Tag Archives: ISIS

Through the academic looking glass

Always keen to learn new things, I enrolled on a short online course given by the University of Groningen entitled Religion and Conflict. The lecturers were Dr Kim Knibbe, Dr Erin Wilson and Prof Marjo Buitelaar, above.

My special interest was one particular religion and conflict and I put in my student profile that I was “hoping to be dissuaded of my expectation of a coming catastrophe in Europe due to religious fanaticism”.

This was true although I couldn’t say I was very hopeful. More realistically I hoped to gain an insight into why academics invariably give Islam such an easy ride. Even in that I was disappointed. The “why” must remain a subject of conjecture but I did come to understand something of the “how”. They minimise the content of the various religions and maximise the many extraneous influences affecting their believers then claim to have come up with a more nuanced understanding. Simple, really!

The course consisted of 6 weeks worth of short lectures, videos, interviews and assignments, each with the opportunity for discussion with fellow students. I had expected a bit of friction in the discussion forums and so it turned out, though no worse than a rough night in the Guardian comments sections. One fellow student was decent enough to say that I probably wasn’t a bad person, just having problems with my shadow (he was a Jungian).

A handful of people gave me a hearing when I challenged the arguments of our tutors and I took the opportunity to inject some real information about Islam into the debate, including a comprehensible presentation of the Koran, a manual of Sharia law, an abridged version of Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Mohammed, an explanation of al wala wal bara, the Hamas charter (see article 7), a dynamic battle map of historic Jihad and the Crusades and a British government report on the Muslim Brotherhood.

We spent Week 1 defining our terms.

Firstly religion and the difference between substantive definitions (what it is) and functional definitions (what it does). The reassuringly basic “Religion is the belief in supernatural beings” was an example of the former and the charmingly silly “Religion is society worshipping itself” represented the latter.

Both approaches were discussed and backed up with academic pedigrees but then, out of the blue and with no explanation, we were told that we would be taking a third approach:

“In this course, we will mainly look at religion in a third sense, as something that can mean different things to different people in different contexts.”

Uh oh, I thought, that sounds suspiciously like non-essentialism, the fashionable and specious academic view that anything can be anything, or to put it more formally “for any given kind of entity, there are no specific traits which entities of that kind must possess”. By taking the view that things, even religions, have basic inherent characteristics, for instance that Allah will never be part of a trinity and God does not live on Mt Olympus, I consigned myself to the essentialist camp. If you think this merely a big end/little end distinction confined to the ivory towers of academia I invite you to consider the skirmish going on elsewhere on the cultural battlefield over whether people with penises should or should not be allowed to use female toilets.

Secondly violence, and here we continued to drift away from commonly understood meanings. Violence apparently can include non-physical violence. Examples of structural or symbolic violence, which is committed by no individual and which leaves no bruises, include the shorter life spans of lower class people, the lower incomes of women and the oppression of Muslim countries by the West. All of these have other possible explanations and the one-sided selection of some of the left’s favourite victims seemed to suggest a leftist bias. At any rate I felt a little cheated out my share of victimhood since the fact that men do not live as long as women failed to make the grade.

Week 2 was about the link between religion and conflict. We prepared the ground with items about framing a conflict as religious, the significance of definition and scholarly understandings of the link between religion and conflict.

Then we started to get down to business in an interview with external Professor Jose Casanova. Since I had been boring everyone with my dreary essentialist concern with what various religious texts actually say, it was encouraging to hear him say “we have to get the facts in a hermeneutic, relatively sensible interpretation of each particular conflict as a first step”.

Since hermeneutics is the interpretation of scriptures, I expected at least a superficial examination of Islamic sources. But no, it turned out that there was no need. He simply dismissed the idea that Islam has an authentic role in Boko Haram’s activities because in other places Muslims and non-Muslims live peacefully together.

In a later interview, citing state-formation as the underlying cause of some instances of violence usually attributed to religious differences, he said that “…Jews, Muslims and Christians could live together in Spain convivencia under Muslim and Christian kingdoms”. Professor Casanova, himself a Spaniard, is talking here about the Convivencia.

It is my understanding that the word refers only to the supposedly harmonious co-existence of the three groups in mediaeval Spain under Muslim rule. With regard to that the professor is wrong. The Convivencia has been officially declared a myth by historians who have found no evidence for it. But even if he was right he would still be wrong because the issue at the heart of the civilised world’s concern about Islam is not whether Muslims can be benign when in power but whether they can, with religious sanction, live as equals with the infidel when they are demographically powerful enough to do otherwise. After all, Allah tells them that they are “the best of peoples” and we are “the vilest of creatures”.

In Week 3 we learned of the many factors that can contribute to religious violence. They include:

State-formation, state-failure, the end of the cold war, the decline of secularism, globalisation, the need to reduce ambiguity, uncertainty and insecurity, Western-backed dictatorships, injustice, unemployment, teenage rebellion, alienation, identity problems, existential anxiety, ontological insecurity, othering and collective memories.

But nothing about what the various religions’ holy texts actually say. How strange. You might think that they could give us a clue as to why there are so many Islamic terrorist groups and so few Jainist ones.

Week 4 included a study of ISIS. Our tutors made it clear what they considered primary in the conflict currently being played out in Syria and Iraq:

“The historical background of present day clashes in Iraq and Syria indicates that rather than civilisational or religious clashes, what we are in fact witnessing are conflicts over economic and political hegemony….Earthly struggles are placed in a framework of cosmic warfare between truth and evil.”

and what they considered secondary:

“…there is no causal relation between the contents of authoritative religious texts on the one hand and specific religious views and practices of adherents to a specific religious tradition on the other. Actors choose from a rich body of transmitted texts those that most adequately answer their existential questions and provide them with concrete scripts for action.”

I disagree on both counts but particularly on the second (did you spot the non-essentialism?). There may be no 1 to 1 relation between religious texts and views and practices but it is absurd to suggest that there is no causal relationship at all. Religious texts are not Rorschach tests. There are limits to what you can pull out of them. You will find plenty about spreading the faith by fighting and killing in Islamic texts but precious little in Buddhist texts. Accordingly we find not just ISIS in Syria but jihadist groups fighting expansionary wars in most of the countries on the borders of Islamdom from Mali to the Philippines to the Caucasus, and now of course in Europe. By contrast if there are Buddhist groups doing something similar then they are keeping it very quiet.

I suggested in the discussions that we should make some attempt to ascertain whether the jihadis’ understanding of Islamic supremacism (the end) and jihad (the means) is actually consistent with the mainstream Islamic tradition or not. It seems to me to boil down to the question of whether the undisputed jihad verses in the Koran are to be understood only in the context of the battles Mohammed happened to be fighting at the time they were “revealed” or are valid for all time until the whole world is under the rule of Islam.

Those fellow students who had an opinion on the matter all took the contextual view for granted. I put forward in support of the timeless view:

a) The example of Mohammed and his immediate successors.

b) Mohammed’s threatening letters to surrounding kings and emperors.

c) The views of the great mediaeval commentators (eg “Allah the Exalted and Most Honored said, while delivering the glad tidings to the believers that the Messenger will triumph over his enemies and the rest of the people of the earth“ Tafsir of ibn Kathir).

d) The various schools of Islamic Law (eg “It is apostasy to deny that Allah intended the Prophet’s message to be the religion followed by the entire world” Reliance of the Traveller).

I also pointed out that I had been unable to find any support for the contextual view in the Islamic tradition before the late 19th century (and that was from the Ahmadiyya, generally regarded as heretical) and asked for examples. None were forthcoming. If you could provide some I would be most grateful.

Nor was any attempt made by our tutors to consider whether ISIS’s beliefs and actions had any connection to those of Mohammed and his immediate successors as they claim. I pointed out that ISIS didn’t pluck robbery, ransoming, beheadings, crucifixion, sex slavery, forced conversion, stoning, immolation, throwing homosexuals off rooves, jizya and takfir out of the air and offered to give details but got no takers.

The only time the tutors ventured anywhere near the theology they got it wrong. In attempting to absolve Islam from some of ISIS’ more extreme brutalities they claimed that there is no justification in the Islamic tradition for beheadings and immolation. In fact, since Mohammed did both they are sacralised as part of the Sunnah, the example of Mohammed. If you doubt it check out chapters 18, 20 and 25 here.

Week 5 was about peace building, but focussed on attempting to bring about reconciliation after wars had already burned themselves out.

What could have some effect on the currently warring parties in Syria? Seminars about existential anxiety perhaps?

I suggest the only thing likely to make a difference would be the discovery of a new “world’s oldest Koran” with a previously unsuspected verse at the end of Sura 9 abrogating everything prior, something like:

“And remember boys, when all Arabia is under your control cut out the jihad stuff and make it up with the Jews and Christians…they’re not such a bad lot after all”.

Week 6 involved a couple of assignments and finished with this message to students:

“It is now your job to share with your friends, your family and your colleagues through
social media and conversations in daily life, that religion, or a particular religious
tradition, is NOT either “good” or “bad”, violent or peaceful, but like other strong ideologies, the symbols, rituals and stories found in religion provide the tools for people to make sense of and respond to the world and the issues they have to deal with.”

There are a few things to note here:

1. Six weeks and not so much as a verse from any religious text. Would our tutors take such a hands off approach to the “other strong ideologies” which they equate with religious traditions? Would they say, for instance, that Nazism was “not either violent or peaceful” and would they look everywhere but in Mein Kampf to understand it? If so then they would be taking a very different approach to that of political scientists who analyse to death the texts of political ideologies.

2. How does our tutors’ message that particular religious traditions are not either good or bad, violent or peaceful translate when it filters out to the less rarified atmosphere of public discourse? Why, that no particular religion is more violent than any others of course. And, despite the daily evidence to the contrary with regard to one particular religion, that is what we continue to hear from our journalists, politicians and church leaders.

It is academia which has created the intellectual climate which allows such nonsense to be taken seriously, and which in turn stifles attempts to name our enemy and take realistic precautions. That is why I say that our tutors, along with so many other well meaning academics, were culpable in the slaughter in Brussels which took place during the course and will be culpable in the many more atrocities which we must look forward to in the coming months and years. Perhaps it will take a beheading in the canteen at Groningen University to burst their bubble. Probably even that would not be enough.

3. Nothing adduced in the course justified the claim that particular religious traditions are not either good or bad, violent or peaceful. A very superficial knowledge of different religious texts is enough to show that it is simply wrong. Most religions have both good and bad, violent and peaceful teachings, varying in their proportion.

One fellow student, in discussion, offered his own largely peaceful religion as one also containing some very violent content. He thought he was disagreeing with me but in fact he was agreeing with me and disagreeing with our tutors since “both…and…” is entirely different to “not either…or…”.

What a feat to convince people who disagree with you not only that they agree with you but to spread your message for you. It can only be done by ignoring the obvious and confusing the dupe with irrelevancies which they won’t understand (ontological insecurity…ye gods!). Not that I am accusing our tutors of deliberately deceiving their students. They in turn have allowed themselves to be bamboozled by others or managed to bamboozle themselves. This is how the marketing of “the cloth so fine that only the most intelligent can see it” proceeds. The question is are we to side with the emperor or the child who points out the obvious?

Who is my enemy?


Well, Allah for a start.

He has made it very clear that he “loveth not the unbeliever”. In fact he has created a purpose built torture chamber called Jahannam where all unbelievers, and a fair few believers, are to be treated very unpleasantly for a very long time, for eternity in fact. It has seven levels and seven gates. The gatekeeper is called Malik. He will show you to your quarters – Christians at the top, hypocrites at the bottom.

The basic routine is fire and lots of it, molten metal, beating with hooked rods of iron, branding of foreheads, flanks and backs, garments of pitch and hanging by the breasts. I’m lucky with that one since I don’t have any but women, who are the majority of the residents, deserve it because of their ingratitude to their husbands.

There are special dietary arrangements in place. Meals consist of “bitter thorns which neither nourish nor release from hunger” and the fruit of the mysterious Zaqqum tree, “a tree that springs out of the bottoms of Hellfire; the shoots of its fruit-stalks are like the heads of devils and which boil in the belly”.

This is to be washed down with “boiling water which tears the bowels” and pus. There is also “water like molten brass” on offer. This, of course, means it has been superheated which seems like a lot of extra trouble to go to just to be nasty.

Let’s just stop a moment and reflect on the enormity of what Muslims actually believe, what they are obliged to believe since this is Allah speaking. Remember how appalled everyone was, even Muslims, when ISIS burned that Jordanian pilot for two minutes? Two minutes….he had it easy! Allah promises to do the same to you and your kids and everyone you ever cared about forever. This is not metaphorical. Allah doesn’t do metaphor.

Can this be the same being who designed the Higgs Boson and put the music into Bach’s brain? I think not, more like the kid who sat behind me in chemistry lessons who liked to put insects in the bottles of sulphuric acid.

And why? Just because I don’t believe in him, apparently. Jeez….talk about insecure!

And yet there are those who try to pass him off as a just and merciful god with benign intentions even toward me, a kaffir. All I can say is “Don’t pour molten brass down my leg and tell me it’s raining”.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, some non-Muslims buy it. They are the practitioners of interfaith dialogue. What can they possibly be thinking when they discuss life, religion and everything with the representatives of the ogre described above?

Is it not remarkable that academics, churchmen, politicians and heirs to the throne are happy to discuss Islam with people who look forward to observing these horrors from their couches in paradise (1)….with guess who on the receiving end?

Personally, if I was having tea with people who thought it just fine that their god intends to fricasee me forever with regular changes of skin just to add a little zest to the proceedings, I’m sure it would quite put me off my cucumber sandwiches.

What about Mohammed?

Well, since Allah is merely the creation of Mohammed, what goes for Allah goes for Mohammed. If I believed otherwise I would have to be a Muslim wouldn’t I?

Even if you think that Allah is more than just Mohammed’s sock puppet, Mohammed clearly had no problem with publicising his boss’s sadistic fantasies so he is equally culpable. In return Mohammed got a little help keeping order in the harem (2), among other perks.

Not only that, but Mohammed said some very spiteful things about unbelievers and gave his followers very clear instructions about how to deal with them…striking necks, cutting off of fingertips, crucifying trouble makers, extorting the jizya etc. I have been searching through the instruction manual and can find no expiry date for them. Nor have the great Muslim scholars down the ages been able to. That means that Mohammed was not only the enemy of any unbeliever in Arabia in 630 AD and of any unbeliever between India and Spain for the following 100 years, but of any unbeliever anywhere, until the Day of Judgment.

And Muslims?

This is where it gets tricky. ISIS and Al-Qaeda are obviously my enemy, but then so are the (currently) less violent but equally supremacist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and their myriad front organisations. Just because a pickpocket does not carry a lead pipe it does not mean that he has my welfare at heart.

Which wing of Islamic supremacism is my greater enemy? I contend that the stealth jihadists of the Muslim Brotherhood type are by far the more dangerous. They operate by demographics and sedition, infiltrating our institutions and introducing sharia bit by bit. If you think that laughable, consider the halal food which you eat unknowing and the blasphemy law which is imposed on non-Muslims by the threat of violence…even against a previously unendangered species, cartoonists.

It could even be argued that the ISIS variety of Islamic supremacism is acting in our best interests. While the Muslim Brotherhood approach is to boil the frog slowly so it does not notice until it is too late, the “chop their heads off” dramatics of ISIS may serve to wake us up to the reality of our situation in time for us to take the necessary steps.

It appears that not all Muslims want to bring the world under Islam by violent or underhand methods but how do you tell who is a “moderate” and who is an “extremist”, and whether they are even the correct words to use? Take the case of this recent demonstration in Ireland against ISIS:

“ISIS does not represent Islam”. That’s nice isn’t it, just what we want to hear. But who does represent Islam, the eight people in the picture or the thousands who did not turn up to disavow ISIS? Or perhaps the Muslims who reportedly threatened the organisers.

Looking a bit closer we see firstly that the demonstrators could not resist the old “It’s the fault of Western foreign policy” line. Never any question of it having something to do with Islam, the Koran, Mohammed’s example, the parents, the community or the mosque.

Secondly, notice the usual doctored excerpt from 5:32 on their banner “If anyone kills one person…etc”. No one uses that except with the intention of deceiving (3).

Thirdly, it appears that the loveably moderate imam in the picture is not quite so moderate after all. While condemning one Islamic terrorist outfit, ISIS, he supports another, the genocidal Hamas which has taken the hatred of Jews to be found in Islamic scriptures to a demented level of intensity.

Moderates and extremists – they go together don’t they….like cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, tarts and vicars. They might be a pairing devoutly to be wished but is the distinction grounded in reality or just the wishful thinking of Westerners? Take Mohammed for instance, was he a moderate or an extremist?

Here is the standard view of things with various groupings spread along a spectrum. Moderates are closest to Mohammed and extremists are naturally at the extremes, furthest from Mohammed:



I suggest that the spectrum is the wrong way round. It should be transposed with the people we call extremists actually closest to the centre of Islam, the example of Mohammed. That is why they should be called centrists rather than extremists:



Closest to Mohammed are of course ISIS. There is nothing they do which was not done by Mohammed and his companions. Next along are the Muslim Brotherhood type groups, sometimes called “moderate Islamists”, still doing their bit to bring the world under Islam by stealth.

At the furthest extreme from Mohammed, therefore the real extremists, are those we call nominal Muslims. Mohammed had a word for those who don’t answer the call, hypocrites, and you know where hypocrites go – right at the bottom of hell where it is 70 times hotter than at the top. Better shape up guys, your future doesn’t look great as things stand. Are you real Muslims or actually ex-Muslims who quite sensibly take the threat from genuine Muslims more seriously than that from Allah?

But where have the moderate Muslims gone? Muslims regularly tell us there are no such people, just Muslims so they have been replaced by “Just Muslims”. Are they my enemy? There is just no telling for sure, but there is a guiding principle. The more devout a Muslim is, the closer to Mohammed, the more potentially dangerous he is. How often have we heard after some atrocity that the perpetrator became increasingly devout in the preceding months?

Anyone else?

Well, there are the people who destroyed the community cohesion I grew up in by inviting ever more disparate groups to the multicultural party, culminating in one group with a tendency to go decidedly monocultural as soon as it is in a position to do so.

There are the enablers of Islamisation who somehow have come to command the cultural heights – Saudi funded academics who prate about Orientalism; leftist ideologues who see Islam as an ally in their hatred of Western civilisation; journalists who call Muslim rape gangs “Asians”; churchmen who refuse to name who is slaughtering Christians from Nigeria to Pakistan; the Labour Party which opened the flood gates to Muslim immigration in order to “rub the Right’s nose in diversity” and then studiously looked the other way in Rochdale and Rotherham; and the politicians who laughably tell us that the monstrosity of ISIS has nothing to do with Islam.

And there are the elite who do not have to live with the consequences of their folly. That is left to Joe Bloggs who cannot escape to the leafy suburbs or the shires. What would have happened if jihadis had attacked Henley Regatta or if Muslim rape gangs, acting with the sanction of the Koran, had targeted Cheltenham Ladies College instead of the throwaway children in care? Imagine how the public discourse would have changed if it was the offices of the Guardian or the BBC that were bombed in 2005 rather than random Tube travellers.

But soldiers, grannies, package tour holidaymakers….who cares? There are plenty more where they came from. The important thing, after each atrocity, is to prevent an anti-Muslim backlash.

Our leaders are unlikely to admit that we are in a war, that of global jihad, until the establishment start to take the hit. Sadly, it will take more sacrificial victims, and many of them, before they come to their senses and realise what they have allowed to take root in the land. We can only hope, in the name of justice, that those who brought us to this sorry pass are properly represented in future losses.

Here is a guesstimate of the number of casualties from various sections of society, any one of which might produce a sea change in public awareness and force the government to seriously address the question “Who is our enemy?”

1000 ordinary Joes
500 soldiers (squaddies that is, or 50 officers)
200 police officers
100 academics
70 churchmen
30 journalists
20 celebrities
10 MPs
5 Government ministers
3 moneymen
1 Prime Minister or the Queen

Where will the next blow land? Place your bets now.

(1) And the dwellers of the Garden cry unto the dwellers of the Fire: We have found that which our Lord promised us (to be) the Truth. Have ye (too) found that which your Lord promised the Truth ? They say: Yea, verily. And a crier in between them crieth: The curse of Allah is on evil-doers (Koran 7:44)

(2) O ye wives of the Prophet! Whosoever of you committeth manifest lewdness, the punishment for her will be doubled, and that is easy for Allah.
And whosoever of you is submissive unto Allah and His messenger and doeth right, We shall give her her reward twice over, and We have prepared for her a rich provision. (33:30-31)

(3) For that cause We decreed for the Children of Israel that whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. Our messengers came unto them of old with clear proofs (of Allah’s Sovereignty), but afterwards lo! many of them became prodigals in the earth. (5:32)
The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or will be expelled out of the land. Such will be their degradation in the world, and in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom. (5:33)

Just in case you have not come across this old chestnut, in 5:32 Allah is chiding the Jews for failing to follow the instruction he gave them in his Yahweh days. Taken in conjunction with 5:33 the two verses constitute a blood chilling warning to anyone, particularly Jews, who plan to commit corruption in the land (ie cross Mohammed/Allah).