Monday, 16 March 2015

The Roots of Muslim Rage


What is to be done? I ask this question to my fellow British Muslims. At the current time of writing, another three teenagers, girls this time, have left the UK and headed to Syria to join ISIS. Another teenager was arrested for plotting to behead a British soldier, and last week a mother was arrested trying to get to Syria to join ISIS, with her two-year-old son in hand. We have managed to outsource at least as many Isis fighters as Indonesia, a country with 65 times as many Muslims. We’re competing, in the globalised world of terror outsourcing, with Saudi Arabia, the most extreme Muslim country on the planet since the Taliban government in Afghanistan was overthrown, and Tunisia, a destabilised littoral that just had a revolution and its political infrastructure eviscerated. We must ask ourselves, why are people across such a broad spectrum as medicine students, teenage girls and religious fanatics like Abu Rumaysah filled with rage to the point of leaving this country and taking up arms?

Bernard Lewis, a well-known Orientalist, pulled out the root of the problem 20 years ago, and titled the paper ‘The Roots of Muslim Rage’. It’s an argument Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physicist who lives in the middle of the warzone in Islamabad, revisits:

Deep down, Muslims feel that they have failed. There are around 1.5 billion Muslims in the entire world — but they cannot point to a substantial achievement in any field. Not in politics, not socially, not in the sciences or art or literature. The only thing they do with great devotion is fast and pray… people naturally feel this is a collective failure... I’m just sticking to the facts: what significant invention or discovery have Muslims made in the last thousand years? Electricity? Electromagnetic waves? Antibiotics? The combustion engine? Computers? No, nothing, at least nothing that makes for a modern civilization…This Insh’Allah mentality, according to which Allah is responsible for everything, is the opposite of the scientific way of thinking.’

The roots of Muslim rage lie in its failure. When you go from the intellectual centre of the universe, to the current state of the Muslim world, a selection of countries only slightly better off on the Human Development Index than Sub Saharan Africa, the notion of being God’s chosen viceroys on Earth is a difficult circle to square. Extremist groups offer a poisoned panacea to the problem, by galvanising the post-colonial subject living in the West to take up arms. Those unwilling to join such poisonous groups want to put their heads in the ground and shout ‘kufr’ - at the West - hoping it goes away, and pretend there’s no problem in the Muslim world to begin with. In the middle are masses of people who go to mosque, understand nothing since the sermons are in Punjabi, read a book they also can’t understand, then go home and see the Muslim world in flames. They naturally get put off orthodox Islam, and begin to drift towards charismatic, hard-line English speaking YouTube clerics, and eventually to the darker sides of the internet, to pornography or religious extremism, which I’ll return to. They believe the mainstream clerics have failed, and a strict literalism is the way out. There is some truth to the former claim. The clerics of old prevented[1] the spread of the printing press in the Muslim world, the most important invention in human history, because they thought it would lead to religious malpractice. The intellectual collapse in the past 1,000 years and defeat that followed wasn’t caused by the West later on. The clerics stunted it from the offset. They also resisted the abolishment of slavery. America abolished slavery in 1865, Saudi Arabia and Yemen got around to doing it in 1962, and Mauritania finally made it a crime in 2007. Either Britain or France forced the rest of the Muslim world into abolishing it, it didn’t come out of enlightenment, and a new form of ‘ijtihad’ (interpretation) of the sacred texts for the modern reality. So what is to be done? I would call on the government to create the official position of a Grand Mufti of the United Kingdom, the highest governmentally recognised leader of the religion in the land. Other non-Muslim countries have similar positions, including Australia and Russia. In having an absence of centre, the narrative is being filled with extremist voices. Without a leader, progress is slow. As Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah says ‘an empty chair cannot speak for itself’. There are already plenty of potential candidates, most obviously Timothy Winter (Abdul Hakim Murad), the head of the Muslim College in Cambridge, who is both a respected Islamic theologian having graduated at the most prestigious centre of Islamic education in the Muslim world, Al Azhar in Cairo, and a Cambridge educated English gentleman. Someone like that could speak to both the East and the West, and bring both together. By speaking on issues when they arise, and establishing an orthodoxy on a national and official platform, it would help bring about an organic 21st century British Islam.

The link between desensitizing filth online and the jihadist movement is also well documented. People aren’t becoming radicalised in their places of worship’ says the mother of one of the sexually frustrated girls going to Syria to fight, and get married, rather they are ‘being radicalised in their bedrooms by being on the internet’. Isis militants are known for engaging in abnormal sexual fantasies. Bin Laden had a personal stash of hard-core pornography at his compound. The 9/11 hijackers were visiting prostitutes the night before their terrible deed. Put simply, the jihadis are both disillusioned with the religious establishment and sexually frustrated.[2] Pakistan, Egypt Iran, Saudi Arabia, Morrocco and Turkey top the top 10 list for global pornography consumption[3]. Unsurprisingly, those same countries have sent the most number of jihadis to the war in Syria and Iraq. This has been a long time coming, but making people have to opt in to view online pornography (since banning it outright would never be considered) would help stem the tide of desensitized minds that are easy to exploit in this country.

Finally, according to Professor of Psychology Beatriz Luna, the rising trend of avoiding marriage, parenthood and a career keeps the brain in a constant state of "Kidulthood"'. Adulthood does not start now until 25 and over. No wonder so many of those going over to Syria and Iraq from this country are young. They’re impressionable and have no responsibility anchoring them down. Read 17th century or early 18th century English novels. You have children at age 8 having to look for work. Oliver Twist starts working at the age of 9. The authors weren't fanciful; they were describing the social structure they were in. We forget this. The brain develops relative to the pressures against it. In today's welfare, moral relativist, nanny society, you have people clinging onto their youth in denial of becoming an adult, stuck in a day job they thought they’d escape as if their easy going life was going to continue forever. They become drug addicts or adrenaline junkies, addicted to hard-core pornography or social media likes, having to remind themselves they’re alive at all. It’s no wonder studies have shown radicalisation is more likely with the rich and comfortable, since there is little struggle or pressure acting against them and anchoring them down[4]. With no teleology in a late capitalist secular society, they get lost in the wilderness. They become mass shooters, join Isis, fed up of watching Eastenders over a ready meal again and again. I advocate for bringing back national service, and increasing the uptake of minorities into the British army, police force and other front line services from school onwards by targeting those that don’t want to go into further education.

The seeds of an organic Islamic revival, which balances the realities of modern life with tradition are both necessary, and already being put into place. I have hopes educated Muslims in the west will reinvigorate a tired and demoralised Muslim Ummah in the years and decades to come. One quarter of Muslims in this country have degrees[5]. A group par excellence in secular sciences which can be taught to mould the realities of faith and the realities of postmodernity into unison with one another. We can act as bridges between tradition and modernity, east and west, being spatiotemporally located at the crux of both. To those beleaguered amongst you, remember, that in 1453, the Turks took Constantinople. The West was certain for defeat. This event paradoxically gifted it the entire world. I have my suspicions history is once again turning on the dynamo. Post-colonisation, millions of Muslims immigrated to the west, from a defeated and beleaguered Ummah. Even if we can’t change the world, we should plant the seed so that others can taste the fruits.

[1]http://www.academia.edu/4093493/The_Reasons_behind_the_delay_of_adopting_the_early_printing_in_Muslim_countries_Brief_thoughts
[2] http://www.meforum.org/5042/why-jihadis-obsessed-with-porn

[3] http://www.salon.com/2015/01/15/why_porn_is_exploding_in_the_middle_east_partner/
[4] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/radicalised-muslims-in-uk-more-likely-to-be-wellheeled-9754062.html
[5] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/immigration/11409181/British-Muslims-integration-and-segregation-are-about-economics-not-values.html

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Inmates Are Running The Asylum: Looking At The CIA Torture Report

Last night, whilst chewing on pistachios, I read the descriptions of torture the CIA had been carrying out over the past decade. I could not help but constantly recall in the back of my mind a statement made by Anton Lavey:

‘There is a beast in every man that should be exercised, not exorcised’

For those unfamiliar, Anton Lavey founded the Church of Satan. He wrote the Satanic Bible. Read these descriptions of the CIA’s torture program and see if I was mistaken for subconsciously baptizing their actions with his words:

• 'The CIA put hummus in a detainee's rectum'
• ‘Prisoners were walked around naked or were shackled with their hands above their heads for extended periods of time. About five CIA officers would engage in what is described as a “rough takedown”. A detainee would be shouted at, have his clothes cut off, be secured with tape, hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched’.
• 'Interrogators forced detainees to stand on broken feet'
• 'The CIA tortured a detainee, he then gave them some bad information, and they used that bad information to detain two more people.'
• ‘The report mentions mock executions, Russian roulette.  One prisoner died of hypothermia brought on in part by being forced to sit on a bare concrete floor without pants.’

Psychologists were brought in and paid 80 million dollars to scientifically induce the maximum amount of pain possible. They did not of course have ‘any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialised knowledge of al-Qaeda, a background in counter-terrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise’[1] in this insane asylum. These cowboy psychologists used their private contracts to fleece the government of every penny they could. None of this includes the 9,000 pages still classified. It is as if someone read accounts like this of the Soviet gulags and had brought them back to life:

'“There is no God, no hereafter, no punishment for evil. We can do what we wish.” I have heard one torturer even say, “I thank God, in whom I don't believe, that I have lived to this hour when I can express all the evil in my heart.” He expressed it in unbelievable brutality and torture inflected on prisoners’.[2]


The bottom line is that torture, as well as being a moral abomination, does not work. The report concluded it led to ‘fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence’[3]. This isn’t difficult to work out. When you’re being tortured, you’ll say anything to stop being tortured. The historical record shows that torture unsurprisingly also impregnates the victim with an intensity to take revenge against their torturer, giving birth to worse outcomes than the torturer intended to eradicate. For instance, Sayyid Qutb is considered as the intellectual father of the modern Islamist movement[4] [5]. Qutb’s philosophy was hardened after he was tortured in jail by the Egyptian state authorities. One of his students was a young Ayman al-Zarhiwi. Zarhiwi is the current head of Al Qaeda[6]. Osama Bin Laden’s public statements are also littered with references to Qutb’s philosophy[7]. We can only wait and speculate if the head of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was once described as a ‘quiet, studious fellow and a talented soccer player’[8], was also tortured in the American prison he was held in, as some speculate[9].

The CIA, to their credit, released an official response to the torture report:

'[the] interrogation program had shortcomings and the Agency made mistakes. The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qa’ida and affiliated terrorists[10].'

In other words, they're disappointed they didn't get to master the technique of ramming hummus into a man’s anus well enough. There is no admission of guilt. No mention of the c word (crimes). Just a passive regret they couldn’t do it better on a global scale. Any socially sick country[11] that indulges in such national sadism has no right to lecture others on moral precepts. Nor is the emission of the report into the media stratosphere, to be repeatedly shot at with our eye balls before falling out of memory, a moral waiver of crimes committed by the American state, any more so than retrospective admission of Stalin’s crimes by the Russian state. The discerning factor between these two cases is the immediacy of the crimes and the greater extent to which the criminals involved here can be prosecuted. Thus far, the Obama administration has only charged one individual for the crimes committed, John Kiriakou[12], the man who exposed them. Contrary to Dian Feinstein (who led the senate investigation) who said history would look kindly on the United States for publishing the report, it will only cement the reputation of the United States as a Banana Republic, with a two-tier justice system. Selling cigarettes on the street will get you killed, getting an intern to give you fellatio will get you impeached, but no crimes were committed here.

Internationally, human rights groups are again demanding George Bush and Dick Cheney be prosecuted for war crimes, but this only occurs to black Africans or Asians. If they were ever prosecuted, the United States has the American-Service Members Protection Act, colloquially referred to as the Netherlands Invasion Act, signed into law, by Bush, to quite literally invade The Hague should it have the audacity to ever trial an American for war crimes.[13] There is no upside or spin to this story. Just the brute reality the world is filled with utter moral bullshit.




[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/11283967/CIA-paid-psychologists-80m-to-devise-and-use-torture-techniques.html
[3] http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/dec/09/senate-committee-cia-torture-does-not-work
[4] http://www.newstatesman.com/religion/2010/02/qutb-islam-muslim-human
[5] http://foreignpolicy.com/2010/12/15/the-afterlife-of-sayyid-qutb/
[6] Bruce Lawrence, Messages to the World, The Statements of Osama Bin Laden, pp. 58
[7] Bruce Lawrence, Messages to the World, The Statements of Osama Bin Laden,  pp. 229
[8] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/07/was-camp-bucca-pressure-cooker-extremism
[9] http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/07/was-camp-bucca-pressure-cooker-extremism
[10] https://www.cia.gov/news-information/press-releases-statements/2014-press-releases-statements/statement-from-director-brennan-on-ssci-study-on-detention-interrogation-program.html
[11] http://gawker.com/fox-news-host-get-over-cia-torture-report-because-ame-1669234479
[12] http://www.vox.com/xpress/2014/12/9/7361667/senate-torture-report-kiriakou
[13] http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2009/0213/p05s01-woeu.html

Sunday, 31 August 2014

The Rise of the Hobgoblins

Recently, I stopped paying attention to the news, and started looking at how it’s being framed. Take this example of what I mean, from a headline published by the Financial Times:

Cynicism is no match for the mortal threat posed by ISIS[1]

The Daily Express had plastered on it three words from the Prime Minister discussing ISIS: Greatest Ever Threat[2].

If ISIS is the ‘Greatest Ever Threat’, then we may increase the national deficit paying Literature graduates to come up with descriptions for traumas of old. Let’s look at the facts. ISIS is fighting on two fronts in a mere 500-mile stretch between Baghdad and Damascus. To its north is Turkey, the second largest army in NATO, to its west, Israel, the fourth most capable military power on Earth, to its East, Iran, which has been bulking up its armed forces - since being made part of the ‘Axis of Evil’ - to its South, Shiite militias which were able to expel the British armed forces from Basra[3] and on top of all that is the Iraqi army who, now in Shiite areas, are motivated to actually fight than flee as they did in Sunni Mosul. Short of invading Jordan, ISIS has reached the greatest borders it can hope to achieve, conquering an area about the size of Belgium[4]. After ISIS, the fighting in Ukraine is the biggest scare story of the week. That conflict has claimed 2,200 lives, meaning the crude murder rate in Ukraine is about 4.8 violent deaths per 100,000 people, or the same murder rate as the annual one produced in the US from general gun violence. The Game of Thrones being played between Putin and NATO may be interesting for political theoreticians looking at the situation from 30,000 feet, but this isn’t quite Stalingrad. In light of all this, either the press is privy to information of an ISIS/Ukrainian/Putin/NATO super-weapon about to engulf the world, or we’re suffering the biggest stroke of collective amnesia in history. Are we really justified in letting the establishment wrap us all in a blanket of fear before nursing us with the sour medicine of more government policies and curtailment of our liberties? My short answer is no. Here’s the longer one.

Barack Obama was factually correct when reassuring the distraught news and twitter junkies around the world that the world is safer today than it has been. Lets go through our recent track record.
The 19th century was a complete and utter horror show. The ethnic cleansing of the Americas was completed. Across the Atlantic, Africa was completely colonized. Belgium, that small harmless country on the road to France for German armies to march through, killed some 8 million people in the Congo[5]. Lets not even go into what the industrial giants did. I could go on with that century.
The less said about the 20th century, the better. It averaged 1.6 million war deaths per year[6]. How does that compare to the 21st century? You know, the one in which a new crisis seems to pop up like a whack-a-mole every week? Using the highest estimates for the death tolls in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Mexican drug war and other conflicts currently raging around the world, we barely get to one tenth of that figure. One estimate (admittedly using the lower casualty counts) averages it at 1/30th of that figure, about 55,000 deaths per year this century[7]. Even the incurable Ebola virus, after having claimed 2,000 lives, is a well way short of the 60-100 million claimed by the Spanish flu just a century ago. Considering the jolt in speed modern transportation systems have over their counterparts a century ago, it’s quite reassuring it isn’t spreading and killing en masse.
That is of course not to negate the suffering of people today. For instance, the bombardment of Gaza has only recently ended. This conflict could be an article in of itself. But as a barometer, when 300 Holocaust survivors have to come out and condemn Israel for the ‘ongoing genocide of Palestinian people…[we]…are disgusted and outraged by…abuse of our history … to justify the unjustifiable[8]’, that’s a good indication of the state of affairs. Not to mention the quarter of a million people killed next door in Syria by a brutal tyrant.
But if our current panic is to go by, our ancestors would have committed collective suicide in despair had social media and a 24-hour news cycle been available during those times. It should be considered a miracle social media and instant sharing emerged in a time of such relative peace as it did. In light of this there is no good reason to be in the state of bewilderment as people are. The world is a much better place than it used to be.
In 1990 Freedom House only listed 69 countries as being ‘democracies’. Today the figure stands at 122[9]. Be under no illusions, being under democratic governance does not entail justice. In the world’s largest democracy, India, 200 million people live life as an ‘untouchable’, where sweeping excrement from the street is considered their job. Turkey imprisons more journalists than any other country on Earth[10], and here in England, the police raid the offices of newspapers to destroy their hard drives for printing stories the government disapproves of[11]. But the trend is nonetheless better than its reverse.

The real reason why the establishment is whipping up fear, is to provide an early introduction of laws which will later be used during actual times of crises. Humanity is about to cross over the Rubicon. The effects of global warming are real and being felt. Anyone who has studied the conflict in Syria will know that although the spark may have been lit in Tunisia, the dynamite was already in place to be lit, caused by the unprecedented drought and social disruption that preceded the uprising. The water-wars, lack of sufficient resources and food riots are coming. ISIS and Ukraine are mere stepping-stones over the Rubicon. As the American writer H. L. Mencken once noted:
'The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.'[12]
The article I opened with by the Financial Times warned the megaphoning of ISIS and Ukraine was a way of ‘the security state’ being able to ‘account for its existence’. The government needs reasons to put in place more Draconian laws and monitor, literally, everything you do. It now has it in its new hobgoblins to do so. Chin up, wrap tight in the blanket given to you and swallow the medicine, there’s much more on the way.


[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs/the_papers/
[4] http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/08/the-many-ways-to-map-the-islamic-state/379196/
[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopold_II_of_Belgium#Exploitation_and_atrocities
[6] Vijay Mehta, The Economics of Killing, p.4
[7] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/08/15/think_again_war
[8] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/holocaust-survivors-and-their-descendants-accuse-israel-of-genocide-9687994.html
[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_in_the_World#Trends
[10] http://cpj.org/imprisoned/2013.php
[11] http://rt.com/news/guardian-hard-drives-destroyed-697/
[12] http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/alerts-2013/745-where-journalism-collides-with-state-security-bbc-news-mi5-and-the-mantra-of-keeping-people-safe.html