Saturday, February 21, 2015

Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here (2)

(Part one of this review was posted here.)

Algerian-American author and academic Karima Bennoune's moving and informative Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism, using interviews from 300 people across almost 30 countries, celebrates the messy diversity of lived reality (Pp10-11), which is precisely what Muslim fundamentalism seeks to deny, control and eliminate beyond its narrow conceptions of "proper" social order. Much of the book is based around testimonies from women of Muslim heritage (remembering that Islam is both a religion and a civilisation). But in telling their stories, Karima Bennoune also stresses the importance of progressive Muslim fathers in giving their daughters space to aspire (Pp110-1).

What it is
Karima Bennoune is telling the stories of the victims and opponents of Muslim fundamentalism. In doing so, she seeks to inform and warn of Muslim fundamentalism's nature and intentions. Muslim fundamentalism:
is one of the most truly transnational fundamentalisms, notable for the ubiquity of its adherents and the sophistication and reach of its vicious armed groups. (p.14).
But to understand this, we have to break free of Western framings that have little to do with the realities within Muslim coummunities and societies:
Some Western observers see Muslim fundamentalists as the stalwart representatives of the local standing up to the global, the Jihad versus McWorld scenario. That is not how they often see it on the ground. Women in Niger complained bitterly to me that fundamentalists were trying to replace the wonderfully colourful local dress--the boubou--with dour veils worn by some in the Arabian peninsula, to de-Africanise their lived Islams. Moroccan anthropologist Hassan Rachik had explained this dynamic when he wrote that the Muslim majority societies currently face two kinds of globalisation, "Western globalisation" and "Islamic globalisation," by which he meant transitional Muslim fundamentalist networks and ideology. In other words, Jihad is McWorld, just a different version of it. (p.15)
Lived Islams is a phrase to remember, particularly when Islamists parade as defenders of "authentic" Islam. Especially as their project is all about a drive to change most Muslim's relationship with their religion. As one Salafi preacher talking to a Western journalist made clear:
SHERIF’S DISMISSAL of non-Salafi Muslims as “infidels” was harsh. Many Muslims won’t even call a Christian or Jew a kafir, since they worship Allah, in their own benighted ways. If Sherif really meant “infidel”—and I never knew a Salafi to joke about such things—he was consigning not just those in downtown Alexandria, but nearly every Muslim in the world, to scorching damnation. I returned to Cairo and asked Hesham whether that judgment might be a tad extreme. He didn’t budge. “The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said that not one in a thousand of his followers would join him in Paradise.” So no one should be surprised that the criteria for proper practice of Islam would be extremely strict.
Given the all-encompassing nature of their social agenda, to see Muslim fundamentalists as "anti-imperialist" is to make a profound mistake. As Pakistani documentary filmmaker and women's rights advocate Gulnar Tabassum says:
They have an imperialism of their own which is very much about control and exploitation and abuse of their own people (p.245).
Karima Bennoune goes on to ask:
Why would an "anti-imperialist" blow up the markets of Peshawar were local women shop? Or decimate mosque after mosque full of minority-sect Muslims? (p.245)
Though a "festering anti-Americanism", spread, Gulnar Tabassum says, by the media and government, gives the Taliban cover (p.246).

The jihadis use the rhetoric of religion and jihad to create something new in its methods. As an Algerian anti-terrorism expert says "Jihadism is not jihad" (p.169). Or, in the words of Pakistani peace activist Diep Saeeda:
But the next day, they will go to the women's bazaar, explode there, and kill women doing the shopping. So, what kind of ideology is this? (p.241)
Grappling with those sort of questions can be confronting. To the extent that there is appeal in denial and conspiracy theories about who is "really" behind the killings--whether in Algeria (p.172), in Pakistan (p.243) or elsewhere. (Or utterly clueless commentary on the global rise in anti-Jewish violence.)

The tales of suffering, victims and opposition are also tales of endurance and survival. Algerian human rights activist Cherifa Djazairouma--whose mother and niece were shot and wounded by Muslim fundamentalist terrorists while her sister was shot and killed, her brother tortured to death--when asked how she survived the experience replies:
Survive? I don't know if I survived. (p.175)
The prolonged experience of terror changes people. In the words of Algerian writer and journalist Mustapha Benfodil, who was captured and tortured by Muslim fundamentalist terrorists in 1994:
Ten years of terror ... had ended up killing in us a sentiment as human as fear. (p.183)
Karima Bennoune admires the resilience of the Afghans. Her Afghan interlocutors are horrified when she tells them that Algerians used to call the worst of the AIG cadres "Afghans". The Afghans called such itinerant jihadis "Arabs" (p.250).  Yet again, how much the fundamentalist surge has changed lived Islam is remembered by her interlocutors, including how socially freer Afghan society used to be (p.262).

Horia Mosadiq, lead researcher for Amnesty International in Afghanistan, reminds readers that the "peace" of rule by the Taliban was more murderous than the NATO-invasion "war" that overthrew it (p.263). Hence, of course, the massive flow of refugees (5.8 million) back into Afghanistan after the NATO invasion and occupation. But the murderous Taliban rule was largely invisible to the world media, while the NATO war against the Taliban insurgency is highly media visible.

Amnesty reminds us of the situation of women under Taliban rule:
Under the Taliban, women and girls were discriminated against in many ways, for the 'crime' of being born a girl. The Taliban enforced their version of Islamic Sharia law. Women and girls were:
  • Banned from going to school or studying
  • Banned from working
  • Banned from leaving the house without a male chaperone
  • Banned from showing their skin in public
  • Banned from accessing healthcare delivered by men (with women forbidden from working, healthcare was virtually inaccessible)
  • Banned from being involved in politics or speaking publicly.
There were many other ways their rights were denied to them. Women were essentially invisible in public life, imprisoned in their home. In Kabul, residents were ordered to cover their ground and first-floor windows so women inside could not be seen from the street. If a woman left the house, it was in a full body veil (burqa), accompanied by a male relative: she had no independence.
If she disobeyed these discriminatory laws, punishments were harsh. A woman could be flogged for showing an inch or two of skin under her full-body burqa, beaten for attempting to study, stoned to death if she was found guilty of adultery.
Rape and violence against women and girls was rife. Afghan women were brutalised in the law and in nearly every aspect of their daily life. A woman in Kabul had the end of her thumb cut off for wearing nail varnish, for example, in 1996.
'They shot my father right in front of me. It was nine o'clock at night. They came to our house and told him they had orders to kill him because he allowed me to go to school. The Mujahideen had already stopped me from going to school, but that was not enough. I cannot describe what they did to me after killing my father...'
A fifteen year-old girl in Kabul, 1995
A 1998 report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) goes into detail, supporting Horia Mosadiq's comments:
After taking control of the capital city of Kabul on September 26, 1996, the Taliban issued edicts forbidding women to work outside the home, attend school, or to leave their homes unless accompanied by a husband, father, brother, or son. In public, women must be covered from head to toe in a burqa, a body-length covering with only a mesh opening to see and breathe through. Women are not permitted to wear white (the color of the Taliban flag) socks or white shoes, or shoes that make noise while they are walking. Also, houses and buildings in public view must have their windows painted over if females are present in these places. (p.2) 
The Taliban is...the first faction laying claim to power in Afghanistan which has targeted women for extreme repression and punished them brutally for infractions. To our knowledge, no other regime in the world has methodically and violently forced half of its population into virtual house arrest, prohibiting them on pain or physical punishment from showing their faces, seeking medical care without a male escort, or attending school.
It is also difficult to find another government or would-be government in the world that has deliberately created such poverty by arbitrarily depriving half the population under its control of jobs, schooling, mobility, and health care. Such restrictions are literally life threatening to women and to their children. PHR’s researcher when visiting Kabul in 1998 saw a city of beggars — women who had once been teachers and nurses now moving in the streets like ghosts under their enveloping burqas, selling every possession and begging so as to feed their children. (p.34) 
This notion that the Taliban offered peace and that the Afghan people welcomed it, notwithstanding its price, is a durable, albeit flawed analysis of Afghanistan under the Taliban. As PHR’s health and human rights survey of women indicates, this is not an analysis shared by Afghan women themselves. Women were overwhelmingly horrified by the Taliban and its repressive rule, and many indicated that the period of civil war and rocketing was preferable to a life of begging, hunger, virtual house arrest, imprisonment, and enforced wearing of the burqa. Moreover, Raphel’s insistence that the Taliban is “indigenous” and the implication that it achieved power because of popular support is surprising, given the clear record of military, economic, and political support provided by Pakistan. (p.36)
Another recurring theme is the disastrous consequences of pandering to Muslim fundamentalism. For example, Karima Bennoune's Pakistani interlocutors note how important the "Islamisation" program of Zia ul-Haq's regime was in encouraging fundamentalism (p.241). The British in Egypt played the Muslim Brotherhood against the secular nationalists, Israel played Hamas against Fatah, Sadat and Mubarak played the Muslim Brotherhood against the liberals, the Algerian regime played the FIS against democratic secularists, Pakistan partly created the Taliban as an instrument to dominate Afghanistan and has used jihadis against India, the US funded fundamentalists against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The list goes on.

While political or strategic expedience was part of what was going on, one also wonders if the baleful effect of the Hegelian fallacy of modernisation theory was not also in play--the presumption that history has a direction, so serious religious belief is a thing of the past; thus "wave of the future" liberals, democrats, nationalists, secularists are the more "serious" threat. It surely plays a role in so many Western intellectuals, journalists and politicians being unable to take religious motives seriously.

One is reminded of the original "Red-Brown" alliance--the Stalinist KPD functionally helping the Nazis to bring down the Weimar Republic on the grounds that as "mere reactionaries" the Nazis were doomed by History. That turned out very badly for the KPD and while, in the longer run, the Soviet Union was able to expand, it only survived the consequences of the Nazi-Soviet Pact through the Anglo-Americans diverting key German forces (such as much of the Luftwaffe) and massively subsidising the Soviet war effort.

The Nazism of our time 
Another theme in the book is that the operational choices of Islamists vary far more than their underlying aims. Which puts into context the dramatic tactical shifts the Tunisian Islamist Party Ennahda has engaged in, for example (Pp272-3). In his 1993 piece Compromise with Political Islam is Impossible, Algerian left-wing educator Salah Chouaki, gunned down by Muslim fundamentalists in 1994, wrote:
[Egyptian philosopher Fouad] Zakariya identified and analyzed the following pattern: the Islamists occupy the socio-cultural terrain, then the politico-ideological terrain. They exert a multiform pressure on the society and the state. The latter makes concessions to them, and even ends up trying to outdo them so as not to allow itself to appear less Islamist than the Islamists. Thus, the state introduces Islamism in school, in the cultural realm, in institutions, in different spheres – including the economic one – thinking or pretending to think that it is promoting Islam as a religion. The Islamists profit from all of this, re-investing their gains in all manner of renewed pressures which win them yet more ground, and then they repeat this pattern again, at ever higher levels.
It is very much about a "long march through the institutions"; positively Gramscian indeed. All of which reinforces my point that the jihadis are the Islamic equivalent of the Nazis--a modernising revolt against modernity, adopting the operational techniques and total politics of Leninism for a very different political project; emphasising heroic, warrior virtues (whose appeal Susan Sontag memorably analysed in her Fascinating Fascism essay) in an explicitly atavistic project. Though theirs is a project of master believers rather than a master race. Still, Susan Sontag's closing comments are remarkably apposite:
Now there is a master scenario available to everyone. The color is black, the material is leather, the seduction is beauty, the justification is honesty, the aim is ecstasy, the fantasy is death.
The jihadis are the SS without the tailoring:
the SS seems to be the most perfect incarnation of fascism in its overt assertion of the righteousness of violence, the right to have total power over others and to treat them as absolutely inferior. It was in the SS that this assertion seemed most complete, because they acted it out in a singularly brutal and efficient manner; and because they dramatized it by linking themselves to certain aesthetic standards. 
Where loading up beheadings and brutality on YouTube replaces uniform aesthetics as the way to make one's statement about valorising violence. For:
fascism—also stands for an ideal, and one that is also persistent today, under other banners...the fetishism of courage, the dissolution of alienation in ecstatic feelings of community; the repudiation of the intellect; the family of man [believers] (under the parenthood of leaders).
The cult of the homicidal self-immolation of slaughtering "martyrs" is most certainly a fetishism of courage. When German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen infamously said of the destruction of the Twin Towers that it was:
the greatest work of art ever. That characters can bring about in one act what we in music cannot dream of, that people practice madly for ten years, completely, fanatically, for a concert and then die. That is the greatest work of art for the whole cosmos. I could not do that. Against that, we, composers, are nothing.
And British artist Damien Wise told the BBC that the attacks were:
visually stunning artwork: The thing about 9/11, is that it's kind of like an artwork in its own right. It was wicked, but it was devised in this way for this kind of impact. It was devised visually. . . . Of course, it's visually stunning and you've got to hand it to them on some level because they've achieved something which nobody would ever have thought possible. . . . So on one level they kind of need congratulating, which a lot of people shy away from, which is a very dangerous thing.
They were vindicating the continuing relevance of Sontag's analysis.

The ambitions of the Muslim fundamentalists are, however, much more grandiose than those of the Nazis. The Nazis "merely" wanted a Lebensraum empire to the Urals which would be (amongst other "purifications") Judenfrei. The Muslim fundamentalists are thinking much more global. In the words of the Islamic State's spokesperson:
“We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women,” Adnani, the spokesman, promised in one of his periodic valentines to the West. “If we do not reach that time, then our children and grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.”
What is the "root cause" of a multi-generational ambition for global domination? Or is salvation-through-seeking-global-acceptance-of-submission-to-the-sovereignty-of-Allah its own reward? Both in this world and the next.

Dilemmas of opposition
Secularists in the Islamic world are often in very difficult positions. Fewer more so than Palestinian secularists, caught between Hamas and Israel (p.325). And the corruption of Fatah.

As an aside, Karima Bennoune manages a lovely demolition of Jerry Falwell:
On the tenth anniversary [of 9/11], I thought a lot about the victims, like Father Mychal Judge, a gay Franciscan priest who was a Fire Department chaplain and died in the lobby of Tower One. Father Mike had administered to AIDS patients and alcoholics and was a fan of Celtic rock band Black 47. Rushing to comfort victims of terror, he became one. Christian fundamentalist Jerry Falwell said of 9/11 a few days later that the feminists and gays and all who tried to secularise America "helped this happen". Though he subsequently apologised, Falwell was clearly unable to understand Father Mike's life or his death (p.265).
Though, in a through-the-looking-glass way, Falwell was right, in that it is a wish to have, and a determination to block, the sorts of social freedoms that Westerners take for granted as experience and aspiration which has so riven the Muslim world. Karima Bennoune is right to wonder why Western liberals, progressives and folk of the left--who are so quick to denounce the politics of Western religious fundamentalism--seem so blind and mute about its (much worse) Muslim equivalents. Leftists of Muslim heritage, such as Fouad Zakaria and Salah Chouaki, can grapple critically with Islamic history:
In each and every case, it is fundamentalism that succeeds in re-orienting the positions that take hold in these spheres in its favor. This is because of the enormous scientific and cultural lag that affects these countries. It is also because the balance of power within religion, as shaped by our history, has erased the brightest pages of our Arabo-Islamic cultural patrimony – those which carry the seeds of rationality and of modernity. This historical dynamic has promoted the domination of the most conservative and obscurantist interpretations.
They are simply (mostly) ignored. Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka said on International Day of Peace in 2012 about Boko Haram:
We have an organisation which closes down schools, shoots faculty teachers...and turns most of the north into an educational wasteland. How can we reach children there? We must first get rid of Boko Haram. (p.266)
Karima Bennoune continues:
Movements like Boko Haram and Al Qaeda are so bent on the destruction of human beings that the only possible response is to abhor them--not the individuals in them but their collective political organisation and what it does. (p.266)
Boko Haram being another viciously murderous organisation operating in a social context free of substantive connections to the Cold War, Western intervention or the Israel-Palestine conflict. None of which ever explains why Muslim fundamentalists mainly kill fellow Muslims, use such recurring techniques of massacre, murder and brutality or engage in recurring forms of social and religious repression.  The "root cause" of jihadi terror is Muslim fundamentalism: looking for congenial-to-framings social causes is like looking for the "root cause" of the Holocaust in the unemployment of the early 1930s.

As an aside, the fumbling foreign policy cluelessness of President Obama and his Administration (how is that "reset" with Russia going?: no, actually ISIS is deeply--indeed obsessively--Islamic: as for a jobs program for ISIS, words fail) shows a depressing lack of sense of history. Likely based on a fairly extensive ignorance of it.

Regarding the nonsense about ISIS et al being "not Islamic", a comment on a typically sensible piece by Julian Sanchez is on point:
Arguing ISIS isn’t Muslim is like arguing the Habsburg or Swedish army in the 30 Years War wasn’t Christian.
Even their execution videos are laden with Islamic references. An Egyptian journalist is quite blunt about the genuine dilemmas within Islam:
Was Abu Bakr [first Caliph] morally wrong to burn that man [Fuja'ah Al-Sulami] alive? Nobody dares to say so. So we are left in this vicious circle, and you can expect more barbarity, because all this barbarity is sacred. It is sacred. This barbarity is wrapped in religion. It is immersed in religion. It is all based on religion. Your mission [as a cleric] is to say that while it is part of our religion, the interpretation is wrong. Do not tell people that Islam has nothing to do with this.
The suggestions of those interviewed about what to do about Muslim fundamentalism are many and varied (p.332). What Karima Bennoune herself seeks is popular mobilisation against Muslim fundamentalism and an empowering of civil society (Pp 332-3). Both their violence and their ideology need to be opposed:
there can be no successful strategy to combat terrorism that does not involve a commitment to ending the relentless fundamentalist attacks on civilians in Muslim majority contexts...
...the problem is also the discriminatory and hateful ideology that underlies it, the yeast that makes its beer. (p.336).
There are no useful "moderate" Islamist allies or partners for peace. There is:
a need to sometimes be uncompromising in facing off with fundamentalism. The attempts by some governments, by some academics, by some in civil society, and even by some Western feminists to accommodate some Muslim fundamentalist views about things like equality and the role of religion in public life help advance Islamist goals and undermine the people whose efforts are chronicled in this book (p.341).
Karima Bennoune cites Salah Chouaki, the aforementioned Algerian left-wing educator gunned down by Muslim fundamentalists in 1994, who wrote in his 1993 article Compromise with Political Islam is Impossible:
There is an unresolvable contradiction between support for the idea of a modern society and the belief...that it is possible to ‘domesticate’ the totalitarian monster of fundamentalism. ...
The best way to defend Islam is to put it out of the reach of all political manipulation. The best way to defend the modern state is to put it out of the reach of all exploitation of religion for political ends. (p.341)
As Karima Bennoune writes:
The world is messy and defies simple paradigms. That is what the fundamentalists cannot tolerate, but their opponents must. (p.312)
Why Western progressives are unlikely to listen
Which, sadly, is why what Karima Bennoune writes is likely to have so little resonance among the very people she so desperately wants to get through to. What she tells is too "messy" for their preferred framings, which are typically far too bound up in their sense of identity to be breached.

Modern liberals, progressivists and folk of the Left engage in highly moralised political discourse--and as psychologist Jonathan Haidt has famously argued, morality binds and blinds. It is easy to set up an "echo chamber" effect, where folk lapse into a collective moral narcissism, where one's sense of Virtue becomes one's reality principle.

Muslim fundamentalism comes from a different civilisation. It is a basic proposition of modern progressive Virtue that cultural differences are never problematic. (Unless, of course, it is Western cultural difference.)

Moreover, Muslims who look different and seek to be ostentatiously different are much better moral mascots (to use Thomas Sowell's phrase) or sacred victims (to use Jonathan Haidt's) than people of Muslim heritage who want to be "Western"--in appearance, aspirations, rights and prosperity. For obvious difference can be subject to obvious discomfort and discrimination. While seeking to be "like us" goes against the principle that Western-Civilisation-is-Responsible-for-Everything-Bad (or, at least, everything Bad-to-be-cared-about).

That the first victims of the Muslim fundamentalists are people just like Western progressives is precisely the problem: Muslim leftists, liberals and secularists are getting in the way precisely because they seek "Western" rights and advantages. When it comes to Virtuous "Othering", the more "other" the more Virtuous. In the words of Algerian feminist sociologist Marienne Helie-Lucas:
It seems to be presumed [that] Muslims do not deserve equal access to...freedom of thought and freedom of conscience (p.91).
By seeking such, they are massively undermining the fundamental principle of progressive Virtue that Western-Civilisation-is-the-Source-of-the-Bad(-that-we-care-about). Which has a corollary--Islam (as a faith or a civilisation) is never the-cause-of-anything-Bad (or never of anything Bad-to-be-cared-about). In France, for example, polling found that while those of right-wing sympathies have a more positive attitude to Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism than those of left-wing sympathies, there is one major religion where the those of left-wing sympathies have a more positive attitude than those of right-wing sympathies--Islam. Which is also the major religion with least positive attitudes towards it overall. This is not xenophobic "othering" (Buddhism rates very favourably), it is a very specific reaction.

One suspects that Karima Bennoune is far too naive about what drives so much of Western "progressive" opinion nowadays. Their inability to deal in any useful way with this reality helps the slow Islamist take-over of Muslim identity, making this sort of analysis all that more plausible.

Karima Bennoune freely admits her bemusement to hostile reactions from Western progressives to her attempts to inform folk of the politics of an Islamist (Anwar al-Awlaki) who was being used as a cause celebre in the West:
I struggled to understand why the Western Left was defending the Muslim Far Right and not me or, more importantly, their victims (p.24).
In part, this is another baleful effect of the progressivist obsession with the sins of the Jewish state. The Virtuous take on the Israel-Palestinian conflict relies quite fundamentally on not looking under the lid of Palestinian politics and society (particularly regarding Hamas): or, if one does, blaming it all on the Jews (aka Israel).

The blindness to the reality of Muslim fundamentalism is just continuing and extending the habit of refusing to look under the lid (or, if one does, blaming the Jews/the US/the West) because Western Civilisation-is-the-Source-of-Everything-Bad-to-be-cared-about.

In the name of authenticity, much of Western "progressive" opinion collaborates with a movement which seeks to profoundly alter the relationship of Muslims with their religion and in the name of anti-imperialism it functionally collaborates with a movement pushing a deeply oppressive cultural and social imperialism. All because it adherents are so wrapped up in congenial framings and Virtue-mongering that they refuse to do what they so ostentatiously allege we should all do--take the experience of people from other cultures seriously.

They desperately need to start looking and listening, to lifting the lid of what is going on within Muslim communities; to do so, that is, if they care about more than their own overblown binding (and blinding) sense of Virtue. Reading Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here would be a great place to start.


ADDENDA: The Obama Administration apparently excluded reform Muslims from its Extremism summit. But included Islamists.

The Copenhagen "lone wolf" killer had a very well-attended funeral.

[An adapted extract on jihadism as the Nazism of our time is at Skepticlawyer.]

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