Yesterday I attended a debate on the topic of Extremism and ISIS at Kingston University, London.
Debating the topic alongside me were two Iraqi panellists. I anticipated that the discussion would follow the trite cliched old lines of ‘the cause of terrorism is ideology’, and that ‘the ideology behind terrorism is Salafism/wahabbism’.
As I expected, the discussion by my fellow panellists waxed lyrically about how ‘wahhabis/salafis’ and their ideology are ‘responsible for all terrorism around the globe’. I call this the ‘Wahhabism is the root of all evil argument’.
However I came prepared, and had decided to use my presentation to highlight a greater more underlying issue that is the cause of terrorism and sectarian violence – Jahilliyah (an Islamic term for the anarchy of a people who live without a common way of life [based upon revelation] to organise them and resolve their disputes consistently).
The Prophet Muhammed [saaw] was narrated to have said: “If the leaders do not rule according to the book of Allah, you should realise that this has never happened without Allah making them into groups and making them fight one another.” [Ibn Majah and Abu Nu’aym]
It was also narrated he [saaw] said “Whosoever dies without a bay’ah on his neck dies the death of ignorance (Jahiliyyah)” [Sahih Muslim]
I highlighted two aspects of Jahilliyah, people forming into groups to fight for their own interests, which they perceive as survival and preventing control of their affairs by others (hence they seek to take power and spread their own influence).
In such a milieu, I put forward that the Muslim world is in a state of anarchy and in such situations, people will form into tribes, groups and factions, and vie with each other for power and resources until one group dominates others and establishes their rule under force. This lasts until the dominant group weakens, or is deposed by outside forces, and the conflicts begin again. In such a situation, like gangs do in outlaw zones, fear and respect are the only currency, and groups will be prone to barbarity and horrific actions to seek or maintain power.
I asked the audience to play a ‘game’ called ‘guess that group’. I asked them ‘which group in the middle east, is headed by Baathists, kills indiscriminately in enemy territory, uses child soldiers, destroys mosques, and recruits foreign ‘religious volunteers’ to fight in its ranks under the banner of ‘jihad’. Members of the audience responded ‘Daaesh?’
I said, no, I was actually referring to the Syrian Arab Army under Bashar Al Assad.
I then went through a list of *forgotten* horrific outrages committed by Nuri al Maliki’s death squads (and Abu Deraa, who was known as the ‘Shia Zarqawi’), and the recent Hasdh al Shabi, which include, throwing people from tall buildings, setting mosques belonging to other sects on fire, torture, decapitation and summary execution of unarmed civilians, mutilation of dead bodies (by Abu Azrael, who is held as a celebrity in Iraq), the list goes on.
In 2006, just in the month of june, UN observers saw 1,100 dead bodies in Baghdad morgue along with 900 of them identified as Iraqi Arab Sunnis who were tortured with drill holes, and summarily executed with their hands tied behind their back.
I asked a simple question – what branch of Salafism or Wahhabism is responsible for those atrocities?
This caused great consternation and anger from one of my fellow panellists, who attempted to defend the Hashd al Shabi (Iraqi militias), and claimed that they were only defending the Iraqi people. I highlighted that terrorism analysts report the excuse of ‘defence’ to be the most frequent claim of most terror group recruits.
During my presentation, I also challenged the concept of ‘extremism’, and advised Muslims to stop using this loaded Western concept, and to stop claiming religious interpretation is the reason for violence. They didn’t listen, and Lo and behold, an atheist in the audience commented during the Q/A, effectively remarking that Islam (and all religion) was therefore incapable of uniting human beings or producing peace. He argued that only a purely secular system would work, and one of my opponents apologetically claimed that the way forward for Iraq was to have legal equality between all citizens. I responded to both by reminding them that Saddam Hussain (and Bashar al Assad) were both heads of SECULAR systems. Secondly, Iraq, since then and up until now, has legal equality enshrined in its constitution. But as African Americans could tell you, legal equality doesn’t mean actual equality of treatment in secular systems.
Just to highlight the point that this wasn’t about Islam, I referred to the Christian Phalange in the Lebanese civil war, who were responsible for massacring thousands of palestinian civilians, and the infamous shabra and shatila refugee camps. I also highlighted the anti-balaka movement in central africa that decapitates Muslims, feeds off their dead flesh, and demands all Muslim convert to Christianity to avoid death, and I asked my co-panelists what branch of Salafism or Wahhabism were they following too?
Nevertheless, the event got very heated, as people felt they had to defend the groups that were associated with their ‘faction’. This led to brusque interruptions and raising of voices.
Which funnily enough highlighted my point – asabiyah makes it possible for injustice to be unobstructed, became people are more concerned with the crimes of other groups, and not the groups they affiliate with themselves. This makes people not only blame other groups, but justify blaming other groups for their crimes, because they blame the crimes of individual members within other groups on the thing that makes them different (like different ethnicity, religious or ‘sect’), and completely miss the fact that, in most cases, oppressed minorities or majorities (like the non-Alawite Syrian people) are angry at oppression. Unjust acts of vengeance and revenge occur and are falsely justified in the name of ‘justice’ and ‘religion’.
Religion (or culture) only acts to ‘flavour’ the expressions of violence, but we should not confuse the symptom with the cause. Correlation does not equal causation. This explains why many terrorists only cite scriptural texts dealing with general ideas such as ‘justice’ or ‘defence’ but they are never are able to cite any interpretation of a text to justify their specific acts of barbarity. This suggests that they came to their decision before they opened up the religious books, and therefore any reference to scripture is merely a post-facto attempt at justification and seeking the moral high ground (where there is none for those actions).
The common ‘Wahhabi’/Salafi belief that shrines, celebrating the birthday of the Prophet, and tall gravestones are unwarranted theological innovations maybe contentious in the view of other movements and points of view, but is far removed from anything that would cause or justify terrorism! It is not therefore ideology that causes terrorism, but a certain mentality prevalent within people in the region who could carry any ideology, that arises in particular circumstances of political turmoil and grievances against perceptions of injustice.
In the end, no one at the debate actually contended the facts and evidence I presented challenging the thesis propounded and extolled by the other speakers. As every criminologist and political analyst worth their salt knows, the root of violence isn’t ‘ideology’ (as a causing factor), but rather political turmoil, grievance and anarchy amongst groups who define themselves as different in some way to each other (which is where religious interpretation is involved, but ONLY inasmuch as it serves to create labels that delineate each group).
Until the Muslim Ummah rids itself of Jahiliyyah both mentally and politically, and unites under a just Islamic system, Muslims will continue to see themselves as rival competing groups fighting for survival and the same pot of resources. However until then, the horrific atrocities, tyranny and oppression we all have witnessed for so long, will show no sign of abating.
NOTE: The panellist who had vigourously disagreed with me requested after the debate, to not release the video and audio of his contributions at the debate.