There’s a vibrant dialogue going on in the blogosphere about the Atlantic article I linked to yesterday. The views being expressed cover a whole range of reactions from “he’s wrong” to “he’s right but” to “he’s right and”. On the rejection end of the spectrum is this article from Raw Story:
In September, Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), held a press conference in Washington and, flanked by other Muslim figures, announced that 120 Muslim scholars had produced an 18-page open letter, written in Arabic, to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
An English translation of the document is a tough slog. As Awad said at the time, “This letter is not meant for a liberal audience.” He even admitted that mainstream Muslims might find it difficult to read.
The letter is an extended exegesis, heavily salted with quotes from the Koran and the Hadith, arguing point by point about the nature of jihad, the slaughtering of innocents, the taking of slaves, and other not-so-savory elements of the distant past — and in the past they should remain, the text argues. It makes the case not only that ISIS was wrong to commit horrific acts of violence in modern times, but that it was interpreting Islamic law incorrectly to justify such acts.
I was curious, however, what Nihad Awad might make of Wood’s article, since he had gone to so much trouble last year to argue the exact opposite.
When I reached Awad yesterday, he hadn’t seen the article yet. When I described it over the phone, he reacted immediately by saying, “This is an outrageous statement, an ignorant statement.”
He then asked for some time to read the article in its entirety, and then we spoke again later last night.
“This piece is misleading because it’s full of factual mistakes,” Awad said. “Mistakes are all over it.”
He blamed Graeme Wood for trying to grasp things he wasn’t qualified to understand.
I’m in no position to affirm or deny Mr. Awad’s remarks but consider them carefully. Note that he doesn’t say that the article is wrong. What he’s doing is something very lawyerly that might be thought of as “mau-mauing in detail”. He’s attacking the entire article on the basis of individual factual or textual errors that may or may not refute the article’s thesis and, in true post-modernist style, denying Mr. Woods’s authenticity. In terms of classic rhetoric that’s an argumentum ad hominem which does not refute the veracity of the article.
Next in the apologetics spectrum is this post at The Moderate Voice from front page poster “Prairie Weather”:
Take a look — even if it’s just a quick glance –at Graeme Wood’s article on “What Isis really wants.” Not so much difference between Isis and Christian fundamentalists there within.
I think we helped to create ISIS. We would almost certainly be responsible for making things worse, not better, if we were to rush in there and start sawing on their necks. We’d surely be setting up a situation in which a new generation of young Muslims, radicalized, would aim their wrath and resentment at our grandchildren. Already they know more about us than we know about them.
This is all about bigotry and racism on both sides. Let’s not kid ourselves about that.
tu quoque fallacy. It says nothing about the true or falsehood of Mr. Graeme’s article. It’s irrelevant.
And with respect to the Lord’s Army I have no problem in saying they’re not Christians. In my tradition it takes more than saying that you’re a Christian to be a Christian. To be a Christian you must imitate Christ and whatever Jesus of Nazareth did he certainly didn’t lead an army that committed atrocities.
Although Juan Cole doesn’t mention Mr. Woods’s article or link to it he certainly must have it in mind in his most recent post in which he denies seven “myths” about Islam. Dr. Cole’s post is worth reading but, ultimately, I think that his political views overwhelm his thesis. His thesis is that DAESH is a criminal gang, its power and influence are “smoke and mirrors”, and it will soon collapse. He does provide some good advice for the administration, however:
Politicians should just stop promising to extirpate the group. Brands can’t be destroyed, and Daesh is just a brand for the most part.
IMO DAESH is a bit more than a brand; it’s a network organization and a pretty effective one that we’re just not prepared to cope with.
Also, I’m troubled by Dr. Cole’s reliance on proportions as an important consideration:
Actually, the numbers are quite small proportionally. British PM David Cameron ominously warned that 400 British Muslim youth had gone off to fight in Syria. But there are like 3.7 million Muslims in the UK now! So .01 percent of the community volunteered.
I’m troubled by it for two reasons. First, .01 of the 1.6 billion Muslims is 160,000 people. That’s a lot of people whatever their proportion might be. Second, in the present age of super-empowerment 160,000 people can wreak a lot of havoc. It’s not comforting, it’s dismaying.
On the affirming side of the spectrum is James Joyner’s post at OTB:
Unlike al Qaeda or even the Soviet Union, whose leadership mostly manipulated religious or secular ideology to gain support for secular, political goals, Bagdadi and company are true believers. They literally can’t compromise. So, short of killing every last one of them—which is perhaps a futile exercise, given the nature of martyrdom, the best we can hope for is to help them fail at their own game while keeping the lightest footprint possible.
There’s the usual heated discussion going on in comments there. In comments Lounsbury remarks:
Rubbish. The sheer messianic lunacy of DAESH is widely alienating.
As usual his comments are well worth reading. At one point Lounsbury was a frequent commenter here and his blog, now dormant, is in my thrifty blogroll. If I’m not mistaken, he’s an Anglo-American financier living in Morocco, fluent in Arabic and pretty well informed on issues relating to the Middle East and North Africa and especially those affecting finance.
The best reaction piece I’ve read so far was by Adam Silverman and posted at Balloon Juice:
John asked me for my take on Graeme Woods’ article “What ISIS Really Wants.” Before I start I want to make it clear that my understanding of Islam is that of an informed outsider. I have been studying Islam, or portions of it, since I was an undergraduate and conducted fieldwork for the US Army in Iraq that dealt with both religious and tribal identity. I have published articles dealing with jihad and shahadat, as well as the tribal and religious identity and its effects on US operations in Iraq.** I was even fortunate enough to have a counterpart cultural advisor who was both Muslim and had an advanced degree in Islamic Law and Jurisprudence that I could rely on as a resource to verify if I was correct in my understanding and interpretation of his religion. As I liked to say when I would brief on these, and related subjects, everything I am telling you is true and verifiable, except where it isn’t because I’m an outsider trying to make sense of someone else’s religion.
Overall I think Woods’ article is quite good and I highly recommend you click over and read it before proceeding. It is thought provoking and makes a number of points explicit that have rarely ever been made implicit regarding ISIS. For example, the millennial and apocalyptic components to ISIS’s theology. Woods also has an excellent section dealing with ISIS’s refreshing and recontextualizing long dormant components of Islamic theology and dogma. I was also impressed that Woods took the time to make it clear that al Qaeda was a logistic, support, and training network much more than it was structured like a company. One of the biggest errors in understanding al Qaeda over the past decade came out of the attempts to understand al Qaeda as a corporation or conglomerate.
He goes on to expand on the concept, important among Sunni Muslims, of ijma, usually translated “consensus”, to make the point that you can’t really say that there’s one, monolithic Islamic theology but that dogma, doctrine, and practice all vary from community to community and that Mr. Woods’s neglect of that point is a deficiency in his article. What’s the “Muslim mainstream”? Does the very idea have any meaning? Where does DAESH fit into Muslim thought? Read the whole thing. It’s very enlightening.