UK media darling Mehdi Hasan frequently dissembles about how Islamic jihadists use the texts and teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah to justify hatred, violence and supremacism, and this piece is a particularly clever example, chock full of his trademark diversions and sleights of hand. Here he extrapolates from the apparent fact that two jihad terrorists ordered copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies to argue that “the 1,400-year-old Islamic faith has little to do with the modern jihadist movement.”
He claims, you see, that the fact that these jihadis ordered these books shows that they didn’t know anything about the faith for which they were going to fight. Of course, it doesn’t actually mean that at all. It could mean that, but it could also mean that Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed wanted convenient guides that would help them explain Islam to others, or to explain clearly and simply to friends and family why they had chosen the path they had. They could have wanted these books to send to their hard-drinking, sinful, irreligious cousins, in an effort to recruit them to devout Islam and jihad. They may have ordered these books for any number of reasons; Mehdi Hasan seizes on only one of them and runs with it, larding his thesis with irrelevancies in order to give it more heft.
“What the Jihadists Who Bought ‘Islam For Dummies’ on Amazon Tell Us About Radicalisation,” by Mehdi Hasan, Huffington Post, August 21, 2014:
Can you guess which books the wannabe jihadists Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed ordered online from Amazon before they set out from Birmingham to fight in Syria last May? A copy of Milestones by the Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb? No. How about Messages to the World: the Statements of Osama Bin Laden? Guess again. Wait, The Anarchist Cookbook, right? Wrong.
Sarwar and Ahmed, both of whom pleaded guilty to terrorism offences last month, purchased Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies. You could not ask for better evidence to bolster the argument that the 1,400-year-old Islamic faith has little to do with the modern jihadist movement. The swivel-eyed young men who take sadistic pleasure in bombings and beheadings may try to justify their violence with recourse to religious rhetoric – think the killers of Lee Rigby screaming “Allahu Akbar” at their trial; think of Islamic State beheading the photojournalist James Foley as part of its “holy war” – but religious fervour isn’t what motivates most of them.
In 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was leaked to the Guardian. It revealed that, “far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could . . . be regarded as religious novices.” The analysts concluded that “a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation”, the newspaper said.
This was just wishful thinking on the part of British authorities — part of their larger unreality regarding the jihad threat. The one thing that we see again and again is that a devout commitment to Islam is what jihad terrorists all share. This is the same British government, remember, that has worked with Islamic supremacists it mistook for “moderates”; funded liars who exaggerated claims of Muslim victimhood; and for years ignored an Islamic supremacist takeover of public schools for fear of being called “Islamophobic.” It claims that jihad terrorists are generally “religious novices,” but would this clueless and compromised British government, so anxious to appease Islamic supremacists that it banned Pamela Geller and me from entering the country for saying that Islam had a doctrine of violence against unbelievers (which it obviously does), know a Muslim “novice” from a “zealot” in any case? Later on in his article, Mehdi Hasan does his best to obscure precisely that distinction.
For more evidence, read the books of the forensic psychiatrist and former CIA officer Marc Sageman; the political scientist Robert Pape; the international relations scholar Rik Coolsaet; the Islamism expert Olivier Roy; the anthropologist Scott Atran. They have all studied the lives and backgrounds of hundreds of gun-toting, bomb-throwing jihadists and they all agree that Islam isn’t to blame for the behaviour of such men (and, yes, they usually are men).
Robert Pape cooked his data to minimize the Islamic aspects of suicide terror; Sageman likewise ignores mountains of data to arrive at his fantastic claim that jihadis are merely bored youths. The others just offer more of the same: elaborate studies to try to establish that what you’re seeing with your lying eyes — Islamic jihadis screaming “Allahu akbar” as they saw off someone’s head — is really something else altogether, that has nothing to do with Islam. The problem with all such studies is that they necessarily ignore the explicit statements of jihadis and Islamic supremacists themselves to the contrary, such as these:
“Jihad was a way of life for the Pious Predecessors (Salaf-us-Salih), and the Prophet (SAWS) was a master of the Mujahideen and a model for fortunate inexperienced people. The total number of military excursions which he (SAWS) accompanied was 27. He himself fought in nine of these; namely Badr; Uhud, Al-Muraysi, The Trench, Qurayzah, Khaybar, The Conquest of Makkah, Hunayn and Taif . . . This means that the Messenger of Allah (SAWS) used to go out on military expeditions or send out an army at least every two months.” — Abdullah Azzam, co-founder of al-Qaeda, Join the Caravan, p. 30
“If we follow the rules of interpretation developed from the classical science of Koranic interpretation, it is not possible to condemn terrorism in religious terms. It remains completely true to the classical rules in its evolution of sanctity for its own justification. This is where the secret of its theological strength lies.” — Egyptian scholar Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd
“Many thanks to God, for his kind gesture, and choosing us to perform the act of Jihad for his cause and to defend Islam and Muslims. Therefore, killing you and fighting you, destroying you and terrorizing you, responding back to your attacks, are all considered to be great legitimate duty in our religion.” — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his fellow 9/11 defendants
“Allah on 480 occasions in the Holy Koran extols Muslims to wage jihad. We only fulfil God’s orders. Only jihad can bring peace to the world.” — Taliban terrorist Baitullah Mehsud
“Jihad, holy fighting in Allah’s course, with full force of numbers and weaponry, is given the utmost importance in Islam….By jihad, Islam is established….By abandoning jihad, may Allah protect us from that, Islam is destroyed, and Muslims go into inferior position, their honor is lost, their lands are stolen, their rule and authority vanish. Jihad is an obligation and duty in Islam on every Muslim.” — Times Square car bomb terrorist Faisal Shahzad
“So step by step I became a religiously devout Muslim, Mujahid — meaning one who participates in jihad.” — Little Rock, Arkansas terrorist murderer Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad
“And now, after mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives, and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for Jihad.” — Texas terrorist bomber Khalid Aldawsari
Instead they point to other drivers of radicalisation: moral outrage, disaffection, peer pressure, the search for a new identity, for a sense of belonging and purpose. As Atran pointed out in testimony to the US Senate in March 2010: “. . . what inspires the most lethal terrorists in the world today is not so much the Quran or religious teachings as a thrilling cause and call to action that promises glory and esteem in the eyes of friends, and through friends, eternal respect and remembrance in the wider world”. He described wannabe jihadists as “bored, underemployed, overqualified and underwhelmed” young men for whom “jihad is an egalitarian, equal-opportunity employer . . . thrilling, glorious and cool”.
Here again, the statements of the jihadis themselves contradict this, but in any case it is not the either/or proposition that Hasan makes it out to be. Jihadis may be motivated by moral outrage, disaffection, peer pressure, the search for a new identity, or the search for a sense of belonging and purpose, as well as by the Qur’an and Sunnah and their exhortations to jihad. Or they may find the answer to their moral outrage, disaffection, search for a new identity, and search for a sense of belonging and purpose in jihad. Hasan sets up a false dichotomy, as if someone who is motivated to go on jihad by the Qur’an and Sunnah must be absolutely clear of other motivations, or else he must not be motivated by the Qur’an and Sunnah at all. The real world doesn’t work this way.
Or, as Chris Morris, the writer and director of the 2010 black comedy Four Lions – which satirised the ignorance, incompetence and sheer banality of British Muslim jihadists – once put it: “Terrorism is about ideology, but it’s also about berks.”
Morris is thus saying that ideology is a factor — but immediately after quoting him in this, Hasan denies exactly that:
Berks, not martyrs. “Pathetic figures”, to quote the former MI6 chief Richard Dearlove, not holy warriors. If we want to tackle jihadism, we need to stop exaggerating the threat these young men pose and giving them the oxygen of publicity they crave, and start highlighting how so many of them lead decidedly un-Islamic lives.
When he lived in the Philippines in the 1990s, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, described as “the principal architect” of the 11 September attacks by the 9/11 Commission, once flew a helicopter past a girlfriend’s office building with a banner saying “I love you”.
Human beings are not as one-dimensional as Hasan is implying. I quoted Khalid Sheikh Mohammed above. Here is the quote again: “Many thanks to God, for his kind gesture, and choosing us to perform the act of Jihad for his cause and to defend Islam and Muslims. Therefore, killing you and fighting you, destroying you and terrorizing you, responding back to your attacks, are all considered to be great legitimate duty in our religion.” Does the fact that he was once in love mean that he doesn’t mean this statement? That is ridiculous.
His nephew Ramzi Yousef, sentenced to life in prison for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, also had a girlfriend and, like his uncle, was often spotted in Manila’s red-light district.
Anwar al-Awlaki visited prostitutes as well. Does this mean that KSM, Ramzi Yousef, and Awlaki were not really acting in the name of Islam when they claimed to be? That doesn’t follow at all. The fact that they went to prostitutes either means that they didn’t believe Islam forbade them dalliances with Infidel women, or that they didn’t live up to their religion’s teachings, which doesn’t mean they didn’t believe in those teachings.
The FBI agent who hunted Yousef said that he “hid behind a cloak of Islam”.
Yeah, and Barack Obama’s government classified Nidal Hasan’s jihad murders at Fort Hood as “workplace violence,” and Obama just claimed that the Islamic State had nothing to do with Islam. This is the kind of thing that American (and British) officials say; but repeating it doesn’t make it so.
Eyewitness accounts suggest the 9/11 hijackers were visiting bars and strip clubs in Florida and Las Vegas in the run-up to the attacks.
Sure, because they knew they were going to commit an act of jihad that would outweigh all their bad deeds. KSM, Ramzi Yousef, and Awlaki may have thought something like the same thing when they were out and about on their midnight creeps.
The Spanish neighbours of Hamid Ahmidan, convicted for his role in the Madrid train bombings of 2004, remember him “zooming by on a motorcycle with his long-haired girlfriend, a Spanish woman with a taste for revealing outfits”, according to press reports.
Here again, human beings are just not as one-dimensional as Hasan seems to assume (at least for the purposes of this article). Hamid Ahmidan’s girlfriend liked revealing outfits, and therefore — Hasan would have us believe — Ahmidan was not acting in the name of Islam when he participated in the Madrid train bombings. That simply does not follow.
Religion does, of course, play a role: in particular, a perverted and politicised form of Islam acts as an “emotional vehicle” (to quote Atran), as a means of articulating anger and mobilising masses in the Muslim-majority world. But to pretend that the danger comes only from the devout could cost lives. Whatever the Daily Mail or Michael Gove might have you believe, long beards and flowing robes aren’t indicators of radicalisation; ultra-conservative or reactionary views don’t automatically lead to violent acts. Muslims aren’t all Islamists, Islamists aren’t all jihadists and jihadists aren’t all devout. To claim otherwise isn’t only factually inaccurate; it could be fatal.
Nobody thinks that Muslims are all Islamists, or Islamists are all jihadists. The claim that jihadists are not all devout remains unproven. But what is this about how such thinking can “cost lives” or be “fatal”? Apparently he is suggesting that innocent Muslims could be victimized by the racist, overzealous, Islamophobic police of Islamic supremacist victimhood fantasy. What is much more likely to cost lives and be fatal is the complacent assumption that Islam does nothing to motivate jihad terrorists. That can lead to authorities being blind to jihad threats from sources they assume to be benign — which is just what we see in Britain today.
Consider Four Lions. Omar is the nice, clean-shaven, thoroughly modern ringleader of a gang of wannabe suicide bombers; he reads Disney stories to his son, sings Toploader’s “Dancing in the Moonlight” with his mates and is pretty uninterested in Muslim beliefs or practices. Meanwhile, his brother Ahmed is a religious fundamentalist, a big-bearded Salafist who can’t bear to make eye contact with women and thinks laughter is un-Islamic but who, crucially, has no time for violence or jihad. The police raid the home of peaceful Ahmed, rather than Omar, allowing Omar to escape and launch an attack on . . . a branch of Boots.
It’s only a movie, Mehdi.
Back in the real world, as would-be jihadists buy books such as Islam for Dummies, ministers and security chiefs should venture online and order DVDs of Four Lions. They might learn a thing or two.
Maybe they wouldn’t. They certainly won’t learn anything from listening to Mehdi Hasan.