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I'm so confused.....
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Edited Nov 15, 2015, 08:01
Re: I'm so confused.....
Nov 15, 2015, 07:48
At the moment I am working my way through a whole raft of books on Islam, Islamic radicalism and recent Middle Eastern history. In the past I have also taught Islamic philosophy. Additionally, I hang out here but hardly ever post.

Given the events on Friday, I thought I might therefore offer some preliminary impressions of what I think has been going on and recommend a few publications and online articles for anyone who might be interested in navigating this vast, multidisciplinary territory. First of all, here's an extract from a book review by William Dalrymple which dates from 2003:

'It is no coincidence that Saudi Arabia provided 15 of the 19 hijackers on 11 September. Ever since the Thirties, the Saudi regime has vigorously exported Wahhabi Islam, the most severe, puritanical incarnation of a religion which historically has been remarkable for its tolerance and syncretism.

The Saudis have used their oil wealth to try to kill off tolerant forms of Islam. Saudi money financed the most extreme Jihadis fighting in Afghanistan and the camps in which they were trained. It was these camps that produced the Afghan Arabs who form the hard core of al-Qaeda as well as a myriad of other similar organisations.

The Saudis now dominate as much as 90 per cent of Arabic language newspapers, magazines, publishing houses, radio and TV. They have also promoted the mass radicalisation of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Kurdistan by funding the hard-core Wahhabi, Salafi and Deobandi schools that now dominate education there.'

From what I can tell, anti-Muslim rhetoric that attempts to essentialise Islam ('All Muslims are....') and present it as a monolithic, ahistorical, Borg-like 'you will be assimilated' type entity are responding to this version of the faith (or its Shia counterpart, as represented by Iran and organisations like Hezbollah), which is actually called Salafism or Wahhabism. It has also given rise to the 'clash of civilisations' narrative, which has been promoted in academic circles to a greater or lesser extent by writers such as Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis. In a way, the ISIS project and that of al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, the Taliban etc. is also about setting the faith in granite, so there is an interesting symbiotic relationship at work there.

How reasonable is this narrative? Well, as Dalrymple indicates, there's a lot of it about. And apparently, ISIS have received approval ratings of 92% in Saudi opinion polls.

Meanwhile, in his excellent overview of Islamic State, the Palestinian author Abdel Bari Atwan has attempted to gauge wider public opinion in the Middle East. Arab governments, as one might expect, are obviously opposed, as are the liberal middle classes who view ISIS as a fundamentalist group that seek to restrict their freedoms and impose the burqa on their women; for the first time, among this class, there is widespread support for Western military intervention to destroy Islamic state. As for the rest, Atwan writes that where there is sympathy, it appears to be more widespread than support for al-Qaeda, even in its heyday. The fact that Islamic state has declared a caliphate has awakened dreams of a return to a 'Golden Age'.

It is worth remembering, however, that most Muslims live outside the Middle East (85% of Indonesia's 235 million people are Sunni Muslim, for example) . And - Saudi Arabia aside - large scale surveys and opinion polls in Muslim-majority countries repeatedly affirm that a majority of Muslims want democratic governments in their countries. Furthermore, although the radical ideologues within the Islamic world form a vocal minority, the voices of Islamic modernism and liberal thinking have, apparently, not been completely sidelined or rendered ineffectual, or at least that's what Asma Afsaruddin claims in her latest book. Plus, it should be noted that only a minority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims have answered Caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi's call to actually make hijra to ISIS territory. Those wishing to know more about the topic of radicalisation and the appeal of ISIS might enjoy this piece by Kenan Malik, which challenged quite a few of my assumptions:


For anyone curious enough to want to take the temperature of more moderate Islam, I would recommend picking up something by Khaled Abou El-Fadl, Jonathan A.C. Brown, Irshad Manji, Abdulaziz Sachedina, or the wonderful Michael Muhammad Knight, the founder of the taqwacore movement, who is a sort of Muslim Hunter S. Thompson.

As for what can be done about ISIS, William McCants surveys the options here:


His recent book on ISIS is also well-worth a look, as he highlights the apocalyptic, millennial beliefs that fuel their ideology (they think that we are living in the end times). This is an aspect of ISIS that others have neglected.

As far as Islam itself is concerned, Malise Ruthven, for my money is the best guide to the faith. Here's a sample:


Next up for me are the famous 'sword verses' of the Qur'an. Does their existence indicate that Islam is an inherently violent religion? To answer that question I'll be reading Michael Cook and Asma Afsaruddin.

Anyway, I hope something I've written above might be useful in some way.
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