Back in the autumn of 2010, an online magazine produced and published by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula entitled Inspire, urged it’s readership to attack “the enemies of Allah” by ploughing vehicles into pedestrians in crowded locations. “Narrower spots are better because it gives less chance for the people to run away” they advised. “It is a simple idea and there is not much involved in its preparation. All what (sic) is needed is the willingness to give one’s life for Allah.”
Similarly, in 2014 Islamic State spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani issued the following statement directed at enthusiastic ISIS supporters without the means for acquiring explosives and firearms:
“If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbeliever… (and) slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car.”
More recently, in August of last year, the Islamic State released an issue of their glossy propaganda magazine Dabiq featuring a four page article entitled “Why We Hate You and Why We Fight You.” This essay clearly and painstakingly spelled out the root causes and objectives of jihadist terror. It was absolutely unequivocal in its declaration that the Islamic obligation to “fight the disbelievers until they submit to the authority of Islam” is the primary cause of their behaviour and that all other factors, including foreign policy grievances, are secondary. The “policies” of Western societies prioritized for violent reprisals were those of secularism, liberalism, and atheism, rather than interventionism or imperialism.
The unusual clarity and articulacy of this article should have made it the final word in a long and abundant history of rhetorically consistent explanations provided by jihadists for their actions. They simply could not be any clearer in stating their motives, their aims, and their strategy for achieving them. And yet, the mainstream response to a Muslim convert named Khalid Masood mowing down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge on the first anniversary of the ISIS bombings in Brussels, before stabbing a police officer to death outside the Houses of Parliament, has once again been the usual medley of exasperating equivocation, desperate misdirection, and wilful denial.
Armchair experts, Facebook commentators, community spokespeople, journalists, and politicians quickly mounted their standard PR campaign for Islam by declaring that Mr Masood was just a common or garden criminal with a history of violence and drug use, that he had no connection to ISIS or al-Qaeda, that his actions were nothing to do with Islam, that terrorism in fact has no religion, and that in any case, jihadism is simply and solely a political response to Western intervention in the Middle East.
As is customary, Prime Minster Theresa May joined in with this chorus of idiocy, once again eagerly showcasing her abject ignorance on this topic, by claiming that this terrorist had “perverted a great faith,” and that “Islamic terrorism” is an inaccurate descriptor of what had taken place.
There seemed to be little to no understanding that Mr Masood’s apparent lack of direct contact or affiliation with Islamic State is utterly irrelevant in establishing motive. Often the link between “lone wolf” attackers and jihadist terror groups is not in the emails that they may or may not share, but in the ideology and agenda that they clearly do. And unfortunately for the Prime Minister and other apologists for regressive theology, Islamic terrorism is precisely the correct term to use.
Islam is an explicitly political religion. It is said to be a complete code of life. The religion that these terrorists subscribe to is not incidental to their terrorism. It is causal. Of course Islamic terrorists do not represent the beliefs of all or even most Muslims, but to disassociate their actions from the religion which they ceaselessly claim to be the key driving force behind their behaviour, is at best, reckless wishful thinking.
Furthermore, this ridiculous tactic of using aspects of criminality in the history Masood and many other jihadists to undermine the Islamic nature of the terrorism they enact, is to ignore how jihad and martyrdom are viewed in Islam. As commentator Douglas Murray has noted: jihad is considered an act of religious purification. In other words, not only does the Islamic terrorist consider it a religious duty to strike a blow for Allah against the infidels, but he believes that doing so will absolve him of his sins and fast-track him to a paradise of bountiful indulgence in the company of wide-eyed virgins.
And as well he might, since there is no shortage of scriptural justification for this view. Although suicide is outlawed in Islam, so-called “suicide attackers” do not consider their actions to be suicidal in nature. In fact the terms suicide terrorism and suicide bombing are pejorative descriptions for what the jihadists themselves refer to as martyrdom operations. To be killed in the act of waging war for the sake of Allah is known as Istishhad, and it is not only considered to be a legitimate method of warfare in Islam, but it is also viewed as a noble act which sees those who engage in it celebrated as shahids. Masood did not blow himself up, as so many jihadists do, but he will have known that the actions he took would almost certainly culminate his own death.
Yet perhaps, as Theresa May claims, this understanding of Islam is a perversion or misinterpretation of this intrinsically peaceful faith. Perhaps it’s fair to say that the many hundreds of thousands of jihadists across the world have all misunderstood their religion, and the fact that they have all misunderstood it in virtually identical ways is a mere coincidence. But no evidence is ever provided to support this view. The Islam is peace argument is instinctively trotted out every time cries of “Allahu Akbar” result in a pile of dead bodies, and it is almost always backed up by nothing more than a dishonest rewording of a single Quran verse:
“Whosoever killed a person… It shall be as if he had killed all mankind”.
Read in context, however, the entirety of the verse makes it abundantly clear that this apparent prohibition on murder does not extend to those guilty of “corruption in the land”.
“We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.” – Quran 5:32
Corruption is known as Fasad in Islam and its definitions include mere disbelief in Islam. Moreover, the very next verse details the appropriate Islamic method of punishment for such a crime.
“Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment.” – Quran 5:33
The fact that many Islamic terrorists, including Osama Bin laden are from the Salafist or Wahhabist tradition also undercuts this narrative. Wahhabism is an Islamic reformist movement which sought to cast off theological embellishments added throughout the centuries since Islam’s inception, and to restore the faith to its original incarnation. Unsurprisingly, Wahhabism is arguably the most retrograde, oppressive, and fascistic ideology on the planet as well as the biggest exporter of Islamic terrorism around the world. Therefore the Nothing-To-Do-With-Islam Brigade are unwittingly arguing that either the primary exporter of global jihadism is entirely incidental to the acts of global jihadists, or that the most ideologically pure manifestation of Islam, has nothing to do with itself. It shouldn’t need pointing out that each of these insinuations occupy relatively equal and substantial spaces in the realms of the absurd.
In the case of the Westminster attack, these absurdities culminated, as they so often do, with trite observations about foreign policy blowback. Advocacy group Cage UK, for example, claimed that the War on Terror had unleashed an endless cycle of violence. A British man born in Kent, driving an SUV into a crowd of French school children is the unavoidable consequence of British military involvement in the Middle East, apparently. This same tiresome line of argument was wheeled out after the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich and the bombing of the Boston Marathon, to name but a few. Predictably, those proffering it as a sufficient explanation for these attacks neglect, without fail, to address the only factor that could lead to British born Nigerians and Chechen-Americans feeling such a strong sense of solidarity with Afghanistan and Iraq that they would murder their own countrymen. Islamic tribalism and loyalty to the Ummah (the brotherhood of Muslims), is by definition a religious imperative, not a political one. What, I wonder, does the execution of homosexuals and blasphemers, the subjugation of Muslim women, the murder of cartoonists, the hanging of apostates, and the stoning of adulterous women have to do with recompense for Western Foreign Policy? Take the Islamists at their word however, and suddenly their behaviour makes perfect sense in light of their beliefs.
Yet not only is Western Foreign Policy routinely blamed for Islamic terrorism, but the U.S led invasion of Iraq is also blamed outright for the creation of ISIS as an organisation. Admittedly, there is some truth in the narrative that the withdrawal of allied troops created, among other things, a power vacuum in the region. However, Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (The Organisation of Monotheism and Jihad), the precursor group to al-Qaeda in Iraq which would go on to become the Islamic State, was formed by a Jordanian four years before Bush and Blair’s war in Iraq and the overthrow of the Baathist regime. The organisation was founded by a violently sectarian Sunni Takfiri with the dual purposes of replacing the “apostate” Jordanian monarchy with a sufficiently Islamic ruler, and implementing a Caliphate in the Middle East. Eagle-eyed readers may again have detected one or two religious imperatives here.
Evasion here is often only possible due to the use of a dishonestly fluid approach to definitions. And because questions such as; what is Islam? What does it teach? What constitutes a real-world manifestation of its precepts? rarely feature in their commentary or their thinking, the job of deceit is made all the more easier for these obscurantists. Since the majority of Muslims are not terrorists, then terrorism, we are told, is un-Islamic by definition. So when excuse-makers for Islamic fascism demand that we write-off the 100-plus calls for violence against unbelievers in the Quran, the barbarism of the hadiths, and the troubling accounts of the life of Muhammad, with claims of contextual and historical nullification, it leaves only two ways of defining Islam. If not by the contents of its foundational texts then at the very least, Islam must be defined by the rulings of its authorities and/or the theological consensus of its adherents.
Inconveniently, both of these options present even more problems for those attempting to whitewash Islam as peaceful and as ideologically compatible with secularism and liberalism. All four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence consider Female Genital Mutilation to be either preferable or obligatory. The majority of Muslim jurists consider apostasy to be a crime punishable by death. The majority of the world’s Muslims wish to live in a theocratic state governed by sharia law, and of these, the majority support corporal punishment including stonings. All four schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence consider homosexuality a crime and the majority of them consider it indistinguishable from adultery and fornication, and as such, punishable by either death or flogging. Even the majority of British Muslims polled, viewed homosexuality and insulting Islam as deserving of punishment. If Islam really is what the majority of Muslims make of it, then a reasonable assumption is that Islam is a brutal, autocratic belief system which is deeply contemptuous of freedom and minority rights, and is in that respect, virtually indistinguishable from the jihadist interpretation. Indeed, 92 percent of Saudi’s polled in 2014 agreed that ISIS “conforms to the values of Islam and Islamic Law.” I’m sure this is not the conclusion the apologists are angling for in asking Islam to be judged by these criteria.
But then perhaps Islamic doctrine, Islamic jurisprudence, and widespread/majority Muslim opinion is still not sufficient to define Islam. Maybe those Muslims whose motto is “Love For All, Hatred For None” are truly illustrative of what Islam represents.
They were certainly a majority of Muslims in attendance at the Westminster Bridge vigil. So is it fair to class these people as “true” Muslims and representative of the Islamic faith? Well, not according to the Sunni orthodox. Ahmadi Muslims, a committedly peaceful sect of Islam, represent roughly one percent of the world’s Muslims. They are considered kufar (disbelievers) by mainstream adherents to the faith, and their supposed heresy has led to their systematic persecution and murder, at the hands of other Muslims, in virtually every country they reside, including the UK. In fact the application forms for Pakistani passports and national ID cards contain a declaration that the applicant considers Ahmadi’s to be non-Muslims.
This utter confusion and determined ignorance among westerners as to what constitutes Islam and what inspires jihadists, is presumably the reason why a Muslim attacking civilians with a car in accordance with Islamic State directives and having a “clear interest in jihad”, has the police and public so mystified as to his motives. Speaking on the attack, Metropolitan police commissioner Neil Basu said the following:
“We must all accept that there is a possibility we will never understand why he did this. That understanding may have died with him.”
The understanding of his motives did not die with Masood. It died long before. It died the moment we decided as a society that we would repeatedly treat attacks of this kind with platitudes and self-delusion and wilful ignorance, in preference to confronting the ideology that inspires them. And as such, it seems that our collective instinct for self-preservation has died with it.
Note: This article originally appeared in Areo Magazine on 03/04/2017
Header photo by @_BigToneP