Friday, November 16, 2018

Timothy R. Furnish - "Radical” Islam: Livin’ on the Edge, or Stuck Squarely in the Middle, of the Religion?

"VIOLENT JIHAD IS NOT RADICAL! How could it be, when Muhammad himself led armies in battle and ordered the killing of recalcitrant non-Muslims?"

Another much needed corrective to the discussion on Islam. Tim Furnish is simply one of the best, and by far the wittiest, experts on Islam writing today. You can order his books and follow his blog through these links:

"Radical” Islam: Livin’ on the Edge, or Stuck Squarely in the Middle, of the Religion?

by Timothy R. Furnish, PhD, Three Kraters Media, Nov 12, 2018:

There is absolutely NOTHING “radical” or “extremist” about this flag, even though ISIS and similar groups use it.  The flag says “there is no deity but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.” That’s the credo of 1.6 billion Muslims. 

When I was doing a doctorate in Islamic history at Ohio State University back in the 1990s, the study of the world’s second-largest religion and the civilization it spawned was still mostly an academic exercise, as it had been for most of the 20th century. But with the explosion of Islamic terrorism since then—and it is Islamic, because 76% (51/67) of the groups on the US State Department foreign terrorist organizations list are Muslim—matters once merely the province of professors are now crucial for policymakers.

And in that realm, most in the US are, if not blind—at best monocular. Since 9/11 this country has had three Presidential administrations. The operating premise in both the Bush and Obama presidencies was that Islam is peaceful, and that jihad contravenes Muhammad’s teachings. But whereas Bush administration apologetics for Allah’s acolytes were passive, those in Obama’s were more actively supportive: the President himself famously said that “the future does not belong to those who slander the Prophet of Islam;” and his CIA director bloviated that jihad is a “holy struggle…meaning to purify oneself or one’s community” and has nothing to do with killing. (As for the Trump approach—that shall be examined below.)

Of course, as one can ascertain from actually reading the Qur’an, relevant Hadiths (alleged sayings of Muhammad’s), or even a modicum of Islamic history—and to paraphrase my old Army Drill Instructor, SFC Ocaña, “it don’t take a PhD” to do so—jihad’s primary meaning is exactly violence against non-Muslims to bring them to heel.

If you don’t believe me, get a copy of Rudolph Peters’ classic Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam, which I conveniently summarized last year over at my blog, The Occidental Jihadist. Jihad is neither “unIslamic,” nor is it “radical.” Classical (7th-16th c. AD) Islamic scholarship (both Sunni and Shi`i) saw jihad as the normal state of affairs, and peaceful relations with Christian and Hindu powers as the exception. By the 20th century, Muslim thinkers had reversed the order, due to the inability of Muslim states such as the Ottoman Empire to wage successful jihad against the dominant Christian nations of the West. Jihad had fallen into desuetude, but was never delegitimized—much less rejected as incompatible with the religion.

As Muslim states ability to wage, or even declare, holy war waned (the last official one was that proclaimed by the Ottomans in 1914), non-state Islamic, and terrorist, groups increasingly arrogated to themselves the right to do so. Usama bin Ladin’s 1998 “Declaration of Jihad against Americans” is perhaps the best example of such. As the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) used to repeat often in its Dabiqmagazine, the “leaders” of every majority-Muslim nation-state were sell-outs, and their pet clerics even worse—which made ISIS and its allies (al-Shabab, Boko Haram, etc.) the true Muslim organizations, with legitimacy to declare jihad. ISIS, al-Qa`idah, etc. are congeries of Islamic fundamentalists who—as Peters pointed out—“have reacted in a self-assertive manner” to the military, political and cultural challenge of modernity “by rejecting everything Western and emphasizing the real Islamic values” (p. 133). 

"If the founder of a religion practices something, his followers doing the same cannot, by definition, be beyond the pale."

But the vast majority of American policy analysts and politicians refer to these folks as “radical.” Google “radical Islam” and you’ll get 46 million hits. As I pointed out in another recent (and lengthy) blogpost, even the Trump Administration—in its new National Strategy for Counterterrorism—repeats the term 16 times in a 25-pp. document. In dispensing with the Bush and Obama default position that Islam has nothing to do with jihad-as-terrorism, the current administration has one eye open; but its continued insistence that violence fi sabil Allah (“in the path of Allah”) is nonetheless extremist renders the US intelligence, military and diplomatic communities myopic at best in waging COIN (counter-insurgency) and CT (counter-terrorism).

But VIOLENT JIHAD IS NOT RADICAL! How could it be, when Muhammad himself led armies in battle and ordered the killing of recalcitrant non-Muslims? If the founder of a religion practices something, his followers doing the same cannot, by definition, be beyond the pale. If the canonical sources of a religion then reify the concept, so much the more does it become mainstream, not marginal.

A particularly problematic—indeed, pernicious—subset of this fallacious approach is the one which claims that anti-Semitism in Islam is a modern phenomenon, derived from the Nazis. (Yes, I know Arabs are Semitic, too—but herein I am using the term “anti-Semitism” in its traditional sense: as anti-Jewish.) I have encountered this approach a number of times in recent years; but it’s perhaps exemplified by the recent video “The Art of Extremism,” by the Clarion Project. I have a great deal of respect for this organization, and in particular for one of its chief spokesmen, Ryan Mauro. But this video is simply wrong, theologically and historically, in blaming anti-Jewish sentiments in the Islamic world on the German Nazis.

Clarion seems to think that attaching the adjective “radical” has talismanic properties, and applies it to anything problematic in Islam. For example, the video begins by claiming that “radical da’wah means Islamist missionizing and is the process of radicalization for violent jihad.” Da`wah is the Arabic term for “call,” “summons,” “missionary work,” “propaganda.” There is no “radical” and “mainstream” da`wah; by definition, it’s always the latter. “Islamist” is another inaccurate, and annoying, buzzword; usually it is meant to designate those who support political Islam—but Islam been as much political as religious since Muhammad was put in charge of the city of Yathrib (renamed Medina) in 622 AD. (Conservatives who say Islam is a political movement, not a religion, are wrong; but Islam is certainly the most politicized religion on earth.) And, as I explained earlier, it’s not “radicalization” to prepare Muslims for “violent jihad”—in fact, “violent jihad” is redundant.

It is true that during the 1920s and 1930s the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem under the British Mandate, Amin al-Husayni (d. 1974), worked with the Nazis to oppose Zionism and, eventually, the British. Palestinian Arab Muslim distaste for Jewish immigration was certainly exacerbated by Hitler’s hatred of the Jews. But it was not created in Berlin. It is just ridiculous to assert, as does Clarion’s video, that “today we are seeing the consequences of a fire lit 80 years ago.” Islamic vilification of Jews goes back to the early days of Islam. Muhammad’s main enemies in Medina were Jews of the Banu Qurayzah tribe—whom “the prophet” had liquidated. Hadiths dealing with Islamic eschatology also express anti-Jewish acrimony long predating the Nazis: one says that in the end times stones and trees will speak to Muslims, telling them to come kill the hiding Jews; another states that the foremost followers of the Dajjal (the Islamic false messiah) will be Iranian Jews. (For more on this topic, see my book Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads, and Osama bin Laden, pp. 100ff.)

Thus, contra Clarion’s video, the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel fire which consumes much of the Islamic world—not just Palestine, but places such as Iran and Yemen and Pakistan—was lit 1391 years ago, not a mere 80. Pretending otherwise, as is also the case with employing terms like “radical” Islam, is not only inaccurate; it prevents us from dealing with the real issues that estrange far too many of the world’s Muslims from those of us in other civilizations. The first step in addressing a problem is admitting it exists—and if that means we engage in tough love with Islam, and indeed with Muslims, so be it. Otherwise, Islam’s bloody borders will only be terminated when they encompass the entire planet.