Last week we saw another Jihadist manufacture slaughter and mayhem, this time principally of young women and girls, in Manchester. Manchester has been a particularly troubled area. It has experienced riots, is replete with street gangs and has been home for a number of other Jihadists who have perpetrated atrocities. I have recently written about the phenomenon of violent young men gravitating to Islamic extremism. But this week I would like to focus on what is the particular nature of Islam that it seems to draw to it such violent extremists.
Of course many left wing commentators avoid making any such association. But I don’t believe any concerns regarding tolerance and inclusiveness should be allowed to mask the true nature of this insidious phenomenon. Even ASIO Director General, Duncan Lewis, appearing before a senate committee hearing, claimed there was no evidence to link Australia’s Muslim refugee intake and the rising incidence of domestic terror. We can all agree that most Muslim refugees integrate into our society without difficulty but a list of those persons attempting terror activities (whether carried out or foiled) on Australian soil in recent decades is dominated by Muslims, often second generation refugees. Tony Abbott in his forthright way hit the nail on the head when he recently said, “….. the problem is nearly all the terrorist incidents are associated with people yelling out ‘Allahu Akbar’ as they kill.”
So here are the indisputable facts. Whilst few of Australians Muslims are Jihadis, all the Jihadis are however, Muslim!
When I have written about Islamic extremists in the past, I have often been taken to task by my critics for overstating the risk of Islamic terrorism for Western democracies. My critics rightly point out that in terms of casualties the incessant conflict between warring sects of Islam has had far more devastating impacts on Muslim societies. But this should give us even greater concern. If Muslims can’t live peaceably in majority Muslim countries, it is difficult to see how adopting their beliefs, which the radical Islamists are trying to ensure, would improve our society. Moreover the cultural and economic conditions of the countries where fundamentalist Islamists dominate, are just what triggers such a high rate of refugees fleeing to the relative affluence and freedom of the West.
By any reasonable criteria, we in our liberal democracies live far better lives than those in Islamic theocracies which the fundamentalists would seek to impose on us. Our legitimate democratic states are being threatened by non-state fundamentalists whose foot soldiers are Jihadists. The stated aim of these combatants is to overthrow liberal democracies replacing them with theocracies where Sharia law overturns the liberal principles that the West has developed over the last five or six centuries and to create a world-wide Caliphate. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful outcome! Then we could all participate in a paternalistic, misogynistic, undemocratic, economically deprived, medieval theocracy, just like those where such wonderful outcomes are delivered for the unfortunates living in the Islamic states dominated by the fundamentalists.
But is this a likely eventuality? Probably not in the short term – but our society is under more threat then some would have us believe and even countering that threat impinges on our freedoms. Why should we curtail our normal social interactions in fear of the actions of these reactionary, illiberal fundamentalists? Why shouldn’t a teenage girl be able to go to a public performance of a pop star without feeling under mortal threat? Why shouldn’t someone in a liberal democracy critique Islam and the Koran without concern for their physical well-being?
There is some evidence to suggest that the real nature of the threat is being downplayed. In a recent article in The Australian, Jennifer Oriel reports that “Whitehall has revealed that there are 23,000 suspected terrorists inside the UK.” Intelligence agencies only have the resources to closely monitor about a third of these. These are rather frightening numbers. The porous borders of other European countries would lead us to believe that the problem may be even greater in continental Europe.
But let us cut to the chase here. Why are the terrorist activities inflicted on us predominantly instigated by Muslims? (Yes I know most Muslims are not terrorists but most terrorists are Muslim.) The work of Danish researcher, Tina Magaard throws some light on this. Magaard analysed the texts of all the world’s major religions. Her conclusion was clear:
Islam’s religious texts call upon its followers to commit violence and to fight to a much higher degree than any other religion. The texts in Islam are clearly distinct from those of other religions’ texts as they to a much higher degree call for violence and aggression against followers of other faiths. There are also direct incitements to terror. This has long been a taboo within research in Islam, but it is a fact we have to acknowledge.
Now this Islamic call to belligerence and terror is bad enough, but it becomes much more dangerous in the context of two other widely held views of Muslims.
The first is the belief that the Koran is the inerrant word of God (Allah).
Muslims believe that the content of what we now know as the Koran was revealed to Muhamad by the archangel Gabriel over a protracted period of time. Muhamad was illiterate and thus these revelations had to be committed to memory. Muhamad then regurgitated these revelations to others, some of whom were literate and subsequently wrote them down. The Koran was compiled from these second-hand records some twenty years after Muhamad’s death.
Now even if you were gullible enough to believe this rather fanciful account of the beginnings of Islam, you would have to admit there was plenty of room for human error to creep into this process. We all know the pitfalls in human communications and it would seem there were plenty of opportunities for errors to creep in to these second hand records of Gabriel’s revelations.
A close reading of the Koran reveals there are not only contradictory passages but the tenor of the teachings changed as Muhamad’s circumstances changed. This would lead us to believe that the Koran is a likely inaccurate assemblage of the developing belief system of the man, Muhamad, rather than the ineffable word of God.
(There are many further arguments which throw doubt on the divine authorship of the Koran. There are, for example, numerous inconsistencies. As well the Koran is written in the first person in some passages and the third person in others. Arabic is a difficult written language enabling various vowels and consonants to be confused resulting in competing translations. The Koran makes specific allegations about Muhamad’s enemies which seems a rather parochial concern for a God trying to inspire broad adherence to a faith. Muhamad himself tried to later suppress some of the verses of the Koran. Salman Rushdie’s novel about this, The Satanic Verses caused a Fatwah to be issued against him.
For a more scholarly discussion on the merits of the Koran as a holy book I would recommend Why I Am Not a Muslim published under the pseudonym Ibn Warraq. The author prudently used such a pseudonym to avoid the fate of Salman Rushdie!)
But if you believe that the Koran is literally the word of God any reservations regarding its authenticity must not be tolerated. In this way traditional Muslims avoid having their beliefs challenged. Consequently we have its adherents persisting with trying to apply the lessons supposedly learnt in a backwater Middle Eastern community by an illiterate camel herder some fifteen hundred years ago to the modern world. Is it any wonder that those countries where such an orthodoxy remains in play are backward, authoritarian, misogynistic and brutal with low standards of living, except where alleviated by wealth derived from oil?
Fifteen hundred years ago Christianity was no more enlightened than Islam. But due to the Reformation and a greater willingness to have its tenets debated and refined, reformed Christianity is a far better fit to the modern world than Islam. In the West, the Reformation allowed science to prosper. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper observed that it was the spread of the spirit of science in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that finally ended the burning of witches in Europe. We need such a movement in Islam to prevent women accused of adultery from being stoned to death.
The second dangerous idea of fundamentalist Islam I have discussed in previous essays – that is the notion that Jihadist martyrdom provides the perpetrator with automatic access to Paradise, and even more, entitles the Jihadi to additional sensual benefits. This belief compels young men (and occasionally young women) to throw away their lives committing atrocities not only against the West, but against competing Islamic sects.
It seems to me that we misunderstand the motivation for Jihadism. Our media is dominated with those seeking to make excuses for the Jihadist atrocities on socio-economic factors such as low income, lack of education, feelings of marginalisation and so on. But researchers from the University of British Colombia and the University of Waterloo spoke to surviving terrorists to see what motivated them. The researchers reported that;
Not one of their subjects suggested directly or indirectly that being marginalized socially or economically pushed them onto such an extreme path.
The researchers concluded:
Academic studies have put too much weight on those ‘push’ factors – the problems and frustrations in the lives of young men who turn to extremist Islam and, ultimately, terrorist violence. Based on what we are hearing in interviews with foreign fighters – more interviews than anyone has yet to report on – we think more attention and significance should be given to the repeated affirmations of the positive benefits of being a Jihadi.
I have previously argued that what we are facing with Islamist extremists is a battle of ideas. We are losing the battle because we don’t have the courage to challenge their diabolical ideas. The two principal ideas that need to be challenged are:
- The Koran is the ineffable word of God, and
- Jihadist martyrdom provides an automatic entry to paradise with enhanced benefits.
Most modern Christians don’t believe that the bible is the literal word of God. In the last four centuries there has been a considerable effort made by Christian scholars to better understand and interpret the gospels. As we have seen on many occasions before there are undoubted truths embedded in the scriptures but most of these truths are portrayed as metaphors and parables.
The Muslim fundamentalists forbid such interpretation of the Koran, despite the fact, as we have seen earlier, there is considerable evidence to suggest that the Koran is unlikely to reflect the word of God directly. Those that dare make such suggestions are threatened with their lives. If because of our fear of offending these fundamentalists, few of us are brave enough to promote such ideas, the job of suppressing dissent becomes easy. Fundamental Islam needs to be challenged with rationality. This seems the only way that Islam might be encouraged to reform in such a way to be reconciled with modernity.
Whether you believe or not that Muhamad was God’s messenger, given the Koran’s history, it is implausible that it is the ineffable word of God. Just establishing this fact enables rational debate of the teachings of the Koran.
Now let us look at the other absurd idea – that Jihadist martyrdom confers automatic access to paradise.
I have shown previously that the notion of paradise came late to Judaism. It seems to have been passed on to the Jews by the Babylonians during their period of exile when the Jews were subsumed into the Persian Empire of Cyrus the Great. Many of the Persians were Zoroastrians who had developed a notion of paradise. (The word paradise has Persian roots.) The concept of heaven or paradise first appeared in Judaism in the book of Daniel.
The idea of Heaven was taken up with even more gusto in the New Testament. Jesus made many references (although often ambiguous) to Heaven.
Obviously a belief in heaven or paradise is a salve to our existential angst. Once we became acutely aware of our mortality it was natural that we should look for escape clauses!
Nowhere is the idea of Heaven as a paradise garden more important than in Islam. This religious tradition was established in the seventh century in one of the hottest, driest, most inhospitable areas in the world. No wonder then that the Koran, Islam’s holy book, promises that after death the faithful will go to a garden. And the garden described is a wondrous one with fruits that won’t spoil in the heat, with rivers not only of water but also of honey, wine and milk.
It was inevitable then that entry into paradise became the most sought after outcome of those practising Islam.
In modern times some of the more fundamentalist believers of Islam have asserted that those that martyr themselves in Jihad will automatically be accepted into paradise. “Jihad” is supposed to mean struggle but if you read the Koran it is evident that it was meant to encompass the efforts of believers in waging holy war. Most Muslim jurists insisted that holy war was only justified when a Muslim nation had been attacked. And this response is heightened by the fact in traditional Muslim countries, because there is no separation between church and state, an attack on the state is interpreted as an attack on Allah himself!
However the traditional notion of Jihad was to be radically redefined by an extremist middle-aged Egyptian Muslim, Sayyid Qutb. Sayyid Qutb was a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. He had been a literary critic and became radicalized because of a visit to the United States in the late 1940’s. He was appalled for example by the sight of young people dancing together, holding each other tightly. He was equally dismayed by the liberal education children received there. In 1965 he published a book titled Ma’aallim Fittareek (Milestones).
In his book Sayyid Qutb decried the lack of belligerence in the Muslim world. It was not enough, he said, to wage Jihad to defend the Islamic world against attack, but Jihad should also be used as an offensive weapon to bring people to the worship of Allah. Jihad should be used to bring people out of the servitude of others to become servants of Allah.
The Egyptian government had Qutb executed in 1966. But his ideas lived on and influenced, among others, Osama Bin Laden.
Despite the fact that the Koran has little to say about Jihad (some commentators say the word only occurs four times and is usually interpreted as “striving in the way of Allah”) in recent decades thanks to Qutb, Bin Laden and others, it has become a central theme for those seeking to promote Islam by forcible measures.
The notion that these latter day Islamic evangelists have successfully promoted is that:
- Any act undertaken to progress the cause of Islam, no matter how brutal, should be interpreted as Jihad.
- Any Jihadist who might be killed in executing such an abhorrent act will be granted the status of martyr.
- Any such martyr will automatically gain entrance to Paradise and be able to avail themselves of all the sensual pleasures awaiting them there.
Now, if you are simple-minded enough to believe in such a religious charade, and you undertake what is now called Jihad, you should have no fear. In fact Paradise might seem so attractive you might feel miffed if you weren’t killed in progressing your particular Jihadist enterprise!
But how could anyone take this abhorrent idea seriously. If you have a belief in God, what sort of God would reward you for killing innocent people? Watching the recent scenes from Manchester with atrocities being committed to young girls, their friends, mothers and other innocents, is it believable that God would condone that? Well apparently the manufactured God of the militant Islamists is so pleased with his followers who committed such atrocities that they will be granted automatic entrance into paradise. How credible is that?
The “religions of the Book” (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) all uphold the sanctity of human life. In Islamic countries there are sanctions against suicide and rates of suicide in the general population are low as a result. But once suicide is coupled with Jihadism it automatically gains divine approval.
So we have a double tragedy here. Not only are the innocent victims needlessly sacrificed to the Islamist cause, but the foolish Jihadists have lost their lives in vain. We need to be vociferous in asserting these truths!
So what of the future?
It is true that the immediate threat that the Jihadists pose to us here in Australia in terms of lives taken is significant, but not huge. But the real threat is far more insidious. If we allow these barbarians to silence our support for our liberal democracy, then we have only ourselves to blame if in two generations our grandchildren are subject to Sharia law and all the trauma that will bring.
I cannot help but believe that this is indeed a battle of ideas. If we passively stand by and don’t counter the ideas of the fundamentalist Islamists it is possible that they might perhaps prevail. They are empowered by the strengths of their beliefs, however irrational they may be. Some of them are so possessed by those ideas they are prepared to die for them. This is strengthened by their irrational belief in the benefits of Jihadist martyrdom.
Unfortunately few of us seem to have the strength of belief to stand against them and argue the cause of liberal democracy.
It is about time we stood up to be counted. Let us start by proclaiming that the Koran is not the ineffable word of God. Let us call out the delusion of Jihadist martyrdom. Let us affirm on every possible occasion that Sharia law is an abomination and that our liberal democracy should be defended at any cost. We owe it to our grandchildren.