My Views on Militant Islamism – A Summary

A friend just recently commented that he thought my thoughts about militant Islamism had changed over recent times. That is no doubt true. But it also provided a spur to me to summarise what I currently think on this issue. This short essay seeks to do just that.

It is difficult to understand the phenomenon of militant Islam without at least looking at a brief history of Islam.

According to tradition Muhammad whilst living in Mecca around 610AD received a series of revelations purportedly from the Archangel Gabriel acting as an intermediary for Allah. These were subsequently recorded some considerable time after Muhammad’s death (leading to considerable speculation about their authenticity) in the Koran. Although Muhammad originally struggled to have an impact, eventually he consolidated a following of supporters and succeeded in uniting the Arab tribes. He then began a successful military campaign designed to evangelise the religion he had created.

Spurred on by the initial success of military expansionism under Muhammad by the eleventh century Islam had expanded beyond its birthplace in the Arabian Peninsula to conquer North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula and large parts of Asia Minor. Muhammad was succeeded by a series of Caliphs and the consolidated territories of Islam were referred to as the Caliphate.

Whilst this Islamic expansionism was going on the Christian West was suffering under the so-called “Dark Ages”. Scientific, economic and cultural progress was being held back by fundamentalist Christian ideals. During this period the Arabs, on the other hand, flourished. Arabian science, art and culture continued to progress whilst the Christians languished. What’s more the Arabs at this time preserved the classical knowledge acquired by the Greeks and others when it was spurned by the Christian West. This was indeed the Islamic Golden Age.

But eventually the strength of Islam waned and they were driven out of many of the lands they had conquered.  Some of these were subsequently colonised by European states. And after the First World War many of the Islamic “homelands” were arbitrarily petitioned by the victorious Europeans.

Today, Islam is the predominant religion in the Middle East, in sub-Saharan Sahel, in the Horn of Africa and northern Africa, and in some parts of Asia. Large communities of Muslims are also found in China, the Balkans, and Russia. Other parts of the world host large Muslim immigrant communities; in Western Europe, for instance, Islam is the second largest religion after Christianity, where it represents 6% of the total population.

The problem that we are now facing from militant Islam is that most of the Muslim countries are relatively poor and suffer depressed standards of living. Muslims from such areas look back at the Islamic Golden Age and wonder what has changed that has seen their status diminish so much on the international scene. The fundamentalists point to the watering down of the observance of the faith. They maintain that if the Islamic faith could only be restored to the strict observance practiced in Muhammad’s day then surely their status in the world would be resurrected.

Now this is surely one of the biggest delusions ever suffered by mankind! It seems to me almost like suggesting to the Italians that if they only went back to wearing togas and speaking Latin they could restore the Roman Empire! It is in fact a medieval solution to a modern day problem.

The lot of those who suffer economic deprivation in Muslim communities will never be advanced by resorting to medieval thinking. What’s more their commitment to devoting inordinate resources to revenge and terrorism all detract from advancing their economic welfare.

But compounding the problem is a pervasive sense of victimhood. There is a pervading ethos that the poverty of such Islamic communities has been a deliberate ploy of the West to shame, humiliate and deprive Muslims from their rightful benefits. Polling by the US based Pew Centre in 2006 of Muslim countries found that s solid majority believed that the West was fundamentally hostile to Muslims with some countries registering 70% or more supporting such a view. What’s more recent polling shows the numbers increasing particularly among younger people.

Now overlaying this sense of humiliation and deprivation are two other significant factors, viz:

  • The internal schism within Islam, and
  • The dangerous idea of martyrdom.

Because of the complex and checquered history of Islam there has evolved many different schools. However the main division is that between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims. This division was over who had the right to assume leadership over Muslims after the death of Muhammad. Because Muhammad had made it clear that he was the last of all the prophets (a good way to perpetuate your fame in perpetuity!) the new leader could not have that status but was instead nominated as the Caliph. There are various interpretations of what the term “Caliph” means but it is generally accepted that, in general terms, the Caliph is Allah’s worldly representative.

The Sunni branch of Islam stipulates that, as a head of state, a Caliph should be elected by Muslims or their representatives Followers of Shia Islam however, believe a Caliph should be an Imam chosen from direct descendants of Muhammad.

This schism which developed in the decades following the death of Muhammad is in many ways more dysfunctional than the antagonism between Islam and the West and has resulted in many more deaths and atrocities. In this respect, Muslims themselves have been the greatest victims of the dysfunction in their religious beliefs. It seems to me that whilst this prevails they have little chance of improving their collective lot.

In previous essays I have titled the notions of martyrdom that underpin the motives of the jihadists as a dangerous idea. If one believes that sacrificing yourself in promoting the cause of Allah leads to automatic entry to paradise then many will be tempted to commit horrific acts without concern for their own physical welfare. Such people are fearless believing that there is little use in pursuing well-being in their current existence but relying on their perverted ideas about faith to be rewarded in the afterlife. As a result they present a significant challenge to the majority of people who believe there is merit in trying to live out their lives minimising their pain and suffering and maximising their opportunities for material progress.

Analyses of the terrorist events occurring in recent time in Europe indicate that the perpetrators had no intention of surviving. This fanatical fatalism seems also to be shared by the fundamentalist fighters in the Middle East. During the siege of Kobane the defenders remarked on the conspicuous daring of the ISIS attackers who in their zeal to win the city seemed to almost casually to expose themselves to danger. (Mind you some recent reports suggest that the courage of the ISIS fighters is also bolstered by the widespread use of drugs.) Nevertheless if you are convinced of your ticket to paradise from your terrorist activities, you certainly become a formidable foe!

Now the problem of militant Islamism is underpinned by demographic as well as cultural factors. As we saw earlier, many Muslim communities are characterised by their relativity poverty compared to most Western societies which is the cause of some considerable resentment. Consequently they are characterised by high levels of unemployment. As well fertility levels in these communities are high resulting in a much younger demographic than is found in typical Western communities. Consequently these communities (both in their homelands and in immigrant communities) are characterised by the fact that there are many young men who are living meaningless lives, resentful, misogynistic and sexually repressed.

For these young men the opportunity to become a Jihadist meets many of their needs. It provides excitement, a sense of purpose and sexual opportunities missing from their traditional communities.

It is a cause for great concern that those now fleeing the Middle East for Europe are predominantly such young men. Whilst it is in many ways admirable that Europe has opened its humanitarian arms so generously, one can’t help but feel concerned for the impact these dysfunctional young men will have on European society.

In Australia the few terrorist incidents we have experienced have all been perpetrated by young Muslims who were either Muslim immigrants or the children of Muslim immigrants. The Government is currently in receipt of some criticism for considering even more stringent screening following its announcement to take a further 12,000 Syrian refugees as a result of the current conflict. I am sure most Australians would applaud their caution.

In recent times there has been a growing concern that we are vulnerable to so-called “lone wolf” terrorist attacks. In truth there is little evidence that any such attacks have occurred. Invariably there have been others involved. The terrorist has usually been part of a prayer group or been influenced by the virulent ravings of a fundamentalist Imam. Quite often they have been petty criminals who were radicalised in jail.

Why we find it so difficult to come to terms with the militant Islamists is because their values are so different from our own. It is enlightening to consider the words of the fundamentalist British Imam, Anjem Choudary as quoted by the Canadian journalist Duncan Pike in an article about free speech.

Choudary has called the September 11 hijackers ‘magnificent martyrs’, and stated that non-Muslims cannot, by definition, be considered innocent: ‘When we say ‘innocent people’, we mean Muslims—as far as non-Muslims are concerned they have not accepted Islam and as far as we are concerned that is a crime against God.’ As for permissible tactics when confronting such ‘criminals,’ Choudary is unequivocal: ‘Terrorizing the enemy is, in fact, part of Islam’, he told Russia Today. ‘This is something that we must embrace and understand as far as the jurisprudence of jihad is concerned.’

So for these medieval extremist troglodytes, if you don’t submit to Allah you neither have any rights as a human being nor should you be so presumptuous as to expect any!

Well what conclusions can I draw from all of this?

Islamic militancy is doomed to failure. If its proponents are going to spend another 1500 years arguing about who should be the rightful successor to Muhammad the world will continue to pass them by. If they believe that their indignant accusations of oppression and belittlement by the West are going to help the cause of Muslims, then they are very misguided. If they continue to devote their energies and resources to righting what they believe are historic wrongs then they are unlikely to improve the lot of Muslims in traditional communities.

The effects of the attacks by these ignorant fundamentalists have hurt us all. Our fundamental freedoms have been compromised as we struggle to deal with such aberrant ideas. But the real victims of this assault on our liberties have been the Muslims, themselves. Many of them are sentenced to live in deprivation, fear and injustice as a result of these fundamentalist beliefs.

In our society, even though the threats are minimal, we expend huge resources in trying to guarantee the safety of our citizens. Our essentials freedoms of speech and association have also been compromised.

It is difficult to believe that any of these issues are going to be resolved soon. So what is my recommended response?

Firstly, as I have said in the past, this is a competition of ideas. The ideas of these fundamentalist Islamists are so wrong that we must speak out against them. Because of political correctness we are often reluctant to do so. Let us not be deterred from speaking out. We suffer many indignities in our society because we are unwilling to confront people on issues of religion, culture and history.

Secondly, let us show a bit of courage. The threats to our society are significant but not overwhelming. If we are going to react in a cowardly way to every terrorist incursion our important freedoms will soon be eroded.

Finally let us have some empathy for the ordinary Muslims who are trying to do the best they can in the face of this monstrous assault on their beliefs and way of life.

6 Replies to “My Views on Militant Islamism – A Summary”

  1. Hi Ted,
    Once again a well thought out and written article. Can I ask what are your thoughts on the latest moves by the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews offering refuge to 300 asylum seekers due to be sent back to Nauru?

    Also the information in your articles needs to be broadcast more widely. Are you ok if I share the link on my Facebook feed?

    Thanks Mark

    1. Thanks Mark.

      Second question first. I am happy for you to use any of my material as you see fit.In fact I get this question so often I should say something to that effect on my notification e-mail.

      I wasn’t aware, I must confess, of Daniel Andrews’ offer.

      This is of course a particularly egregious dilemma. The Greens and Labor like to portray the coalition’s position as heartless. But the reduced number of people in detention and the cessation of the efforts of the people smugglers has produced a great humanitarian benefit. There are far less deaths at sea and far less people in detention.

      We have also learnt recently that some of the efforts of self-harm at Nauru were motivated by a desire to get the supposed victims to Australia (and bring their families with them) in the hope that once in Australia they would be more favourably considered in terms of their refugee status.

      Whilst it pains me to think that as a result of our national policies some refugees might be forced to suffer needlessly, my instinct is to maintain the hard line. Don’t allow anyone entering Australia illegally access to citizenship. As soon as we do the people smugglers will manufacture new opportunities and in the end more will suffer.

      I have no doubt that some people will be hurt as a result of such a decision and I feel for them. But I honestly believe that we will minimize the hurt by sticking to our guns on not allowing illegal immigrants access to our country!

  2. This is a succinct, sensible and considered article.

    However, it is also worth bearing in mind that the sense of victimhood felt by some Muslims is not particular to Muslims and has in fact come out of a time of self-flagellation and unnecessary condemnation of the West, the modern and most developed world, driven by all sorts of well-intended agendas, but ultimately creating victims on many counts.

    No doubt there was a point, as the pendulum swings, when the Western (modern) world began to feel a sense of guilt, unnecessary in my book although self-reflection is always good and often begins this way, and we invented what has come to be called political correctness.

    Multi-culturalism emerged from this ‘soup’ of guilt, which often became ‘self’ hatred, and quickly spread around the developed world, encouraging people to remain apart, separate, distinct, unassimilated in ways which have become increasingly problematic in immigrant nations like Australia. Although, having said that, most Western nations are to various degrees, now immigrant nations.

    In times past we encouraged, if not pressured people to assimilate, reasoning it was best for them, best for the society as a whole and best for the nation. As indeed it was and is.

  3. Hi Ted,

    In his book “Debt: The first 5000 years”, the author (Graeber) illuminates how the dark ages were not so dark economically; rather, the measure of trade in terms of free markets (not capitalist which tend to facilitate monopolistic rather than competitive trade) does not revert to crude barter when gold and currency are reduced in circulation.

    I asked a friend recently, who was contemplating the “outcome” of the world in stride, in particular conflicts between states, if he knew of historically, or could perhaps imagine, a war in which both sides simultaneously annihilated each other?

    In regards to free speech, so long as speaking is intended to influence, the term free speech is an oxymoron. The phrase “competition of ideas” captures this nuisance.

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