Where It All Began

Sayyid Qutb in an Egyptian Prison

Islamic fundamentalism of the jihad variety began a little more than half a century ago with Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), the founder of the Islamic Brotherhood, which gave birth to al Qaeda. He is the author of several seminal works including Social Justice (1949) and Milestones (1964). He also is credited with a 30-volume commentary on the Qur’an called In the Shade of the Qur’an. Early in his career, he spent two years in the United States teaching college in Washington, DC; Greeley, CO; and Stanford University.

About American women he wrote:

The American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs – and she shows all this and does not hide it. [I always thought this was a global phenomenon]

He did not have much good to say about the tastes of the average American:

The American is primitive in his artistic taste, both in what he enjoys as art and in his own artistic works. “Jazz” music is his music of choice. This is that music that the Negroes invented to satisfy their primitive inclinations, as well as their desire to be noisy on the one hand and to excite bestial tendencies on the other. The American’s intoxication in “”jazz” music does not reach its full completion until the music is accompanied by singing that is just as coarse and obnoxious as the music itself. Meanwhile, the noise of the instruments and the voices mounts, and it rings in the ears to an unbearable degree… The agitation of the multitude increases, and the voices of approval mount, and their palms ring out in vehement, continuous applause that all but deafens the ears.

I wonder what he would think of Hip-Hop. He seems not to have liked African-Americans very much.

In the end, I think that Qutb was not very comfortable in his own skin. For one thing, although an Egyptian, his ancestry is part Indian—and we know what happened between the Hindus and the Muslims in India and Pakistan in 1948 (Hint: widespread massacres). In the end, Gamal Abdel Nasser had him imprisoned and hanged in 1966 as a threat to the emerging Egyptian nation state. Qutb and his followers were enemies of nationalism in general and advocated an Islamic government that transcended the borders of existing nation states.

Many of the Islamic terrorists of our day are inspired by entities that pay homage to Qutb, including al Qaeda and ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.

Antioch 1097-1098

One of the Most Horrendous Battles in History

One of the Most Horrendous Battles in History

It is generally known that the First Crusade attained its goal, the capture of Jerusalem. But what happened along the way left a taste of ashes in the mouths of its survivors. I have just finished reading Thomas Asbridge’s The First Crusade: A New History. What stuck in my mind was what happened along the way to Jerusalem, at Antioch.

Antioch was one of the great cities of Jerusalem, but it was under the firm control of the Turks. It was a huge city, well fortified, and incorporating portions of two mountains and a powerful citadel. The Crusaders set up for a protracted siege, and protracted it certainly was: It lasted for a year and a half. It was only when Bohemond of Taranto managed to persuade a traitor to let the Latins into the city that the first stage of the siege was ended.

Yes, there was a second stage. After the Crusaders were ensconced within the walls, they were in turn besieged by the huge army of Kerbogha, the Atabeg of Mosul (the same Mosul that is now under the control of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh). Asbridge thinks that he commanded some 35,000 fighters (some said as many as 300,000, which is unlikely), which at that time far exceeded the diminished ranks of the Crusaders.

However greedy and petty the Crusade leaders may have been, they did not lack for bravery. There was some mummery about the lance with which the Roman centurion Longinus had pierced the side of the crucified Christ being found buried in a church. The discovery of this relic raised the spirits of the besieged, such that they sallied forth from the walls of Antioch and routed the Turks, raising the second siege and clearing the way to Jerusalem.

We don’t think much about the Crusades, but the memory of them has not faded from the Muslim man in the street. Are we destined forever to be Crusaders in the Middle East?


What, No Hajj?

Saudi Arabia Has Halted All Flights To/From Iran

Saudi Arabia Has Halted All Flights To/From Iran

It is a mandatory religious duty for all Muslims, at least once in their life, to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Now that Saudi Arabia and Iran are on the outs, the Saudis have forbidden all flights linking their two countries. This alone has the potential of leading to further nastiness. Admittedly, Iranian pilgrims can still go by boat (and risk being robbed by Somali pirates) or by land (and risk being robbed by bandits).

I cannot help but think that the real reason for all this nastiness is the conflict in Yemen between Shi’a rebels (called the Houthis) and the Saudis and their allies. In the end, the Saudis may think now is the time to rid themselves of the Shi’a menace once and for all.

Now what is this Sunni/Shi’a split all about? According to the BBC:

In early Islamic history, the Shia were a movement – literally “Shiat Ali” or the “Party of Ali”. They claimed that Ali was the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad as leader (imam) of the Muslim community following his death in 632.

Ali was assassinated in 661 after a five-year caliphate that was marred by civil war. His sons, Hassan and Hussein, were denied what they thought was their legitimate right of accession to the caliphate.

Hassan is believed to have been poisoned in 680 by Muawiyah, the first caliph of the Sunni Umayyad dynasty, while Hussein was killed on the battlefield by the Umayyads in 681. These events gave rise to the Shia concept of martyrdom and the rituals of grieving.

There are three main branches of Shia Islam today—the Zaidis, Ismailis and Ithna Asharis (Twelvers or Imamis). The Ithna Asharis are the largest group and believe that Muhammad’s religious leadership, spiritual authority and divine guidance were passed on to 12 of his descendants, beginning with Ali, Hassan and Hussein.

The 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, is said to have disappeared from a cave below a mosque in 878. Ithna Asharis believe the so-called “awaited imam” did not die and will return at the end of time to restore justice on earth.

In other words, the roots of the conflict go all the way back 1,400 years and show no signs of slackening.

It’s a sobering thought that we, who cannot even pronounce the name “Muawiyah,” may be affected in some way by this stramash.

The Intimate Enemy

Sunni Anti-Shi’a Propaganda

Sunni Anti-Shi’a Propaganda

In a 1997 lecture entitled “The Origin of Satan in Christian Tradition,” Religious Historian Elaine Pagels writes about how the character of Satan morphed over the centuries from a messenger of God’s to His enemy:

So there are many stories about Satan’s origin; but what struck me about them is this. Diverse as they are, whichever version you choose, they all agree on one thing: that this greatest and most dangerous enemy did not originate (as we might have expected) as an outsider, an alien, or stranger. Satan is no distant enemy: on the contrary, he is an “intimate enemy”—one’s closest relative, older brother, or trusted colleague—the kind of person on whose goodwill and loyalty the well-being of family and society depends, but one who turns unexpectedly hostile, jealous, and dangerous.

So it is not the total outsider whom we hate, but the heretic—one whose belief is close to ours except on some details which to some will seem trivial. Such were the Arians and Nestorians in the early days of the Christian Church. And such are the Sunni and Shi’a over the last 1,400 years.

With the execution of a prominent Shi’a cleric (Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr), Saudi Arabia has earned the undying hatred of Iran. For many centuries, there has been a small Shi’a minority in the Eastern portion of the Arabian peninsula, and the executed sheikh was their religious leader. Shown below is a map illustrating the distribution of the two sects in the Middle East:

Percent Shi’a in the Middle East and North Africa

Percent Shi’a in the Middle East and North Africa

This comes at a bad time for Saudi Arabia, as the sharp decline in the price of oil is about to have dire consequences in the ability of the kingdom to provide benefits for its favored citizens. The price of gas has jumped 50%, water and electricity are going up, and the country’s safety net is in danger.

So what should we do? I think this is a good time to put our hands firmly in our pockets and start whistling until we see who wins, King Kong or the Dinosaur.

Twenty Years in the Middle East

Do We Know Our Way About the Middle East Any More Now Than in 1995?

Do We Know Our Way About the Middle East Any More Now Than in 1995?

North Africa, the Middle East—in fact, the entire Islamic world—remain a giant mystery to us because we prefer to continue with our deadly combination of naiveté and sophisticated weaponry. Are we culturally aware of the peoples of the Islamic world? Are we teaching Arabic, Turkish, and Farsi in our schools to the generation that will take up the burden laid on our shoulders by the Bushes, Cheneys, Rumsfelds, and their discredited Neocon advisers?

The problem is, we are babes in the woods … where there are no woods. They know all about us, but we still know squat about them.

We are not winning anyone’s hearts and minds with our ignorance and fecklessness. What we are doing is creating a war zone that looks to be getting worse each year, despite the much-vaunted Arab spring. Given enough time, perhaps the entire population of the countries between Morocco and Iraq will cross over the border into Europe. (Fortunately, it’s too difficult to sail a flimsy raft full of refugees across the oceans.) Then there won’t be a Middle East, just a Muslim Europe—which is certainly not where the nations of Europe want to be.

Macedonian Police and Syrian Refugees

Macedonian Police Holding Back Syrian Refugees

It’s difficult to predict what will happen, especially since all we seem to be doing is committing random mayhem in the name of combating “terrorism.”

So who is to blame? Everyone. The United States for being willfully stupid. The Arabs and North Africans for thinking that Islamic fundamentalism is the answer … to everything. The Europeans, for letting themselves be overrun. It doesn’t look good.



Far from Invincible

Eat Up, Uighurs!

Eat Up, Uighurs!

Whereas others seem to think that China is invincible, I keep seeing them make mistakes of the facepalm variety. The latest is a move by the Communist Party leadership to forbid the Muslims of the western state of Xinjiang from observing their Ramadan fast. Typically, they must eat nothing from dawn to dusk from now until Friday, July 17, waiting until the sun goes down before dining. In addition, they are forbidden in indulge in “vigils or other religious activities” during the month.

Do you suppose that Beijing wants to see how far they could push the 20-odd million Muslims in their country without experiencing the kind of terrorism that is becoming a feature in much of the rest of the world?

Although there is widespread anger among East Asian countries about China’s grab of small islands in the South Pacific. Many of them would be inundated by a major tsunami—and guess where most major tsunamis originate!

It’s nice to know we’re not the only country that makes such policy howlers.



The End Times

Last Chance to Commit Depredations

Your Last Chance to Commit Depredations

I’ve always seen a preoccupation with the so-called “End Times” in the same light as James Bond’s license to kill. For one thing, the people claiming that the end times are near act with a sense of moral smugness that permits them to do whatever they want without being called to account for it. And, of course, they will soon be saved and their guilt will be a moot point.

That is particularly true in the case of ISIS. According to a recent post on CNN’s website:

A key window into understanding ISIS is its English language “in-flight magazine” Dabiq. Last week the seventh issue of Dabiq was released, and a close reading of it helps explains ISIS’ world view.

The mistake some make when viewing ISIS is to see it as a rational actor. Instead, as the magazine documents, its ideology is that of an apocalyptic cult that believes that we are living in the end times and that ISIS’ actions are hastening the moment when this will happen.

The name of the Dabiq magazine itself helps us understand ISIS’ worldview. The Syrian town of Dabiq is where the Prophet Mohammed is supposed to have predicted that the armies of Islam and “Rome” would meet for the final battle that will precede the end of time and the triumph of true Islam.

If there is any branch of Christianity I distrust, it is the Evangelical sects, whose chief preoccupation is to take whatever parts of the Bible they choose to concentrate on and use it to make their followers not only cower in fear, but continue to support the preachers who are working on their susceptibilities.

Perhaps we should send a delegation of Evangelical preachers to Dabiq and kill two birds with one stone.

What Do We Have to Offer Them?

ISIS Fighters

ISIS Fighters

By “them,” I mean disaffected teenagers of Sunni Muslim backgrounds. By “we,” I mean Western democracies such as the United States, Britain, and France. Let’s face it, Islamic immigrants are looking for a better life. Many of them find it; but many wind up as dysfunctional families in which the kids want to nullify their parents’ decision to emigrate. These teens are prime candidates for ISIS, and many are trying to make the long trip to Syria—whether they are of Syrian extraction or not—and join up with the violent forces that are wreaking such damage in the Middle East.

In the end, all we have to offer them is a bullet—perhaps the sooner the better.

I am not saying that we should forbid Muslims to enter America: It’s just that we as a society have to be prepared to accept a certain amount of undesirable blowback. Once an American kid has decided to fight in a conflict as a combatant in an organization that our country has designated as terrorist, then he possibility of a good outcome declines to near zero. This is a particular problem in Britain because so many immigrants there hail from Commonwealth countries such as Pakistan that are rigidly fundamentalist. With France, the Islamic population is predominantly North African and therefore less likely to identify with Arab goals.

What can we do? I think that intervening to prevent kids from traveling to Iraq and Syria is a good start, but difficult, especially since there are no direct flights. A teenager could fly to Europe and then enter the combat zone by flying to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, or some other intermediate Arabic destination, and only then crossing the border by land.

Human nature being what it is, we cannot prevent immigrant families from becoming dysfunctional. And, let’s face it, we have troubles enough with our non-Muslim children joining gangs, taking drugs, and committing heinous felonies.


Why the Arab Spring Failed

With Islam, You Have to Buy the Whole Package

With Islam, You Have to Buy the Whole Package

If a religion is pervasive enough to tell you which hand to use to wipe your butt, the chances are that things won’t improve when you throw out that dictator, such as Mubarak, Assad, or Gaddafi. Instead of a thousand flowers blooming, what you are likely to get in his place is a bunch of ragged bearded men brandishing AK-47s and insisting on more radical forms of religious fundamentalism. Since politics and then whole subject of governance is dictated by the Quran, there is no such thing as democracy or a constitution that does not comply with Sharia law. There is only religious fundamentalism or dictatorship: the dial does not go in any other direction.

My comments here are primarily restricted to the Arab countries and a few North African countries. For over half a century, Turkey has been a largely secular democracy (though with some Islamist leanings). The Muslims of Southeast Asia run the gamut from Pakistan as the most fundamentalist to Malaysia and Indonesia as more permissive.

With most flavors of Islam, there is no hierarchy: There are just a lot of imams contradicting one another. (The only exception is Iran, where there is a hierarchy of Ayatollahs with Khamenei in charge.)

When many of the Arab (and some North African) countries erupted two years ago, most Americans (myself included) had some foolish notion that the result would be an ultimate victory for liberal democracy. As it turned out, it was anything but!

How Our Era Will Be Remembered

Turmoil in the Middle East

Another Day of Turmoil in the Middle East

Clearly, Islam is undergoing a large-scale upheaval. Ever since the break-up of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, most Muslims in the Middle East have been living in countries with ill-defined borders ruled by various strong men. There is a general feeling that all is not well with their part of the world.

Beginning in the peri0od between the two World Wars, American and European oil companies moved in on these strong men and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: unlimited wealth and power, if only they would sign on the dotted line. They signed, all right, but after almost a century, that money has not filtered down to the Arab man on the street. (Most of it probably ended up in offshore banking accounts owned by the strong men and their families.)

What to do about it? Well, first of all, one could riot and cause mayhem. Even if they topple one strong men, like Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, there is always a Mohammed Morsi waiting in the wings to make himself and his family equally rich and powerful.

Or, another popular option is to blame the West for all their ills. “Ameriki” is the Great Satan and must be destroyed, along with its jackal partner Israel. If your country’s unemployment rate for young men is something like 75%, then blowing oneself up along with Islam’s enemies looks like a good career move. The Jihad Option is a popular one, especially the more the situation appears to be dire. The problem is, when all of Islam’s external enemies have been destroyed, then it will be necessary to move on the internal enemies, such as Shia, Alawite, or Sufi Muslims; Druzes; Baha’is; Copts and other Middle-Eastern Christians, and others. Other than filling graveyards, how does that solve their problems?

Islam has so very many enemies, and so few friends. If, by merely existing, Americans become enemies of Jihadists, what’s the point of trying to kiss up to them? The pity of it all is that, to quote Yeats:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

And the streets are teeming with the worst….