Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Inside the New Temple of the Mysteries

Former Islamic radical Ed Husein describes how al-Qaeda's recruitment among Britain's Muslim intellectual elite threatens not only Britain, but British Islam itself.

As a teenager, I attended extremist Islamist meetings with tens of medical students at the Royal London Hospital. Islamists in almost every British medical school held similar meetings. At Britain's most prestigious engineering colleges, including Brunel University and Imperial College, fanatical Islamists with a worldview of separatism and violence recruited without impediment—yesterday's Islamists are today's terrorists. Right from the very top of the terrorist hierarchy, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri downward(Bin Laden's Egyptian deputy); the soldiers of extremism have all traveled a similar path: past membership of the Muslim Brotherhood, a secular education, rejection of mainstream Muslims, a hatred for the West and ultimately taking up arms against peoples and governments. ...

Husein goes on to argue that today's particular strain of Islamic radicalism isn't a pure strain but a mutation with specific Western influences. It's an interesting assertion. I've often observed that to a particular kind of Western elitist, Communism and radical Islamism are indistinguishable. Husein's explanation of the Islamic/Western Elitist hybridization is a relatively narrow, but it contains certain interesting features.

They approach the Qu'ran as though it were an engineering manual, with instructions for right and wrong conduct. Literalism and ignorance dominates their readings. This flaw is deepened by the haughty mindset of the engineer or medical doctor that academic achievement, a place at a university, now qualifies him to approach ancient scripture without the guidance of the ulama. To the Islamist engineer, centuries of context, nuance, history, grammar, lexicon, scholarship, and tradition are all lost and redundant. The do-it-yourself (DIY) attitude to religious texts, fostered by doctors and engineers of secular colleges, produces desperate, angry suicide bombers devoid of spiritual guidance.

The Islamic radical is portrayed as the cultural equivalent of the Western nihilist, eager to forget tradition and supplant it with his own vision. It is a movement contemptuous of the common, the workaday and human failing and worshipful of the superman. It desires an arid, perfect, seamless paradise on earth, one with no syntactical deviations from the Program. Ironically one of the problems Husein implictly identifies is that Islamic radicalism is virulent precisely because it treats the Koran as a literal. Unlike the Islamic societies whose mental compilers have been modified by long acommodation with Christian, Jewish or Pagan neighbors -- a mental compiler softened by "centuries of context, nuance, history, grammar, lexicon, scholarship" -- these new radicals interpret the Koran like an "engineering manual". Word for word. And the result is a horror.

In many ways both the struggle against utopian Communism and radical Islamism can be seen in terms of common humanity trying to regain the control of central myths which have been usurped by hierophantic maniacal cultists. Good luck to us all.


Blogger Whiskey said...

Wretchard -- I would disagree with that assessment that the struggle against Communism and that of Jihad/Islamism is that of humanity versus literal absolutism.

What instead IMHO characterizes both struggles is that of power being left largely to the people, or concentrated in the elites.

The Jihadi radicals are merely repeating the age-old pattern in the ME. The wealthy and powerful Caliphs and his court (think Arafat and Fatah) grab all the resources, and women (well, not Arafat). This leaves most men losers, many of them sit out in the desert and get angry. "Why don't we have women and wealth?" they ask. Someone gives them the answer they want -- "because the old regime is corrupted by Satan. Let us kill them, take the wealth, women, and restore God."

And so they attack and attack until the younger lions unseat the old, and then fight among themselves (since there can be only one winner). Fatah unseated by Hamas, or the various battles for succession etc in the Muslim world fit this model.

So too Communism. Stalin and Mao were brutal and effective Caliphs, holding all the power (and women in Mao's case) for themselves. After them, succession battles. In North Korea the son succeeded the father. But it's the same dispute over power.

The genius of the West was to distribute power enough so no one man is absolute monarch, and no one ever completely wins or loses. Even an ordinary man can have his own family, not sit in the bush as a part of the army-in-waiting for overthrow of the old regime.

Yes these were all middle class men, Doctors and such. But a Doctor in Britain is not one here (lower class and status) and most of them had no wives nor hope of a proper Muslim one.

7/10/2007 06:47:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

The Douglas Farah looks at the rise and spread of the Muslim Brotherhood network in the United States. John Sullivan at Small Wars Journal examines the problem of policing networked diasporas of immigrants which are the ground of terrorist cells.

Farah has this particularly interesting line.

The rare document of the Ikhwan in the United States, sitting in musty but public court records since 1959, explains much about the Brotherhood and much about some of the enigmas that, to my mind, still surround the Northern Virginia Safa case and other issues. ... The document bears a striking resemblance to the Marxist literature of the day, defining the Brotherhood as the “vigorous, intellectual vanguard” of the global struggle to unite Islam."

I don't think it is surprising that radical Islamism and the Communist movement reinforced it each other. Nasserism and Marxism were rife in the Middle East from long ago. Even in the West, it would be striking if the two currents did not to some extent, run together. And maybe they still do.

7/10/2007 07:45:00 PM  
Blogger Pierre said...

I see you are still trying to grasp at any straws to prove the idea that something called moderate Islam exists. So then now it is communism that caused all this havoc.

Did communism/islam kill the Hindus in the Hindu Kush mountains, the Armenians, did the communists attack the ships of revolutionary America? Did communism cause Islam to try and expand through sheer force of arms up through Europe in a war that STILL to this day continues.

Did Communism cause Mohammed himself to be a corrupt murdering brigand? Mohammed was not someone any of us would invite to dinner.

7/10/2007 08:16:00 PM  
Blogger wretchardthecat said...

I think the historical record of both Christianity and Islam speak for themselves and there is no denying the record of past iniquities that existed. But the Spanish Inquisition no longer exists. I think the operative question is whether the Islamic version still does.

So while the historical atrocities of Islam are interesting, the practical question is whether we are still dealing with these or whether they have learned to live with other people. I know that some have made up their minds on the subject and have given up Islam itself for lost. As for myself the calculus is simple. There are many Muslims fighting al-Qaeda and these are our allies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. So unless I am prepared to say that our alliance with those Muslims is simply one of convenience and we will turn on them at the earliest opportunity, I'm bound to say that the possibility of allying with certain sections of the Muslim community should be regarded as an empirical fact.

But that doesn't mean things are settled. I think the whole question of what Islam is, and its fate -- or rather the process it it choosing its fate -- is still an ongoing process. You might well be right about Islam having irrevocably decided to collectively declare war on everybody else. And I might just be right that if the proposition looks daunting enough to the Ummah, it will reform itself in order to avoid a smash which it cannot win. But the outcome is still unknown. I only have an opinion, not certain knowledge.

7/10/2007 08:55:00 PM  
Blogger Pierre said...

I think the historical record of both Christianity and Islam speak for themselves and there is no denying the record of past iniquities that existed. But the Spanish Inquisition no longer exists.

Are we comparing the likely execution of between 3,000 to 5,000 in Spain to the massacre of millions of Hindus? Or a million Armenians? And it is likely that in that 3,000 to 5,000 figure were more than a few Muslims who had falsely declared themselves to be Christian so that they could stay and rise up again against the Monarchy in Spain, which is what some sparked the inquisition in the first place.

7/10/2007 09:56:00 PM  
Blogger Pierre said...

There are many Muslims fighting al-Qaeda and these are our allies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. So unless I am prepared to say that our alliance with those Muslims is simply one of convenience and we will turn on them at the earliest opportunity, I'm bound to say that the possibility of allying with certain sections of the Muslim community should be regarded as an empirical fact.

Its more likely that they will turn on us after we help them defeat their enemies. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Bush uttered these words and at the time I thought the speech brilliant:

They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. They want to drive Israel out of the Middle East. They want to drive Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa.

Later on though I wondered...

Was President Bush being ironic? Ok I shouldn’t be flippant, I know he wasn’t being ironic but my gosh exactly how does one condemn the so-called radicals in Islam for wanting to expel Christians and Jews while in the very same breath mention Saudi Arabia and Egypt? Should I remind you, my gentle readers, that both of those nations have laws that restrict the rights of Christians? Indeed in Saudi Arabia merely wearing the cross can get you killed. Wouldn’t it have been at least consistent to have condemned those nations whose actions lead to the same end state as those rascally impatient radicals?

Both want to reach the same nirvana, no Jews or Christians in the world and especially not living next door. One wants to murder us till we are all gone the other being just a touch more rational understands that it might be more prudent to achieve their aims a bit more slowly. Are we merely upset at the so called radicals methods and not their desired end state? Did the Bush administration understand that attacking the end state might implicate a few of our allies?

I reject the end state. I suspect you do as well.

Your position would be much easier for me to hold since it is a solution. My position, there is no solution except dreadful violence, is much more distasteful and yet I find it is the only cup availible. I hope you are right...I fear you are not. But hope springs eternal. Anything to avoid those dreadful battles of the Crusades and the defense of Europe.

7/10/2007 10:07:00 PM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

Wretchard -- I guess my point is that both Marxism and Islam seem sprung from the same well:

*How to get absolute power to one man or a very small group.
*How to keep said power.
*How to deal with the problem of the young lions wishing to upset the old.

7/10/2007 10:58:00 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

What are we fighting for in this war? How about this--the unsung (largely forgotten) stanzas of "America the Beautiful":

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness.

America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life.

America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine.

O beautiful for patriots' dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

--Says it all.

7/10/2007 11:19:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...


Ed Husein's arguments sound much like Catholic arguments against Protestantism, with Church tradition contrasted against biblical literalism. He appears to be calling for an Islamic equivalent of a Counter-Reformation.

7/10/2007 11:39:00 PM  
Blogger Alexis said...


The genius of the West was to distribute power enough so no one man is absolute monarch, and no one ever completely wins or loses. Even an ordinary man can have his own family, not sit in the bush as a part of the army-in-waiting for overthrow of the old regime.

Do you realize what you are saying?

Monogamy is a restraint upon free trade, for it restricts the liberty of rich men to maintain numerous wives. And economic stratification allows rich men to maintain mistresses irrespective of whatever the official laws say. Even so, a truly laissez faire doctrine would allow a man to marry as many women as can get away with marrying. Libertarian monogamy is a contradiction in terms.

The key to maintaining the kind of society you describe would appear to involve at least some social redistribution of wealth so that power over the money supply doesn't gravitate to a class of men who keep all of the economic opportunity to themselves. If the West's political system becomes as stratified as the one in El Salvador, the plutocratic (and kleptocratic) oligarchy would become so stifling that legions of "young lions" would arise seeking to replace one kleptocratic oligarchy with another.

7/10/2007 11:54:00 PM  
Blogger davod said...

The brit universities have always been a breeding ground for alternate viewpoints. Just think of the Cambridge five.

7/11/2007 04:13:00 AM  
Blogger Abu Yussif said...

taking religious texts literally is what is expected - the writers wrote what they meant (unless they were speaking figuratively or poetically, which can easily be ascertained by the literary critic). generally, if a religious text is the supposed word of god, one is expected to take it literally, lest anyone who wishes can import meaning into the text that was never there in the first place. regardless, the islamists are taking literal koranic statements as they are intended to be taken. conversely, the atrocities committed by christians in the middle ages, for example, were because of a "spiritual", or non-literal, interpretation of the biblical text. those interpretations, which were favored by leaders endorsing political ends, are not present today because they are hermeneutically untenable, especially since the text is now in the hands of everyone's scrutiny.

skilled interpretation is required for any religious text, but no matter how one decides to read a text, the plain sense carries the most weight because it cannot be discounted, especially if that is what the author meant. for example, in the jewish torah (law), do you see anyone building an ark as god described to noah to build? did god command an ark to be built? yes, but he is not commanding everyone to build an ark, even though it is a command from god in his book of law he commands his followers to keep.

7/11/2007 04:39:00 AM  
Blogger Pierre said...

Well the man who engineered the Bali Bombings is also, big surprise, an Islamic Cleric. AlJazeera describes him as Cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, founder and head of the Pesantren al-Mukmin of Ngruki, based in the Indonesian city of Surakarta, is widely known in Southeast Asia and around the world. In a discussion with Malaysian academic and commentator Farish A. Noor they described a Muhammed that sounds familiar if you read my earlier article.

lgf: Bashir: “Our Prophet Was a Radical Too”

Farish A. Noor: Some would argue that this weakness stems from the fear of being seen as being ‘too radical’. I have problems with this concept, for I believe that being a radical is not necessarily a bad thing. After all Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyata, Ghandhi, Nehru, were all radicals in their time; and they did not compromise in their opposition to colonialism, imperialism, racism and apartheid. So why can’t we be radicals now?

“We should not accept the idea that being a radical is a bad thing. Any movement for change will be radical”

Cleric Abu Bakar Bashir: You are right, but the weakness does not come from the millions of Muslims in the world. They do not mind being radical, they have no fear to speak out and to protest and to jihad. But the weakness comes from these Westernised co-opted Muslim leaders who just want to look good in the eyes of the West and Western media. They are scared that the BBC or CNN may call them radicals, so they remain soft instead. The problem lies there, with the Muslim leaders, not the Muslim masses.

The Muslim leaders swallow the advice of the Western powers and bodies like the IMF and World Bank, even when it is bad for their countries and they know this. They are the real hypocrites and traitors to Islam and Muslims. Yet as you say we should not accept the idea that being a radical is a bad thing. Any movement for change will be radical. Our Prophet was a radical too- he fought against the injustices of his community and challenged the feudal order of his society, so they called him a radical. So what? We should be proud of that!

7/11/2007 08:50:00 AM  
Blogger Harrison said...


Communism under Stalin engineered the diabolical solution to keeping the younger lions from overthrowing the older ones: through the systematic, methodological purges, show trials and persecutions of Communist Party members, even those accommodating high posts in the cadres. Stemming from Stalinist doctrine of purging the ranks of the NKVD, even when Khrushchev denounced the show trials and purges, many Eastern European Communist Parties still conducted their own political purges - dictated not by ideological doctrines of the USSR but by the necessity to prevent any reform Communist or Stalinist sympathiser from threatening the old, established order.

As for Islamism:

In similar vein, I have noticed that while revolution itself is obviously anathema to the ruling regimes of the Middle East as they desperately hoard their treasures against those who could be plotting coups at any moment, in Palestinian society the myth of revolution has been sustained. The culture of corruption and clientelism that is chronic in Arab societies has ensured that those at the top are vulnerable to being overthrown by force or blackmail, since loyalties are bought and bidded for.

Palestinians who once thought Fatah was worth supporting may now have reconsidered their allegiances, especially after the release of those videotapes - which reveal two dichotomies: one between Hamas and Fatah, one between the younger and older members of either organisation. From the perspective of the Palestinians, it seems that a 'revolution' is in order, and so they will regard the dethroning of Fatah and the empowerment of Hamas as a true 'will of the people' without considering that they might be victims of Hamas's manipulation. But of course - what could one expect from a culture that prohibits individual and critical thought? This faux 'revolution' thereby appeases the impoverished masses who are yearning for change, placating the young lions.

The ideological structure, however, can be assumed to remain intact because no group wants to abandon the Arab/Muslim street where anti-Western and anti-Semitic sentiment can be manipulated to generate popular support and loyalty - meaning more guns, money and women for itself, less for others. Thus, one can anticipate such breakaway sects to manifest in the future, and also foresee that those who fervently wish for a quick solution to the Palestine question by ignoring reality will generate speculation about 'revolution' again, when it is clear the opposite is true.

In parallel fashion, Islamism purges the old order, only to be replaced by one similar to that just purged. The familiar strategy of denouncing the crimes of the former regime and distancing the current batch of elites from responsibility for those crimes. Communist Party members eventually failed to convince the people that the 'revamped' Communism under Khrushchev actually signalled real change. Are Islamist parties vulnerable to such charges, I wonder? When crimes are repeated and old malaises like corruption and clientelism are diagnosed repeatedly, why is it not perceived as a betrayal by the current order?

7/11/2007 09:57:00 AM  
Blogger Whiskey said...

Alexis -- yes that is precisely my point. Stable and improving societies need well, stability, and freedom to tap into the social capital throughout society not just elites. Which means a sort of yeomanry (which also includes btw freedom and protection for women).

Societies that depend only on elites for leadership and social capital are neither stable nor competitive with those that don't.

7/11/2007 09:58:00 AM  

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