Three months after the Islamic terror attacks in Paris, France is still grappling with the diagnosis of what happened and remains uncertain on how to cope with what everyone agrees could be a long-term threat to French freedom and security.
There is disagreement, even at the highest levels of state, on the designation of the terrorists who carried out the attacks.
While France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls has spoken of Islamic fascism and announced that France was at war with «terrorism, jihadism and Islamist radicalism,» its President, François Hollande, has insisted that «the events had nothing to do with Islam.» Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has gone even further by claiming that the men responsible for the carnage belonged to no religion at all. They were simply «men without faith.»
The phrase «this had nothing to do with Islam» is found everywhere, a mantra for those who say they are concerned about pouring oil on fire.
That inability and/or unwillingness to decide who the adversary is has affected the debate on the origins of the threat and ways of dealing with it.
Poverty and Terror
As usual, some analysts have blamed «society,» an all-purpose abstraction that is supposed to be capable of both good and evil, for the evil deeds of the men who carried out the attacks. Thus we are treated to a litany of woes about how French society had forced the would-be terrorists into a life of poverty, which presumably made terrorism an attractive, if not the only, option for them.
The fact that none of the men involved was especially poor and that, in a welfare society such as France, violence is not the only way out of poverty, is conveniently ignored.
In reality, Islamist terrorism in its latest manifestations is not a product of poor Muslim countries or poor Muslim communities in non-Muslim nations. In the past 40 years or so, Islamist terror has come from fairly wealthy countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Algeria and Nigeria, more than poverty-stricken nations such as Bangladesh, Mauritania or Sierra Leone. Even in poor countries that became breeding grounds for Islamist terror, countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia and more recently, Yemen, Mali and Niger, the funds needed for creating and operating terrorist networks — the training and financing necessary and the theological-political guidance — always come from richer Muslim nations.
In the past two years, thousands of volunteers for jihad from rich European countries, as well as the United States, Canada, Russia, China and Japan, have joined various Islamist terror outfits including the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the Al-Shabaab in Somalia and the Ansar al-Allah (Helpers of God) in Yemen, among other groups.
In its early form, Al Qaeda was created with seed money from several oil-rich Arab states to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. When those states stopped the flow of funds in the 1990s, a number of wealthy Arab families, often operating in the guise of Islamic charities, stepped in to keep the wheels of jihad lubricated.
Today, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria and, of course, Islamic State (Da’eshin Arabic) are better funded than some small developing nations. Recent footage from Raqqah, capital of the Islamic Caliphate in Syria, reveals a city flush with money. The jihadis go around in the latest 4-wheel-drive gas-guzzlers manufactured in «Satanic» lands. The Caliph who has just renamed himself Abubakar Hussein al-Hashemi himself drives a bullet-proof Mercedes 600 and, when in public, likes to show off his $25,000 Swiss gold watch.
Thus, the claim that poverty causes terrorism is a moot point at best. What we are facing is not a revolt of the poor but a movement that attracts relatively well-to-do individuals from all over the world. After all, to reach the area controlled by the Caliphate, one would need cash to buy airline tickets to Turkey and then hire a taxi for a 200 mile drive south to Raqqah.
Failure of Education
The second diagnostic, that the terrorists represented a failure of the education system, is equally open to debate. The men who carried out the Paris massacres had all benefited from an educational system that many French boast about as the best in the world. They had obtained their «Bacs» and could also have proceeded to secure university education had they so wished.
More broadly, the current international jihad movement is not an affair of uneducated individuals. Members of the top echelon of the Islamic State all have higher education, as do the leaders of various Al Qaeda franchises in North Africa and Yemen. All the top five theoreticians of Da’esh have the equivalent of PhDs from the Al-Azhar University in Cairo, reputed to be the most exclusive center for Sunni Islamic theological education.
There are more PhDs, often from U.S. universities, in President Hassan Rouhani’s administration in Tehran than in that of President Barack Obama in Washington. And, yet, the Rouhani administration, claiming a duty to «export revolution,» is the principal supporter of a variety of Islamist terror groups, including branches of Hezbollah, the Ansar Allah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas.
In any event, no education is ever neutral. What matters is what you are taught, where, by whom and for what purpose. Many jihadists do attend Islamic madrassahs to complement and counter-balance their education in schools they do not consider halal. They are taught a vision of the world and the place of Islam in it that is bound to lead to conflict, violence, terror and ultimately war.
Another suggested explanation of why terrorists did what they did is based on the classical claim that Muslims have been victims of Western Imperialist or «Crusader-Zionist» injustice for centuries, and are thus venting their anger through «violent extremism,» to borrow a phrase from my favorite lexicographer, Barack Obama.
In his book «The War for Muslim Minds», French Islamologist Gilles Kepel echoes the Obamaesque cliché. He denounces the phrase «war on terror» as «a phrase engineered to heighten fear» among Americans. He writes, «Stigmatizing the enemy by calling them ‘terrorists’ is of little help in defining the nature of the new threat.»
The domestic variation of the same theme is that Muslims living in Western democracies, including France, are somehow deprived of full citizenship rights or are subjected to Islamophobia.
French journalist Edwy Plenel has devoted a whole book called «Pour les Musulmans» («For Muslims») to the claim of victimhood for Muslim communities in Europe in general and in France in particular. He questions the idea that there is any specific «Frenchness» and argues that France belongs to whoever lives there at any given time.
To drive in the point, he asserts: «We are a little America after all.»
His whole thesis is based on the rejection of the idea that in a secular republic founded on the principles of equality and fraternity, there could be such a thing as a Muslim community. That, however, is anathema to many Muslims who firmly believe that an «Infidel» could never be regarded as an equal to a follower of «The Only True Faith,» that is to say, Islam. Plenel undermines his own thesis with the title of his book. If Muslims do not represent a distinct reality in France, how could one be for or against them?
The Racism Claim
Another claim is that the jihadists are angry young men from ethnic groups subjected to racism in France.
That claim, too, is hard to sustain.
To start with, Islam is not a race; there are Muslims of all shades and colors, including quite a few ginger-heads, and not only in Europe. In any case, though France has had and continues to have its share of racist bigots, it has one of the best records in Europe for accommodating ethnic and racial diversity. It has had black members of parliament and Senators, Cabinet ministers and other ranking officials long before people like Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Barack Obama injected a bit of color into the upper strata of American politics. For at least two decades after World War II, France was a haven for black American writers and musicians and artists, among them Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Miles Davis and Josephine Baker. Since the Second World, there have been black and «colored» faces in almost all French Cabinets and parliaments.
France also had Arab/Muslim members of parliament long before such «exotic» figures could enter the British or any other Western legislature. While the US is yet to have a Jewish president and Britain a Jewish prime minister, France has already had two Jewish prime ministers and a president who is a grandson of a Rabbi. Add to that at least two Protestant prime ministers, while Britain has not yet had its first Catholic premier, and France’s record as a fairly tolerant society would be hard to challenge.
The Islamophobia Claim
The next claim one has to deal with is that of Islamophobia as at least a partial cause of the resentment that is supposed to have pushed those «angry young» men towards jihad.
That claim, too, is based on little evidence, if any.
France is, in fact, one of the few countries in the world, all of them Western or Western-style democracies, where Muslims of any and all denominations could live, practice, and propagate their faith in freedom and security. In every one of the 57 Muslim majority member-nations of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), only one version of Islam, the one approved by the state, is allowed basic freedoms.
If you are a Sunni Muslim in the Iranian capital, Tehran, for example, you are not allowed to have a mosque of your own, even though your fellow believers number 2.5 million.
In contrast, if you set up a Shi’ite mosque in Cairo, you are likely to get killed, as was the case in 2013 with the Egyptian capital’s now-destroyed single Shi’ite mosque and its founder. Editions of the Koran printed in Saudi Arabia are banned in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Saudi Arabia repays the compliment by confiscating Korans published by the Iranians. In Paris, however, you could buy both editions, and many others, without fear of arrest or worse.
In many cases, rare texts of Islamic scholarship, often saved from destruction in their original Islamic homelands, are available in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. French universities and other centers of learning and research do more work on all aspects of Islam than is done in almost any Muslim-majority nation.
The label «ethnocentric» has become an all-purpose device to shut down any critical scrutiny of communities and cultures supposedly «oppressed by the West» since the dawn of history. Interestingly, the very concept of ethnocentrism is a Western invention and remains unique to the West. It started with Montaigne four centuries ago in his essay «Les Cannibales,» written to castigate reports by Western travelers that pockets of cannibalism persisted in some parts of the world beyond Western influence.
If no other culture has developed the concept of ethnocentrism as a means of questioning its own values and world view, the reason is that non-Western cultures have no doubt that they are the best and that, as such, fully merit being at the center. The Chinese are not ashamed of being labeled «Sinocentric,» nor would Persians have any qualms about being accused of Persocentrism. It is only Western civilization that regards self-criticism as an almost sacred duty. In other civilizations, it is self-reaffirmation that is highly prized. It was on that basis that Imam Muhammad al-Ghazzali, the first Muslim scholar to be given the highly coveted title ofHojat al-Islam (Proof of Islam), castigated philosophical speculation as anti-Islamic.
«The task of the Muslim scholar is to seek knowledge that reaffirms the message of the Koran and the teachings of the Prophet,» Ghazzali wrote. «Philosophy, however, sees casting doubt on all certainties by questioning them as its principal task.»
Islamopologia or Islamophobia?
Often, in the post-modern Western view, the concept of otherness — altérité, made famous with Claude Levi-Strauss’s seminal work — implies at least the equality of the other, if not his superiority, in terms of cultural value.
There is, in fact, evidence that France may have more of a problem with Islamopologia than Islamophobia. Was it Islamophobia that persuaded President Jacques Chirac to try to suppress a report he himself had commissioned on the emergence of Islamist ghettos around Paris and many other French cities? Though it focused on what was going on in state-run schools, the Obin Report, eventually released a year later, portrayed a wider picture of a society that, as admitted by Prime Minister Valls recently, practiced a form of Apartheid for fear of angering its Muslim minority. The fact that a small minority of radical Muslims imposed their «way of life» on others, including a majority of French Muslims, showed that the problem was misguided Islamophilia, not bigoted Islamophobia.
In a small Paris street, Rue des Petites Ecuries, in the 10th arrondissement, one finds Muslims of many different backgrounds living side by side as shopkeepers and residents.
In many parts of the so-called Muslim world itself, however, they would not even address the routine «salam aleikom» to each other, or they would be killing one another in sectarian wars.
France is estimated to be home to around six million Muslims, the vast majority of them not practicing. However, in 2013 the country had just under 2000 mosques. Not a bad number when we remember that Tehran, with a population of 14 million, has only 720 mosques. Riyadh, the Saudi capital, has 3000 mosques for a population of 7.5 million.
It is also hardly a sign of Islamophobia that the French Republic, always proud of its secularism, financed the creation of what President Nicholas Sarkozy dubbed «une église française de l’Islam» in the shape of Le Conseil français du culte musulman.
Even an occasional viewer of French television would soon find more evidence of possibly well-intentioned but ultimately misguided Islamophilia than Islamophobia. Over the past few years, dozens of documentaries showing Islam in the best possible light have been screened, including a few claiming that had Islam not saved the pre-Christian Greco-Roman heritage, modern Europe would have been impossible. One documentary even suggested that cinema was invented by a certain Abu-Hufus, a Muslim lens-maker in 10th century Baghdad, echoing similar claims by President Barack Obama in his notorious speech at Cairo University.
By encouraging the illusion that Islam is really better than it is, and regardless of their intentions, Islamopologists do great harm both to Islam and to France. At the same time, the creation of a new category of topics beyond any critical scrutiny prevents France from developing policies needed to cope with Islam’s positive as well as negative aspects.
Islam is the Solution
In his «Relire le Coran» («Re-reading the Koran»), the late French Arabologist Jacques Berque tried to prove that there was something miraculous about the «Holy Book» by showing that in one of the suras the same word was repeated on two pages facing each other in exactly the same place. That, in fact, is a reduction of the Koran to a book of jumbles, even though supposedly of divine origin.
I remember Michel Foucault, a French philosopher, who came to Tehran in 1978 to watch our «revolution.» He loved every moment of it. «Here we have the explosion of spirituality in the street,» he opined. «In the West we have nothing but crass materialism.» But when the mullahs started shooting people by the thousands, and hanging gay men, including one of the Frenchman’s Iranian lovers, in public, Foucault was outraged. «The revolution has been sullied,» he moaned, as if a revolution could ever be immaculate.
«Islam is the Solution» has always been a slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, some Western writers, some of them converts to Islam, have adopted it in a broader civilizational sense.
Roger Garaudy, a Stalinist who converted to various versions of Islam in succession, starting with that marketed by Colonel Kaddhafi and ending with the version patented by Khomeini, argued that the West is at «an historic impasse» created by the Enlightenment, with Islam offering the only way out.
In his book, «The Promise of Islam,» he claims that only Islam is capable of offering mankind a future. «The future is depicted by men like Kaddhafi and Bani-Sadr,» he writes. Today, of course, no one knows where Kaddhafi is buried, while we know that Bani-Sadr is an exile in a Paris suburb.
Tariq Ramadan, an Islam advisor to various European governments, echoes that analysis in his book «The Future of Islam in Europe.» He claims that Islam, «more than any other civilization has advanced science to a higher level» while maintaining «the spiritual aspect of human existence,» supposedly neglected by the West.
Ramadan struggles hard to decide how to define the West. He rejects the concept of the West as Dar al-Harb (Abode of War) as outdated. He then suggests the label Dar al-Sulh (Abode of Truce) but translates the word «sulh» as «peace» which is entirely misleading because ‘sulh‘ means truce, not peace. In fact, there is no word for peace in Arabic in the sense found in Indo-European languages. There is «silm» which means submission,» the root of the words Islam and Muslim.
Conscious that his trick might be exposed, he then considers the terms Dar al-Ahd (Abode of Treaty) and Dar al-Dhimma (Abode of Tribute). But these, too, appear unsatisfactory because there is no overall treaty between the West and the Islamic states, while no Western nation pays tribute (jizya) to an Islamic Caliphate.
Ramadan ends up with the term Dar al-Shihadah (Abode of Testimony) which, although it sounds inoffensive, suffers from the disadvantage of being meaningless.
He reveals his full hand when he suggests that the Islamic shariah law offers «creative and innovative possibilities» for solving the problems of a Western civilization in terminal decline.
In his book, mentioned earlier, Gilles Kepel suggests that the West should go «beyond bin Laden and Bush» — who are, by implication, in positions of moral equivalence — and aim to create the «New Andalusia,» a 21st-century version of what he imagines southern Spain to have been under Muslim rule, this time in the whole of the European Union.
Kepel does not say who would rule, but waxes lyrical about his Islamo-Christian utopia. «Andalusia must come to symbolize a place where the hybridization and flowering of two distinct cultures can produce an extraordinary progress in civilization. The advent of the New Andalusia is the only way out of the passions and impediments [sic] that Osama bin Laden’s Jihad and George W. Bush’s war on terror have produced.»
Kepel would have done well to read some of the Islamic texts, especially the poems of the Emir Al-Mutamed, which depict part of the atrocities committed by the Al-Moravids in the heyday of the Andalusian utopia.
Islamophilia is often mixed with anti-Americanism. Blaming America for whatever goes wrong under the sun has always been a favorite sport of a section of the French intellectual elite, and Kepel is not alone in indulging in it.
As early as the 19th century, several French writers, among them Stendhal and Villiers de L’Isle d’Adam, adopted anti-American postures in the name of preserving Europe’s «authenticity» or rejecting «crass materialism.» JK Huysmans saw America as «a gigantic whorehouse» and warned against «the invasion of American manners and its aristocracy of wealth.»
The French neo-anti-Americanism may not be as direct or as brazen. But it is certainly no less intensely felt.
In his book «Le Pacte de Lucidité,» the philosopher Jean Baudrillard describes the US as «a negative power that disregards [other nations’] sovereignty and representative democracy.»
According to Baudrillard, what we are witnessing is «The antagonism between world power [i.e. the US] and terrorism.» He writes: «The current confrontation between American hegemony and Islamic terrorism is the visible aspect of the duel between an integral reality of power and the integral refusal of that same power.»
The background to that epic struggle is the death of Western reality itself.
Baudrillard writes: «In fact, this profane and desacralized reality has slowly become a useless function, a fiction that we desperately try to save as we did with God’s existence in the past. Deep down we don’t know how to rid ourselves of it.»
If Western democracies are attacked by terrorists, it is, once again, their own fault.
Baudrillard writes: «The capitalist world order is no longer facing the specter of Communism but its own specter: terrorism.»
I believe that one of the reasons for the West’s success as a civilization is its almost unique capacity for self-criticism.
However, that unique capacity is undermined when Islam, which is now part of the Western reality, is allocated a special category labeled «handle with care» or «vilify at will.»
Sometimes, that «handle with care» position on Islam is taken to the limit of the absurd. For example, some stars of La Gauche (The Left) appeared on television to call for a campaign of silence against Michel Houellebecq’s novel, «Submission,» which, they claimed, insulted Islam. Former Trotskyite Edwy Plenel invited reviewers simply to ignore the novel, a new form of censorship.
As far as Islam was concerned, omerta was in order, just as it is in the case of the Corsican Mafia.
In a civilization built on critical, and self-critical, thinking, we are invited to practice censorship and self-censorship. Would Milton be allowed to publish what he wrote on Catholics? And what about Voltaire and what he wrote on blacks? Need one mention Chateaubriand on Muhammad and Thomas Jefferson on Islam?
What happened to that great European dictum «Error has no rights»?
The French are, of course, not alone to get carried away in their enthusiasm for «the other» whether it is Mussolini or Hitler or Stalin or Mao or the Red Khmer, and, more recently, Khomeini and Osama bin Laden.
Susan Sontag’s admiration for the «courage» of Al-Qaeda bombers of 9/11, Noam Chomsky’s passionate support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Ramsey Clark’s boundless admiration for Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein, are too well known to need being recalled here.
In a recent nook, the British author Michael Axworthy reflects similar fascination with the Khomeinist regime in Iran. A former diplomat who headed the Iran Desk of the Foreign Office for years, he notes that as «Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote that the French were never as free as they were under Nazi occupation, in the sense that moral choice and the seriousness of consequences were never as sharp as they were at the time. That too is true in Iran. In Western countries, for many of us, we have it easy and have become morally lazy, relativistic and cynical. In Iran, the essentials of right and wrong, freedom and repression have been everyday matters of discussion and choice.»
In other words, the estimated 150,000 highly educated Iranians who flee the country each year, creating the biggest «brain drain in history,» according to the World Bank, do not know what a good thing they are leaving behind in Iran. Let us also remember that under Nazi occupation, Sartre continued to live a comfortable life of philosophical speculation while quite a few French men and women took up arms to drive out the occupier.
The Imperialism of Guilt
In the past two centuries, contemplating the outside world, the West has passed through a number of phases. The optimism of the 18th century, with its rose-tinted spectacles, was followed by 19th century romanticism and the tragic pessimism of the 20th century.
The Imperialism of arrogance, based on the belief that the West had a sacred mission to civilize the rest of the world, was replaced by the romantic illusion that «the other» had developed a lifestyle closer to human nature and nature in general.
In our time, the Imperialism of arrogance, which denied «the other» any positive achievement, has been replaced with an Imperialism of guilt that blames the West, especially America, for everything and denies «the other» any credit, even for his own mistakes.
Thus, the Imperialism of guilt invites us to see the crime committed by the Kouachi brothers as somehow related to «French atrocities» in Algeria.
Sometimes, peddlers of the Imperialism of guilt go even further. Every year, a group of Americans travels to Jerusalem to meet Arabs in the eastern part of the city and apologize to them for «the Crusades.»
The fact that at the time of the Crusades the U.S. did not even exist is conveniently forgotten, as is that Arabs at best played second fiddle in the Crusades, which was mostly the affair of Turks, Kurds and the Mamelukes.
One of the 14 papers presented during the annual «Death to America» conference in Tehran was also devoted to the role of «The Great Satan» as leader of the Crusades against Islam. That Iran was in no way involved in the Crusades, a clash between the Europeans and the Turkic, Mameluke and Kurdish principalities of Egypt, the Levant and Anatolia at the time, was overlooked.
In a political version of the Original Sin, the West is invited to account for all its real or imagined misdeeds, including those unjustly imputed to it by its enemies, to apologize for them and, as often as possible, even pay compensation.
The adepts of political correctness in the West regret everything and measure everyone’s worth with the degree of his or her victimhood.
And, yet, to quote Spinoza, «after hatred, regret is the most fundamental enemy of mankind.»
Self-Loathing and Submission
Sometimes, self-criticism degenerates into self-loathing and a longing for peace even through «submission,» in line with the Stockholm Syndrome.
Eric Zemmour, a TV journalist, has become the bête-noire of the politically correct crowd in France because he dared warn against the danger that Islamism posed for Europe and Western civilization as a whole.
However, Zemmour’s main target is France, or more precisely the French intellectual elite, who, he claims, are leading their civilization to suicide in the sense meant by British historian Arnold Toynbee: by failing to meet their challenges. Zemmour is not blaming Islam in the sense claimed by Islamopologists. He is blaming the French, who have lost their will to fight back in defense of their own values and way of life.
Zemmour’s «suicide» warning is echoed in a new book by former Prime Minister Michel Rocard, in which he claims that France and Western civilization as a whole are digging their own graves.
Even Michel Houellebecq, now castigated as the paragon of Islamophobia, in his latest novel «Submission,» points the explosive anger of his derision at the French rather than Islam and Muslims. He portrays a civilization gripped by self-doubt, obsession with sex and consumerism, and lacking the will to take any risks in defense of its fading values.
France and Europe in general are prepared to listen to the voice of the tempter promising them tranquility, if not peace. As described by Mark Lilla in the New York Review of Books, in Houellebecq’s dystopian novel, the tempter tells the narrator, a wobbly François, that
«the summit of human happiness is to be found in absolute submission,» of children to parents, women to men, and men to God. And in return, one receives life back in all its splendor. Because Islam does not, like Christianity, see human beings as pilgrims in an alien, fallen world, it does not see any need to escape it or remake it. The Koran is an immense mystical poem in praise of the God who created the perfect world we find ourselves in, and teaches us how to achieve happiness in it through obedience. Freedom is just another word for wretchedness.
In other words, Houellebecq is, in a roundabout way, endorsing Kepel’s claim that only a New Andalusia could save France and Europe from their current decline. Houellebecq’s novel is a fruit of cultural pessimism, which has a long history in the European civilization. And, yet, Houellebecq’s novel is routinely castigated as an «Islamophobic» tract rather than a caricature of French society supposedly in decline.
Since I reject the very premise of the novel, as well as Kepel’s analysis, that European and/or Western civilization in general is in decline, I need not dwell on the nature of their pessimism. However, what I wish to emphasize is that, contrary to what they think, Islam is torn between currents of self-aggrandizement and self-loathing at least as strong as we witness in Europe today.
The danger that Europe faces is not from pessimists like Zemmour and Houellebecq, who continue a long line that goes back to Saint Augustine, Tomassino Campanella, The Song of Rolland, and more recently, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Oswald Spengler, Thomas Mann, Robert Musil, George Orwell, and Thomas Bernhardt, to name but a few. If danger there is, it comes from those who wish to silence such voices in the name of multiculturalism and «respect for the other.»
Terror without Frontier
What we face today is terrorism without frontier in the context of globalization, which was so ardently desired and anticipated just a generation ago.
I think the question whether or not this new brand of global terrorism is Islamic cannot be settled by outsiders such as François Hollande and Anne Hidalgo. During a television program, I was taken to task by a blond sheikh from California who, having recently converted to Islam, was angry at my readiness to accept Osama bin Laden’s claim that he acted in the name of Islam.
However, since Islam has no mechanism for excommunication, one could not reject anybody who says he is a Muslim. All that one could do is to have recourse to «bara’ah,» a mechanism for self-exoneration indicating that the reprehensible deeds of some Muslims do not concern all Muslims.
In its most dynamic and active current manifestation, Islam is a religion transformed, upgraded or downgraded as you wish, into a political ideology. That ideology is aimed at world conquest as a long-term objective, which could be attained through a relentless fight against all other forms of organized human existence.
To fight this new brand of terrorism, the Western democracies need to take its claim of representing Islam seriously, even if they regard such a claim as misplaced. It is up to Muslims themselves to practice «bara’ah,» that is to say self-exoneration, and put some clear water between themselves and those who pretend to be the champions of modern Islam. Hollande and Hidalgo cannot do that for them.
A growing number of people in France are beginning to face the reality of the problem Islam poses for the French way of life, if only by providing a radical alternative. François de Closets, best-selling author of the book «Don’t Tell God What He Should Do,» insists that the French should openly admit that the presence of a large Muslim community in the country poses a problem. This does not mean that Islam is good or bad; what is at issue is that Islam is different, and with things the rest of the French might not want. The only way to deal with the problem is to admit its existence, examine it as calmly as possible and seek solutions compatible with the values of a modern Western democracy. In other words, the ostrich-style denial preached by people such as Plenel simply misses the point.
Islam’s Civil War of Ideas
Islam is going through a major civil war of ideas, a civilizational conflict between those Muslims who regard religion as just a part of life, and others who believe religion must be assigned no more than a well-defined place in the public space. That such a conflict should trigger violence, part of which is transferred to non-Muslim lands, is no surprise.
Violence was woven into the very DNA of Islam from the start. After all, the Prophet imposed his domination on parts of Arabia with a series of wars conducted in the style of razzias [raids], from the Arab word «ghazva» [battle]. Islam seldom tried to convert people by force, but always insisted on control of territory and imposing its values and its rule. Even today, the aim is not to force anyone to convert; what is demanded is «submission.»
Of the four Well Guided Caliphs of Islam, three were assassinated by Muslims from rival factions. Since then, the history of Islam is dotted with countless political murders at all levels. Jihadist movements did not come into being in reaction to American «Imperialism» or Zionism, the two punching-bags routinely blamed for any surge in Islamic violence. The Kharijites massacred people in what is today Iraq almost 1500 years ago. The Thaqafites, in turn, conducted massacres 1300 years ago. In the 19th century, The Akhund of Swat, in what is now Pakistan, had never heard of America, let alone George W. Bush and his «neo-cons.» Zarraq Khan in the Afghan uplands, Mullah Hassan in what is now Somalia, and the Mahdi and his Ansars in the Sudan waged jihad in pursuit of political power, rather than the settlement of theological disputes with Christendom.
Control of territory, by force if necessary, has always been and remains at the heart of Islamic ambitions. This is what the «brethren» do in the suburbs of Paris and other major French cities which they are trying to «halalize» [make permissible, according to the tenets of Islam] through a mixture of force, intimidation and bribery. The first step is visual «halalization,» that is to say a suburban landscape in which beards, hijab, and Islamic dress codes and appearance in general predominate. The next step is to cleanse the targeted area of non-halal «pockets of kufr» [pockets of infidels], such as cinemas, cafes serving alcohol, wine and spirit shops, restaurants serving heathen food, and book and music shops offering non-Islamic material.
The Khomeinist mullahs try to do the same through surrogates such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hashad al-Shaabi in Iraq, Haras al-Watani in Syria, Ansar al-Allah in Yemen, and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. Large chunks of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen have already been «halalized» under huge portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor, Ali Khamenei.
Sunni Muslims are reacting to the threat of Shi’ite expansion, which would mean loss of territory for Sunnis, with their own land-grab schemes, the latest of which has taken the form of the Islamic Caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
«A pure Muhammadan Islam»: This is what the Islamic State promises in its propaganda, much of it in cyberspace, to deliver once the Caliphate, established in parts of Iraq and Syria, has defeated «Infidel» enemies and secured its position.
It is not solely thanks to its blitzkrieg victories that IS has attracted universal attention. Perhaps more interesting is the group’s ability to seduce large numbers of Muslims across the globe, including in Europe and the United States, with an ideological product designed to replace other brands of Islamism marketed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, not to mention that of Taliban in Afghanistan and Khomeinists in Iran. Da’eshism, to coin a phrase, also tries to transcend the ideological hodgepodge marketed by Al Qaeda franchises since the 1980s.
The Three Rejections
The «Pure Muhammadan Islam» promised by Da’esh is based on three rejections, explained by the late Islamist ideologue, Yussef al-Ayyeri, in a book published more than a decade ago.
The first rejection is that of traditional Islamic tolerance for Christians and Jews who, labeled «People of the Book», could live in an Islamic Caliphate by paying protection money (jizya).
The idea is that the «protection» offered by Muhammad belonged to the early phase of Islam, when the «Last Prophet» was not strong enough to claim total control of human destiny. Once Muhammad had established his rule, he ordered the massacre of Jews and the expulsion of Christians from the Arabian Peninsula.
What is now needed is «cleansing» (tanzif) of the world, starting with areas controlled by the Caliphate, of other religions. People of other faiths could always convert to Islam and escape death. Last summer, the Druze in northern Syria did that by sending a delegation to Caliph Abubakar Hussein al-Hashemi al-Baghdadi to swear on the Koran and announce the community’s mass conversion.
The Zoroastrian Yazidis refused conversion and were massacred, driven out or taken into slavery. Some Christian towns and villages captured by IS also refused conversion, «obliging» the Caliph to order massacres and mass expulsions.
In his book, Al-Ayyeri argues that the history of mankind is the story of «perpetual war between belief and unbelief.» As far as belief is concerned, the absolutely final version is Islam, which «annuls all other religions.» Thus, Muslims can have only one goal: converting all humanity to Islam and «effacing every trace of all other religions, creeds and ideologies.»
The second rejection is aimed against «infidel ideologies», especially democracy, that is to say government of men by men rather than by Allah.
«Various forms of unbelief attacked the world of Islam in the past century or so, to be defeated in one way or another. The first form of unbelief to attack was «modernism» … which led to the emergence in the lands of Islam of states based on ethnic identities and territorial dimensions rather than religious faith. The second was nationalism, which, imported from Europe, divided Muslims into Arabs, Persians, Turks and others. … The third form of unbelief is socialism, which includes communism. That, too, has been defeated and eliminated from the Muslim world.»
All along, many Muslims have fallen for those «heathen ideologies,» thus postponing the inevitable unification of mankind under the banner of Islam.
Hilmi Hashem, currently regarded as chief theological advisor to the Caliph, believes that the decision by Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to take part in democratic elections, with tragic consequences for «true believers,» was «a sin rather than an error.»
Hashem is one of the four disciples of al-Ayyeri, all of them Egyptians, to provide the new Caliphate with theological arguments and methods of applying the Islamic law (sharia). Hashem is now acting as «Grand Mufti» (religious Guide) for Da’esh. He is joined by Abu-Moslem al-Masri, who has been appointed Chief Justice, and Abu-Hareb, who is Chief Judge in Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city.
The third rejection in IS ideology is aimed against what is labelled «diluted» (iltiqati) forms of Islam. For example, there are those who insist that Islam is a religion of peace. They ignore the fact that Islam will be a religion of peace only after it has seized control of the entire world. Until then the world will continue to be divided between the House of Islam (Dar al-Islam) and the House of War (Dar al-Harb).
Like the Taliban, Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in Somalia, the Islamic State also rejects the «aping of infidel institutions» such as a presidential system, a parliament, and the use of such terms as «republic» to describe a Muslim society. The only form of government in «Pure Muhammadan Islam» is the caliphate; the only law is the sharia.
It is clear that if Islam has a problem with the West, and indeed with the whole world, as testified by tensions in more than 50 non-Western countries, including India, Burma, Thailand, the Philippines, China and even Japan, not to mention more than a dozen African states, it is because Islam has a problem with itself, not knowing whether it is a religion or a political movement.
Dreams of Islamic Reform
When at a loss as how to deal with what they admit is an Islamic threat, some writers and public officials in France reach for the hope of an Islamic reform movement.
The pious hope that Islam could be reformed has hovered in the background of many debates since the early 19th century, but has never been a serious basis for building an effective policy to face the challenge. The sad fact is that Islam cannot be reformed, if only because it lacks a recognized authority capable of proposing, let alone imposing, reform. I know this from personal experience, as in the 1970s I covered the proceedings of a working group from eight Muslim countries, led by Tunku Abdul-Rahman, a former Malaysian prime minister, appointed by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to propose a package of very mild, non-theological reforms such as regulating the Haj pilgrimage and fixing the fasting month of Ramadan. The whole exercise collapsed after a few meetings, because no one knew how to propose reforms, let alone find an authority to impose them.
Today, reforming Islam is harder than ever, if only because the bulk of Islamic energies are devoted to political issues, with theological work not getting even a stool at the high table. The last credible Islamic theologians one could cite died over 50 years ago. The few noteworthy theologians one finds in the seminaries of Mecca, Medina, Cairo, Najaf and Qom, among other places, are focused on either esoteric topics or tinkering at the margin of practical problems of modern life.
What France, and the West in general, face today is a war waged by a part of Islam against the democratic world. The most effective way for the West to deal with this situation, and eventually win this war, is to mobilize the resources of its nation-states for facing the challenge on all fronts — political, economic, and cultural and, when needed, military. The silly slogan «this has no military solution» is self-defeating, if only because it is based on a denial of the reality that the Western democracies and their allies in the Muslim world are being challenged and attacked in a veritable multifaceted war.
Once the Western democracies have admitted to themselves that this is a war, they would be in a position seek allies in the Muslim world by posing the only question that really matters in a state of war: Are you with us or against us?
Today, they cannot pose that question because they are dancing around the issue, talking of social injustice, education, colonial heritage, racism, ethnocentrism and other fashionable shibboleths already mentioned.
The unwillingness of Western democracies to agree on a common analysis of the situation, enables opportunist Muslim powers to hedge their bets by helping or at least tolerating the terrorists under the banner of Islam. And that is bound to prolong the deadly struggle, which terrorism in the end cannot win.
Amir Taheri, syndicated columnist and author of 11 books on Islam, the Middle East and Iran, is Chairman of Gatestone Institute Europe. The above is an edited text of inaugural remarks at Gatestone Institute’s conference held in Paris, France, on March 23, 2015.