Sunday, December 13, 2015

Maajid Nawaz on how to Defeat ISIS

He again is urging Democrats to start saying radical Islam. I don't get it. After all this is how he thinks we can win against ISIS:

"To win against the jihadists, isolate them, undercut their appeal to Muslims and avoid a ‘clash of civilizations’

But that's just it. If you tar the Jihadists as being 'Islamic' doesn't this have the opposite effect of marginalizing them and avoiding a clash of civilizations? ISIS wants to frame this as that clash and insisting on  saying the word "Islamic' in every sentence seems to foment this exact framing.

Because of who Nawaz is-he was once in radical Jihadist groups himself. He chides Obama and liberals for not saying Islamic terrorism:

"President Barack Obama and many liberal-minded commentators have been hesitant to call this Islamist ideology by its proper name. They seem to fear that both Muslim communities and the religiously intolerant will hear the word “Islam” and simply assume that all Muslims are being held responsible for the excesses of the jihadist few."

"I call this the Voldemort effect, after the villain in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Many well-meaning people in Ms. Rowling’s fictional world are so petrified of Voldemort’s evil that they do two things: They refuse to call Voldemort by name, instead referring to “He Who Must Not Be Named,” and they deny that he exists in the first place. Such dread only increases public hysteria, thus magnifying the appeal of Voldemort’s power."

"The same hysteria about Islamism is unfolding before our eyes. But no strategy intended to defeat Islamism can succeed if Islamism itself and its violent expression in jihadism are not first named, isolated and understood. It is as disingenuous to argue that Islamic State is entirely divorced from Islam as it is to assert that it is synonymous with Islam. Islamic State does indeed have something to do with Islam—not nothing, not everything, but something. That something is the way in which all Islamists justify their arguments using Islamic scripture and seek to recruit from Muslims."

But simply not using a phrase doesn't mean you are denying the existence of ISIS. Nor is it to deny that such groups are inspired by inspired by a cultish reading of Islam. That's why Obama and Kerry call ISIS Daesh. It angers ISIS because it robs them of their 'Islamic' aspect. You could argue that ISIS would prefer it if we kept saying 'Islamic terrorism' over and over again.

It''s almost like it's supposed to be a magic incantation. But then Nawaz criticizes many Muslim communitiies for also not using the term, Islamic terrorism.

"The urgency of making these distinctions should be apparent to everyone. The attacks seem to be coming in swift succession now: Istanbul, Sinai, Beirut, Paris, San Bernardino, London. What is the strategy behind this Islamic State-inspired violence? Jihadists of all bents seek to create discord, pitting Muslims against non-Muslims in the West and Sunni Muslims against Shiite Muslims in the East. The theocratic ideology of Islamism thrives on division, polarization and claims of Muslim victimhood."

Yes, but again, it seems to me that the need to not give credence to this theocratic ideology totally points in the other direction-that we should de-emphasize Islam. In doing so, we blunt this ideology rather than inflame it.

"Islamic State’s leaders insist that the U.S. and the rest of the West are waging a global war against all Islam and Muslims. This is obvious nonsense, but by a combination of provocation and self-fulfilling prophecy, Islamic State is doing everything possible to make it a reality—helped along, alas, by Donald Trump’s call this week “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Islamic State’s goal is to leave Sunni Muslims—in Europe, America and the Middle East—with no refuge except the terrorist group’s own self-declared caliphate in the lawless regions of Syria and Iraq."

"Yes! And not just Trump either, but all the GOP candidates-Christie wants to keep out the orphans of refugees and Jeb wants either none or maybe just the Christians."

But it's interesting. Nawaz mentions Trump, who has spent the last six weeks demanding that Obama say Islamic terrorism. Isn't it interesting that the GOP candidates who are all about keeping out Muslims which Nawaz says is counterproductive also are the ones who love the phrase Islamic terrorism? That it is Trump's favorite phrase ought to give Nawaz pause, no?
"As Islamic State has outlined in its own magazine Dabiq, it aims to eliminate what it calls the “gray zone,” the middle ground between Islamist theocrats and anti-Muslim bigots, so that everyone is forced to pick sides. In this way, Islamic State hopes to turn non-Muslims against Muslims and, once this process is complete—that is, once we all begin to see each other primarily through narrow religious lenses—to set off a global religious war."

Again-doesn't de-emphasizing Islam actually increase the gray zone?

Again, because of who Nawaz is he has a lot more credibility than the GOP-who has none, to be sure. But this is GOP boilerplate:

"This struggle can be won, but it will not be easy. Over the past few years, in survey after survey, attitudes in the U.K. have reflected a worrisome trend. A quarter of British Muslims sympathized with the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, according to a February poll by ComRes for the BBC. A 2008 YouGov poll found that a third of Muslim students believe that killing for religion can be justified, and 40% want the introduction of Shariah as law in the U.K. Another poll, conducted in 2007 by Populus, reported that 36% of young British Muslims thought apostates should be “punished by death.”

Don't get me wrong these numbers could be accurate but it's what the GOPers use to pass 'anti Sharia law' in some GOP cities down South.

Again, I simply don't get Nawaz's take. He doesn't want a clash of civilizations but wants to talk up the Islamic connection.

"In this effort, Muslims who deny that Islamist extremism is a real problem are as counterproductive as Mr. Trump and his populist fear-mongering. Both serve to increase the religious polarization and mistrust that the extremists relish. Islamic State is out to provoke a “clash of civilizations.” We should not oblige them."

I don't think anyone denies it's a real problem just that calling it Islamic terrorism is counterproductive of achieving the gray area.

"What is at stake in these failures and evasions? Absent an accurate language that explains the difference between Islamist ideologues and the majority of non-Islamist Muslims, anxious non-Muslims in the West can be more easily alarmed by blaring media coverage and attention-seeking politicians. Some will simply assume that the problem is Islam itself and all Muslims per se, which helps to explain the rise of xenophobic politics in both Europe and the U.S."

So Right wingers are going to stop blaming all Muslims for Jihadism if we all start calling it Islamic terrorism? Seems to me the opposite would be true.

"As for Muslim communities themselves, if they hold that Islamism has “nothing to do with Islam,” then there is nothing to discuss, which is plainly not the case. This position undermines brave Islamic reform theologians such as Britain’s Usama Hasan, Pakistan’s Javed Ahmad Ghamidi and America’s Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, who are urgently trying to lay the foundations of a theology that rejects Islamism and promotes freedom of speech and gender rights—thereby undermining the insurgents’ message."

But this seems to underscore why liberals don't want to say Islamic terrorism. It will lead to more division with the Muslim communities.

Even George W. Bush never said Islamic terrorism. The Right in his second term started getting very pushy about this so he finally tried it. The feeling of his Administration was that there was no payoff for it and it led to a lot of criticism by Muslim organizations and groups and he never said it again.

So I don't know. Certainly Nawaz is worth listening to. But he still hasn't sold me on Islamic terrorism. I think maybe part of what he's getting at is that Islam is in need of reform. This may very well be the case and he'd know better than me. I still supsect that this is an easier argument for other Muslims to make than Americans, certainly for Obama and John Kerry.

It is interesting that all the worst ideas from Nawaz's won point of view-clamping down on refugees and Muslims-is what the GOP wants to do. Yet they are the ones who never stop saying Islamic terrorism. 
Even so, he is very worth reading. 
Here is Nawaz's book.


  1. Yemen. That was another one: they blew up the governor and his body guards.

  2. I read this guys book where he has a conversation with Sam Harris called;

    Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue

    it was pretty good.

    The only thing Ill say in support of his point is that its pretty clear that these are people being driven by a specific religious ideology. These guys are taking their cues form very select apocalyptic stories in the Quran. Not unlike our own American bred crazies who are preaching about rapture and the sort. Pointing out to people that this is where the bad ideas are originating might be helpful. Anyone can go read the stuff they are operating from, its like having their playbook. You can anticipate what cities they are going to go after to try and bring about their caliphate.

    I will say too that we need to use the term radical Christians as well when the term is appropriate.

  3. But I don't think it's any secret that ISIS is using a selective reading of Islam. I don't know that saying these words again and again is a game changer.

    I'm torn.

    1. I'm skeptical of the argument.

    2. But because of who Nawaz is I don't dismiss it out of hand.

    3. But on the other hand, I can't help but notice that the only folks that keep saying 'Islamic terrorism' also are by many other things they say clearly Islamophobes-starting with Trump but not only him.