In Dubious Taste
Friday Ephemera

Dialogue (2)

A few weeks ago, I wrote,

The “dialogue” [Tariq] Ramadan forever alludes to, somewhat vaguely, is by implication a dialogue on strictly Islamic terms – which is to say, on terms that are censorious, often circular and profoundly unrealistic. In this, Ramadan is far from alone. I’ve lost count of how many people seem to imagine that it’s somehow possible to challenge jihadist ideology and related horrors without mentioning Muhammad’s rather central role in the origination, sanctioning and perpetuation of those horrors, and without offending an apparently endless menu of other ‘sensitivities’.

Robert Spencer - he of superhuman patience – also wonders why a debate in good faith is so hard to find.

It remains true that Islamic spokesmen, while denigrating and dismissing my work, have never actually refuted it… And this is a much larger issue than simply who will or will not debate me, because it highlights the fact that peaceful Muslims have never formulated an Islamic response to the jihadists’ claim to represent pure and true Islam - and as long as they do not and apparently cannot do so, the jihadists will continue to hold the intellectual initiative within Islamic communities worldwide. “Moderate” Muslim spokesmen such as those above have not just not answered me; they’ve done nothing to seize that intellectual initiative and blunt the force of jihadist recruitment among Muslims.



They don't want to debate because the system they are peddling is not based on reason, therefore in a reasoned debate, it is not able to support itself. They know this. Reason threatens the protection racket power structure that feeds them. That is why they insist their undergirding dogma be unquestioned. That is why they attack questioners.

By the way, a commenter at another site mentioned the Muslims Against Sharia website - is their manifesto page, also try the Blog link. Clearly the debate is on.

Extremist interpretations of the canon will be rejected over time because they are incompatible with the global accomplishments that have been achieved over the last few hundred years. The question is how much damage will be caused by the power mongers in the interim.



“…in a reasoned debate, it is not able to support itself.”

I’ve had exasperating / ludicrous exchanges with a range of believers, including one with a Methodist minister from Alabama who claimed to know what God wants - adamantly and in great detail - but refused to explain *how* he came to possess such remarkable knowledge. So non sequiturs and unsupportable claims certainly aren’t unique to Islam. But in my experience debates about Islam tend towards absurdity and evasion much more often. I suppose it’s possible that I’ve just been unlucky in the choice of debating partners, but I think it’s more likely that the problem is related to features of Islam itself, not least its political aspect, the character of Muhammad and the contents of his purported revelations. It seems to me that, in some respects at least, Islam is particularly prone to disabling critical thought.

Thanks for the link. I noticed this line: “With the help of our readers we went through the Qur’an and removed every verse that we believe did not come from Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate. However, it is possible that we missed something.”

For some reason, that made me laugh.


I've worked in the Middle East and learnt that you can't really debate these kind of issues.

I trained a dozen Egyptians, in Cairo, in the use of some software. Every one in the room had attended some kind of international school including many American Universities. During a coffee break someone brought up the Egyptair plane crash and

Someone in the room said "Oh, the Israeli's told the Americans to shoot it down". I demurred, pointing out the known facts and that it looked like suicide. To my surprise everyone agreed with the first person. I was assured that Muslims don't commit suicide - at best he was brain washed. Some Egyptian newspapers had reported it that way and that's the version they believed.

The reason I bring this up is because they used western sources to back up their ideas. They pointed to western websites that supported the conspiracy theories. You couldn't argue about credibility because coming from a culture that controlled the media their default assumption was that we were fools for imagining the west was any better. In other words their world view with its assumptions about power relations was remarkably similar to the standard Marxist account.

And this is the same when I argue with Muslims in the UK. It's a very hard to argue with people who are prepared to systematically dismiss inconvenient evidence out of hand. eg. the line that Bush is a worst terrorist than Osama Bin Ladin. They can cite Fisk, Chomsky, Benn etc etc etc to support their case. When Christian leaders apologise for the Crusades, it becomes nigh on impossible to argue that they were no better or worse than the Muslim conquests.


Can a religion, all by itself, be the source of unreason and evil? Doesn't that essentialize religion, which is, after all, only a set of texts, practices and so on, the platter performed by real people?

I think we need to look at the present day, not the curious life of the Prophet, and we need to ask why people are seized by unreason--of whatever kind. It is lack of reason, or incommensurable reason? Do geopolitics have anything to do with it? History, however it is understood? The heavy hand of empire, first British, then American? Accident?

With the greatest respect, I think that arguing about Islam as a religion is as wide of the mark as foregrounding Christianity in an attempt to explain the various twists and turns of American foreign policy. You can't discount it as a factor, but I can't help seeing religion in such circumstances as a series of metaphors, not the fons et origo of everything that's wrong with the world, pace Hitchens and Dawkins.

It's a false trail, I think, like blaming the excesses of Communism on its atheism.


The "platter?" Whoops. Unwanted image alert. "latter," of course.


Dr Dawg,

Well, I agree one shouldn’t generalise wildly, but I don’t recall suggesting Islam, or religion generally, is the “fons et origo of everything that's wrong with the world.” I can’t imagine I ever would. I have my own list. It’s laminated and everything. And I don’t see it as “essentializing” to register the broad differences between theologies and the particular issues those differences can raise. (It would, I think, be a strange world in which all religions presented exactly the same problems in precisely the same combinations and to precisely the same degree.) The other factors you mention are discussed at great length elsewhere, with varying degrees of clarity; I’m trying to highlight aspects of belief and ideology that are, in some quarters, less readily considered.

I make no claim to know what Islam means to any of its adherents, unless they deign to tell me. I can’t, as yet, peer into people’s souls. But, broadly speaking, there are real differences to consider – in, say, structure, tenor, censoriousness and political implication. For instance, the censoriousness associated with Islam globally is, I think, very much related to its overt political aspect, the rewriting of history, the nature of its founder and the jurisprudence built upon his supposedly numinous example. And over the months I’ve quoted dozens of believers who would say that their religion is much more than just “a set of texts, practices and so on” and is of utmost importance in defining who they are, and how the world should be.


There is a school of thought that does indeed essentialize Islam and replaces "Communism" with it to explain just about everything that's wrong in the world; but, David, I'm obviously aware that you are far more nuanced. I just saw in your post an emphasis upon the religion (as opposed to its practice, which I think is what should concern us) that I have seen elsewhere stated in far starker and more lurid terms.

I think the distinction between "Islam" and "Islamism" is an important one. My son-in-law is Muslim, in just about the same manner as your common-or-garden Anglican is a Christian, that is to say, calm and not preoccupied with it. I do not believe that any organized religion is better than any other: it's the adherents you have to watch out for.

Of course believers will not allow their sense of self to be described as mere "texts and practices," but that is precisely how their selves are constructed. Religion cannot simply be reduced to something else, but it is an integral part of a far wider array of epistemology, values and beliefs, all of which have to be considered when assessing something like Islamism. And I would suggest that the latter, while always present as a possibility (as is the case with fundamentalism of any sort), catches fire and spreads under certain conditions. I think, rather than looking for answers in the sacred texts, we should be asking what motivates people to blow themselves up. Dispossession comes to mind. The heavy hand of the US. Half a million Iraqi kids dead because of sanctions, compared to which 9/11 was a flesh wound. Civilian deaths in the six figures as freedom is imposed upon whole populations (Iraq and Afghanistan at the moment, maybe Iran next week) by fire and sword. Colonialism in all of its forms. There's a lot in Fanon that seems almost prescient. Violence is what people do when they have nothing left.

Religion, as I noted, is a factor. But as a set of practices and orientations, it's a very plastic thing indeed. Christians used to burn witches at the stake. Americans still believe in Intelligent Design and recent creationism, and, if it's censorship you're interested in, there's more than enough of that, too:

Texts can be made to apply to anything, with a little prodding. The unreadable Qur'an is no different from any other book in that respect. Its current misusage is a symptom, not a cause. And those arguing the latter, present company excepted of course, are simply trying to steer the conversation away from the root causes of present-day jihadism/terrorism.


Dr Dawg,

“I think, rather than looking for answers in the sacred texts, we should be asking what motivates people to blow themselves up. Dispossession comes to mind. The heavy hand of the US. Half a million Iraqi kids dead because of sanctions, compared to which 9/11 was a flesh wound. Civilian deaths in the six figures as freedom is imposed upon whole populations (Iraq and Afghanistan at the moment, maybe Iran next week) by fire and sword. Colonialism in all of its forms… Violence is what people do when they have nothing left.”

Good lord. I could practically hear the tearful music swelling as the list went on. But if this rather tendentious list were really the “root cause” and a credible explanation for Islamic disaffection and hostility – which, of course, predate all of the above – one still has to ask why Islamist intolerance, intimidation and supremacism are found in over a dozen countries with no obviously contentious role in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Islamists are currently at war with Buddhists in Burma and Thailand, with Hindus in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Kashmir, with Christians in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, and with Jews… well, pretty much everywhere. Why, for instance, would Buddhist schoolteachers be beaten and dismembered for “offending” Islamic beliefs? What about the schools in Thailand and Pakistan that were destroyed for educating girls? And what about attacks in Indonesia, where the jihadists’ stated motive isn’t reacting to Iraq or Western “imperialism”, but the creation of an Asian Caliphate? One that will, according to the Indonesian Council of Mullahs, “launch jihad against other nations such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and Papua New Guinea until they have all submitted to Islam.”

The final messages and recordings of ‘martyrs’ are generally far from despondent or desperate in tone and don’t credibly suggest “dispossession”, colonialism or ill-treatment as some commensurate, unifying explanation. The messages are actually rather vain and grandiose. Whatever grievance may be offered as a pretext – and there are many, often contradictory or simply paranoid and ludicrous – the one constant in all cases is jihadist ideology and a stated belief in infidels as lesser beings, deserving of subjugation and punishment. And the sacred texts you feel to be incidental are almost always cited as justification and license, often in great detail.

When taken globally, most perpetrators of Islamist violence are far from “dispossessed” in any meaningful sense, but are more often frustrated supremacists. And dispossession in itself doesn’t prompt ‘martyrdom’ or intolerance – it requires the distortions of Islamist conviction, through which the world is seen. (Palestinian Christians, who live in a similar environment to their Muslim neighbours, manage on the whole to restrain any urges to dismember random strangers in the name of their religion. As do Tibetan Buddhists.) Thus, one cannot sideline the role of how Islam is taught and conceived by many of its adherents. It is very much a pivotal matter. And whether its texts are being “misused” – in the sense of departing from Muhammad’s historical example – is, to say the least, a matter of some debate.

“I do not believe that any organized religion is better than any other: it’s the adherents you have to watch out for.”

The belief in the equivalence and interchangeability of theologies has been dealt with in some detail here:

I recommend reading Andrew Bostom’s Legacy of Jihad, which details the history and lineage of jihadist belief from Muhammad to the 20th century. It’s a scholarly volume, drawing heavily on Islamic accounts from all the major schools of Islamic jurisprudence, to which modern jihadists often refer for validation.


They cannot refute it, because Jihad is part and parcel of Islam, straight from Big Mo himself.

And that fact alone is enough to show Mo as a "false prophet", in my opinion. True prophets do NOT insist on murder, pillage and rapine as a pillar of the Faith.



Proponents of Islamism in a dozen countries readily admit that supremacism is a normative, defining feature, and the nature of Islamist belief is such that confrontation is difficult to avoid. Islamist definitions of “peace” are generally so loaded as to be unattainable, short of capitulation. As the South African imam Ibrahim Desai famously told his readers: “If a country doesn't allow the propagation of Islam to its inhabitants in a suitable manner or creates hindrances to this, then the Muslim ruler would be justifying in waging jihad against this country.”

Unfortunately, the list of possible slights, pretexts and “hindrances” is rather long and includes any realistic questioning of one’s would-be overlords and just about any effort to resist the implementation of Sharia and the disassembly of democracy as we know it. Thus, Desai’s audience of totalitarian fantasists will be “peaceful” in their efforts to usurp democracy *until* someone has the temerity to oppose them – say, to defend intellectual freedom or the rights of women and religious minorities. Islamist ideologues are, of course, generally quite careful to draw upon legal and theological precedents within the major schools of Islamic jurisprudence.

As Christopher Hitchens recently noted: “Perhaps it will be admitted, however grudgingly and belatedly, that there is something sui generis about Islamist fanaticism: something that is *looking* for a confrontation…” Whether this defining urge will be registered as a “root cause” by those who most readily use the term is, alas, far from certain.


Absolutely agree, David. In fact, my comment above would by itself be considered proof of blasphemy under Sharia and probably cause me to be killed by some religious fanatic.

No shortage of those, thanks to the twisted moral sets inculcated in Islam's followers.


The Guardian’s Seumas Milne has, once again, been peddling his incorrigibly misleading “root causes” claptrap. Again, he claims that “jihadist violence is essentially the product of Western aggression.” One could go quietly mad parsing Milne’s habitual errors, non sequiturs and inexcusable deceptions, and I’ve done it too many times to want to do it again today...

But the following post at Harry’s Place makes several good points in response:

I will, however, add this. In the decades before the Iraq war, jihadist violence and intimidation had already been growing in Algeria, Sudan and Egypt, and in India, Indonesia and Qatar, and in Russia, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kenya, Australia... Despite the outrageous pseudo-history offered by Karen Armstrong and the like, the jihadist phenomena we see today have been seen to varying degrees in every preceding century. If Islamist feeling is, as some claim, a new phenomenon and a reaction to Western “provocation”, why does it *precede* so many of the alleged “root causes”? And why does it target people of every religion and nationality whose only “provocation” is not being Muslim, or, more often, not being “sufficiently” so? And why, then, have thousands of people - mostly Muslims - been murdered by jihadists over the last few decades simply for advocating democracy, or free speech, or freedom of belief?

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