of war, torture, occupation and sectarian cleansing is inadequate – and a convenient way of exonerating the west
of any responsibility. “Without the invasion of Iraq, [Isis] would not exist. We created it by our presence there.”

 

The Spy

Like Marc Sageman, Richard Barrett has devoted his professional life to understanding terrorism, extremism and radicalisation. The silver-haired 65-year-old was the director of global counterterrorism operations for MI6, both before and after the 11 September 2001 attacks, and he subsequently led the al-Qaeda and Taliban monitoring team at the United Nations between 2004 and 2013.

Unlike Sageman, however, Barrett partly sympathises with Graeme Wood’s and Bernard Haykel’s thesis that “the Islamic State is Islamic”. He tells me that some Isis followers “are clearly convinced they are following Allah’s will” and he insists: “We should not underestimate the extent of their belief.” However, Barrett concedes that such beliefs and views “will not be the only thing that drew them to the Islamic State”.

The former MI6 officer, who recently published a report on foreign fighters in Syria, agrees with the ex-CIA man on the key issue of what motivates young men to join – and fight for – groups such as Isis in the first place. Rather than religious faith, it has “mostly to do with the search for identity . . . coupled with a search for belonging and purpose. The Islamic State offers all that and empowers the individual within a collective. It does not judge and accepts all with no concern about their past. This can be very appealing for people who think that they washed up on the wrong shore.”

Whether they are unemployed losers or well-educated professionals, joining Isis offers new recruits the chance to “believe that they are special . . . that they are part of something that is new, secret and powerful”.

While Barrett doesn’t dismiss the theological angle in the way that Sageman does, he nevertheless acknowledges, “Acting in the name of Islam means that, for the ignorant at least, the groups have some legitimacy for their actions . . . They can pretend it is not just about power and money.”

This irreligious lust for power and money is a significant and often overlooked part of the Isis equation. The group – often described as messianic and uncompromising – had no qualms about demanding a $200m ransom for the lives of two Japanese hostages in January; nor has it desisted from smuggling pornography into and out of Iraq, according to Louise Shelley, director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Centre at George Mason University in Virginia. (Shelley has referred to Isis as a “diversified criminal operation”.)

Then there is the often-ignored alliance at the heart of Isis between the so-called violent Islamists, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the remnants of Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist regime – an alliance that Barrett has referred to as a “marriage of convenience”. If Isis is the apocalyptic religious cult that Wood and others believe it is, why was Baghdadi’s deputy in Iraq Abu Muslim al-Afari al-Turkmani, a former senior special forces officer in Hussein’s army? Why is Baghdadi’s number two in Syria Abu Ali al-Anbari, a former major general under Hussein?

“The Ba’athist element was certainly very important . . . as it gave the Islamic State military and administrative capability,” Barrett says. “It also made it possible [for Isis to] take Mosul so quickly and cause defections and surrenders from the Iraqi army. There was and continues to be a coincidence of interest between Islamic State and other anti-government Sunni groups.”

Here again, it seems, is the fundamental attribution error in play. We neglect to focus on the “interests” of groups such as Isis and obsess over their supposedly messianic and apocalyptic “beliefs”. The “end of times” strain may be very strong in Isis, Barrett warns, but: “The Ba’athist elements are still key in Iraq and without them the Islamic State would probably not be able to hold on to the city of Mosul.”

Baghdadi’s appointment as leader of Isis in 2010 was orchestrated by a former Ba’athist colonel in Hussein’s army, Haji Bakr, according to another recent study produced by Barrett, in which he noted how Bakr had “initially attracted criticism from fellow members of the group for his lack of a proper beard and lax observance of other dictates of their religious practice”. Nevertheless, pragmatism trumped ideology as Bakr’s “organisational skills . . . and network of fellow ex-Ba’athists made him a valuable resource” for Isis.

Apparently, Baghdadi’s supposed caliphate in Iraq and Syria was less the will of God and more the will of Saddam.

 

The Theologian

Perhaps the most astonishing achievement of Isis has been not the sheer size of the territory it has captured, but the way in which it has united the world’s disparate (and often divided) 1.6 billion Muslims against it.

Whether Sunni or Shia, Salafi or Sufi, conservative or liberal, Muslims – and Muslim leaders – have almost unanimously condemned and denounced Isis not merely as un-Islamic but actively anti-Islamic.

Consider the various statements of Muslim groups such as the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, representing 57 countries (Isis has “nothing to do with Islam”); the Islamic Society of North America (Isis’s actions are “in no way representative of what Islam actually teaches”); al-Azhar University in Cairo, the most prestigious seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world (Isis is acting “under the guise of this holy religion . . . in an attempt to export their false Islam”); and even Saudi Arabia’s Salafist Grand Mufti, Abdul Aziz al ash-Sheikh (Isis is “the number-one enemy of Islam”).

In September 2014, more than 120 Islamic scholars co-signed an 18-page open letter to Baghdadi, written in Arabic, containing what the Slate website’s Filipa Ioannou described as a “technical point-by-point criticism of Isis’s actions and ideology based on the Quran and classical religious texts”.

Yet buffoonish right-wingers such as the Fox News host Sean Hannity continue to refer to the alleged “silence of Muslims” over the actions of Isis and ask, “Where are the Muslim leaders?” Meanwhile, academics who should know better, such as Princeton’s Bernard Haykel, insist that the leaders of Isis “have just as much legitimacy as anyone else”.

Legitimacy, however, “comes through endorsement by religious leaders. If Sunni Islam’s leaders consider Isis inauthentic, then that is what it is,” says Abdal Hakim Murad, who teaches Islamic studies at Cambridge University and serves as the dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, which trains imams for British mosques. The blond-haired, 54-year-old Murad is a convert and is also known as Timothy Winter (his brother is the Telegraph football writer Henry). Murad has been described by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan as “one of the most well-respected western theologians”, whose “accomplishments place him amongst the most significant Muslims in the world”.

The religious world, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian, is “packed with fringe and fundamentalist groups that claim the mantle of total authenticity”, Murad tells me. To accept those groups’ assertions at face value is “either naive or tendentious”.

He continues: “Just as Christianity in Bosnia 20 years ago was not properly represented by the churchgoing militias of Radovan Karadzic and just as Judaism is not
represented by West Bank settlers who burn mosques, so, too, Islam is not represented by Isis.”

Contrary to a lazy conventional wisdom which suggests that a 1,400-year-old faith with more than a billion adherents has no hierarchy, “Islam has its leadership, its universities, its muftis and its academies, which unanimously repudiate Isis,” Murad explains. For the likes of Haykel to claim that the Isis interpretation of Islam has “just as much legitimacy” as the mainstream view, he adds, is “unscholarly”, “incendiary” and likely to “raise prejudice and comfort the far-right political formations”.

As for Isis’s obsession with beheadings, crucifixions, hand-chopping and the rest, Murad argues: “With regard to classical sharia punishments, the religion’s teachings in every age are determined by scholarly consensus on the meaning of the complex scriptural texts” – rather than by self-appointed “sharia councils” in the midst of conflict zones.

Many analysts have laid the blame for violent extremism among Muslims at the ideological door of Salafism, a regressive and ultra-conservative brand of Islam, which owes a great deal to the controversial teachings of an 18th-century preacher named Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab and which today tends to be behind much of the misogyny and sectarianism in the Muslim-majority world. Yet, as even Wood concedes in his Atlantic report, “Most Salafis are not jihadists and most adhere to sects that reject the Islamic State.”

Salafists tend to be apolitical, whereas groups such as Isis are intensely political. Even the traditionalist Murad, who has little time for what he has deemed the “cult-like universe of the Salafist mindset”, agrees that the rise of extremism within the movement is a consequence, rather than a cause, of violence and conflict.

“The roots of Isis have been located in rage against . . . the 2003 occupation of Iraq. Before that event, Salafist extremism was hardly heard of in Syria and Iraq, even though the mosques were full in those countries,” Murad says. “Angry men, often having suffered in US detention, have reached for the narrowest and most violent interpretation of their religion they can find. This is a psychological reaction, not a faithful adherence to classical Muslim norms of jurisprudence.”

In the view of this particular Muslim theologian, Isis owes a “debt to European far-right thinking”. The group’s “imposition of a monolithic reading of the huge and hugely complex founding literature of the religion is something very new in Islamic civilisation, representing a totalitarian impulse that seems closer to European fascism than to classical Islamic norms”.

 

The Radical

Raised in Toronto, the son of Indian immigrant parents, Mubin Shaikh went from enjoying a hedonistic teenage lifestyle involving drugs, girls and parties to embracing a militant and “jihadist” view of the world, full of hate and anger.

He felt as though he “had become a stranger in my own land, my own home”, Shaikh told PBS in 2007, referring to an identity crisis that helped spark his “jihadi bug”. After 11 September 2001, he wanted to fight in Afghanistan or Chechnya because: “It felt like the right thing to do.”

It is a familiar path, trodden by the likes of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon, as well as Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, the Charlie Hebdo attackers in Paris. (A former friend of Chérif said that the younger, pot-smoking Kouachi “couldn’t differentiate between Islam and Catholicism” before he became radicalised by “images of American soldiers humiliating Muslims at the Abu Ghraib prison”, as the New York Times put it.)

Yet Shaikh eventually relinquished his violent views after studying Sufi Islam in the Middle East and then boldly volunteered with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to infiltrate several radical groups in Toronto.

The bald and bearded Shaikh, now aged 39 and an adviser to Canadian officials, tells me it is “preposterous” to claim that the killing of Christians and Yazidis by Isis is rooted in Islamic scripture or doctrine. If it was, “Muslims would have been doing those sorts of things for the past 50-plus years. Yet we find no such thing.”

He offers three distinct explanations for why Isis should not be considered or treated as an “Islamic” phenomenon. First, Shaikh argues, “The claim that Isis is ‘Islamic’ because it superficially uses Islamic sources is ridiculous, because the Islamic sources themselves say that those who do so [manifest Islam superficially] are specifically un-Islamic.”

He points to an order issued by the first and original Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr, which declared: “Neither kill a child, women [nor] the elderly . . . When you come upon those who have taken to live in monasteries, leave them alone.”

Takfiris are those who declare other Muslims to be apostates and, for Shaikh, “It is the height of incredulity to suggest that they [members of Isis] are in fact ‘Islamic’ – an opinion shared only by Isis and [Islamophobes] who echo their claims.”

As for Baghdadi’s supposed scholarly credentials, Shaikh jokes, “Even the devil can quote scripture.”

Second, he argues, it is dangerous to grant Isis any kind of theological legitimacy amid efforts to formulate a coherent “countering violent extremism” (CVE) strategy in the west. “It is quite possibly a fatal blow in that regard because, essentially, it is telling Muslims to condemn that which is Islamic.” It is, he says, a “schizophrenic approach to CVE which will never succeed”.

Third, Shaikh reminds me how the former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld often included verses from the Bible at the top of the intelligence briefings that he presented to President George W Bush. “Could we say [Iraq] was a ‘Christianity-motivated war’? How about verses of the Bible [reportedly] engraved on to rifles for use in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars?”

The former radical points out that highlighting only the role of religion in the radicalisation process to the exclusion of, or above, other factors is short-sighted. “Fear, money . . . adventure, alienation and, most certainly, anger at the west for what happened in Iraq . . . [also] explain why people join [Isis],” he tells me.

Shaikh therefore wants a counterterrorism approach focused not merely on faith or theology, but on “political, social and psychological” factors.

 

The Pollster

What Dalia Mogahed doesn’t know about Muslim public opinion probably isn’t worth knowing. And the former Gallup pollster and co-author, with the US academic John L Esposito, of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, based on six years of research and 50,000 interviews with Muslims in more than 35 countries, says that the survey evidence is clear: the overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims reject Isis-style violence.

Gallup polling conducted for Mogahed’s book found, for instance, that 93 per cent of Muslims condemned the terror attacks of 11 September 2001. The 40-year-old Egyptian-American scholar tells me, “In follow-up questions, Gallup found that not a single respondent of the nearly 50,000 interviewed cited a verse from the Quran in defence of terrorism but, rather, religion was only mentioned to explain why 9/11 was immoral.”

The 7 per cent of Muslims who sympathised with the attacks on the twin towers “defended this position entirely with secular political justifications or distorted concepts of ‘reciprocity’, as in: ‘They kill our civilians. We can kill theirs.’”

It is thus empirically unsound to conflate heightened religious belief with greater support for violence. Mogahed, who became the first hijab-wearing Muslim woman to hold a position at the White House when she served on Barack Obama’s advisory council on “faith-based and neighbourhood partnerships”, says that she was “surprised” by the results, as they “flew in the face of everything we were being told and every assumption we were making in our counterterrorism strategy”.

As for Haykel’s claim that Islam is merely “what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts”, Mogahed is scathingly dismissive. “If Islam is indeed ‘what Muslims do’, then certainly numbers should be a powerful factor dictating which Muslims we see as representing it,” she says. “Isis is a tiny minority whose victims are, in fact, mostly other Muslims.

“By what logic would this gang of killers, which has been universally condemned and brutalises Muslims more than anyone else, get to represent the global [Muslim] community?”

The former White House adviser continues: “Any philosophy or ideology, from Christianity to capitalism, has normative principles and authorities that speak to those norms. Each also has deviants who distort it to meet political or other goals. If I deny the existence of Christ but call myself a Christian, I’d be wrong. If I say the state should usurp all private property and redistribute it equally among citizens but call myself a capitalist, I would be wrong. Islam is no different.”

Echoing Murad, Mogahed points out, “Islam’s authorities have loudly and unanimously declared Isis un-Islamic.” Because of this, “Making a claim that violates normative principles of a philosophy, as defined by those with the authority to decide, is illegitimate.”

What about Haykel’s claim that Isis fighters are constantly quoting Quranic verses and the hadith, or traditions from the life of the Prophet, and that they “mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion and they do it all the time”? Why do they do that if they don’t believe this stuff – if it isn’t sincere?

“The Quran [and] hadith according to whom?” she responds. “As interpreted by whom? As understood by whom?”

Mogahed, who served as the executive director of the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies until 2012 and who now runs her own consulting firm based in Washington, DC, argues that Isis uses Islamic language and symbols today for the same reason as Palestinian militant groups used the language of secular Arab nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Any organisation uses the dominant social medium of its society,” she says. “Today, the dominant social currency in the Arab world is Islam. More than 90 per cent of Arab Muslims say religion is an important part of their daily life, according to Gallup research. Everyone, not just Isis, speaks in Islamic language, from pro-democracy advocates to civil society groups fighting illiteracy.”

For Mogahed, therefore, “a violent reading of the Quran is not leading to political violence. Political violence is leading to a violent reading of the Quran.”

***

In a recent despatch from Zarqa in Jordan, birthplace of the late AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and “one of the country’s most notorious hotbeds of Islamic radicalism”, Foreign Policy magazine’s David Kenner sat down with a group of young, male Isis supporters.

“None of them appeared to be particularly religious,” Kenner noted. “Not once did the conversation turn to matters of faith, and none budged from their seats when the call to prayer sounded. They appeared driven by anger at humiliations big and small – from the police officers who treated them like criminals outside their homes to the massacres of Sunnis in Syria and Iraq – rather than by a detailed exegesis of religious texts.”

It cannot be said often enough: it isn’t the most pious or devout of Muslims who embrace terrorism, or join groups such as Isis. Nor has a raft of studies and surveys uncovered any evidence of a “conveyor belt” that turns people of firm faith into purveyors of violence.

Religion plays little, if any, role in the radicalisation process, as Sageman and countless experts testify. It is an excuse, rather than a reason. Isis is as much the product of political repression, organised crime and a marriage of convenience with secular, power-hungry Ba’athists as it is the result of a perversion of Islamic beliefs and practices. As for Islamic scholars, they “unanimously repudiate” Isis, to quote Murad, while ordinary Muslims “universally condemn” Baghdadi and his bloodthirsty followers, in the words of Mogahed.

The so-called Islamic State is, therefore, “Islamic” in the way the British National Party is “British” or the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) is “democratic”. No serious analyst considers the latter two entities to be representative of either Britishness or democracy; few commentators claim that those who join the BNP do so out of a sense of patriotism and nor do they demand that all democrats publicly denounce the DPRK as undemocratic. So why the double standard in relation to the self-styled Islamic State and the religion of Islam? Why the willingness to believe the hype and rhetoric from the spin doctors and propagandists of Isis?

We must be wary of the trap set for us by Baghdadi’s group – a trap that far too many people who should know better have frustratingly fallen for. A former US state department official who has worked on counterterrorism issues tells me how worried he is that the arguments of the Atlantic’s Wood, Haykel, Bergen and others have been gaining traction in policymaking circles in recent months. “It was disconcerting to be at [President Obama’s Countering Violent Extremism summit in February] and hear so many people discussing the [Atlantic] article while the president and others were trying to marginalise extremist claims to Islamic legitimacy.”

Mogahed is full-square behind her former boss’s decision to delink violent extremism from the Islamic faith in his public pronouncements. “As [Obama] recently remarked, giving groups like Isis religious legitimacy is handing them the ideological victory they desperately desire,” she says. This may be the most significant point of all to understand, as politicians, policymakers and security officials try (and fail) to formulate a coherent response to violent extremism in general and Isis in particular.

To claim that Isis is Islamic is egregiously inaccurate and empirically unsustainable, not to mention insulting to the 1.6 billion non-violent adherents of Islam across the planet. Above all else, it is dangerous and self-defeating, as it provides Baghdadi and his minions with the propaganda prize and recruiting tool that they most crave.

Mehdi Hasan is a presenter for al-Jazeera English and an NS contributing writer

Palestine field post: 'I am not your normal human rights campaigner'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 10 March, 2015 - 12:37

When Issa Amro came across Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, he realised this would be his life’s work

Two years after the start of the second intifada the Israeli army designated the Palestinian Polytechnic University a military zone and sealed all its gates. At that point I was in the final year of a five-year engineering degree. I had dreamed of being an engineer since I was six years old, and I knew I couldn’t let this happen. After four years of hard work, just at the moment that I was on the cusp of graduating, my university had become another casualty of the occupation.

Related: Breaking the cycle of violence: technology can bring hope for peace

Related: One month after the ceasefire, how is Gaza being rebuilt?

Related: 2,000 farmers and 8,000 new trees: a decade exporting olive oil from Palestine

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FearBusters: Fear of Poverty

Muslim Matters - 10 March, 2015 - 04:08

See Introduction: FearBusters: Conquering our Fears

Part 1: Fear of Poverty

A few months ago, I was in the mountains of Colombia while helping a friend film a documentary movie.  On our way to a shoot, we passed by a very poor, small town in which all of the people were in the middle of the street celebrating. Curious as to what was going on, we stepped out of the car and started to ask people what was happening. There were many kids in the streets and our cameras were like a magnet for them; pretty soon we were surrounded. We asked the kids what was going on, why everyone was celebrating.

I'll never forget a beautiful little girl who had these sparkling, big green eyes look at us and say, “Because we got water!”

“What do you mean we got water?” we asked her.

“Well, we haven't had water in a few weeks, and now the truck finally came with some water.”

“Wow!” I was stunned, but the real lesson from this experience is what the little girl said next.

She looked at us and said, “We haven't had water but we're happy.”

“How can you be happy in that situation?” we asked.

“Because you just have to be happy, no matter what,” she responded.

This little girl had an understanding of the world that many of us in the United States don't have. She chose to be happy regardless of the difficult circumstances that surrounded her. Tin roofs, mud floors, no water and yet this little girl's smile was big and brilliant. Her sprit was incredible!

So many of us are afraid of poverty. We're afraid of losing our jobs, not being able to pay our bills and not being capable of sustaining our lifestyles. For many, this fear grips us to the extent that we suffer through miserable jobs despite living in a country where the opportunities are boundless, only limited by our own creativity and initiative. Sometimes this is necessary, however, many people simply accept their reality as fate and never seek to do something better and more fulfilling. The primary reason behind this is fear. This fear is so powerful that it does not allow for the individual in this situation to even think about looking for something greater. They're stuck. What saddens me when I see people in this situation is that they're willing to settle for a life that isn't their best.

This is interesting because if we look in the Qur'an, Allah mentions His Name Ar-Razaaq (The Sustainer) only one time. In Surat Adh-Dhāriyāt, Allah says:

51_56-8

And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me. I do not want from them any provision, nor do I want them to feed Me. Indeed, it is Allah who is Ar-Razzaq, the [continual] Provider, the firm possessor of strength.  [51:56-58]

What's fascinating about these verses is that Allah mentions He is Ar-Razzaq right after stating our purpose and our main duty in life. Essentially, Allah says you do your job (to worship Him) and I'll do mine (to Sustain). SubhanAllah! Allah has already told us that He is the Provider, therefore we should focus on what we need to do and He will take care of the rest.

These are the kinds of verses that should give us great comfort and remove our fears. As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, Allah mentions the word “khawf” in the noun form 26 times in the Qur'an, and almost all of them refer to the fact that Allah removes fear from those who believe and do good.

Principle to overcome this Fear: Where attention goes, energy flows

During the same trip to Colombia that I mentioned earlier, I had the great pleasure of speaking  at a couple of universities. During my talks, I mentioned to the audience that if you're not financially where you'd like to be and all you do is complain about your difficult condition, then you're never going to get out of it! The way to change that condition is to change your thoughts, which leads to a very powerful principle in life that will help you overcome your fear of poverty.

Where attention goes, energy flows

What this simply means is that wherever you focus your mental and physical attention that is where your energy and the energy of the Universe will flow. If you worry day in and day out then your situation will never get better, because all of your attention is focused on the problem. Rather, use that attention to focus on opportunities and the likelihood of great things to come for you, and you will see your own energy and the energy of the universe go in that direction. You will start to think about your opportunities rather than your limitations. You will start to envision yourself in a strong financial state and actively seek ways to get there.

I know that there are cynics out there who will read this and think that all of it is foolish and nonsense hippy, karmic garbage. However, working with highly successful people day in and day out I have seen this principle work for all of them. Fulfilling a dream always starts with a dreamer knowing in their heart that there is a better life for them out there, and they're willing to do what it takes to get there.

I will end this article by reminding you of what Allah said in the Qur'an:

46_13

Indeed, those who have said, “Our Lord is Allah ,” and then remained on a right course – there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. [46:13]

There is no need for us to fear poverty. Instead let's focus on becoming financially successful.

 

Up Next – Part 2: Fear of Criticism

The post FearBusters: Fear of Poverty appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Texas Muslims fear for safety after Iraqi man shot dead in Dallas attack

The Guardian World news: Islam - 9 March, 2015 - 21:32

Ahmed al-Jumaili was killed by unknown gunmen last Wednesday as he stepped outside his apartment to photograph snow for the first time

Muslim leaders in Texas have expressed their fears over rising anxiety in the community following the murder of an Iraqi migrant who was shot dead in Dallas as he stood outside his apartment to photograph his first snowfall.

Ahmed al-Jumaili had waited a year for paperwork to be completed so he could join his wife, Zahraa, in the US, where they hoped they could start a new life together in a safer country. She greeted him at the airport with balloons, flowers and a sign that said she had “waited 460 days … for this moment”.

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Radicalisation in Australia: Muslim leaders work to dissipate 'fixation' with Isis among youths

The Guardian World news: Islam - 9 March, 2015 - 20:32

Sheikh Wesam Charkawi says he and other religious leaders work hard, ‘literally sweating’, to break the spell of Islamist extremists

It begins with a sense of injustice. The sensitive kids feel it most.

“The community and especially these youngsters, they see a double standard,” Sheikh Wesam Charkawi says. “They see persecution of Muslims everywhere in the world. In Palestine, in Africa, Burma and so on.

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NY Times’ Flimsy Attempt to Smear BDS

After months of silence on the steamrolling campus movement in favor of boycott, divestment and sanctions aimed at Israel, The New York Times has at last spoken out—in a not-so-subtle attempt to tarnish the movement as anti-Semitic.

In a page 1 piece, which was also prominent online, the Times presents Jewish students as victims of a poisoned atmosphere on universities nationwide. The article is titled “Debate Over Treatment of Jews Is Amplified on Many Campuses” (in the print edition) but manages to cite only a single example of this “debate”—a discussion over the confirmation of a Jewish student to a University of California-Los Angeles board.

The story by Adam Nagourney states that the discussion “served to spotlight what appears to be a surge of hostile sentiments directed against Jews at many campuses in the country.” He then links this sentiment to the passage of a UCLA student government resolution in favor of divestment from companies that profit from Israeli violations of Palestinian rights.

Nagourney notes that UCLA is “one of many campuses” to take such an action, but he provides readers with no further details. Readers never learn, for instance, that many Jewish students work to pass BDS resolutions at their schools.

The Times has failed to deliver any serious coverage of student BDS actions in the United States and beyond, although the movement has steadily racked up victories, even in the face of intense lobbying efforts by pro-Israel activists. The UCLA vote last November, for instance, was the sixth University of California undergraduate vote in favor of divestment.

Another significant victory came in December, when graduate and undergraduate workers throughout the statewide University of California system voted in favor of divestment from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and its violations of human rights. The vote was taken under the auspices of the United Auto Workers Union Local 2865, which represents 13,000 students. The resolution passed by a two-thirds margin.

In February the Stanford undergraduate student senate voted in favor of divestment by more than two to one (10-4, with one abstention), and last week the student senate of the University of Toledo in Ohio approved a similar resolution by the landslide vote of 21 to 4. Other schools joining the movement in the past year include the University of New Mexico, Loyola University in Chicago and Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

The movement has been successful overseas also. In 2014, the United Kingdom National Union of Students voted to support BDS movements on campuses, and student unions at the University of Exeter, the University of Kent and the National University of Ireland voted in support of BDS measures.

Last month the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London handed the campaign a major victory when more than 2,000 students, faculty and contract workers endorsed an academic boycott of Israel by an overwhelming 73 percent. The vote took place over five days and called for SOAS to cut all ties with Israeli academic institutions.

None of this is newsworthy, according to the Times. Nagourney’s story glosses over the movement with a single reference to UCLA as “one of many campuses” to vote for BDS measures. Readers learn nothing about the factors that inspire students to take up the cause or the debates over Palestine and Israel taking place on a number of campuses.

Instead, the Times gives prominence to a single incident at UCLA and blows this into an unsubstantiated claim about a “surge of hostile sentiments” toward Jews. The evidence for this charge, as the news site Mondoweiss stated, “is laughably thin. No statistics, no research, not even a biased survey from the [Anti-Defamation League].”

The BDS movement is a story of national and international significance, but rather than inform readers, the Times attempts to deflect attention from the campaign, the facts on the ground in Israel and Palestine and the growing support for BDS. It is Israel first and foremost, once again.

Barbara Erickson


Filed under: New York Times censorship Tagged: BDS, campus divestment, Censorship, Israel, Mondoweiss, NY Times, Palestine

The Mourshidates: Algeria’s Female Religious Leaders Provide Guidance For Society

Loon Watch - 9 March, 2015 - 19:56

Mourshidates_Algeria

One of the hundreds of female religious guides knows as Mourshidates appointed by the religious affairs ministry to spread the good word of Islam and a message of tolerance, reads the Koran, at the Ennidal mosque in Algiers, on February 22, 2015 (AFP Photo/Farouk Batiche)

In Algeria, women ‘imams’ battle Islamist radicalisation

AFP, via. Yahoo

The surge of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, and even in Libya next door, as well as the growing influence of Al-Qaeda-linked militants and Salafists, has them working around the clock.

Known as “mourshidates,” their goal is to spread the good word of Islam and a message of tolerance, helping those who have strayed from it.

“Killing is a capital sin, so how is it that people can kill innocent ones in the name of Islam,” asks Fatma Zohra, who is in her mid-40s, her hair and neck concealed under a matching purple veil and a hijab.

Like the other 300 mourshidates appointed by the religious affairs ministry, Zohra holds a degree in Islam and has learned the Koran by heart.

She said she was “motivated to know Islam better in order to teach the religion” following the traditionally moderate Muslim country’s civil war in the 1990s, which killed at least 200,000 people.

The war erupted after authorities cancelled the 1991 elections, Algeria’s first democratic vote, which the Islamic Action Front was poised to win.

Zohra, who was a student at the time, recalled bitterly as she met a group of women in a mosque, that “Algerians killed Algerians in the name of Islam.”

For the past 17 years she has been “listening to women, advising them and referring them to specialists” when their problems are not directly linked to religion.

Continue reading…

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Muslim women have been at the forefront of battling Isis whether literally or as in the case of this elderly woman from a deeply religious and spiritual place.:

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