Vridar

2013/06/27

Two New Books: On Suicide Bombing & Muslim Secular Democracy

Filed under: Islamophobia,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 9:52 pm
Tags: , ,

Two new books arrived in my mail this morning. One I had purchased, the other was a gift.

Having skimmed a few pages of each I am already well pleased with my new acquisitions. Stephanie Fisher once commented on one of these, Muslim Secular Democracy, edited by Lily Zubaidah Rahim, and that has only just been released:

It seems to me, from the interview, your summary and the blurb on Amazon, that what she claims is beyond refute. It’s historically demonstratable and what I once thought was commonly understood. I do wish those who dismiss Islam with assumptions about a ‘heart’ etc, would honestly read a bit of history. The more I dwell on it the more convinced I am that this book, combined with Espositos must be read for the sake of a future – for god’s sake world, read them and understand….:

Stephanie’s remarks about reading and knowing a little history turn out to be a most pertinent message of both my new books.

Another commenter recently asserted, in effect, that the failure of Muslim populations of the Middle East to change their governments demonstrated that they loved oppressive and dark religious authoritarian rule more than freedom and an open society. I wish such readers could have a look over my shoulder as I read the first page of the introduction to Muslim Secular Societies:

In the wake of the political sandstorms unleashed by the “Arab Uprisings,” almost every Arab state faces serious political challenges and pressures to reform. Authoritarian governance, both Islamic and secular, has been resoundingly rejected by the Muslim masses. Also resoundingly rejected by the Muslim masses are the violent methods of militant Islamists. (p. 1)

Turn the page and we read this: (more…)

2013/06/23

Terrorism Facts #4: Personal Motives of Palestinian Suicide Bombers

Filed under: Hafez: Manufacturing Human Bombs,Israel-Palestine,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 11:32 am
Tags:

manufacturing-human-bombsPalestinian suicide bombing operations are now (hopefully) history. The last one was five years ago. It is still good (even if painful) to understand them, however. (I have certainly found much of the reading preparation for this post to be painful; sometimes I could not bring myself to repeat certain details of what I learned.)

Having said that, let me say now that I am vain enough to think that Vridar readers are in some respects like me and share an interest in learning facts about terrorism and suicide bombings (along with any related role of Islam) from investigative journalists and in particular from scholarly researchers who specialize in the relevant fields: anthropology, sociology, political science, Islamist studies among them. To this end my reading list to date consists of Amin Saikal, Ghassan Hage, Jason Burke, Robert Pape, John Esposito, Riaz Hassan, Greg Barton, Scott Atran, Mohammed Hafez, Zaki Chehab, Lily Zubaidah Rahim, Amin Saikal, Tariq Ali and Tom Holland.

I am interested in studying the data these researchers gather in support of their conclusions. That’s what these posts have been attempting to do ever since November 2006: to present some sound and verifiable research data and tried and tested explanatory models of human behaviour to counter the pop polemics from public figures (think Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne) who clearly have no more specialist understanding or knowledge of this area than a twelve year old madrassah pupil has about evolutionary biology or neurology.

It is also disturbing to learn through some of the rhetoric of critics of these posts (and the writings of Harris, Dawkins and Coyne) how very little they know about the “facts on the ground” and the history of the Middle East. I am dismayed that one such figure, Sam Harris, even publicly ridicules and blatantly misrepresents the findings of one of the most prominent and politically influential anthropologists who has risked his life to learn first-hand, in field research, how terrorists think.

In what other area would a public intellectual think to ridicule his intellectual peers while at the same time promoting the popular prejudices and CNN sound-bytes and Fox News stories as reliable and responsible datasets and founts of wisdom?

So far I have posted thoughts and research from publications by

  • Ghassan Hage — anthropologist with interesting insights, though some of his views relating to suicide terrorist motivations have been superseded by subsequent researchers
  • Robert Pape — political scientist responsible for a landmark study of all suicide terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2003.
  • John Esposito — professor of religion and Islamist studies; draws upon Gallup polling
  • Riaz Hassan — sociologist drawing upon a Flinders University Database 0f terrorist actions as well as other polling studies
  • Scott Atran — anthropologist who has been advisor and confidante to many governments and government bodies. (Have also posted on another book of his on the evolutionary basis of religion, “In Gods We Trust”.)
  • Mohammed Hafez — political scientist specializing in studies of Muslim societies in Middle East
  • Tom Holland — historian who has raised controversial questions about the origins of Islam

Also by

And yes, I’ve also read Sam Harris (two books), Chris Hitchens (four books), Richard Dawkins (six or seven books plus interviews), Daniel Dennett (one book) and even Jerry Coyne (one book and lots of blog posts) and what they have had to pontificate against their perceptions of Islam.

For the benefit of newer readers who have been upset by my posts on this theme, note that these posts began in the first month of the creation of this blog. This is not some new-found interest of mine. The by-line of this blog from the beginning has been, Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science. Only this year have some readers seen fit to complain that they do not think that these posts meet Vridar standards of presenting reliable scholarly research and sound argument.

Mohammed M. Hafez

Mohammed M. Hafez

I have since had an opportunity to read two more books by Mohammed Hafez: one exploring the phenomenon of suicide attacks in Iraq (up to 2006) and the other Palestinian suicide bombers from 1993 to 2005.

I was prompted to obtain a copy of Hafez’s study of the terrorist attacks in Iraq after hearing of yet one more horrific spate of bombings that once again killed dozens of Iraqis. (Why are they targeting fellow Muslims? Especially now that the U.S. has left? It turns out that there is a strong motivation among a good number of people to maintain Iraq as a failed state.)

This post primarily addresses Hafez’s findings about the motives of individual Palestinian suicide bombers. I conclude with a few related explanations from Scott Atran. (Sorry, that was my intention when I began this post, but the post turned out way much longer than I anticipated. More on Scott Atran’s views later.)

Religious Fanaticism

A popular Western view is that the Muslim world has a fatal enchantment with martyrdom. Religious fanaticism is one of the most common explanations of why individuals volunteer to become human bombs. (Suicide Bombers in Iraq, p. 218)

In his earlier book, Manufacturing Human Bombs, Hafez singled out several problems with this explanation: (more…)

2013/06/14

Talking with a jihadi terrorist

talkingtoenemyAnyone interested in learning how terrorists, in particular suicide terrorists and jihadis, think, will find a wealth of interviews with terrorists themselves, their families and friends, as well as studies of courtroom interrogations and police records, in anthropologist Scot Atran’s Talking to the Enemy. (Sam Harris has scoffed at Atran’s views, dismissing them as lunacy. Are terrorist really driven by a desire to enter Paradise? Do they really take up murder simply because they are the most sincere and devout of Muslims and simply because believe jihad is commanded by Allah? Does Atran really blame male bonding in soccer matches for terrorism! Perhaps this post will help shed a little light on where Atran is coming from.)

Here I outline the career, thoughts and feelings of one such interviewee as I came to understand him through the detailed interview and description of time spent with him by Atran. Most of the material is based on chapter 8, titled “Farhin’s Way”. Farhin is the Indonesian terrorist interviewee.

Of course this post can only be my own understandings based on my own reading of Atran’s book. To best grasp the character of Farhin it is best to read the book for oneself. One thing should emerge by the time one has finished this chapter (or even this post) — Farhin is driven by more complex motivations than the Islamic faith that millions follow today. Harris has even suggested it is the ecstatic hope of Paradise that drives suicide bombers. There is no place for such a simplistic (and fictional) view in Farhin’s mind. And the Farhin case study is found in many ways repeated many times over among the other terrorists whose lives we learn about in this book.

The chapter opens with a description of three Bali bombers who were executed by firing squad.

Their last social act while alive was to shout the words, “Allahu Akbar” (Got is Greatest), at their executioners, who then shot them each dead through the heart. (p. 119) (more…)

2013/06/11

Dawkins’s Delusion: The Slavish Mind

godDelusionWell I really blew it in the eyes of some readers when I posted on Scott Atran’s response to Sam Harris’s public statements about Islam and its relationship to terrorism. Let’s see if I can learn anything and do better with my presentation of Atran’s response to similar claims by Richard Dawkins.

Maybe if I begin by quoting the following words of Scott Atran I will be off to a better start:

I certainly don’t criticize [Harris and Dawkins] and other scientifically minded new atheists for wanting to rid the world of dogmatically held beliefs that are vapid, barbarous, anachronistic, and wrong. I object to their manner of combat, which is often shrill, scientifically baseless, psychologically uninformed, politically naïve, and counterproductive for goals we share. (Talking to the Enemy, p. 427, my bolded emphasis as throughout)

Now I really have liked and gained so much from Richard Dawkins’ writings. Some of his ideas I have had reservations about, and a few I cannot agree with at all given my other studies and experiences on the topics. But I like his efforts to promote rationality in public discourse. And I especially like his educational works on evolution. For all of that, though it is a hard to accept, the cruel fact is that not many of us are perfect in every way.

Sometimes a prominent public figure speaks about a field that is outside his or her area of expertise. Those who pull this off the most successfully are comedians. The light-heartedness of their grasp of issues pays off. No-one studies their jokes in order to educate themselves about the fundamental realities of how the world really works. (I know, many jokes are “funny because they’re true” but we don’t learn what’s true from them.)

But when a public figure whom I admire in many ways says something publicly, as if it were fact, that I know is contradicted by the publicly available research data itself, and that is even dangerous because it can fan a wider ignorance and lend support to mischief and harmful actions, then it hurts. What’s more, because there are a few areas where I do have more knowledge, being more widely read in the relevant areas, I do feel some sense of responsibility to try to speak up in some way when I hear a prominent person influencing others with misinformation. What I would like to achieve if at all possible is that a few others might for themselves explore the works, the information, the research, that belies many of the claims of Dawkins and Harris about the link between Islam and terrorism.

The first of the “new atheist” publications about religion that I read was Dan Dennett’s Breaking the Spell. It was quite different in approach from Harris’s, Hitchens’ and Dawkins’s contributions, so I was interested to see that Atran likewise does not have the same criticism of Dan Dennett as he has of Harris’s and Dawkins’s books:

Dan Dennett treats the science of religion in a serious way. Dan believes that universal education should include instruction in the history of religion and a survey of contemporary religious beliefs. Once out in the open for everyone to examine, science can better beat religion in open competition. My own guess is that it won’t work out that way, any more than logic winning out over passion or perfume in the competition for a mate. (p. 525)

So I hope no-one thinks I’m “Dawkins bashing”. It is possible to have a high regard for someone yet disagree with them profoundly on particular viewpoints and endeavour to appeal to verifiable facts to make one’s point rather than accusing others of dishonesty.

Here is a passage from Dawkins’ The God Delusion that Atran finds problematic — he actually describes it as “fantasy”. So let’s read Dawkins’ words and then calmly and rationally consider Atran’s disagreement with them:

Suicide bombers do what they do because they really believe what they were taught in their religious schools; that duty to God exceeds all other priorities, and that martyrdom in his service will be rewarded in the gardens of Paradise. And they were taught that lesson not necessarily by extremist fanatics but by decent, gentle, mainstream religious instructors, who lined them up in their madrasahs, sitting in rows, rhythmically nodding their innocent little heads up and down while they learned every word of the holy book like demented parrots. (more…)

2013/06/01

Terrorism Facts #3: Is Occupation or Religion the Better Predictor?

Filed under: Pape: Dying to Win,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 3:52 pm

What does the data tell us?

English: (Robert Pape owns all rights to this ...

Robert Pape (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 2005 Robert Pape (Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism) published figures that enable us to see whether al-Qaeda terrorists were influenced primarily by their religious beliefs or the foreign occupation forces in their countries.

(I earlier posted other findings of Pape’s identifying terrorist goals and targets: see Terrorist Facts, #2. The figures in this post identify the affiliations and origins of al-Qaeda terrorists.)

“Islamic fundamentalism” — an expression commonly referring to any Muslim movement that seeks to establish an Islamic state — is generally portrayed as “militant”. The fact, however, is that such movements are widely varied (with different movements not accepting each other as true Islamists) and “only a tiny fraction of those who subscribe to these movements have engaged in acts of violence.”

The Muslim world is broadly divided between Sunnis and Shias. The Shias are concentrated mostly in Iran and Iraq and no Al-Qaeda consisted of Muslims (it’s as good as dead now in 2013) who practiced a Sunni form of Islamic fundamentalism known as Salafism.

Apparently oblivious to the varied nature of Salafism (many Salafis oppose and condemn violence) a number of “important scholars and policy makers have . . . come to the conclusion that the ideology of Salafism is a principle cause of al-Qaeda terrorism.” (p. 107)

The following data is based upon the 71 al-Qaeda suicide terrorists who blew themselves up between 1995 and 2003. All but one of 67 whose nationality we know came from a Sunni Muslim country. The exception was from Lebanon and his religion is not known for certain.

An examination of the 66 al-Qaeda suicide terrorists who were known citizens of Sunni-majority countries shows that American military presence is a stronger factor than Salafi fundamentalism in predicting who dies for al-Qaeda’s cause. (p. 109)

Country Muslims Salafi Influenced Al-Qaeda Suicide

Terrorists
Somalia 10 5
Algeria 31 19
Tunisia 10 5 1
Egypt 62 23 2
Sudan 21 21
Nigeria 68 37
Afghanistan 25 10 3
Pakistan 149 43 2
Bangladesh 114 14
Indonesia 185 26 3
Yemen 18 8 3
Saudi Arabia 21 18 34
Jordan 6 2
Oman 2 2
Total 722 233 48

i.e. . . .

1 Al-Qaeda terrorist per 5 million Salafi

1 Al-Qaeda terrorist per 15 million Muslims

Country Muslims Salafi Influenced Al-Qaeda Suicide

Terrorists
Morocco 28 12
Mauritania 3
Senegal 9
Mali 10
Guinea 5
Sierra Leone 3
Chad 4
Burkina Faso 6
Mauritania 3
Malaysia 13
Uzbekistan 21
Turkmenistan 5
Kyrgzstan 3
Turkey 67 4
UAE 2 2
Kuwait 2
Syria 15
Albania 2
Niger 7
Total 212 18

i.e. . . .

1 Al-Qaeda terrorist per 12 million Muslims

Comparing the relative frequency of al-Qaeda suicide terrorists in these two groups of countries, al-Qaeda suicide terrorists are twice as likely to come from Salafi-influenced populations as from Sunni Muslims in other countries.

However, when we examine the effect of the absolute number of the Salafi-influenced population on the absolute number or terrorists from any country, the effect is not statistically significant . . . . Pakistan produced far fewer terrorists and Saudi Arabia and Morocco far more than would be consistent with a direct relationship between Salafism and suicide terrorism. . .

This means that . . . the odds that someone from a Salafi-influenced country will become an al-Qaeda suicide terrorist are not significantly better than chance. (pp. 110-112)

Contrast the data that relates al-Qaeda suicide terrorists with American combat operations. But first, what is meant by “Occupation”?

How can any fair-minded person think the U.S. is an occupying power? (more…)

2013/05/27

Someone get Scott Atran to tell us which soccer club these guys belonged to. — Tweet from Sam Harris

The title was a tweet by Sam Harris: https://twitter.com/samharrisorg/status/337313832814919680 in response to the horrific terrorist murder of Lee Rigby in London. I told someone in a recent comment that I would do a post explaining my perspective on what lies behind Harris’s response. (In that same comment thread one can see a video in which Sott Atran goes some way to explaining what a soccer club has to do with terrorism.)

Firstly, who is Scott Atran? From Wikipedia:

Scott Atran (born 1952) is an American and French anthropologist who is a

  • Director of Research in Anthropology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris,
  • Senior Research Fellow at Oxford University in England,
  • Presidential Scholar at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York,
  • and also holds offices at the University of Michigan.

He has studied and written about terrorism, violence and religion, and has done fieldwork with terrorists and Islamic fundamentalists, as well as political leaders. . . .

. . . he received his PhD in anthropology from Columbia University. . . .

Atran has experimented on the ways scientists and ordinary people categorize and reason about nature, on the cognitive and evolutionary psychology of religion, and on the limits of rational choice in political and cultural conflict. His work has been widely published internationally in the popular press, and in scientific journals in a variety of disciplines. He has briefed members of the U.S. Congress and the National Security Council staff at the White House on the The Devoted Actor versus the Rational Actor in Managing World Conflict, on the Comparative Anatomy and Evolution of Global Network Terrorism, and on Pathways to and from Violent Extremism. He was an early critic of U.S. intervention in Iraq and of deepening involvement in Afghanistan, and he has been engaged in conflict negotiations in the Middle East. . . .

Atran’s debates with “new atheists” Sam Harris, Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins and others during the Beyond Belief symposium on the limits of reason and the role of religion in modern society highlight the differences between “new atheists” who see religion as fundamentally false and politically and socially repressive, or worse, and those like Atran who see unfalsifiable but semantically absurd religious beliefs as historically critical to the formation of large-scale societies and current motivators for both conflict and cooperation.

Atran has taught at

  • Cambridge University,
  • Hebrew University in Jerusalem,
  • and the École des Hautes Études in Paris.

He is currently

  • a research director in anthropology at the French National Centre for Scientific Research
  • and member of the Jean Nicod Institute at the École Normale Supérieure.
  • He is also visiting professor of psychology and public policy at the University of Michigan,
  • presidential scholar in sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City,
  • senior research fellow at Harris Manchester College, Oxford University,
  • and cofounder of ARTIS Research and Risk Modeling.

I am belatedly catching up with two of his books, In Gods We Trust and Talking to the Enemy, after having read a few of his scholarly journal and online writings.

I mentioned Atran’s video presentation — there is also follow up to that and Atran’s exchanges with Sam Harris at The Reality Club, Beyond Belief webpage (note on that page there are several in depth comments by Atran). Of his exchange with Sam Harris he writes: (more…)

2013/05/01

Why Haven’t Muslims Condemned Terrorism?

Filed under: Islam,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 10:13 pm
Tags: ,

And it’s not just a handful of extremists, either: it’s the legions of “moderate” enablers who, through either intimidation or cowardice, refuse to decry their co-religionists. No surprise given that the penalty for apostasy is death . . . . (Jerry Coyne accusing Muslims of not speaking out against acts of terrorism)

esposito

John Esposito

Coyne is advertizing his ignorance and fanning the same among his readers. The following comes from The Future of Islam by John Esposito, an authority on Islam. Pages 29-33 —

Muslim Denial

The level of disbelief [that Muslims were responsible for 9/11] among Muslims was and is astonishing — families of the hijackers in Saudi Arabia reportedly stating that their children were in fact still alive and Arabs insisting that no Arab could learn how to fly planes into the Twin Towers.

Many Muslims and Arabs have remained in a state of denial over this: the U.S. government failed to provide hard evidence that Muslims were involved; Israeli intelligence were behind the attacks; there was a cover-up of some sort.

Media Distortions

What sells are stories of confrontation and conflict, crises and tragedy.

A small but vocal minority that celebrated the attacks [of 9/11] as “payback time” for failed American foreign policies in the Middle East enjoyed widespread media coverage. Some Palestinians celebrating in the streets were featured over and over again on major stations.

Overshadowed were the shock and concern of many mainstream Muslims.

book_argue_200-300

Deborah Tannen demonstrates that the principle followed by news media is “no fight, no story”. The media’s goal is not balanced coverage but to focus on conflict and tragedy. (Image links to Tannen’s site)

In fact the Gallup Poll found that 91% of Muslims interviewed believed the attacks were morally unjustified.

Few media outlets, then as now, covered the statements of Muslim leaders and organizations that did speak out, quickly issuing public statements, denouncing the terrorist attacks and expressing their condolences. Why were these voices not heard?

Muslims condemning violence and Islamic extremists simply don’t make it into the news headlines. This is why much of the public simply assumes that Muslims have not condemned terrorism.

Thus the actions of a dangerous minority of Muslim extremists and terrorists become the distorting prism through which all Muslims and their religion are seen and understood. . . The media’s failure to provide balanced coverage, thus compounding the problem . . . .

Even New York Times current affairs columnist Thomas Friedman declared the day after the London bombings that “no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden.” Yet in fact, the New York Times itself on October 17, 2001, published a full-page ad from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty proclaiming:

Osama bin Laden hijacked four airplanes and a religion

along with published statements from some of the world’s most prominent Muslim leaders condemning the attacks, including:

  • The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and chairman of the Senior Ulama (Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Shaik
  • Principal of the Muslim College in London (Zaki Badawi)
  • Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai of Pakistan
  • King Abdulla II of Jordan
  • The Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

Earlier, September 14, 2001, the BBC reported condemnations of the 9/11 attacks as acts of terrorism by a significant, influential and diverse group of religious leaders ranging from

  • Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, the Grand Sheikh of Cairo’s al-Azhar University and Grand Imam of the al-Azhar Mosque (viewed by many as one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam)

to

  • Ayatollah Kashani in Iran.

Others also strident in their condemnations:

  • Mustafa Mashhur (General Guide, Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt)
  • Qazi Hussain Ahmed (Ameer, Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan, Pakistan)
  • Muti Rahman Nizami (Ameer, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, Bangladesh)
  • Sheikh Ahmad Yassin (founder, Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas], Palestine)
  • Rashid Ghannoushi (president, Nahda Renaissance Movement, Tunisia)
  • Fazil Nour (president, PAS — Parti Islam SeMalaysia, Malaysia)
  • forty other Muslim scholars and politicians

All the above signed their names to the following:

The undersigned, leaders of Islamic movements, are horrified by the events of Tuesday 11 September 2001 in the United States which resulted in massive killing, destruction and attack on innocent lives. We express our deepest sympathies and sorrow. We condemn, in the strongest terms, the incidents, which are against all human and Islamic norms. This is grounded in the Noble Laws of Islam which forbid all forms of attacks on innocents. God Almighty says in the Holy Qur’an: “No bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another” (Surah al-Isra 17:15).

Fatwa against Osama bin Laden (more…)

2013/04/27

Flawed and Dangerous: The Popular Notion of “Religious Terrorism”

Filed under: Islamophobia,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 8:32 am
Tags:
otago029995

Richard Jackson is currently Deputy Director at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (NCPACS).

Available online is a Political Studies Review 2009 article “The Study of Terrorism after 11 September 2001: Problems, Challenges and Future Developments” by Richard Jackson “of Aberystwyth University”. (Professor Richard Jackson has since moved to the University of Otago so is not to be confused with the current Richard Jackson at Aberystwyth University who is Professor of Accounting and Finance.)

I am copying an extract from that article here, having changed some of its formatting and added highlighting for easier reading. This section is a damning indictment on the popular notion of “religious terrorism” so I should first quote the far more optimistic abstract of the entire article.

Terrorism studies is one of the fastest-growing areas of social scientific research in the English-speaking world. This article examines some of the main challenges, problems and future developments facing the wider terrorism studies field through a review of seven recently published books. It argues that while a great deal of the current research is characterised by a persistent set of weaknesses, an increasing number of theoretically rigorous and critically oriented studies that challenge established views suggest genuine reasons for optimism about the future of terrorism research.

So there is hope beyond the travesty addressed in the following extract. (I have copied the details of the cited works at the end.)

The Rise of ‘Islamic Terrorism’ Studies

Predicated on the popular notion of ‘religious terrorism’ first articulated by David Rapoport (1984) and galvanised by the identities of the 11 September 2001 attackers and the massive media coverage given to al-Qa’eda, an extremely large literature on ‘Islamic terrorism’ has developed in the past six years (Jackson, 2007a). Silke’s analysis of articles published in the leading terrorism studies journals demonstrates that studies on al-Qa’eda and affiliated groups grew significantly after 1995 and now make up a significant proportion of all terrorism studies published in the core journals (Silke, 2004b).

With a few notable exceptions (see Gerges, 2005; Gunning,2007b; Halliday, 2002), the vast majority of this literature can be criticised for

  • its orientalist outlook,
  • its political biases
  • and its descriptive over-generalisations,
  • misconceptions
  • and lack of empirically grounded knowledge (see Jackson, 2007a).

Rooted in an uncritical and simple-minded acceptance of the notion of a ‘new’ kind of ‘religious terrorism’, this literature

  • typically adopts an undifferentiated and highly exaggerated view of the threat posed by ‘Islamism’,
  • traces a causal link between Islamic doctrine and terrorist violence,
  • attributes religious as opposed to political motives to ‘Islamic terrorists’,
  • fails to differentiate between local political struggles and a global anti-Western movement
  • and assumes that the religious motivations of ‘Islamic terrorism’ rule out all possibilities for dialogue and diplomacy
  • – among others.

Shmuel Bar’s (2006) Warrant for Terror is in many ways emblematic of this popular literature. Based on an analysis of a large number of recent fatwas, or the legal opinions of Islamic jurists that deal with the permissibility or prohibition of actions (Bar, 2006, p. x), Bar’s aim is to explore the role fatwas play in ‘Islam-motivated terrorism’ (p. xiii). (more…)

2013/04/26

Terrorism Facts, #2: Motivations and Goals,1980 to 2001 . . .

Filed under: Pape: Dying to Win,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 8:15 am
Robert Pape

Robert Pape

What were terrorists doing before they discovered the USA, UK, Europe, Bali?

These tables are for a particular type of terrorist attack, the suicide bombing, from 1980 to 2001, from Robert Pape’s article, “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism”, American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 3, 2003 (pp. 343-361). The same tables no doubt appear in his book Dying to Win but I don’t have my copy of that with me. Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 11.08.45 AM

(more…)

2013/04/25

Terrorism Facts, #1: How Radical Islamists Justify Killing Civilians, even Muslims

Filed under: Islam,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 12:24 am

Ironically people who identify Islamic terrorists with the “true beliefs of Islam” are (unknowingly) serving as mouthpieces for those terrorists. The fact is Islamic terrorists believe they alone represent true Islam and that the vast majority of those who profess to be Muslims deserve to die. Those terrorists would love nothing more than to hear everyone say it is they who demonstrate what true Islam is really all about! (All other Muslims, far from being “enablers of extremism” or “potential killers themselves” are really on their way to Hell, they say.)

Mohammed M. Hafez

Mohammed M. Hafez

This post shares some of the main findings of an article published in the peer-reviewed Asian Journal of Social Science 38 (2010) 364-378, “The Alchemy of Martyrdom: Jihadi Salafism and Debates over Suicide Bombings in the Muslim World”, by Mohammed M. Hafez.

(The terms ‘radical Islamists’, ‘jihadists‘ and ‘Jihadi Salafists‘ are used interchangeably. The terms exclude other Islamic groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood movements and Islamic nationalists such as Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah.)

This post covers three ways radical Islamists justify the killing of Muslims in their attacks —

  • their redefinition of Islamic piety, apostasy and heresy,
  • how they come to define their acts as martyrdom rather than suicide,
  • and how they unearth various texts of medieval scholars to justify the killing of civilians.

I trust readers will acknowledge the parameters of this discussion and not impute more into it than is concluded and for which evidence is advanced. There is far too much ignorant lunacy and dangerous fear-mongering being spread across the internet — not least from public intellectuals (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, and co.) who ought to know better — and this series of posts on Vridar is the first of several that will attempt to shed some light on the actual facts, that is, the findings of scholarly research as published in reputable scholarly media.

The need for justification

We all need to justify what we consciously decide to do. Many of us even know of experiments that indicate we are unaware of the real reasons we decide to do X or Y and that the reasons we express, with conviction, can be demonstrated to be after-the-fact rationalizations. So human behaviour is not always a simple matter. That’s why so many different perspectives can add to the complexity of our understanding of ourselves — sociologists, anthropologists, historians, psychologists, economists, biologists . . .

.

The debate among radical Muslims

M. M. Hafez begins his article by noting that jihadists have, since the 1970s, become increasingly cruel and indiscriminate towards even fell0w (radical) Muslims, and have accordingly had to defend themselves against accusations unjustifiable killing. This has produced a rather bizarre debate among the most radical Islamists themselves!

At the heart of these debates is a central paradox.

  • On the one hand, radical Islamists must anchor their violence in classical Islamic texts and traditions in order to uphold their image as bearers of authentic Islam and as followers of divine commandments.
  • On the other hand, the classical Islamic tradition imposes constraints on many aspects of their violent activism. (pp. 364-5, my formatting)

.

Classical Islam’s constraints

Against suicide

Quran 4:29-30: ‘Nor kill (or destroy) yourselves: For verily Allah hath been to you Most Merciful! If any do that in rancor and injustice, — soon shall We cast them out into the Fire: And easy it is for Allah.’

A Prophetic tradition cited in Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari: ‘And whoever commits suicide with a piece of iron will be punished with the same piece of iron in the Hell Fire.’

.

Against killing fellow Muslims

Quran 4:93: ‘If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (For ever). And the wrath and curse of Allah are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.’

.

Against killing non-combatants

Quran 2:190: ‘Fight in the path of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for God does not love transgressors.’

Also in a Prophetic tradition quoted in Sahih Muslim: ‘It is narrated on the authority of ‘Abdullah that a woman was found killed in one of the battles fought by the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him). He disapproved of the killing of women and children.’

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The intellectual father of Jihadism and his three arguments

Muhammad al-Maqdisi

Muhammad al-Maqdisi

Muhammad al-Maqdisi, the infamous mentor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the name behind many suicide terrorism attacks in Iraq before he was killed by the U.S. air-force in 2006, is linked to several tracts on suicide attacks that are published on the Tawhid wal Jihad website. M. M. Hafez has distilled this diverse literature to three fundamental rationales that have become “the basis for Jihadi Salafist violence in the Muslim world”:

  1. their redefinition of Islamic piety, apostasy and heresy, to allocate most Muslims to the categories of “tyrants, apostates, heretics and infidels”;
  2. their defining of their terror acts to mean “martyrdom” instead of “suicide”;
  3. and how they unearth various texts of medieval scholars to justify the killing of civilians, including Muslims.

1. The meaning of Piety and Apostasy in Islam (more…)

2012/03/05

Three Votes Away

Filed under: Iran,Politics & Society,Terrorism — Tim Widowfield @ 1:25 pm
Tags: ,

The parable of the burning trees

English: Park County, CO, June 27, 2008 -- Saw...

Image via Wikipedia

Once there was a man who lived in the woods. His cabin was surrounded by 51 trees, one of them, a large oak so close that its spreading branches shaded the roof. He lived there happily for many years. Eventually, there came a season so hot and so dry that when the sparks from a nearby campfire flew in and touched them, the trees practically exploded into flames. The man watched in horror from his kitchen window as the trees were consumed, one by one. Finally, the firemen arrived and put out the conflagration, but not until 48 trees had been destroyed.

Relieved, the man wiped his forehead and vowed to take preventive measures immediately. So the next morning he called his insurance agent. “I need to protect myself and my property,” he said. “How much will it cost for full flood insurance?”

Religious privilege over personal rights

This past week the U.S. Senate barely voted down an amendment to a highway bill that would have allowed employers to opt out of paying for their workers’ insurance for any medical service they believe is “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer or other entity offering the plan.” (For those who aren’t familiar with the crazy American system, the most common way we get health coverage here is as a benefit from our employers. The recently passed Affordable Health Care act mandates coverage, which has brought the issue to the forefront.) In the media, it was mostly framed as a debate about birth control, with the right wing calling it a freedom-of-religion issue.

But the truth is the law was so vaguely worded that it would have permitted an employer to deny funding for any procedure, any drug, anything at all if he or she has religious qualms. If your boss is a Jehovah’s Witness, he might opt not to pay for your husband’s blood transfusion. If he’s a Christian Scientist, he might not want to help pay for your children’s vaccinations. Does he have moral objections about your upcoming heart transplant? Then maybe you should pay for it out of pocket. His “conscience” trumps your health.

The meaning of the parable

The 51 trees represent the smallest majority vote possible in the Senate. The 48 burned trees are the Senators (3 Democrats and 45 Republicans) who voted to privilege religious beliefs over personal human rights. The cabin is our secular republic. So who is the man in the cabin? That would be Dr. Robert M. Price, aka The Bible Geek.

(more…)

2011/01/14

The not so great Islamist menace

Filed under: Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 6:48 am
Tags: ,

The following is from Alcanaanite’s Blog (Monzer Zimmo has kindly allowed me to re-post it here)

Dan Gardner: The not so great Islamist menace

Posted on 2011/01/06 by Alcanaanite

Two millennia ago, there was a Jewish Palestinian from Nazareth by the name of Jesus who once said: “The truth will set you free.”  Sooner or later, the truth will reach people, and those who know it will be free; free from fear, free from hate, and free from vengeance.

Yesterday, January 5, 2011, Dan Gardner wrote a revealing article in the Ottawa Citizen, in which he introduces the truth to his readers about terrorism in Europe.  There is nothing more compelling than the truth; facts, numbers, comparisons, and putting things in perspective.  Gardner does it eloquently in his easy to read article.

Excerpt:
“The European Union’s Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2010 says that in 2009 there were “294 failed, foiled, or successfully executed attacks” in six European countries. This was down almost a third from 2008 and down by almost half from 2007.  So, in most of Europe, there was no terrorism.  And where there was terrorism, the trend line pointed down.  As for who’s responsible, forget Islamists.  The overwhelming majority of the attacks – 237 of 294 – were carried out by separatist groups, such as the Basque ETA.  A further 40 terrorist schemes were pinned on leftist and/or anarchist terrorists.  Rightists were responsible for four attacks.  Single-issue groups were behind two attacks, while responsibility for a further 10 was not clear.  Islamists?  They were behind a grand total of one attack.  Yes, one.  Out of 294 attacks.  In a population of half a billion people.  To put that in perspective, the same number of attacks was committed by the Comite d’Action Viticole, a French group that wants to stop the importation of foreign wine.”

For the full article, click on the following link:
http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/great+Islamist+menace/4060885/story.html (more…)

2010/09/11

Sept. 11: A Day Without War

Sabra and Shatila massacre
Image via Wikipedia

September 11 came 5 to 7 days late for the Palestinian refugees in 1982. It is a most telling indictment that so much can be made of a September massacre of Westerners when up till 2001 the West scarcely registered a damn about massacres of Arabs and others, such as the slaughter of Arab civilians by pro-American thugs backed by Israel and the U.S.A.

Sabra and Shatila massacres

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabra_and_Shatila_massacre

Does anyone really have to ask “Why do they hate us?”

Sept. 11: A Day Without War

By Amy Goodman

September 08, 2010Information Clearing House The ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States should serve as a moment to reflect on tolerance. It should be a day of peace. Yet the rising anti-Muslim fervor here, together with the continuing U.S. military occupation of Iraq and the escalating war in Afghanistan (and Pakistan), all fuel the belief that the U.S. really is at war with Islam.

Sept. 11, 2001, united the world against terrorism. Everyone, it seemed, was with the United States, standing in solidarity with the victims, with the families who lost loved ones. The day will be remembered for generations to come, for the notorious act of coordinated mass murder. But that was not the first Sept. 11 to be associated with terror: (more…)

2010/07/04

The worst thing about us being anti-Islamic bigots

Filed under: Politics & Society,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 10:29 am

As long as we tolerate any public attention directed at the Moslem faith itself in response to terror attacks against our western nations and those our governments support, we will be allowing the real cause of those terror attacks to continue unchecked. We will even be playing into the hands of those responsible for the provoking of those terror attacks. We will be encouraging those responsible for the occupation, dispossession, maiming and murder of hundreds of thousands of people who have the misfortune to have been born in the lands that contain “our” necessary resources and power interests.

Doug Bandow summed it up in a recent Huffington Post article:

Terrorism is not new. It was used against Russian Tsars, the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and British colonial officials. Algerians employed terrorism against the French and later Algerian governments. Basque and Irish separatists freely relied on terrorism. Until Iraq, the most promiscuous suicide bombers were Tamils in Sri Lanka. In none of these cases did the killing occur in response to freedom, whether in America or elsewhere.

Robert Pape of the University of Chicago studied the most recent cases: “The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, every major suicide-terrorist campaign–over 95 percent of all the incidents–has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw.

The full article is found at informationclearinghouse.info and Huffington Post.

The reference to Irish separatists is most instructive. At the time of their terror campaigns there was no nation-wide surge of anti-Catholic fears. The culprits were our own race and we could identify the reasons for their attacks very clearly.

Another article that I would highly recommend as a perfect companion piece to Bandow’s is by Glenn Greenwald in Salon. He addresses a new study by Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government demonstrating how “mainstream media” — NYT, Washington Post, NPR — voluntarily fall into line with as mouthpieces of government propaganda. A specific case study addressed was how the media uniformly condemned waterboarding as torture up until the day their own government was known to use it and said it was not torture. The article, New Study Documents Media’s Servitude to Government, is found here, but note also the link to the update at the bottom of it. Anyone following recent mainstream media reports on the apparent alleviation of Gaza sanctions, and the follow up investigations into the Israeli piracy against the aid ships, and comparing these with the uncensored reports available from other sources, will find the Greenwald article unnecessary reading.

Some people have deplored publications by “new atheists” because of their sometimes crude attacks on religion. I have addressed what I also consider their fanning of anti-Islamic prejudice. Religion has been and remains responsible for both good and evil. I am not the least interested in any notions of religious humanism for this reason.

Studies such as those of Robert Pape’s instruct us that to focus on Islam as a response to terror attacks is about as useful as persecuting Jews in response to the plagues in the Middle Ages.

But this deflection of our focus suits those who profit from our wars. It assures them that they have the “democratic” support for their efforts to continue to control the resources of the Middle East. Oh, and also to support the gradual ethnic cleansing of “Greater Israel” and the genocide* of the Palestinians.

Genocide is defined by a 1948 UN Convention as:

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

• (a) Killing members of the group;
• (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
• (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
• (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
• (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Again, I am sometimes met with outrage when I use words like ethnic cleansing and genocide in this context. This is a classic illustration of the findings of the study discussed in Greenwald’s article:

And the ultimate effect of this joint government/media obfuscation is to further entrench the destructive notion that we’re different, exceptional, better, and therefore we deserve even a different language to describe what it is that we do.  This Harvard study documents the exact process by which the political class convinces itself and others that bad and illegal things are, by definition, only what those Bad, Other Foreign Countries do, but never ourselves.

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2010/04/03

Dying to Win. What Makes Chechen Women So Dangerous?

Filed under: Pape: Dying to Win,Politics & Society,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 1:44 pm

Robert Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, has analyzed suicide bombings internationally since the 1980s. In Dying to Win he demonstrates that the earliest case of modern suicide terrorism was carried out by mixtures of Islamists, Christians and Socialists without any particular allegiance to religion in Lebanon. In Sri Lanka many were Buddhists. It is not restricted to any particular religion. The cause was in every case political and national. Religion might help some muster a Dutch courage to carry out those missions, but it might just as often restrain many others from surrendering their lives through such an act. Pape’s latest discussion (co-authored) of Chechen suicide bombings in the New York Times adds to this case. An easier-to-read form of this article can be read on InformationClearingHouse.info.

Dr Jim hits the nail on the head whenever he trashes Richard Dawkins’ too-often “pretty pathetic” treatment of religion. I love a lot of how Dawkins handles religion, but as Dr Jim has put it, he can also show himself up as not really understanding “the humanity” (too busy focussed on “the stupidity of it”). Ditto for Sam Harris. Discussed something like this once before.

Simplistic discussions like these do not contribute to the most constructive way to remove this threat.

2008/05/06

A Palestinian Christian’s perspective on the Israeli occupation and suicide bombing

Filed under: Israel-Palestine,Politics & Society,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 1:10 pm
Tags: ,

It is ironical that so many western Christians support or excuse the state of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians when there are both Christian Israelis and Christian Palestinians who do not. Indeed, the use of the Hebrew Bible by both Zionists and their Christian supporters to justify Zionism, illegal settlements, land confiscations, defiance of international law, humiliation and genocidal policies against the Palestinians, has been said to have turned the Old Testament almost into a current-day Mein Kampf.

Dr. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Christian and theologian, has compared the current Israeli state to Herod. He sees “Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him”.

He has posted an article reflecting on 40 years of Israeli occupation and discussing what Palestinians, particularly Palestinian Christians, must do. It is part of a special edition of Cornerstone, titled The Great Deception: What must Palestinians do? Cornerstone is a publication of the Sabeel, the Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center.

An earlier article of his take, as a Palestinian Christian, on Suicide Bombers is also worth reading.

2007/11/24

Gaza (the reality behind myth of “God’s will” for modern Israel)

Filed under: Activist resources,Israel-Palestine,Politics & Society,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 10:51 am

5 minute video:
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article15693.htm

Independent article:
UN official discusses impact of the siege of Gaza

2007/10/09

Leaderless Jihad

Filed under: Politics & Society,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 3:33 pm
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Leaderless Jihad

Another MHR (“most highly recommended”) Podcast of a Late Night Live (LNL) program on ABC Radio National (only available online another few weeks).

Dr Marc Sageman, an expert on terrorism and counter-terrorism, uses historical analogies to argue that Islamic jihadism does have a limited shelf life. He believes that the zeal of jihadism is self-terminating and that eventually its followers will reject violence as a means of expressing discontent. Given this scenario, do we have our counter-terrorism strategy right? — blurb on the LNL Leaderless Jihad program website.

Additional links to Marc Sageman’s works: (more…)

2007/10/02

Death cults and indoctrination

Filed under: Fundamentalism,Politics & Society,Religion,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 5:24 pm

Two excellent interviews today on Radio National‘s The Spirit of Things program, one with cult counsellor Steven Hassan discussing the techniques of mind control and recruitment used for certain suicide and Islamic cults, comparing them with more traditional cults such as the Moonies; another with Abdel Bari Atwan, Editor-in-Chief of the London-based Arabic newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, who first interviewed Osama bin Laden in 1996, discussing the desperation and indoctrination that leads people to join these groups.

Link to the interviews (podcast, livestreaming … transcript soon) and background details of the interviewees.

Points of interest that struck me with the interviews — (more…)

2007/08/28

Why no Islamic bombers in Singapore?

Filed under: Politics & Society,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 10:39 pm

I’ve heard US, UK and Australian political leaders say ad nauseum that Islamic extremists target our countries because they hate our values and way of life. We were told that’s why they bombed the nightclub in Bali killing many westerners, including over 80 Australians. But why don’t they bomb the nightclubs in Singapore where many westerners also turn up? Couldn’t help asking myself that question last night when I was exploring parts of Singapore and came across one street, surely a mile long or more, where there were Moslem mosque after mosque, the entrance of each one marked by scores or hundreds of sandals left by those who went in to pray — and many in trad dress walking to and from those mosques — yet in the same street or not far were nightclubs and bars and scores and more of prostitutes walking the same streets — all in the midst of people working late at night in their shops or repair shops, hundreds or thousands of others just enjoying each others company in the night air. And westerners too — though not all english speaking.

Not that all of Singapore is like that — this was just one part — but it drove home what has been obvious to anyone stopping to think for half a minute about those vacuous claims by US-UK-Aus leaders who pretend and lie to their populations about the reasons their citizens and embassies have been targeted. If they target a nightclub frequented predominantly by Australians it is not because it is a nightclub that the Aussies are enjoying — it is because they are Australians and what it represents to them to be an Australian — as defined before the world by our heads of state. Sure they hate nightclubs, but the don’t seem interested in attacking the nightclubs of Singapore or any of the other what could best be described as non-Islamic values.

2007/07/27

Violence and (the Muslim) religion — some real data (for humanists) to chew on

Filed under: Ethics & human nature,Politics & Society,Religion,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 7:19 pm

In 2007 34% of Lebanon’s Muslim respondents to a Pew survey felt suicide bombings could be justifiable.

One in three people sounds horrific, but compare with the survey 5 years earlier.

In 2002 74% of Lebanon’s Muslim respondents to a Pew survey felt suicide bombings could be justified.

The figures are taken from the Pew Global Attitudes report released 24th July 2007. (Interestingly the second largest Muslim population in the world, that of India, is not included in the survey.)

Had Lebanese Muslims become any less devout between 2002 and 2007? That is what some popular literature against religion, and the Moslem religion in particular, would lead us to logically infer.

Rather, as I have attempted to point out in some of these posts, religion is a Protean beast that adapts itself to the social and politico-economic issues of the day. I recently wrote in The Problem with Some Muslims something like:

Christianity has both practiced and condemned slavery and racism, supported and fought against war and oppression of women and children, argued both sides of capitalism and socialism, according to the time and society in which it found itself.

Could it be the same with the Moslem religion? (more…)

2007/07/10

The problem with some Moslems

The second largest Muslim population in the world lives in the world’s largest democracy, India. How democratic? Professor Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Professor of Law and Ethics at Chicago University, explains the success of Indian democracy:

Yes, I think the founding fathers set up a political structure that’s very stable, that is very wisely designed, so political structure is part of it. They also guaranteed a free press and all the institutions that make it possible for voters to really feel empowered, such as local village councils, which was one of Gandhi’s big ideas. So you know, it’s a very successful democracy. It has higher voter turnouts by far than the US.

But there is a problem. India’s Muslims are not violent enough. They haven’t produced a raft of international terrorists. They just want to live at peace with their Hindu neighbours. They don’t even want to overthrow their nation’s democratic government and institute Sharia law for all. And they are the second largest conglomeration of Muslims after Indonesia. (more…)

The problem with Moslems in the world’s largest democracy

The second largest Muslim population in the world lives in the world’s largest democracy, India. How democratic? Professor Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Professor of Law and Ethics at Chicago University, explains the success of Indian democracy:

Yes, I think the founding fathers set up a political structure that’s very stable, that is very wisely designed, so political structure is part of it. They also guaranteed a free press and all the institutions that make it possible for voters to really feel empowered, such as local village councils, which was one of Gandhi’s big ideas. So you know, it’s a very successful democracy. It has higher voter turnouts by far than the US.

But there is a problem. India’s Muslims are not violent enough. They haven’t produced a raft of international terrorists. They just want to live at peace with their Hindu neighbours. They don’t even want to overthrow their nation’s democratic government and institute Sharia law for all. And they are the second largest conglomeration of Muslims after Indonesia. (more…)

2007/07/09

Doctor terrorists: Comparing media treatment of the Arab and American Jewish varieties

Filed under: Australia,Politics & Society,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 3:14 am

In 1994 a “Jewish Settler” walked into a mosque and gunned down Arab worshippers. Media generally referred to Dr Baruch Goldstein as a “Jewish Settler” or a “crazed gunman”. One can still find old media references to him on the net. His doctor status was shocking but it was not the main thrust of the media labels at the time.

In July 2007 news headlines spoke of non-white terrorists with medical qualifications as:

Doctors caught in UK terror plot net (Sydney Morning Herald)

An Iraqi Doctor was led into court . . . (CBS)

We all know from near daily reminders that the horror of these men is that they are “doctors” — sworn to do no harm to life.

Yet one must question why the doctor status of the white American Jewish terrorist and mass killer was not so forcefully accentuated.

One is reminded of the Children Overboard mendacity of a few years ago — the Howard government finding a ready reception among the larger population to think of Arabs as somehow beyond the pale of humanity — without any of the normal standards of decency.

A Jewish killer is primarily a crazed gunman or jewish settler and his doctor status is secondary, almost apologetically applied; an Arab killer, if a doctor, is an Arab who knows no normal bounds of ethics — he is all the more evil for being a doctor.

As long as the western media continues to be oblivious to its implicit racism towards much of the Islamic world it will be supporting the imperialist attitudes and policies that are now after about a century are finally beginning to “blowback” on us.

2007/06/28

Richard Dawkins compounds the Sam Harris error on suicide bombers

There is much to commend The God Delusion as a clear presentation of a wide range of reasons for viewing atheism as not only a rational but a wholesome and positive alternative to religion. I will probably address some of these in future posts. (The book is also far by miles from being the rabid polemic against religion that it has been promoted as being in many quarters.)

But there is one area where the book disappointed me — it follows Sam Harris’s End of Faith in simplistically reducing the fundamental cause of Islamic suicide terrorism to the belief that a martyr’s death will translate into heavenly and/or virginal bliss.

At least Dawkins acknowledges that there are other factors pressuring such terrorists to their acts, but he still comes down on this fanciful belief as being the bottom line that enables such actions.

The reason I think it worth addressing this claim is that I believe it has the potential of stoking the flames of intolerance, especially against a large part of non-western humanity, and contributing to western blindness that can only serve to perpetuate the whole problem. (more…)

2007/04/15

Why the misconceptions about Al-Qaeda?

Continuation of notes from Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror by Jason Burke.

Why do the misconceptions about Al-Qaeda persist?

Reason 1: It is convenient and reassuring to think of al-Qaeda as a traditional terrorist group. It promises an sure victory once the organization is defeated.

Reason 2: Repressive governments can avoid international criticism by labelling their opponents as having links with al-Qaeda. Jason Burke notes that in the autumn of 2001 previously undetected al-Qaeda cells were “discovered” in scores of countries:

  • Uzbekistan (Tashenk suddenly branded U’s local Islamic Movement as ‘al-Qaeda’)
  • China (the longstanding independence movement among the Uighar Moslems was branded an ‘al-Qaeda’ branch)
  • Thailand (bomb blasts in the south of Thailand by groups for many years in turf war between police and military over smuggling and racketing, and in which local Islamic gropus were sometimes involved, were now blamed on ‘al-Qaeda’)
  • Macedonia (8 illegal economic immigrants shot dead at a border were accused of being ‘al-Qaeda’)
  • Tunisia (left-wing opponents of the Tunisian government were re-labelled as ‘al-Qaeda’)
  • Philippines (The Abu Sayyaf group, a local independence movement many decades old, that has largely abandoned militant Islam in preference for crime, especially kidnapping western tourists, has been branded ‘al-Qaeda’)
  • Kashmir (As tensions mount between Pakistan and India over Kashmir claims of bin-Laden hiding there always arise.)

Reason 3: “Intelligence services lie, cheat and deceive. Propaganda is one of their primary functions.” (p.19) — e.g. the British intelligence dossier of 4 October 2001 claimed substantial bin-Laden links with the drug trade. Fact: everyone involved in the drug trade from Pakistan and Afghanistan and elsewhere, including UN experts monitoring drugs production, deny bin-Laden’s involvement. The lie was akin to propaganda about German atrocities in World War 1. Similar false stories circulated about Saddam’s links with al-Qaeda.

Reason 4: The media knows what sells. Ironically information from security services is widely seen as having greater veracity and is exempt from normal journalistic scrutiny. A story containing bin-Laden will sell easily.

Reason 5: Bin Laden is happy to encourage myths about his power. He rarely confirms or denies his involement in any operation.

“Myth breeds more myth” (p.21)

I would add another here — that a few groups may well want to proclaim a link with al-Qaeda to provoke more fear than their real clout warrants. Such may be the case of the group claiming responsibility for recent bombing in Algeria (if indeed they did claim this and that news was not concocted by the Algerian government).

Part 6 of “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror”

Continuation of notes from Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror by Jason Burke.

3rd element: the idea, the worldview, ideology of ‘al-Qaeda’ and those who subscribe to it.

Bin Laden does not have power to issue orders that are instantly obeyed.

Bin Laden does not kidnap young men and brainwash them. People voluntarily travelled to the Afghan ‘al-Qaeda’ run military and terrorist training camps (1996-2001) and none was kept there against their will.

Bin Laden’s associates spent much of their time selecting which of the myriad requests for assistance they would grant. These requests were for help with bombings, assassinations and murder on large scale. (Burke, p.17)

These people share the same worldview as bin Laden and the ‘al-Qaeda hardcore’. They may or may not belong to any radical group. What unites them is the ‘way of thinking about the world, a way of understanding events, of interpreting and behaving’. (p.17)

2007/02/03

The Myth of an al Qaeda Takeover of Iraq

Filed under: Iraq,Politics & Society,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 12:42 am

Related current article: The Myth of an al Qaeda Takeover of Iraq

2007/02/02

Part 5 of “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror”

Continuation of notes from Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror by Jason Burke.

2nd element: “a network of networks” — a wider circle consisting of other militant groups linking with al-Qaeda

What these links are not:

  • They are not a vast international network of groups answerable to bin Laden or the al-Qaeda inner hardcore.

There are in fact scores of militant groups around the world, each separate with local goals and acting independently. They may see bin Laden as an inspirational figure or a symbol of their collective struggle, but reject his or his inner circle’s leadership and goals. (Compare the many groups in the West who demonstrate with pictures of Che Guevera.)

What these links are:

  • Some members of some militant groups who trained in al-Qaeda camps since 1996;
  • Some leaders of some militant groups who have had contact with senior figures in the al-Qaeda hardcore;
  • Or received funds;
  • Or training;
  • Or other help from bin Laden himself or from his associates
  • Such links are not unique with al-Qaeda. All Islamic militant groups have similar links with others.
  • These links are always tenuous and compete with other sources of training, expertise and funding.
  • The groups and individuals involved generally have multiple associations and lines of support.
  • Their interests are often deeply parochial and they will not subordinate their leadership to any outside leader or organisation, including al-Qaeda. — e.g. Lebanese Asbat ul Ansar & Islamic movement of Uzbekistan
  • Many have long been openly hostile to the tactics and goals of al-Qaeda. As many are in rivalry with al-Qaeda as are allied with al-Qaeda.
  • At various times some groups – or some individuals within different groups – will cooperate with bin Laden if they feel it suits their purpose.

Within individual movements different factions can have different relations with ‘al-Qaeda’
One example: The Ansar ul Islam is one movement but with 3 differ relations to ‘al-Qaeda’:

  • Ansar ul Islam group in Kurdish Northern Iraq in northern Iraq emerged autumn 2001 with 3 different factions. 2 of these factions went to Afghanistan to meet senior al-Qaeda leaders spring 2001;
  • the 3rd faction rejected dealing with bin Laden or those around him;
  • By the end of 2001: Arab fighters fleeing US invasion of Afghanistan – some of these had been close to bin Laden.

In addition to the above there is also a 4th relationship. Ansar ul Islam consisted of others not interested in any broader agenda beyond Kurdistan. (1 failed suicide bomber told the author, Jason Burke, that he did not want to go to Afghanistan simply because he was not interested in travel and was focused only in affairs of his own country.) – these people did not care for bin Laden or his vision of an international struggle.

Others have rebuffed bin Laden’s advances:

  • Algerian GIA in early 1990’s rejected bin Laden because his agenda was very different from theirs.
  • GSPC (a GIA splinter group) refused to meet bin Laden emissaries summer 2002
  • The leader of the Indonesian Lashkar Jihad group refused to ally with bin Laden because that would significantly impinge on autonomy
  • At least one Palestinian Islamic group has rebuffed his advances concerned about such a link to its image at home and overseas.

Like the anti-globalisation movement – some groups aims and methods coincide, often they do not.


3rd element: to be continued………..

2007/01/28

Part 4 of “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror”

continuing my notes from Jason Burke’s “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror” . . . .

Al-Qaeda’s “mature years”: 1996-2001
Bin Laden provided “a central focus for many . . . disparate elements. This was not a formation of a huge and disciplined group, but a temporary focus of many different strands within modern Islamic militancy on Afghanistan and what, in terms of resources and facilities, bin Laden and his three dozen close associates were able to provide there.” (p.12)

The resources he offered: training, expertise, money, munitions, safe haven. He was providing a safe haven and “department store” array of support for different groups who had been looking for some such “service” since the end of the Afghan war.

The 3 elements of al-Qaeda

The al-Qaeda hardcore (approx 12+100) consisted of:

  • The dozen or so associates who had stayed with him since the 1980’s.
  • Pre-eminent militants who had difficulties operating in their own countries came to join bin Laden for the safe haven and the resources he could offer: recruits, money, ideas, knowledge.
  • Many of these were Afgan war veterans. Many had fought in Bosnia and Chechnya.
  • They totalled about 100.
  • Many had at some stage taken an oath of allegiance to bin Laden.
  • They acted as trainers and administrators in Afghanistan.
  • Occasionally they were sent overseas to seek recruits; more rarely, to carry out a terrorist operation.
  • But they were not a monolithic group: among them are significant divergences of opinioin over methods, tactics, political and religious beliefs.

2nd element: a wider circle consisting of:

(to be contd.)

Part 3 of “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror”

continuing my notes from Jason Burke’s “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror” . . . .

1993 New York World Trade Center bombing
Ahmed Ajaj was detained for this attack and in his bag was a manual titled “Al Qaeda”. American investigators translated this (correctly) as “the basic rules”. It was not a group.

American intelligence reports in the 1990’s do not use the term “al Qaeda” in any of their reports about Middle Eastern extremists. After the 1993 NY bombing FBI investigators knew of bin Laden but only “as one name among thousands”.

During the 1995 trials of the WTC bombers bin Laden was mentioned by prosecutors once, but al-Qaeda was not ever mentioned at all.

1997/8 CIA and State Dept memos
al-Qaeda is mentioned only once and only in passing as “an operational hub, predominantly for like-minded Sunni extemists”.

1996 bin Laden returns to Afghanistan
With 50 to 100 experienced militants bin Laden was able to build his first real terrorist group. But it was far from being “a coherent and structured terrorist organisation with cells everywhere.” (p.11)

1998, FBI “creates” the al Qaeda terrorist organization
In August 1998 bin Laden was implicated in the double bombings of American East African embassies. Clinton retaliated by bombing “the network of radical groups affiliated with and funded by Usama bin Laden, perhaps the pre-eminent organizer and financier of international terrorism in the world today.” (p.11)

FBI sought to prosecute bin Laden, but the relevant laws were designed to deal with tightly organized and structured criminal gangs to which membership was clear cut. Bin Laden was part of a loose network or politico-religious movement where reponsibility for any single act is difficult to pin down. But if bin Laden could be made the member of a structured organization he could be more successfully prosecuted. It is from this time on that FBI documents now speak of a tightly organized al Qaeda organization to which members must swear an oath of allegiance. This completely misrepresented the actual situation but was legally convenient for a prosecution to succeed.

Part 2 of “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror”

continuing my notes from Jason Burke’s “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror” . . . .

Bin Laden enters
Sometime between 1988 and 1989 bin Laden set up a militant group in Peshawar. It consisted of no more than a dozen men. The group was inspired by the teachings of Azzam and were distressed by the disintegration of the international forces who had come to aid the Afghan resistance after the Soviets were expelled. There were scores of such small groups forming at this time in Afghanistan, bouyed with the same hopes after feeling they had defeated the mighty Soviets, had the same concerns and dreams of uniting once again all those who had come together, this time to work together to fight corrupt regimes ruling Moslem peoples elsewhere in the Muslim world and restore an ideal society. Larger groups who formed dedicated themselves to attempting to overthrow their local governments.

Some activists in Peshawar at the time say they knew of a group attached to bin Laden around 1990 known as “al-Qaeda” — but others say they never heard of the term. The 11 volume “Encyclopedia of the Jihad” compiled in Pakistan between 1991 and 1993 never mentions al-Qaeda although it does thank Azzam’s group, Maktab al-Khidamat (offices of services).

and departs
1989 bin Laden left Pakistan for Saudi-Arabia (his homeland)

1990 bin Laden and other Afghan vets offered to form an army to help protect Saudi Arabia in response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait

bin Laden’s offer was rejected so he spent his time attempting to reform Saudi Arabia

1991 bin Laden fled Saudi Arabia, via Pakistan, to Sudan — until 1996.

In Sudan he was just as interested in arboriculture and road construction as in creating an international army of Islamic militants. His own group was still no more than approx a dozen. He was still reliant on larger militias for resources and know-how. He was not connected with any of the attacks that occurred during this period, 1991-1996.

2007/01/26

Part 1 of “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror”

Not having time to do all the reviews I would like I have decided to do chapter reviews from selected books instead. Opting to start on Jason Burke’s Al-Qaeda chapter 1 because I was not happy with my superficial review of the whole book earlier. There is simply too much information of value in this that people ought to know and then challenge their political leaders over for the sake of some hope for sanity in the future….

Chapter 1 is titled, surprise surprise: What is Al-Qaeda?

Definition
Al-Qaeda comes from the Arabic root qaf-ayn-dal meaning a base (as in a camp or home), or a foundation (as in what is under a house), a pedestal supporting a column, a precept, a rule, a principle, a formula, a method, a pattern, a method. (p.7)

Islamic, British and American Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan
The word was used by the mid 1980’s by Islamic radicals who flocked from all over the Muslim world to Afghanistan to help the local resistance fight the Soviets. It was a common Arabic word that was used to refer simply to the respective bases from which the military units operated.

In 2002 Arabic language newspapers referred to the British and American base at Bagram (from which they were hunting the Taliban) as “al-Qaeda Bagram”.

The radical association
Abdullah Azzam, mentor of bin Laden, wrote in 1987 of the need for a radical Islamic vanguard (similar to Lenin’s revolutionary vanguard concept) to carry the heavy work and sacrifices required for ultimate victory of achieving a new society:

This vanguard constitutes the strong foundation (al qaeda al-sulbah) for the expected society. (p.8 )

Azzam’s words were similar to many other references to vanguards in other radical Islamic literature and they are all clearly talking about a tactic, a way of operating, not an organization.

2006/12/01

Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror / Jason Burke (2003). A short review

When this is required reading for all “coalition of the willing” political leaders and no-one in power can make a public statement or foreign policy decision without having passed a test on their comprehension of it we will at last begin to see the beginnings of rationality and humanity in our dealings with the Middle East. I bought this after reading a piece by Chomsky in which he said this was probably the best book written on terrorism. Burke knows his subject well and gives a clear ground-eye view of who the terrorists are and how they operate. Burke demonstrates that there is no such thing as a Dr Evil type monster out there, but the real danger is our inability to see how our western leaders have so humiliated and raped and despoiled and oppressed (by proxy or directly) the democratic and human rights aspirations of Arabs and how there are literally as a result thousands of would-be suicide terrorists incognito and freelance the world over. I can just add to Burke’s book the comment that it’s not a problem with Islam — otherwise we would have seen this sort of terrorism non-stop ever since the west has encountered islam. The 9/11 plotters and Bin Laden made their aims and motivations very plain (why do so many in the west still remain ignorant — why do our leaders continue to deny it in public?) and the US conceded on their major demand (withdrawal from Saudi Arabia) after establishing new bases in Iraq. And Australia fully supported and backed the US proxy occupation and oppressoin of Moslem holy lands and peoples — hence Bali. No prizes for guessing the motivations of the new wave of terrorist activities since then.

2006/11/21

Facts about suicide terrorism

Filed under: Politics & Society,Terrorism — Neil Godfrey @ 1:03 pm

Earlier this year I wrote up a flyer for distribution at one of our public rallies. Thought I’d share it here — make use of it as you will: Facts about suicide terrorism

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