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Radical Islamists are currently causing worldwide disturbances. They appear to believe that current problems can be solved if they gain power through violently destabilizing existing governments in Muslim societies especially in the Middle East.
For example Islamist extremists appear to believe that Muslim societies' problems are the result of centuries of Western oppression. This seems a misguided though convenient view, because:
Problems which have their origin in history can be overcome by those with creative spirit, but only made worse by those whose spirit is destructive.
The best way to discourage extremists may be to seriously seek out the currently-secret ideas their 'spiritual leaders' have about solutions – and have those solutions subjected to detailed assessment of their practicality by a ‘jury of their peers’ after inputs to those peers by reputable experts reflecting many different shades of opinion.
Furthermore examining the reasons that Islamists (whether extremist or moderate) believe that their proposals would solve difficulties that plague many Muslim-dominated societies has the potential to reveal obstacles that those societies face that are normally neglected.
It has reasonably been pointed out that theological assumptions can not be disproved by theological argument. However Islamist ideas seem to have mainly political, economic and (perhaps even) scientific implications which could be evaluated.
If the Islamists' ideas have merit, they can be more widely advocated. There are, after all, many ways of achieving constructive changes through presenting people with attractive ideas.
However if they do not have merit - and extremists are thus being disruptive for no justifiable reason - then the 'peers' will be likely to be able to discredit (pointless) extremists with their potential supporters.
The author suspects Islamists' ideas lack merit because Islam apparently embodies features (eg communal moral legalism and cosmological interpretations to rationalize social rigidity) that derive from the Arabic tribal context in which Islam emerged and may well be largely (though certainly not solely) responsible for the historical difficulties that Muslim-dominated societies (especially those in the Middle East) have experienced because they inhibit the change and learning that prosperity requires.
Islamism may be the logical end point of the assumption that states should be governed in accordance with the way a set of guidelines for life in the 7th century are interpreted by modern-day religious authorities. But it not likely to provide a basis for effective government in a changing environment.
Traditional Muslims have good reason to participate in a process to evaluate the ideology of Islamists, as extremists have challenged their authority and implied that extremism is needed to 'take seriously' the claim that Islam (being a religion which deals with all aspects of life) is thus a suitable basis for effective government by God's right-hand-men - a shift towards state religious authoritarianism that would seem likely to further reinforce the constraints on prosperity and modernisation that Muslim-dominated societies have suffered.
However the extremists may have precipitated a crisis for Islam, because the need now to critically evaluate Islamists' proposed 'solutions' could cause cracks to emerge in the whole world-view that has been built around Islam. That world view apparently suggests, for example, that natural and social systems should be 'scientifically' studied as a way of understanding the Divine - a dysfunctional assumption from a scientific viewpoint that has given Islamic scholars great authority over all aspects of life in Muslim societies. However, because of the need to publicly evaluate the ideology of extremists, traditional authority is now likely to be put at risk by intense exposure to alternative critical understandings.
This ultimately may be of great benefit to Muslim communities by liberating their people from centuries of intellectual bondage.
In 2012 (many years after there had been a critical need to do so) questions again seemed to be being raised about the many possible causes of the Middle East's backwardness, and whether Islam was a progressive influence (eg see Freedom and Progress in the Middle East below)
|The West as a Problem||
There is undoubted concern in Islamic societies about the nature and influence of the Western societies.
For centuries expanding Western influence seems to have been resented as that of inferior upstarts because:
Western political influence on national boundaries in the Middle East in the early 20th century associated with the secret Sikes-Picot agreement between France and Britain have been seen to have either: (a) created significant problems for the region; or (b) had no material impact at all - but none-the-less been viewed in various different ways as a symbol of the region's problems [See CPDS comment on this debate in Middle East's Problems: Are Domestic or External Factors More Important?].
It is important to determine whether (as seems likely):
There appear to be several levels to the motivations and goals of Islamist extremists, and these overlap with the concerns of many who do not engage in violence.
While extremists' intent can superficially be seen as simply perpetuating violence, deeper motivations (which also affect many who oppose violence) appear to be the result of: (a) unresolved conflict in the Middle East; (b) cultural and religious dislocation; and (c) perceived (economic) injustice;
These motivations appear to be driving long term efforts (by both extremists and others) to: (a) modernize Islam; and (b) create Islamic States under Shari'a Law
Some observers perceive Islamism (ie advocacy of government by God's right-hand-men to enforce Islamic law) as a medieval force, that is primarily reactionary, seldom creates and appears chronically disorganised and prone to internal division and distrust .
Islamist ideology apparently emerged with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1920s who saw the need to modernize Islam - eg by accepting aspects of science that were not contradicted by the Koran (in contrast to a fundamentalist Muslim rejection of all aspects of modernity). Moderate Islamism would presumably involve views similar to those expressed by Malaysia's former Prime Minister Mahathir concerning the need for Muslims to study both religion and science .
Islamist extremists may well also not involve traditional 'fundamentalists' who oppose modernization and seek to retreat from the world, but rather a faction whose goal is to change / modernize Islam (eg on the basis of their studies of sciences in Western universities) in the hope that this would allow Muslims to become relevant and successful in the modern world - and who are merely using traditional / fundamentalist Islamic rhetoric and attacks against outsiders as a means to recruit Muslim supporters.
For example, it has been suggested that: (a) the leadership of Al Qaida all have degrees from Western universities; (b) extremist leaders in SE Asia typically involves engineers and doctors (ie those with a modern scientific education); and (c) planning for the 9/11 events took place in the West (eg in Germany). A traditional Islamic scholar wrote at length about his perceptions of collaboration between extremists and Muslims in Western societies who posed as moderates. Islamism is now not only at home in Muslim countries, but in Mosques in the West. Moreover Sunni Muslims, traditionally seen as moderate, now include some extremists.
It appears likely that motivating the terrorists are those who, like earlier extremists in history, have 'modern' manifestos that they fervently believe would be a better way to run the world and which motivate their efforts [1, 2].
It is also significant that, there seems to be: (a) a perception that the moral law of Islam would be a way to civilize science and save humanity as a whole from technological materialism ; and (b) parallels between the Islamic philosophy about science and the challenges of modernity as understood by those who have undergraduate science degrees. In other words there may be a belief (in secret) that Islamism offers a superior path to modernisation.
It thus seems important to clarify whether Islamist extremists represent a 'medieval' or (as seems most likely) a 'modernizing' (often-Western-educated) faction because an incorrect assumption could make it:
In any case, as scholars are traditionally accorded the highest status within Islam (see About Arabic Thought and Islamic Science), it is reasonable to assume that the leadership amongst Islamist extremists will be scholars.
In 2013 a prominent Australian Islamist suggested that, rather than seeking to impose Shariah Law in the West, Western Muslims needed to go back to 'Muslim lands' to develop their strength (by being well educated, technologically advanced, intelligent, wise leaders of society - rather than goat-herders) so as to be able eventually to conquer the rest of the world.
In 2014 it was suggested that the ideology of Islamist extremists (Salafism) was modern and (like Communism before it) involved an idealistic attempt to create a better world (and that the only way to combat this was the eliminate problems in existing systems and enable moderate Islamic leaders to compete with the extremists).
The goal of Islamist extremism seems to be political control of the Middle East - by wresting power from the autocratic rulers and traditional religious authorities who forced the 'well-educated' classes to hide or flee to the West.
Attacks on the West seem to be primarily motivated by a desire by the 'well-educated' to trigger harsh Western responses in the Middle East that would motivate peoples in that region to rally to their cause. This goal appears to be accepted by experts as a frequent motivation for terrorism word-wide.
The importance of a Western response to terrorism was made explicit in 'Management of Savagery: The Most Critical Stage Through which the Ummah will Pass' (Abu Bakr Naji, 2004). Its theme was described in Wikipedia as:
"Management of Savagery discusses the need to create and manage nationalist and religious resentment and violence in order to create long-term propaganda opportunities for jihadist groups. Notably, Naji discusses the value of provoking military responses by superpowers in order to recruit and train guerilla fighters and to create martyrs. Naji suggests that a long-lasting strategy of attrition will reveal fundamental weaknesses in the abilities of superpowers to defeat committed jihadists.
Management of Savagery argues that carrying out a campaign of constant violent attacks in Muslim states will eventually exhaust the states’ ability and will to enforce their authority, and that as the writ of the state withers away, chaos—or savagery—will ensue. Jihadists can take advantage of this savagery to win popular support, or at least acquiescence, by imposing security, providing social services, and implementing Sharia. "
While the language of Islamic fundamentalism is used to motivate followers, political power appears to be the ultimate goal.
Both moderate and extremist Islamists appear to be advocating the adoption of the Shari'a, the sacred law of Islam, as national law in Muslim countries perhaps as the only way for Islam to survive the pressure of modernization and globalization [1, 2].
However Islamism is not universally accepted to be the 'answer'. For example: many Muslims argue that: Islam was never meant to be a system of government ; and power would cause Muslims to lose their trust in Islam ; and one observer suggested that, not only would Islamism have no appeal to non-Muslims as a governing ideology, but it is only seen as relevant in this way by 10-15% of Muslims 
Islamism may be gaining political support in the Middle East, not because of the 'solution' that it purports to offer to the Muslim world, but rather (as noted above), because Islamists are taking a leading role in resisting what is popularly seen as external 'oppression'.
It would thus seem desirable also to carefully evaluate :
If external oppression is not the main source of problems over the past few centuries and if the adoption of Islamist political and economic prescriptions would not actually work in practice, then Muslim peoples would be well advised to look elsewhere for leadership.
Alternative Options for Muslim Dominated States
Some leaders have argued that Muslims might achieve more by non-Islamist political and economic advancement. For example:
Numerous other attempts to identify the causes of, and remedies for, underdevelopment in the Muslim world have been reported, and these could also contribute to a framework for evaluation of the ideology of Islamist extremists.
|Problems in Extremist's Manifestos||
It seems very likely for various reasons that the ideologies and solutions advocated by Islamist extremists are unrealistic (eg because of their contamination by conspiracy theories). Moreover there seem to be plausible explanations of the problems that Muslim-dominated societies have suffered which imply that a great deal would be gained by liberating internal initiative (which is arguably the reverse of the practical effect of Islamism).
There are reasons to suspect that extremists' ideologies could be unrealistic. For example:
One US observer has suggested that extremist's ideologies reflect the limited information available within relatively closed Muslim communities.
Islamist extremists (and many others in the Muslim world) also appear to subscribe to the convenient theory that centuries of oppressive practices by Western elites are the sole / primary cause of the disadvantage that Muslim societies have experienced.
Such ideas are developed by conspiracy theorists in Western societies who typically seem to be pure 'idealists' who lack practical involvement in (and thus realistic information about) political and economic practices - and these assumptions seem to be accepted and amplified in Islamic societies. In particular the interpretation which extreme Leftists place on Western societies has been seen as the basis on which the West is understood by Islamist extremists .
The apparent contamination of Islamist ideologies by conspiracy theories is a major obstacle to the development of realistic proposals for a solution to problems in the Middle East or elsewhere because (even if everything in those theories were true) a credible proposal can only be defined by being in favour of something, not by being against somebody.
It seems likely that there could be ways in which the global framework could be enhanced to give all a reasonable prospect of success (eg see Defusing a Clash?). However such reforms will not be achieved on the basis of conspiracy theories that blame scapegoats.
Domestic Causes of Disadvantage
Muslim-dominated countries have long and complex histories, and many factors in those histories can be seen to have created problems (eg as argued above). And it would be invalid to claim that external influences have played no role. For example prevailing international business practices and economic wisdom arguably undermine the effectiveness of local economic leadership especially in regions with rich resources like much of the Middle East.
However there are some fundamental and extremely significant explanations of long-term disadvantage that appear to relate to unevaluated and unrecognized side effects of domestic constraints which seem to arise from Islam's Arabic roots such as:
There is some 'logic' in a tribal environment in presuming that individual initiative is likely to be dysfunctional for society as a whole - and this seems to be a key source of the perceived need for 'religious legalism' to be enforced through coercive family / communal pressure on individuals that has been carried over from 7th century Arabic tribal practices. Without the supportive social, economic and political environments that were created in Western societies and the introduction of broadly-based education individual rationality could never have become a more-or-less reliable (if not trouble free) method for problem solving. And the creation of those 'liberal' environment was critically dependent on the freedom from religious legalism that was provided by Christianity (see Cultural Foundations of Western Progress: The Realm of the Rational / Responsible Individual).
Religious liberty, as an alternative to religious legalism, would not mean that parents could not teach or discipline their children (or that adults could not advise their family / friends / neighbours; or that religious leaders could not teach about their faith). But it would avoid the obstacles to progress that any society must suffer if mortal humans claim that they have authority for judging the morality / ethics of what others do.
Progress Through Mobilizing Local Initiative
Muslim countries might best reduce their problems by exploring institutions and arrangements that allow ongoing economic and political change to be faster. Strict enforcement of a single set of moral principles (eg through communal pressure on individuals) encourages a fairly uniform way of life amongst a people which, while promoting harmony, inhibits the ongoing change that is absolutely vital for economic prosperity in particular. This did not matter too much when nothing changed much from generation to generation - but its effect has become disastrous as the pace of change has accelerated in recent centuries / decades
The Islamist goal of adopting the Shari'a as the basis for a government and law might compound existing weaknesses by seeking to judge changing and complex social and economic systems by relatively unchanging religious principles that can most relevantly be applied to individuals. In the case of Western societies it is fairly clear that governments are more effective in dealing with their secular responsibilities because of the separation of church and state.
There have been experiments with both the adoption of Shari'a law (in Iran) and the rejection of Shari'a law (in Turkey) from which lessons can be drawn . It can be noted that the Islamist revolution in Iran has reportedly reduced per capita incomes to 1/3 of what they were previously . Other media sources have also suggested a substantial increase in social inequality and injustice.
Islamic Theology is Not a Basis for Good Science
And unfortunately the apparent idealistic hope that Islam might contribute to general human advancement by imposing a moral order on the modern science and technology that underpins economic materialism also seems likely to be in vain.
The irony of the situation is that traditional Islam may have been resisting modernity quite unnecessarily. A plausible case can be made that fundamentalists (of many faiths) have been so busy fearing modernity (and thus limiting their prospects and losing intellectual credibility) that they have failed to note that modernity now may NOT be inconsistent with traditional religious discourse.
The historical difficulties Muslim societies have faced could be partly due to the fact that Islamic scholars, who have the highest levels of understanding, have at times interpreted Islam as requiring them to violently suppress further advances in knowledge. Moreover, as noted above, it may have been the risk that globalization would allow alternative ideas to bypass censorship by Islamic scholars that has now been a factor in encouraging extremists to direct attacks against Western societies that have been the drivers of globalization.
While it has reasonably been argued that theological assumptions can never be dis-proven by theological arguments , current Islamist proposals have significant political, economic and science implications whose likely practical effectiveness could be evaluated.
It may well be that the present author's understanding of these complex issues is misguided - and that careful examination taking account of all expert opinions would show that moderate Islamists' proposals would provide for effective political, economic, social, administrative, legal and scientific arrangements (noting that quite significant changes to current mainstream arrangements may well be required to deal with prevailing global challenges).
However, if this is not the case then moderate Islamists could only advocate (say) adoption of the Shari'a on the basis that this is required by Allah to protect Islam - and be left with the problem of showing traditional Muslims (and others) why Allah would want them to adopt an ineffective system of political economy (etc) and abandon any aspirations of achieving equality with relatively more prosperous East Asian and Western societies.
In any case, extremists who hope to effect change through violence are unlikely to have anything to contribute to increasing understanding of practical solutions.
Understanding of practical solutions to the problems afflicting Muslim dominated nations would have widespread benefits and could perhaps be best facilitated through: encouraging practical experience of moderate Islamism; evaluation of Islamic assumptions about science; and external support in evaluating the practical requirements for success by such societies.
Practical Experience for Moderate Islamists
The practical relevance of moderate or radical Islamists' political manifestos could be made more obvious to potential supporters if moderate Islamists gain some measure of political legitimacy so that they have to justify or implement their proposals in a practical sense.
Islamists appear to have gained legitimacy in Pakistan ; and Turkey - under a currently secular constitution . Moreover a democratically minded Islamist party appears to have emerged in Indonesia, apparently having concluded that revolution is not an effective way to gain power . Islamists could on demographic grounds reasonably be predicted to gain power in Iraq under the (more-or-less) democratic political process that has been established following the US-led invasion [1, 2]. Radical Islamists gained power democratically in Palestine  and have done well in elections in Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon - under a slogan of 'Islam is the solution' .
Evaluating Islamic Science
As well as evaluating the practicality of Islamists' proposals (ie whether Islam can actually be 'the answer' politically, economically, socially, administratively and legally), it would also be useful to make clear to traditional Muslims and outsiders whether the ideology of Islamists (who seem to be seeking a broader acceptance for Islam on the basis of integrating Islamic ideas with their understanding of modernity, science and engineering) is based on good science.
External Help in Increasing Understanding
It has been suggested that the unwillingness / inability of the Muslim majority to challenge Islamic radicals is a problem.
However when violence is used to promote naive political goals (or when there are no competent civil institutions able to inform a community about the practical political and economic implications of policy), policy weaknesses may not be able to be popularly understood.
If possible 'solutions' in parts of the Muslim world cannot gain any political legitimacy because of violence (eg by fundamentalists) and if efforts to expose Islamist extremists' manifestos to critical review seemed likely to be too dangerous in Muslim dominated countries, a country such as Australia could commission a domestic Islamic panel to suggest how Australians can best aid Muslim dominated countries generally. This would necessarily involve the grass roots' panel acting like a 'jury' by: considering ALL options (including those advocated by Islamists); seeking comments on those proposals from experts; drawing their own conclusions; and encouraging external commentary on the process and its conclusions.
Benefits for Muslims
Muslim religious leaders (including those in Australia) must have a strong motivation to evaluate extremists' ideology (eg because the extremists have challenged traditional authorities).
Muslim religious leaders must also have a motivation to evaluate extremists' ideologies because their communities will necessarily remain the subject of intense suspicion  so long as there is a risk that extremists might emerge from them and perhaps even use weapons of mass destruction  in terrorist attacks .
Benefits for the Others
Western leaders should have motivations to support such an initiative also, because, as difficulties in Iraq have shown, security forces are not an effective way of dealing with problems that have ideological roots.
However the US government, which has sought to take the global lead in countering Islamist extremism, does not appear to have focused on evaluation of the ideologies involved. A late 2005 report showed that in countering Islamist extremism its agencies focused on counterintelligence, counterterrorism, traditional diplomacy, force protection, public diplomacy, and economic and humanitarian assistance . It seems to be assumed that extremists' ideology is patently stupid and would not be accepted by anyone but ignorant religious fanatics - which seems a poor basis for effective communication with educated people who do believe that ideology to be rational and reasonable.
Australia's Inadequate Response [added later]
Australia's response to the opportunity to help Muslim dominated nations to deal with their challenges was disappointing - because the focus was merely on reducing risks to Australia of violence by Islamist extremists.
Initially this involved trying to censor radicals and then seeking to neutralise their potential domestic impact (ie to isolate Australia from the problems many Islamic societies face without doing much to help solve them).
In 2012 an Australia federal politician seemed to set a new low in Australia's response to this challenge, when (without clearly stating what he was talking about) he reportedly suggested that a European critic of Islamism (and of Islam) was the sort of 'extremist' whose views needed to be ‘defeated in a contest of rational thought’ (see Discrediting Extremists is Long Overdue).
Islamist extremists have arguably created a crisis for Islam as a whole, which could significantly erode its influence because they have:
This constitutes a potential threat to Islam as a whole.
Because of the security threat the extremists pose, which will put all Muslim communities under pressure, and the (Western-educated?) extremists' challenge to traditional religious authorities, Islam's dubious metaphysical assumptions are likely to be have to be defended under the critical case of the entire world before the risks are abated and will probably be discredited. Moreover the need to create an environment in which local initiative is not suppressed by 'tribal' pressures to conform (so as to accelerate social, economic, political and environmental progress) arguably requires review of the effect that Arabic tribal traditions had as Islam emerged from its Jewish and Christian roots. Re-examination of the framework for responsible individual liberty that was created by Christianity's founder (Jesus who Muslims call 'Isa and recognise as Islam's greatest prophet) might be an extremely useful step (see Where Did Religious Freedom Come From?).
Thus the main long term effect of the extremists' actions could be to erode the foundations of the intellectual authority which Arabic / Islamic scholars have traditionally exerted over Muslim communities, and (perhaps) to thus liberate Muslim peoples from centuries of intellectual bondage.
|CPDS Notes: Is There Coercive Religious Legalism In Islam?||
The following records various views about promoting discipline under Islam. This strongly suggests that there are a diversity of views on the subject, and that the way discipline is ensured has significant real world implications.
|CPDS Notes: Is Islam a Religion of Peace?||
An Australian observer who wishes to remain anonymous suggested in October 2014 (in response to a copy of an email on defeating the ideology of Islamist extremists) that Islam should not be regarded as a religion of peace.
"The problem of extremists in Islam can be very simply explained: Islam itself is a 7th century totalitarian political ideology, backward in its practices of segregation of the sexes and the subjugation of women. It does not allow for the economic progress that can be achieved through freedom and enterprise. Most of the wealth of Islamic countries comes from petro dollars, and this wealth is not distributed fairly. Islamic youth get disenchanted, they have no normal outlets for social mixing with members of the opposite sex, they blame the West for all their problems when it is their "religion" that is keeping them backward, and so resort to extremism as in IS. To solve the problem of terrorism and brutality as practised by IS we have to shine a bright examining light on the ultimate cause, which is Islam itself. IS is not doing anything which is not recommended in the Koran and which was practiced by Mohammed in his lifetime. This has been reasonably documented in many places such as David Pryce-Jones' "Caliphate fantasy gathers its force from the earliest traditions of Islam" (The Australian, 6/9/14)" [ Personal communication]
Note: The quoted source (see below) indicated that many references to the use of force could be found in Islamic texts, and that these references provide the model that the (so called) Islamic State is now seeking to replicate.
A prominent Australian Islamist argued in 2013 that Shariah law needs to be, and will be, imposed by force in Australia by Muslim armies from Muslim lands. There is no point in pressing for Shariah to be implemented now in the West. Muslims need to go back to Muslim lands, modernize and develop them and then spread Shariah by force.
An anti-Islamic group, Jihad Watch, suggested that its research proved that Islam was the most violent of the world's religions both in its texts and in practice 
Other sources have claimed that radical Islamism is simply a reflection of what is in the Koran and what was done in Islam's early history. For example:
From another perspective it was argued that Islamic texts contains references to both war and peace - and that, in this respect, Islam is just like other religions (see Milani M., 'The truth about whether Islam is a religion of violence or peace', The Conversation, 6/10/14).
A list of 109 verses in the Qur'an and Hadith can be identified which promote violence - and many were seen (in contrast to the Old Testament) to be open ended, rather than limited to the situation in a particular place and time (see What Does the religion of Peace teach about Violence?)
In response to the murder of staff at the Charlie Hebo magazine in Paris:
"Contrary to popular misconception, Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone. Therefore, Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression, as their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation and not based on people’s desires. Although Muslims may not agree about the idea of freedom of expression, even non-Muslims who espouse it say it comes with responsibilities. In an increasingly unstable and insecure world, the potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad are known to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Muslims consider the honor of the Prophet Muhammad to be dearer to them than that of their parents or even themselves. To defend it is considered to be an obligation upon them. The strict punishment if found guilty of this crime under sharia (Islamic law) is capital punishment implementable by an Islamic State. This is because the Messenger Muhammad said, “Whoever insults a Prophet kill him.” " 
70% of all war fatalities are in conflicts involving Muslims. There were 12,000 terrorist attacks in 2013 and most were in Muslim countries or carried out by Muslims. Most victims of such violence are Muslims. Not all of this is motivated by religion - but much of it is. Violent acts committed in the name of Islam can't be divorced from it. Islam does not make everyone violent - but violence and the reasons for it are explicit in Islam's sacred texts. Violence can be justified by apostasy, adultery, blasphemy, threats to family honour or to honour of Islam. It is not just extremists who show the violent face of Islam. It is revealed by governments in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran. The problem is that must Muslims won't repudiate this. There is a need for debate about the substance of Islamic thought and practice. The declaration of Islamic belief has both religious and political implications. In the early days of Islam, Mohammed was in Mecca trying to persuade polytheists to abandon their idols. He then went to Medina and his mission took on a political dimension. Unbelievers were invited to submit to Allah and then killed if they refused 
Some of the Left were seen to refuse to address realities surrounding Islamic extremism by authors of 'Islam and the Future of Tolerance'. Sam Harris (philosopher / neuroscientist) and Maajid Nawaz (former Islamist who became a liberal activist). While Islam is not a religion of war, it is not a religion of peace either. It depends on how the religion is interpreted. Harris, an atheist, called Islam the 'mother lode of bad ideas' - and criticized those who deny any connection between ideas and behaviour 
There is a global conflict between those who celebrate life and a cult of death. Osama bin Laden (drawing upon sayings of of Mohammad) argued that Muslim youth cherish death as much as US youth cherish life. These could be seen as views of extremists - but the fact is that fundamentalism is Islam's disease. Religion is reshaping the world. Despite the secularist view that Christianity is retreating it is spreading world-wide - and precipitating reactions which have been violent in the Muslim world. Islam can't meet the aspirations of its people and this often generates in an apocalyptic clash with unbelievers. This doesn't bother politicians who refuse to see what is happening 
A former Muslim argued that that there are good elements in Islam - but that it can't be a religion of peace because of the violent methods that are endorsed to achieve them - see below
"Extremism in Islam is not something new, has been prophesied by the Prophet Muhammad and will continue for many years to come. Looking into Islamic history, contemporary scholars have identified many similarities between Muslim extremist groups today like IS and the Kharijites, the extremist group that emerged during the reign of the fourth Caliph of Islam, Ali Bin Abi Thalib. These similarities include both physical and ideological manifestations. The re-emergence of the Kharijites today in the form of extreme groups like IS was foretold by Prophet Muhammad in his time, with warnings about the future emergence of extreme groups within the Muslim community which would serve as trials and tribulations for the people." 
However it is the present writer's suspicion that whether Islam is a religion of war or a religion of peace is not the most important question because:
|CPDS Notes: About Islamic State||
Islamic State rests on three pillars. These have been the basis of an ideological following that crosses borders, and combines centuries of old cultures and religion with modern technologies. The concept of operations and organization structure is the first pillar. It involves central authority (responsible for strategic development and planning) and 4 prongs (locally based grass-roots insurgencies with have sworn allegiance to central group's commander; a network of allied groups who are not directly controlled but share a Salifit world-view; a network of individuals with direct connection to central authority; and lone wolves who are not directly connected but share a Salifit worldview). The second pillar involves the ethnic cultural influence of inter-related group loyalty and honour. Tribalism is prominent in Iraq - and the Islamic State is a culturally Arab group. It relies heavily on family / tribal / clan confederations, alliances and networks. This allowed the powerful Sheiks of Iraq's an Anbar province to be attracted. Many who were involved in the Awakening Councils responsible for the reduction of al Qaeda in 2008 have now joined the IS. The third pillar is the ideology that the Islamic State follows - violent jihad Salifism. This follows the fundamentalist and literalist translation of the Koran and other early Islamic texts. It believes that war is the only way to achieve its aims. Islam has not gone through a reformation. The concept of separating State and Religion is foreign in Salafit worldview. Adaptation to modern times has not been universally accepted across Islam - and Salafits don't want this to happen. In combination these three pillars have allowed IS to expand rapidly and gain control of inter-related tribal lands; conduct attacks in Western / Middle Eastern countries and gain allegiance of various terrorist groups worldwide. IS will not just go away 
CPDS Comment: If those observations are valid, it is clear that the (so called) Islamic State is a VERY narrow operation. It seems only capable of doing what it is now doing (ie conducting military manoeuvres). It has narrow tribal roots. Its ideology is not the basis for actually achieving anything if it were to succeed with its military activities and establish an 'Islamic State' (for reasons suggested in comments in Islamist extremism generally). If the Islamic State's massive limitations were made known in the Muslim world it probably would not last 6 months. There are Muslim leaders who are seeking a much more more solid foundation for Islam to actually have a future.
The Islamic State (IS) is not a collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs (eg that is a key agent in a coming apocalypse). Few know where IS came from or what it intends. US Special Operations commander for Middle East recently wrote that he had only started understanding IS's appeal. President Obama's references to IS (ie as not Islamic) may have led to strategic errors. IS now rules an area larger than UK, and in July its leader spoke at a Great Mosque as the first caliph in generations. The flow of jihadists from around the world is large and increasing. Ignorance of IS is understandable because of its remoteness - but its supporters have sought to make it known. For example, it rejects peace on principle, it hungers for genocide; its religious view make change unacceptable - even though change might ensure its survival; and it sees itself as a lead player in the end of the world. IS follows a distinctive form of Islam whose belief about the path to Judgment Day matters to its strategy - and can thus help predict its behaviour. Its rise is less like success of the Muslim Brotherhood that the dystopian alternative reality of a David Koresh or Jim Jones - which wields absolute power over 8m people. We fail to understand if we see jihadism as monolithic. Al Qaeda's logic does not apply. Jihadists respect Osama bin Laden - but jihadism has moved on. Bin Laden did not see a caliphate in his lifetime. IS by contrast depends on controlling territory - and is ruled top-down. We are also misled by denial of IS's medieval religious nature. There is a tendency to take note of jihadists modern characteritics and believe that their medieval religious ideas are just a disguise. But the reality is that they are serious about returning civilization to a 7th century legal environment - and hopefully triggering apocalypse. IS's supporters and officials are articulate about this. 'Moderns' are referred to derisively. They state that they can't shift from governing precepts embedded in Islam by the prophet and his earliest followers. They use codes and allusions that are meaningless to outsiders, but refer to specific texts / traditions of early Islam. IS is Islamic- very Islamic. It has attracted psychopaths drawn from disaffected populations. But the religion preached by ardent followers derives from coherent / learned interpretations of Islam. All major decisions and laws follow Muhammad's example in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject IS - and most do. But pretending that it is not a millennialist religious group with a theology that must be understood to be combatted is already led US to underestimate it. IS's intellectual genealogy needs to be understood if reactions to it are to help it self-immolate rather than strengthening it. In November IS released a video tracing its origins to Bin Laden and Zarqawi (the brutal head of al-Qaeda in Iraq from 2003-2006) - while distancing itself from current Al Qaeda leadership. IS and Al Qaeda agree on most matters of doctrine and adhere to Salafist branch of Sunnism - and traces itself back to the 'pious forefathers' (ie Muhammad and his earliest adherents) whose behaviour (in warfare, couture, family life and even dentistry) are emulated. Zarqawi gained a penchant for bloody spectacle and for excommunicating / killing other Muslims. Excommunication (takfir) in Islam is perilous - as both the accuser and accused face death if they are wrong. Zarqawi was cautions about sweeping allegations of takfir - and told to speak rather of sins. Denying the holiness of the Koran or the prophesies of Muhammad is apostasy. But Zarqawi and the state he spawned regard many other actions as apostasy. Being a Shiite is regarded as apostasy - because this is an innovation and to innovate in Islam is to deny its original perfection. Thus 200m Shia's are marked for death - and the head of every Muslim state than puts man-made law above Sharia or enforces laws not made by God. Following takfir doctrine IS is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. In the absence of reliable reporting the extent o slaughter by IS in its territory is unknown - but believed to be significant and continuous. Religious wars stopped in Europe centuries ago - so it is hard to believe the theology / practice of IS. Those who accused Muslims of being 'ancient' in the past were criticised for merely denigrating them. ideologies that arose were seen as simply a reflection of bad governance / shifting social mores / humiliation of living in lands valued only for their oil. Muslim organizations who say that IS is un-Islamic do so because they are embarrassed, or rooted in an 'Interfaith-Christian-nonsense' tradition. Hakel argues that IS is deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotes are common. He suggests that it is nonsense to claim that IS has distorted Islamic texts. All Muslims acknowledge that Muhammad's early conquests were not tidy affairs - and were the result of turbulent times. Slavery, crucifixions and beheadings were smack in the middle of Islam's medieval tradition - even though modern Muslims may not want to admit this. IS leaders copy Muhammad slavishly. Before IS no group in the past few centuries had attempted to copy the Prophetic model more than Saudi Arabia's 18th century Wahhabis tradition. They conquered most of Saudi Arabia - and their strict practices survive in a diluted form of Sharia. They were restrained because they were surrounded by Muslims in Muslim lands. IS by contrast is reliving the early period. Early Muslims were surrounded by non-Muslims and IS (because of its takfir tendencies) sees itself in the same position. Al Qaeda never endorsed slavery, but IS does. An IS magazine debated in October whether Yaridis were lapsed Muslims marked for death, or pagans who should be enslaved. Tens of thousand of foreign Muslims have emigrated to IS. Online recruitment is emphasized. IS hopes to build a complete society. Musa Cerantonio (in Melbourne) is a leading guide of foreigners to IS. He hates seeing violence - even though IS supporters are required to endorse it. He is obsesses with Islamic apocalyticism. He seems to be a reliable voice on IS's doctrine. He declared joy when Baghdadi was declared caliph. The last Caliphate was the Ottoman empire - and this was eliminated in 1924. But IS supporters don't endorse it because it did not fully enforce Islamic law. Cerantonio sees caliphate as very important. It is not just a political entity but a vehicle for salvation. Muslims must pledge themselves to this to have lived a full Islamic life. Being a caliph has various requirements - one of which is having territory he controls. After Baghdadi's July sermon the stream of jihadis flowing to Syria strengthened. Foreigners were willing to give up everything at home, for a chance of paradise at the worst place on earth. Three members of a banned Islamist group in UK all wanted to emigrate. They regarded the caliphate as the world's only righteous government. They suggest that before the caliphate 85% of Sharia was absent from their lives. All Muslims are theoretically obliged to emigrate to where a caliph is enforcing those laws (eg amputating thieves' hands). Caliphs are obliged to enforce those laws and if they do so they command obedience. Sharia is seen to be incompletely implements in places such as Saudi Arabia - eg because it does not include free housing / food and clothing for all - while those who want to enrich themselves with work would be free to do so. Health care should also be free. This is not a policy of choice for IS, but rather inherent in God's law. IS believes that it is a central character in God's script for the future. Al-Qaeda was an underground political movement with worldly aims. IS faces practical worldly issues, but the End of Days is the core of its propaganda. In Iraq near the end of US occupation IS's immediate founding father's saw signs of end times everywhere. The Mahdi was expected within a year -a messianic figure expected to lead Muslims to victory before the end of the world. Bin Laden had to write letters objecting to this. For some believers - those interested in good versus evil battles - visions of apocalyptic bloodbaths fill a deep need. Aspects of this can include: a belief that there can be only 12 legitimate caliphs (with Baghdadi the 9th); that the armies of Rome will mass against the armies of Islam in Syria; and that Islam's final showdown with an anti Messiah will occur in Jerusalem after a period of Islamic conquest. Dabiq, near Aleppo, is seen as the site of this battle. Since IS captured it, there has been an expectation of enemy armies arriving. Who 'Rome' is remains uncertain now that pope has no army. It might mean Eastern Roman empire. After Dabiq, the caliphate is seen to take Istanbul before taking the entire earth. IS's ideological purity allows its actions to be predicted. Bin Laden was not. IS has now taken up 'offensive jihad' - forcible expansion into countries ruled by non-Muslims. Waging war to expand the caliphate is n essential duty of a caliph. The laws of war are supported to involve mercy rather than brutality - with beheadings / crucifixions / enslavement of women and children meant to hasten victory by frightening enemies. Only short term peace treaties are allowed. And the caliph must wage jihad every year. IS can be compared with Cambodia's Khmer Rouge which killed 1/3 of the population. However Kymer Rouge occupied Cambodia's UN seat - which IS could not do because this would acknowledge an authority other than God's. Even allowing voting to endorse a caliph would acknowledge authority other than God's. IS is hamstrung by its radicalism. The modern international system requires recognition of borders. For IS this would be ideological suicide. Other Islamist groups have succumbed to democracy to get status with international community. To IS this is not an option - but apostasy. The US and its allies have responded to IS in a daze and belatedly. Its aims were declared in 2011. If understood earlier, it could have been more easily blocked. The failure to see the split between Al-Qaeda and IS was serious. Al-Qaeda does not acknowledge the caliphate. In ignorance the US had tried to build a relationship between al-Qaeda and IS to save a hostage's life. IS is now being met through Kurdish and Iraqi proxies. Some seek greater involvement by foreign forces. Unlike al-Qaeda, IS could not survive if its territory were taken away. However foreign involvement has risks - and this is why IS itself seems to encourage this (ie to gain propaganda value worldwide). Also prior US occupations have allowed space fro IS's ideology to arise. Kurds and Shia can't subdue the Sunni heartland in Iraq and Syria - because they are hated there. But they can prevent IS achieving the expansion that is its duty. And the longer it does not expand it increasing looks like just another failed Middle Eastern state that does no bring prosperity to its people. The humanitarian cost of IS is high - but the threat to US is limited. Al-Qaeda was unusual in focusing on the 'far enemy' (the West). IS's ideology requires it to put most focus at home. Foreign fighters go to IS to live under Sharia. Many seek martyrdom. Lone wolf attacks by IS supporters occur elsewhere, but are limited. If contained IS will be its own undoing. No country is its ally, and its ideology ensures that this will continue. It controls a lot of land, but its is uninhabited and poor. As it stagnates fewer believers will arrive. None-the-less IS's death is unlikely to be quick. And an alignment with al-Qaeda could make a difference. A ground invasion to attack IS would make the situation worse. IS can't be labeled 'Islamic' because there are many interpretations of Islam. But it can't be said to be un-Islamic either - given the holy texts' support for many of the things IS is doing. Muslims can't reject slavery and crucifixion without contradicting the Koran. IS's ideology holds a powerful sway over segments of Muslim world. Non-Muslims can't tell Muslims how to practice their religion. However there is another strand of Islam that offers a hard-line alternative to IS. There are other Muslims who are obsessed with strict adherence to Islamic texts. Baghdadi is Salafi. But most Salafis are not jihadist and reject IS. Tey want to expand Dar al-Islam (land of Islam) - perhaps with some monstrous practices - but at a future time. Personal purification and religious observance is their first priority - and things that prevent this (eg war that would disrupt lives, prayer and scholarship) are forbidden. Such groups (concerned with prayer / correct dress) face serious challenges from IS. The Prophet's time was seen as one of bloodshed. But now there should be nothing like declaring other Muslims apostates. They believe Muslims should keep out of politics. They agree with IS that God's law is the only law but fall in behind almost any leaders because of the Koran's hatred of discord and chaos. Quietist Salafis believe Muslims should direct themselves towards getting personal lives right. Fastidious observance is believed to encourage God to favour them. Salafi theologians argue that the caliphate can't come into existence in a righteous way except through unmistakable will of God. The caliphate should emerge from a consensus of scholars - whereas IS came from nowhere. Quietist Salafism offers an antidote to IS. It is an extreme form of Islam - but one that is very serious. Western leaders are best not to weigh in on questions of Islamic theological debate (eg claiming that IS is not Islamic). Within its narrow bounds IS hums with energy / creativity. But outside this (ie a vision of life as obedience / order / destiny) it is arid / silent. IS's partisans believe they are involved in struggles beyond their own loves. Fascism was seen to have offered people struggle, danger, death - and to have attracted support from a whole German nation. Such emotional appeal should not be under-rated. Nor should IS's religious / intellectual appeal. IS holds the imminent fulfillment of prophesy as a matter of dogma. It may be possible to convince some supporters that IS's ideology is false. Military methods may limits its horrors. But IS is impervious to explanation - so little will change in the short term (Wood G. 'What ISIS really Wants', The Atlantic, March 2015)
Men with black flags bearing inscriptions of Allah and Mohammed have conquered parts of Syria and Iraq. Their leader (who calls himself Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) claims to have set up an Islamic State / caliphate with himself as the caliph. In Islam's early years Muslims lived under a caliphate - a form of supreme rule in which nothing stood between the caliph and the faithful under his command. Simplicity and unity seemed to be the keys to success and supremacy over non-Muslims. The caliphate was too simplistic to survive the divisions between Sunni and Shia sects or competition with outsiders. It soon became little more than a title (like the Holy roman empire in Europe) before being abolished after WW1. In the late 1920 a few Egyptians politically opposed to Britain called themselves the Muslim Brotherhood and held that restoring the caliphate was needed to restore the supremacy long lost to foreigners / Christians. Osama bin Laden and his disciple Baghdadi agreed - and they have sought this violently in an otherwise hopeless quest for power. Those flocking to the Islamic State from many countries believe they are committing to a long overdue great adventure - like the Arabs who swept out of the deserts 15 centuries ago. Inner conviction is the justification for the murders they publicly commit. Islamists are seen to love death as much as their enemies love life. If this is regarded as a corrupted viewpoint, a counter-argument is that non-Muslims are in no position to evaluate the effect that sacred texts and preaching have on Muslims. Circumstances and education are too different. An often quoted statement from the prophet is that in religion there is no compulsion. However there are 109 Koranic versus that summon Muslims to war against non-believers (or jihad as it is usually called). This includes reference to, for example: (a) killing others wherever you find them til there is worship of Allah alone; (b) striking terror into the hearts of others; and (c) striking off the heads and slaughtering others - until the conflict ends. Bin Laden argued that Islam required the use of force - a view shared by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia. Under the caliphs non-Muslims were offered a choice of: becoming Muslims; accepting inferior social status; or death. Ancient pre-Islamic codes ensure that Islamists are honoured as victors and the vanquished be seen as shamed. Muslims who don't accept these codes are persecuted. Qaradawi is one of the clerics who demand the death penalty for apostasy - because leniency would mean the end of Islam. Salman Rushdie discovered that accusations of blasphemy brought a death sentence. Iran has executed 174 people this year for being an 'enemy of God'. The Islamic State allows these inherited religious and cultural traits to be experimented with. This started in 2011 when Bashar al-Assad refused to even discuss reforms in Syria. His dictatorship has divided Syria between the Shia-related Alawite minority he advantages and the Sunni majority. Sunni sheiks preach that Jews are descended from apes and pigs - and their view of Shi-ites is worse (ie hypocrites / not true Muslims). Nothing stopped the Sunni volunteers from pouring in with black flags. Obama's unconditional withdrawal from Iraq and the failure to follow through on red-line prohibition of the use of poison gas by Assad regime has given license to killing. No holds are barred when ancient preconceptions prevail. 200,000 Syrians have been killed and half the population are refugees. Black flags fly over Christian towns where churches were burned and men / women in religious order were imprisoned / murdered. A Shia related minority has fled from the Islamic State in distress. The dynamics of religion, ethnicity and custom within Islam interlock to spread confusion . Every Arab country (as well as Turkey and Iran) dramatize the dilemma of having to choose between tyranny and anarchy. Libya, Yemen, Somalia (and perhaps Lebanon and Sudan) have disintegrated under these pressures from statehood to mere inhabited war zones. Hamas prevents Palestinians from having a state or a frontier. In Egypt a soldier President keeps hundreds of Muslim Brothers in prison under sentence of death. In Turkey a previously secular President turns Islamist and keeps hundreds of military men in prison. US president GW Bush saw Islam as a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others. He thought that extremists had hijacked a great religion. This earned him the title of 'Imam Bush'. Tony Blair who was long afraid of being labeled anti-Muslim eventually concluded that the interaction of religion and politics is incompatible with pluralistic, liberal, open-minded societies. President Obama contends, without explanation, that Islam is part of America's story . David Cameron thinks that the struggle against the poisonous Islamist ideology will last a long time - but contends wishfully that Democracy and Islam can flourish together. Presidents and Prime Ministers are meeting others' fantasies with fantasies of their own. (Pryce-Jones D., "Caliphate fantasy gathers its force from the earliest traditions of Islam", The Australian, 6/9/14).
The bulk of men and women flocking to Islamic State are relative newcomers to Islam - and do so because they are disillusioned with the West and are seeking an armed struggle - which Islamic State provides 
Islamic State's theology advocates literalistic interpretations of sacred texts / Shariah laws. This involve purging the religion of non-Islamic influences and returning to the way of life of the Prophet and early Muslims (see below).
Divisions and internal difficulties are emerging in Islamic State - eg related to: corruption; ideological difference and defections. Foreign fighters are given better pay and conditions than locals - despite their poor combat performance. There was a plot to overthrow IS's leadership in late 2014. It is proving difficult to manage IS's cash. There are increasing numbers of emirs / princes. Cash tends to come from looting. Corruption is a significant problem. Air strikes have reduced IS's oil revenues. Morale has eroded due to loss of Kobane and the execution of fighters who had retreated. Rival jihadist groups exploit IS's internal dissention. IS is most afraid of defections 
Islamic State's economy is based on looting - and this can only be viable if it achieves continuing territorial expansion. IS appears to be suffering increased financial strain. Fighters salaries have been cut. Subsidies to locals have been reduced. And rather than expanding its territory IS is now contracting. To be a 'state' rather than a terrorist group requires vastly more funds - and this is not available 
Some Muslims have criticized Islamic State 
Many are bewildered by the power of IS to recruit / radicalize young Muslims. There is concern that such people will return to inflict new horrors on West. Yet there has been no real focus on IS's character, culture or allure. Its PR success is only belatedly being recognized - and little can be done about it. Western governments misread IS, know little of the Internet or how it can affect teenagers. Also IS is seen to be a perversion of Islam and its place in social progress / pluralism that the West propagates. However IS recruits see a cruel western world governed by material greed, violent hierarchies and moral vicissitudes. Islam is seen as the only alternative to a world in decay. Deep solace and hope can be found in Islam's apocalyptic and messianic potential (eg Qu'aranic notion of 'Appointed Time'). A similar apocalyptic tread runs through all Abrahamite religions - and this remains strong despite secularisation. IS reflects the same heroic / apocalyptic style as many Hollywood thrillers. It is about struggle and justice. The west, like IS, justifies its claim to moral and political legitimacy by invoking transcendence and historical destiny. IS is a little like Australia's exaltation of Gallipoli. Like everyone else IS is struggling with modernization and globalization. Understanding its dark vision requires looking directly at ourselves and the terror we are creating (see Creating a Better World below)
Islamic State's (IS's) program, ideology and theoreticians can be identified from its propaganda. IS's successes are not just the result of Middle Eastern instabilities - but also of learning from the failures of earlier jihadist movements. The most famous theoretician (Abu Musab al-Suri of Syria) is impressive - an intellectual well versed in history. His experience dates back to Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Syria in 1982. He identified strategic mistakes in that era (eg a lack of strategy; not sharing its ideology; too much reliance on outside support; mass rather than elite recruitment; tactical errors0. This provides the basis for a solid and comprehensive politico-military project - which IS tends to follow. Its doctrine and objective are publicized. IS stresses the 'oppression' and 'humiliation' that Muslims are victims of world-wide. The war in Syria and Iraq is equated with heroic periods in Islam's history (ie those associated with Muhammad). Jihadist theoreticians are also well versed in the strategies used by other insurgents. Strategies have been suggested for seizing power that are similar to those used by Maoists in China. Similar notions are echoed by Abu Bakr Naji (in The Management of Savagery). He argues for attacking vital economic sectors in key regimes to encourage the concentration of forces thus allowing insurgents to make gains in peripheral regions and forcing enemies to increase law enforcement efforts. This is when the second stage should begin ('savagery') which causes people to lose confidence in government and support any group capable of restoring order. The third stage would involve restoration of law (Sharia) under caliphate. Afghanistan is supposed to illustrate this with coming to power of taliban after long / bloody reign of local warlords. Jihadists share many common ideas (eg rejection of democracy, nationalism, Western culture) but disagree about strategy. Abu Musab al-Sari criticizes Osama bin Laden's preference for high profile attacks (eg the 911 attacks that mobilized US against Taliban in Afghanistan. Now IS's main goal is to rebuild territory quickly by establishing 'caliphate' IS's focus has now shifted from 'savagery' to creation of new order (ie with law and order / trade networks / food supplies / education / health care). In 2014 the 'caliph' (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) called for scholars, judges, doctors, engineers and those with military, administrative and service experience) to join the new state. IS knows what it wants and is seeking to put the new 'caliphate' on a permanent footing 
Theologians know that Islamic State is not as inherently hostile as it is seen to be. Modern educated westerners tend not to take theology seriously because of the rational methods of their education. Thus in trying to understand IS theologians are not consulted. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a clever theologian. He can use sacred texts to mobilize those with troubled backgrounds - and many assume that all followers have such backgrounds. By manipulating the texts he paints the West (especially Jews and Christians) as the infidel. There need to be counter strategies to this - with theologies to empower people to do great things. A more serious commitment to educate students about the religious beliefs / values of their own societies. Greater emphasis could be given to teaching and research on theology in university. This would lead to greater theological literacy world-wide. Harmony between religions has been achieved in the past - and should be possible again 
There is a need to understand the killings in Paris. Many see these atrocities as opposed to Western values. However alien cultures must be understood in their own terms. Slaughter in Paris was shaped by religious beliefs. In July Islamic State vowed in a video to fill Paris streets with dead bodies - and said that terror group loved death as others love life. The killings were purposeful - to make infidels afraid / unwilling to resist / self-destructive through fear. Islamic State pointed to Sura 59:2 which made this tactic explicit. Loving death also has many references in Koran in relation to Jews and non-Muslims in general. Europeans are seen as morally corrupt, weak infidels who love life too much to battle to the death with stern Muslim soldiers whose hearts are set on paradise. Islamic State referred to French victims as pagans - ie they were killed for being non-Muslims. Its fighters are taught that infidels deserve death simply for being non-Muslim. Australia's Grand Mufti referred to Muslim grievances - but Islamic State did not appeal to grievance in relation to genocide of Yazidis - who were targeted just because they were pagans. IS objects to Europeans because they are not Muslims and to European states because they do no implement sharia. It may seem fanciful to suggest that IS could do that in Europe - but in the history of Islamic imperialism a timetable of centuries can be involved. To combat this ideology it is necessary to prove IS wrong in all respects. This requires showing strength; having confidence in own cultural / spiritual identity; a willingness to fight for survival / future; border defences; an intent to win against an implacable foe. Europe's leaders could have prevented this - by: demanding Islam renounce conquest / dominance; encouraging Muslims to follow path of self criticism leading to peace. However Europe's elites embarked on decades of religiously-illiterate appeasement / denialism. Much could now be done - inflict catastrophic military defeat on IS to end its supremacist claims / suppress incitement of jihadi ideology (eg by Palestinian Austority); pressure vulnerable Gulf State to stop funding radicalism and exporting jihad-revering versions of Islamic ideology world-wide. A survey of 18-24 year older in France found that 27% had positive views of IS. Many war-weary Muslims who now seek asylum in the West have had enough of jihad. Muslim communities already in the West may be the last to challenge Islam's supremicist take on history - but they have not had to suffer the resulting harsh realities. Europe could also prevent Saudi and other Middle Eastern funding of Islamic organizations including mosques - ie stop appeasing Islamists in their midst. They could also require the large and rapidly-growing Muslim population to engage in constructive self-criticism of their religion. The alternatives are conversion, surrender or death 
Islamic State described the Paris attacks as the first storm. It is seeking a reaction against Muslims in Europe and deeper Western military engagement in Middle East. Its key strategy is finding / creating / managing chaos. This involves hitting soft targets / diversifying and widening attacks so as to disperse enemies efforts. Sow fear in general populations. Mobilize the rebelliousness of youth. Expose the weakness of US centralized power by forcing it to fight directly. Radical Arab Sunni revivalism (which Islamic State now spearheads) is a dynamic, revolutionary counter-cultural movement - with the largest volunteer fighting force since WWII. It has quickly gained dominion of large areas and millions of people - and has not been degraded significantly despite being attacked on all sides. Treating it as 'terrorism' masks the threat. It has an alluring moral mission to change and save the world. They are seeking not a return to the past but development that is compatible with their religion. Islamic State is seeking to fill the void wherever there is chaos in central Asia or Africa - and to create chaos elsewhere (eg in Europe). It is exploiting the relationship between the rise of radical Islamism and the xenophobic ethno-nationalistic movements that are starting to destabilize the middle class in Europe - as communists / fascists did in 1920s and 1930s. Radicals are not motivated by the Qur'an or religious teachings, but by participation in a thrilling cause. 1/4 of French youth have a favourable view of ISIS - though only 7-8% are Muslim. Recruits see themselves joining a 'band of brothers' who are doing something significant. Counter-negatives are unsuccessful because radicals are not stupid. They have understanding and compassion - though they are misguided. Current counter-radicalization strategies lack ISIS's mainly positive, empowering appeal. The first step in defecting Islamic State is to understand it. Failing to do so is costly 
Calls for a Reformation or revolution within Islam as the solution to terrorism are based on ignorance. Islam's version of the Reformation occurred in the 18th century - and gave birth to Wahhabism with its distain for traditional religion and its austere scripturalism. This eventually came to be expressed in the nation state of Saudi Arabia. And when combined with the anti-colonial movement of Islamism (which is self-consciously a reform movement) this gave rise to al Quada and through it to Islamic State. It is not surprising that Islam's Reformation is bloody as Christianity's reformation claimed millions of lives. The Muslim world and Islamic thought have been in crisis since the late Ottoman era - and this was compounded by the destruction of its main institutions of religious learning in the colonial era. The Muslim world's problem is not the need for a Reformation - but that its people are disconnected from their own tradition. The Muslim world suffers amnesia (Waleed Aly, 'Attacks by Tony Abbott, Donald trump: Arch Conservatives offer nothing but gruff', SMH, 10/12/15)
With the rise of Islamic State in June 2014 the world faced unprecedented / ever expanding threat. Through 2015, IS's operations / influence spread worldwide from base in Iraq / Syria. Provinces of the Caliphate are likely to be established in Asia and Africa in 2016 - using beheadings / mass executions / destruction of historical sites / pillaging as in Syria and Iraq. IS will inspire / direct attacks in Muslim / non-Muslim countries. It will hit hard and soft targets. Most governments are in denial about this and unprepared. Global terrorist threats involve IS supplanting Al-Qaeda. Both groups have similar ideologies - but IS is more brutal / barbaric against Muslims who resist. Thus most Muslims and their governments have turned against IS. However IS will grow despite actions to contain it led by US, Saudi Arabia and Russia - because of geopolitical rivalries between them. Ideology, legacy and history make victory against IS impossible. The west won't commit ground troops after problems in Iraq and Afghanistan - while Arab nations won't do so because of IS's cruelty and terrifying threats. There are few ground forces fighting IS. IS is a global movement with hundreds of thousands of followers / supporters - with 80,000 in main theatres. Numbers in core area of Syria and Iraq grew from 30,000 in 2014 to 50,000 in 2015. IS strategy is to govern controlled areas under strict Shariah law - and expand in Muslim territories from Morocco to Philippines. It seeks to control territory / administer the caliphate / expand caliphate into liberated areas / exploit and destabilize areas. Doing so seeks to generate more resources including manpower. IS co-opted like-minded groups and individuals to attack coalition and domestic targets. As foreign nationals travelling to Syria and Iraq will be constrained, IS strategy will emphasize global expansion. National security agencies (working with law enforcement / military agencies need to identify short and long term threats; craft local and global strategies to respond; and guide governments. At present such groups are overwhelmed just preventing attacks. There is a need for concerned nations to double their budgets for dealing with IS in 2016. To prepare for long war governments should (a) create counter-terrorism units in foreign ministries and justice departments; and (b) complement security agencies with government-community and public-private partnerships 
Muslims hate to see Islam repeatedly associated with cruelty and inhumanity by Islamic State (IS). It is tempting to see it as outside Islam - but doing so leads in the direction IS has taken. Since Muhammad there has not been a central authority. The first generations of Muslims did not just disagree - they fought. This led to separation of Sunni and Shi'i traditions. It also led concerns about the consequences of political and theological differences. The need to respect differences of opinion was recognised. The only groups opposed to this were the Kharijites - who held that dissenting Muslim leaders were apostates. Sub-factions of this group extended their definition of apostasy to any Muslim who disagreed with them - who should be killed / enslaved. Concern about this led Islam generally to a pluralist approach to differences of opinion. IS does not differ from the Muslim mainstream in the texts it refers to. But those texts have always been read through mediation of past / present generations of scholars. IS differs by rejecting this culture of scholarly interpretation. This has its origin in Wahhabi movement - and with radical political theorists such as Sayyid Qutb (who rejected the modern state / attendant ideologies / nationalism / democracy as not based on God's rule. IS claims to have created alternative to prevailing political order through Caliphate. It adopts a with us or against us approach - and Muslims who don't repent are killed. This is a revival of the age-old Kharijite tendency. IS is right that problems in Muslim world can't be solved by status quo politics and using religion to prop up corrupt / oppressive regimes. But dismissing scholarly pluralism and religious tolerance is a way to select scriptural interpretations that suit a political agenda - rather than the other way around. Muslim community should re-affirm commitment to a culture of pluralism. There must be a conversation about the relationship between state and religion. Muslims might support IS's apocalyptic views - though there this differs from mainstream Muslim interpretations. Rather than waiting for God to bring on end times, IS hopes to precipitate this. 
If Islamic State is based on religion, why is it so violent? (Aaron Hughes, The Conversation, 18/2/16)
Terrorism has become a significant issue. 15 years after 911 Western governments are still struggling to come to terms with the challenge . There is confusion about the nature of the problem and the best response. Islamic State is slowly losing territory - but the threat of terrorism linked to it remains. One problem is that the terrorism threat changes rapidly. Before the rise of al-Qaida terrorist groups acted for client state. Al Qu'aida was a genuinely global group. However its appeal was confined to Middle East and it was highly centralized. IS captured territory quickly and acted like a state. It was also better resourced and more brutal than al Qa'ida - and fought to the death anyone (Muslim or others) who opposed it. IS is more a cult than a traditional terrorist group - and knowing this allows it to be better understood. Without understanding defeating it is difficult. Cults don't recruit like other political entities / make use of established religious scripture to gain credibility / are not responsible to any other authority and use money to reward obedience or enrich the leadership. IS like to portray itself as 'pure' Islam - though it deviates in two respects. Religion is used to establish exclusive, authoritarian self interested organisation with total control over adherents. And unlike Islam it does not allow different interpretations and practices - but treats its leaders, belief systems, ideology and practices as unquestionable. Cults are more concerned with recruiting / indoctrinating members than spreading a spiritual message. IS is strongly hierarchical and apportions spoils in accord with position. Like other cults IS is hard to detect because it separates recruits from family bonds and positions itself as the only relevant group to replace them. Violence is used to deter resistance and promote group bonding. Battlefield success is central to IS's narrative. When it loses control of territory it will not disappear as fighters will blend back into Sunni populations. Derailing IS requires dispelling the idea that West is mainly responsible for problems )poverty / inequality) that are seen to justify terrorism. Islamist extremists' leaders have not come from poor backgrounds. Islamophobia can't be blamed as many IS recruits have formerly Christian backgrounds and before terrorism risk emerged Western countries generally welcomed Muslim migration. Western leaders have at times damaged Muslim interests - but no more than their own leaders have. The West's main fault lies in not taking a hard-headed, whole of government response to defeat IS. A much tougher approach is needed - controlling borders and immigration; preventing recruitment; imposing harsher penalties for terrorism; blocking welfare payments to those involved in terrorism; investing more in intelligence activities; preventing prisons becoming incubators; reaching out to Muslim communities; targeting terrorist financing; and destroying IS's war fighting capacity. Soft measures are only encourage greater violence and extremism 
There is a vast literature on the chaos in the Middle East. Robert Manne's book on Islamic State is particularly good. It traces the development of radical Islamist ideology from Sayyid Qutb 50 years ago to IS. It contrasts with work by Malcolm Nance which claims that the purpose of IS is to destroy Islam. Manne shows the relationship between IS and traditional Islamic teaching. Nance argues that IS's goal is to destroy the adaption that Islamic thought from the ways in which it has adapted to the external world - ie to destroy the Muslim word to save it for God. Manne shows that Islamist have argued that Islam requires Muslims collectively and individually to engage in 'jihad' against both apostate Muslims and infidels until the whole world is Islamic. This pointed back to the roots of jihad in Islamic practice. The God of Islam is a god of war - and is not the God of Abraham or Jesus. Islam did not arise from peace or persuasion - and Mohammed did not teach that it should do so. It arose as a religion committed to the violent overthrow of all non-Muslim religions and principalities. For centuries its adherents strove to conquer Europe and ASia and the Crusades were a relatively minor response to this. Sayyid Qutb in Milestones sought to revive this spirit of Muslim militancy - and this is very much alive in many parts of the Muslim world. 
|CPDS Notes: Radicalization of Youth||
Radicalization of Youth
Western countries have been alarmed at how Islamic State (IS) has been able to lure teenagers and young people to the Middle East. IS communicates with potential recruits online. Its methods are similar to those used by al Qaeda and detailed in an instruction manual - though IS is now separate. Social media has made reaching recruits easier. Recruiters build relationships slowly. They start by talking about Islam - and encourage the view that Western media exaggerate IS atrocities. IS is less cautious about who it recruits than al Qaeda. The instruction manual discourages contact with religious people - because they are likely to refuse the da'wa (invitation). IS seeks those who are vulnerable and seeking meaning in their lives. Those who know little of Islam are easiest to indoctrinate - as they are less likely to resist what they are told. Non-religious Muslim youths are preferred - because the recruiter can be his guide. People who live in isolation are favoured - as they can have a natural orientation to religion and can be easily convinced / shaped. High school and university students are prime targets. Universities are seen as places where people are isolated for several years. High school students are favoured as having pure minds and being safe to deal with. Recruiters avoid talking about Muslims' problems at the start - to avoid giving the impression that recruitment is the goal. Jihadi groups should not be mentioned initially - though resistance fighters in general can be mentioned . Potential recruits are encouraged to listen to at least one lecture daily (via Internet,CDs, books). No jihadi material should be provided until a high faith level is achieved. Current events (especially related to Palestine) should be mentioned to give recruits a view of Muslims' problems. The manual requires recruiters to help their subjects - and stay in close contact. Recruiters should get to know a persons good morals and manners - and praise them while explaining that these are part of Islam. Subjects should be taught to desire paradise - but the punishments of hellfire should not be mentioned at the start. Once a strong relationship with the candidate is established, he should be told about jihad and Martyrdom as means to avoid the horror of the Day of Judgment. At this stage it must be ensured that recruits adhere to prayer times and Quran reading. Recruits should then be made aware of jihad as reflected in current affairs. IS has been seeking to establish a 'caliphate' (an Islamic empire to unite the world's Muslims under a single religious and political entity) which controls large areas in the Middle East - and governs this according to strict Sharia law. It seeks to encourage recruits to believe that they must move there - rather than live amongst 'infidels' in the West. Westerners who convert of Islam and join IS are valuable to the group because of the worldwide media headlines they generate. IS plays the propaganda game well, and sees recruitment as essential 
An analysis of Islamic State's propaganda helps understand it. Its propaganda does not on its own radicalize individuals - but seeks to catalyze an individual's change from tacit supporter to active member. However other lessons can be learned. IS's use of violence makes mainstream understanding of it very difficult. IS offers an alternative way of living for both the short-term and long term. It presents 6 linked narratives - brutality, mercy, victim-hood, war, belonging and utopianism. Brutality is the main impact on outsiders, yet utopianism is the dominant message for new recruits. Understanding that utopia is vital to any attempt to challenge IS. IS outsources the provision of its propaganda - and those who provide it are unlikely to be linked to IS. Propagandists are not just seeking to recruit members but also to polarize international publics. People must be recruited to the cause before any attempt is made to recruit them to IS. A good deal of propaganda is provided online. There must be an external influence to achieve recruitment - ie it can't be achieved just by propaganda [ The Virtual ‘Caliphate’: Understanding Islamic State’s Propaganda Strategy, Quillam 2015]
Observers suggest that the radicalization of Islamic youth are based on a combination of religious and political factors:
British-born Muslim school-girls left to join Islamic State. I could have joined them - being unhappy / bored / fervent believer in rigid / literalist form of Islam. I studied at al-Huda school for Muslim women - and this left me on brink of radicalization. At 15 I had been expelled from Muslim faith school for rebellion against rigid Islamic rules. Then at al-Huda school I was exposed to literalist / evangelical view of Islam. Women must submit to God, go home and inculcate others with same rigid values. Women from al-Huda would berate their families for not being devout enough. There was endless study of each verse of Koran. Teachers made clear that they would not force students to do anything but that once God's message was absorbed students would submit. Classes were intense, repetitive and rigid. Students were taught that religious path was their choice - but that not choosing it was a sin. Having little secular knowledge i was eventually drawn in. I thought that I had found true faith and criticized others for being less zealous. Only later did i realize that I had been brainwashed by something like a cult. A conservative literalist interpretation of Islam which discouraged criticism or dissent could lead in two directions. One (which Islamic State promotes) was based on discussion of world-wide Muslim oppression. However maintaining zealotry requires huge amounts of energy - and most find that that this fizzles out. This happened to me. I studied more widely - and came to reject God's existence. I then started an organisation, Faith to Faithless that supports apostates of all religious backgrounds 
|CPDS Notes: Desertions||
Various sources have suggested that the Islamic faith is suffering significant desertions (ie 'apostasy' by individual Muslims) - though this seems difficult to determine.
|CPDS Notes: Suggestions about Solutions||
Solutions to the problems revealed by Islamist extremism gained increasing attention in late 2014. Some suggestions by various other observers, a significant number of whom have a Muslim background, are outlined below. These are followed by references to CPDS' suggestions.
|Hitting Osama, but Missing Islamist Extremism +||
Re: ‘Operation get Osama signals loss of values’, Brisbane Times, 6/5/11
I should like to try to add value to your article, which suggested that the killing of Osama bin Laden highlights the questionable morality of the harsh methods that have sometimes been used in the ‘war against terror’.
In particular I submit that those harsh methods have failed to make much impact on the real problem (ie the ideology of Islamists, some of whom (like bin Laden) resort to extremism to achieve their impractical goals). Moreover the humanities faculties of Western universities might have led in using ‘soft’ methods to reduce problems arising from dysfunctional cultural assumptions, and are thus most to blame for the failure to date of liberal democracies to discredit Islamist extremism in the minds of potential recruits. They also seem mostly to blame for liberal democracies’ failure to address the other difficult cultural challenge that your article mentioned.
More detailed reasons for these suggestions, together with an outline of your article, appear below.
Outline of Article and Detailed Comments
Harsh Methods to Counter Terrorism
While I am anything but an expert on counter-terrorism operations, it is my understanding that: (a) the use of harsh methods is often considered to be unavoidable in combatting terrorism; and (b) some resort to terrorism to further their cause, precisely because they expect harsh responses and hope this will help them recruit supporters. In a section of Risks in a Clash with Islamist Extremists (2001) dealing with Problems with a Mainly Military Response reference was made to:
A Better Method?
In order to discourage Islamist extremists, such as Al Q’aida, there is arguably more to be gained by discrediting Islamist ideology (ie the idea that the religion of Islam would be a workable basis for government, and that this would overcome the problems that have beset Muslim dominated societies in recent centuries). Some speculations about how this might have been achieved were outlined in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002). In brief this suggested that:
What Went Wrong?
This has not happened. The response by the US and its allies to terrorism by Islamist extremists has had a primarily (even though not solely) military / security focus. Moreover, as was noted recently in relation to the raid in which Osama bin Laden was killed:
However such methods (which can be likened to the brute force the US relied upon to ‘win hearts and minds’ in Vietnam) have not been successful. The capacity of Islamist extremists to cause harm has been contained, but their assumption that the Islamist cause is worth pursuing has not been seriously challenged.
Moreover, as the above article noted, there is some inconsistency in the use of harsh methods to defend liberal institutions (especially as those methods are so different to the Christian values (such as that expressed in Romans 12:19-21) which, when widely embraced by ordinary citizens, permitted the emergence of liberal institutions in the first place – see Moral Foundations of Individual Liberty).
Who is to Blame?
However one cannot really blame those with military / security expertise for trying their hardest to do what they understand their jobs to be. Rather most blame must be assigned to the humanities faculties in Western universities, because the latter were potentially the best positioned to take the lead in exposing weaknesses in the ideology that motivates Islamist extremism (ie by identifying the practical political and economic consequences of differences in cultural assumptions, such as those mentioned above, that have apparently limited the achievements of Muslim dominated societies).
However, arguably because of the strong influence of their postmodern assumptions, students of the humanities seem to have been ‘out to lunch’ when their contribution was critical (eg see Countering Terrorism: Are Australia's Institutions Making Assess of Themselves?, 2007). Postmodernism has (in effect) led to the view that cultural assumptions are simply arbitrary, and have no practical consequences (see Confusion of Knowledge). This left communities afflicted by dysfunctional cultural assumption with no real way to understand their predicament or what needs to be done to achieve real political and economic success, and in turn enabled some Islamists to compound their lack of practical understanding with an insistence that the source of their problems must be external oppression which justifies vengeance (see Cultural Ignorance as a Source of Conflict in Competing Civilizations, from 2001).
Moreover the (so called) ‘Arab spring’ (ie the Middle Eastern and North African protests in 2010-11) that some hope will lead to more liberal and successful societies is likely to lead to much less favourable outcomes, unless serious attention is now paid to the practical consequences of cultural assumptions.
Finally, it is not only culturally-sourced problems facing Muslim-dominated societies that the humanities faculties have failed to get to grips with. As the above article noted, the ‘war on terror’ diverted the attention of the US and its allies from another significant challenge, and cultural differences played a significant role in this also (eg see An Unrecognised Clash of Financial Systems?, from 2001)
Email reply to Steve Leeder (sent 7/5/11)
Good points – see A Case for Restoring Universities which suggests amongst many other things the need to raise the status of the humanities so that they can do more given the importance of their potential contribution. However part of their problem has been self-induced.
I would greatly appreciate your permission to reproduce your email comment with Hitting Osama, but Missing Islamist Extremism on my web-site, as it raises important questions about priorities. Any elaboration of the observations in your final paragraph would also be valued
|Freedom and Progress in the Middle East||
Professor Riaz Hassan,
Re: Is Islam to blame for freedom deficit in Middle East? Online Opinion, 10/7/12
Your article raises important questions about the sources of problems besetting the Middle East.
As I interpreted it your basic theme is that authoritarianism in the Middle East is mainly a by-product of Arab culture. This is undoubtedly true, and there are complex historical factors involved as your article mentioned.
However, constraints on individual freedom and initiative that have serious adverse economic and political implications are also apparently present in the way Islam is practised (eg see Problems in Extremists Presumed Manifestos, in Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002+). And this has arisen presumably because Islam was incubated in Arab societies. Such societies are tribal, and it is my understanding that tribal societies usually tend to emphasise the subservience of individuals to the demands of the tribe.
An attempt to identify the origins of individual liberty and the advantages that individualism provided (through enabling ‘rationality’ to be reasonably effective in decision making) in the artificially simplified environments that were created (eg by a rule of law, capitalism and democracy) to facilitate initiative by rational / responsible individuals is in Cultural Foundations of Western Strengths (in Competing Civilizations, 2001). In complex environments rationality tends to fail (eg where individuals have to try to second-guess the reactions of the powerful, rather than have the simplifying assurance of a rule of law or of profit as a guide to business success).
In relation to a couple of other points made in your article it is suggested that:
The issues that your article is raising are extremely important because they may help bring real stability and prosperity to the Middle East, and you are to be congratulated for raising them.
|Saving Muslims from Themselves||
Hon Barry O’Farrell,
Re: Vasek L, ‘Sydney protests have damaged Australia's multicultural reputation: Barry O'Farrell’. The Australian, 14/9/12
I should like to try to add value to your reasonable suggestion that riots in Australia and elsewhere as a reaction to a movie (The Innocence of Muslims which denigrated Islam’s prophet) are the ‘unacceptable face of multiculturalism’. The issue is not just that violence is unacceptable in making a political point – but rather that this is an illustration of fundamental weaknesses that Muslim communities need to be encouraged to recognise.
While reports suggest that the movie was produced as a reaction to the escalating persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt and was without merit, the resulting riots demonstrate the rioters’ intolerance of others’ freedom to do and say things that seem foolish or irresponsible. This illustrates problems that Muslim communities have historically faced, because in Western societies the ability of individuals to do and think things that are initially seen by many to be ‘outside the square’ has been vital to innovation, economic prosperity and social progress (see Cultural Foundations of Western Strength). The latter highlights the importance of independent individual initiative because rationality is a powerful method of problem-solving in simple contexts, whereas economic, public administration and management literature document its frequent failure in the hands of social and political elites who have to deal with more complex systems.
Muslim dominated societies, especially those in the Middle East, have been slow to modernise and economically backward arguably because individuals’ freedom to make ‘mistakes’ seems to be repressed by their families and communities (and by the state, where Sharia law is practised). The communal repression of individuals (which can be described as ‘guardianship’, whereby people expect to take responsibility for the morality of others’ actions) spills over from the sphere of religion to affect all areas of life in the absence of ‘liberal’ legal and government institutions. In contrast to the reaction to The Innocence of Muslims, coercion is frequently not expressed violently, and is more often directed against others in their community rather than against outsiders.
However the effect of this coercive approach to ensure individual conformity is arguably the major source of problems that Muslim dominated societies have experienced, and this seems to have arisen from the Arabic tribal traditions in the societies in which Islam emerged (see Freedom and Prosperity in the Middle East). Furthermore the agenda of Islamists (ie those who would seek to enforce strict compliance with traditional religious practices through the state) would seem likely to further limit the scope for affected societies to progress through mobilizing incremental individual initiative (see also Discouraging Pointless Extremism , 2002+). The latter suggested that the security risks that humanity faces from Islamist extremism could probably best be reduced by ensuring that this consequence of communal / state enforcement of Islamic religious traditions was considered by Muslim communities.
There is a pressing need to reform Australia’s approach to multiculturalism in order to recognise (rather than ignore) the practical consequences of such dysfunctional cultural assumptions. The latter are by no means limited to communal coercion of individuals in Muslim societies (see Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism).
|Discrediting Extremists is Long Overdue||
Hon Chris Bowen, MP,
You have been quoted as suggesting that extremists’ ideas should be ‘defeated in a contest of rational thought’ (eg see Wright J., ‘Anti-Islamist Dutch politician will get visa’, The Age, 2/10/12).
While this is an excellent idea, it does not seem to be what has actually been happening. For example, Australia has been involved in military and security operations in response to terrorist attacks around the world by Islamist extremists for over a decade, yet there does not yet seem to have been any serious attempt to discredit the ideas that motivate them. And the need to do more seems to be increasing, noting:
Your recent comments expressed disagreement with Geert Wilders’ ideas. However you did not specify which ideas need to be ‘defeated’, or why they are ‘offensive, ignorant and wrong-headed’ (Wright, op cit). This encourages public curiosity about Wilders’ ideas, but does not build community understanding. This matters because Wilders is often portrayed (as above) as a critic of Islamism (ie of the politicisation of the religion of Islam), and there are good reasons for concern about Islamism whether or not Wilders’ ideas about Islam as a religion are defective.
In relation to problems with Islamism I should like to draw your attention to speculations about how it might have been possible to discredit the ideas that seem to motivate Islamist extremists and thus bring an end to disruptive and costly conflicts - see Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002+), The latter suggested, for example, that Islamist extremism seemed to be rationalised by the assumption that: (a) the economic and political backwardness of Muslim-dominated societies in recent centuries has been mainly due to external / Western oppression; and (b) adopting Islam as the basis for the state (ie Islamism) in Muslim countries would be the best solution to those difficulties. It also suggested that the extremists’ ideas (and Islamists’ ideas generally) appeared dubious because:
I look forward to your further efforts of defeat extremists’ ideas in a contest of rational thought.
Unfortunately ‘the force of our lived experience of multiculturalism’ that you reportedly referred to  is unlikely to be sufficient, as it has done nothing to help people whose prospects are limited by dysfunctional cultural assumptions. There thus seems to be a case for rethinking Australia’s approach in to multiculturalism (eg see Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism, 2010).
|Tell Islamists that Sharia Need not be Embodied in National Laws||
RE: Baxendale R., Muslim groups attack findings on sharia, The Australian, 4/3/13
The above article points to your view that everything that sharia requires (eg being good neighbors and citizens; or perhaps even plural quasi-marriage relationships) can be done under Australian law.
Might I suggest that the people who most need to be made aware that sharia does not need to be embodied in state law are Islamists (ie those who believe that sharia should be the foundation of state law), and that this message most needs to be disseminated in societies (eg Egypt) where Muslims constitute the majority of the population.
Islamists’ at-times-violent efforts to institute sharia as the basis for state law has been a source of the problems that Muslim-dominated communities have increasingly faced (eg see Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002) – though, as the latter suggested, communal methods for forcing Muslims to conform to what their families and neighbours believe sharia requires to be ‘good neighbours and citizens’ also seems to have played a role in disadvantaging Muslim communities (ie by enforcing strict conformity with tradition and thereby inhibiting the initiative / innovation that is required for social, political and economic progress) – see also Saving Muslims from Themselves .
Reply to Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon (4/3/13)
Do you mind if I reproduce your comments on my website together with a copy of my earlier email. Also have you passed similar thoughts on to Keysar Trad?
Reply to Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon (4/3/13)
Thanks – your comments are now on my web-site.
However I respectfully suggest that you consider stimulating public debate in Australia about what is required for ‘Muslim Lands’ to be socially, politically, economically and scientifically successful. My suspicion (as I argued previously in Discouraging Pointless Extremism) is that Islamism is probably not the political answer (ie that it would compound existing problems). In that document I also suggested that Australia might be able to help moderate Islamists work through the question of what is needed for practical success in what you call ‘Muslim Lands’.
Thus I would be very interested to learn what you believe is needed (apart from Sharia Law) to enable Egypt, Syria, Indonesia, Pakistan etc to become successful. How might their political, economic and scientific arrangements work in practice?
These are subjects that I have put a lot of effort into studying in relation to the different paths to modernisation in the West and East Asia – so I would be interested to hear what your alternative model would be.
A Sharia Law Scenario in Practice - Reply to Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon (5/3/13)
I would be very interested in the ideas that emerge from your study of how (say) political, economic and scientific arrangements might work in practice as part of a ‘Sharia Law scenario’ for the ‘Muslim Lands’. If this could then be made publicly accessible, it would be possible to get comments from relevant experts who might help in refining those ideas.
I had a look at an English translation of ‘Oh People of Tunisia Support Your Shari’ah’ (by Al-Qa’idah’s Dr. Ayman al-Ẓawahiri) that you recommended as a key source.
However I was unable to see anything in the way of practical proposals in Dr. Ayman al-Ẓawahiri’s argument. He simply seemed to advocate combining, rather than separating, religion and politics. While this would be the starting point for a ‘Sharia Law scenario’, he didn’t seem to say how a compatible political system or government would then work. How would political power be gained? What would be the state institutions (eg a legislature, executive, judiciary)? How would they relate? What functions would the state undertake? How would they be financed? Who would staff government agencies? How would law be enforced? How would international relations be conducted? Would civil institutions play a role, and if so what sort of interests would they reflect? And he seemed to say even less about what his ‘Sharia Law scenario’ meant in terms of compatible economic arrangements. Would economic activities be undertaken by the state or privately? How would employees and employees relate? How would the financial system work? What sort of monetary system would be involved? What methods of economic management would the state employ? How would resources be allocated? And I could not see anything that implied that his ‘Sharia Law scenario’ might reduce what seem to be significant constraints on progress in science (ie those speculated in About Arabic Thought and Islamic Science). Science is traditionally about developing hypotheses, testing these against observations, establishing theories and then continually challenging established ideas. The apparent assumption that Islamic teachings should be an unchallengeable framework that all scientific theories would be expected to be compatible with seems to be incompatible with traditional scientific methods.
To get helpful feedback from experts in (say) political, economic and scientific arrangements, there is a need to start with the ideas of Islamists who have put some flesh on the bones of their ‘Sharia Law Scenario’.
|Discrediting Islamism +||
I should like to try to add value to your suggestions about working with moderate Muslims to defeat violent Islamism.
In relation to your suggestion about helping Muslims find moderate paths to success, I should like to draw your attention to my own speculations in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002+). The latter argued that Islamists’ ‘solution’ to the problems that have beset Muslim dominated societies in recent centuries would probably exacerbate their disadvantages - because it would further suppress the responsible individual initiative that has been the foundation of the West’s economic and political progress.
I should also like to draw your attention to:
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
The following responses were received from Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon (Sharia4MuslimLands) and are reproduced here with permission.
Islamism: Reply to Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon (15/5/13)
Thanks for your thoughts about this. Do you want me to put those thoughts up
on my web-site – and perhaps draw them to the attention of Daniel Pipes?
|We need Enlightenment to Combat Radicals||
Grand Mufti Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed
Re: Bashan Y., ‘We need Mosques to Combat Radicals’, Sunday Mail, 26/5/13
An article in which you were quoted highlighted your call from improved communication and understanding between Australia’s mainstream and Muslim communities, and your suggestion that mosques can help prevent radicalisation of Muslim youth.
I should like to suggest that Australia’s Muslim community could best help to combat radicalism (not only here but worldwide) by exploring the practical requirements for success by Muslim communities, and providing enlightenment through mosques to otherwise alienated youth. The radical ideologies that are being preached by amateur-imams seem to be based on the assumption that the general failure of Muslim communities to modernise in recent centuries is the result of external (and ongoing) oppression. Those ideologies would worsen Muslims’ predicament because the real need is arguably to liberate Muslim communities from internal, rather than external, oppression (see Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002+).
More generally, it is undoubtedly desirable for improved communication in Australia between Muslims and the mainstream community. Such communication needs to be based on proper understanding, and Australia’s traditional approach to multiculturalism (which prevents such practicalities being discussed) needs substantial overhaul if this is to occur (eg see Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism, 2010).
|Please Don't Trivialize Oppression||
Re: ‘Anti-Muslim fear put on fast track’, Sunday Mail, 14/7/13
Might I respectfully suggest that closer consideration of the adverse implications for affected societies of the way Sharia law has been enforced is needed before you can have a sound basis for criticising those who apparently fear that it could be introduced as an unintended outcome of constitutional changes affecting local government?
Unfortunately the way conformity with Islamic law has been enforced (apparently as a result of traditions in the Arabic tribal context in which Islam emerged) has major adverse consequences for affected societies and for their relationships with others. And ignorance of those problems (which your article unfortunately reflects) is not responsible – for reasons suggested in Cultural Ignorance as a Source of Conflict.
Coercion of individuals to comply with Islamic practices and teachings (by their families and communities – even when not compounded by Sharia councils or Islamist regimes) seems to have had a devastating effect on affected societies for centuries by suppressing the differences, initiative and innovation required for social, economic and political progress (see Saving Muslims from Themselves). And at its most oppressive this results in virtual complete elimination of any ability to express more liberal opinion. Have a look at some of the comments (eg in About Islam, 2001+) on the situation in Muslim dominated states. The latter includes reference to a ‘cultural class in hiding’ in more extreme cases. Have a look at concerns expressed about current trends in Indonesia by those who have studied these issues (see Lane B., More Rigid Islam in Indonesia’, The Australian, 13-14/7/13). And have a look at what a prominent Islamist in Australia has had to say about the subject (see Sharia Responses from Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon and Islamism Responses from Ibrahim Siddiq-Conlon).
The failures generated by oppressive enforcement of Islamic practices and beliefs are then compounded by affected societies’ resentments of their resulting history – and a tendency to believe that external rather than internal oppression is the primary cause of their problems (because study of Islamic teaching conveys nothing of the requirements for success in the modern world, and Western students of the humanities and social sciences seem to believe that it would be offensive to study the practical consequences of dysfunctional cultural assumptions). The result of collective ignorance has been:
Careful study of the New Testament should be a remedy for future temptations to suggest that Christianity generates similar problems. Christianity’s’ founder, Jesus of Nazareth, proclaimed the importance of the ‘spirit’ of religious law (and identified that ‘spirit’ as love for God and for one’s neighbour). What had been accepted in Jesus’ day as strict religious Laws were to be seen as examples of that ‘spirit’, rather than as the limit and inflexible detail of what was required. Religious authorities who took a legalistic approach while failing to respect the ‘spirit’ of the Law were criticised. Followers were instructed not to judge others, as all are affected by moral failings. Righteousness was seen to require such high standards that this was humanly impossible, so salvation depended on God’s grace. The ‘spirit’ of God’s Law that Jesus proclaimed provided a moral compass (ie a way of making moral progress as circumstances changed) rather than defining a fixed and limited moral destination. The responsible liberty that could be engendered in individuals by planting the ‘spirit’ of God’s law in their hearts and making them responsible only to God for the morality of their actions also provided a foundation for rational progress in other domains (eg see Christian Foundations of Liberal Western Institutions, 2010).
Having a close look at the problems affecting the Muslim world should also be a remedy for future temptations to trivialise the adverse impacts of the way Islamic / Sharia law has traditionally been enforced. It would also show the naivety of Britain’s Under Secretary of State for Justice in her inability to see that Sharia councils are likely to further the repression and disadvantage of affected communities (by reinforcing the legalistic enforcement of Islamic practices and beliefs by families and communities).
It might also help Muslim-dominated communities to recognise a need to rethink what they have been doing to themselves.
PS: Irrespective of any Sharia law complications, constitutional changes that would enable the federal government to direct special purpose funding to local governments would seem to be a dubious idea.
Australia’s system of government has been becoming a disaster area (perhaps for reasons suggested in Australia's Governance Crisis and the Need for Nation Building). In fact Australia’s current Prime Minister recently pointed out that all was not well in the course of his re-installation in that position (see Restoring Political Competence is Becoming Urgent).
Unfortunately however it seems to be beyond federal politicians to consider whether one significant cause of the deterioration of Australia’s system of government may be the fiscal imbalances within Australia’s federation that have given rise to buck passing, duplication, uncertainty, delays, distortion, complexity and high costs in government administration (see Federal Fiscal Imbalances). Attempting to centralise control of complex state functions on the basis of imbalances between tax receipts and spending needs seems naïve and dysfunctional (see Centralization is Part of the Problem: Not the Solution). Compounding these problems by centralising control of local government functions through the proposed constitutional change would be unlikely to be helpful.
|Even Moderate Islam Seems Damagingly Rigid||
Re: More Rigid Islam in Indonesia’, The Australian, 13-14/7/13.
Your useful article drew attention to: (a) the growth of more rigid Islam in Indonesia; (b) the fact a more conservative approach to Islam generally is more worrying for Indonesia’s future than containable terrorism (eg because of its legal / political impact); and (c) the potential adverse implications for Indonesia’s neighbours such as Australia.
On the basis of some (undoubtedly limited) efforts over several decades to study the relationship between culture and the path to development of various societies, I should like to suggest for your consideration that even moderate Islam (ie that with neither extremist nor even explicitly political / legalistic overtones) imposes a rigidity on affected societies that damages their prospects.
By way of background I would also like to draw attention to:
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
|The Implications of Islam||
Re: Remekis A., ‘Controversial Kennedy candidate says safety is priority’, Brisbane Times, 31/8/13
I note that you have reportedly expressed concern about attempts to convert some aboriginal people to Islam.
Might I respectfully suggest that:
|Liberty and Islam in Australia||
I refer to the Society’s proposed 1st International Symposium on Liberty and Islam in Australia and to the reasons that the Society opposes Islam.
I should like to suggest that the Q Society’s efforts (which seem to involve countering Islamisation in countries such as Australia) could be better directed. There is little doubt that the coercive / illiberal ‘nasties’ that your web-site mentioned can be interpreted (both by Muslims and by others) as being required / permitted under Islam. However it is understood that only a small percentage of Muslims subscribe to extreme views. The problem is that the nature of those coercive / illiberal ‘nasties’ means that it is quite difficult for ordinary Muslims to prevent them being applied either to repress Muslim communities or against other communities.
However the major victims of the coercive / illiberal interpretations that can be placed on Islam are Muslim communities themselves. Thus the Q Society would arguably be better advised to direct arguments related to Liberty and Islam towards Muslims – so that they can better understand the consequences for their communities and thus more forcefully discredit those who advocate coercive / illiberal practices. The general Australian community (who are outsiders to Islam) could be kept informed of the issues, but not be primary participants in the process – though one domestic step that could be taken to reduce Australia’s risk of being embroiled in Islam’s problems is suggested below.
A now-somewhat-dated attempt to identify the issues involved for Muslim communities and to suggest how the coercive / illiberal ‘nasties’ might be discredited was in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002). A key point seems to be that, presumably as a consequence of the Arabic tribal environment in which Islam emerged, there seems to be a notion of ‘guardianship’ in Islam under which responsibility for the performance of individuals’ obligations falls to the ‘tribe’ (ie to families, communities and perhaps even the state) rather than being a matter for individual consciences responsible to God (as is the case under the Judeo-Christian traditions from which Islam was partly derived). Thus, while Islam proclaims ‘submission to God’, the way it has been enforced appears to mean that in practice Islam involves ‘submission to the tribe’. This has devastating consequences for Muslim communities (quite apart from the fact that it can translate into the view that religion should be imposed on others by force). ‘Submission to the tribe’ suppresses the difference / initiative / innovation that has long been required for social, economic and political progress – and is increasingly urgent for environmental progress. Thus internal repression (rather than the perceived external ‘oppression’ that Islamist extremists use as a basis for inciting attacks on others) is arguably the reason that Muslim dominated societies have generally been slow to develop in recent centuries (see Islamic Societies: The Realm of the Self-Repressive Tribes?). As the latter also notes Islamic scholars seem to have adopted an interpretation of science which rationalizes social practices that constrain the initiative required for progress, rather than one that would be useful in achieving scientific and technological progress (see About Arabic Thought and Islamic Science, 2005).
The goal should not just be to protect Australia from the coercive / illiberal ‘nasties’ that can be associated with Islam, but rather mainly to enable the Muslim world to get its act together (as this would have the beneficial side-effect of eliminating adverse consequences for others). The Muslim world (especially in the Middle East) is in increasing turmoil (see The Muslim World Seems to be Headed for Chaos). There are domestic conflicts based on sectarian differences (eg between Sunni and Shia Islam), on tribal differences and on uncertainty about how to create modern successful political and economic systems. Attempts (led by the US) were made some years ago to create a ‘democratic capitalist’ model for the Middle East through intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan. Attempts in various countries to head in that same general direction led more recently to the so-called ‘Arab Spring’. But Western ‘liberal’ institutions can only work effectively where they are built on a presumption of ‘responsible liberty’ by individuals (which Christianity imparted to Europe). The necessary foundations for liberal economic and political institutions are not available where ensuring the morality of individual behaviour requires ‘submission to the tribe’ (see Fatal Flaws, 2003).
The turmoil in the Muslim world seems to be the major (though not only) factor behind the rapid growth and currently huge numbers of asylum seekers that the world has to cope with. Australia’s response to this has been to either try to deal with the symptoms of the Muslim world’s problems or to try to keep those symptoms off-shore by blocking ‘people smuggling’. Dealing with the problem at its source would be a far more constructive option (eg see Boat People Magic), and a somewhat re-directed effort by the Q Society could arguably make a useful contribution. Denigrating Islam (eg as was done by the movie, The Innocence of Muslims) would be a formula for generating violent responses. Working with Muslims to enable them to understand why they are the primary victims of the coercive / illiberal ‘nasties’ that can give rise to such violent responses would be a far better option (eg see Saving Muslims from Themselves, 2012).
As far as Australia domestically is concerned, the risk of unthinkingly incorporating any of the coercive / illiberal ‘nasties’ that can be associated with Islam into Australian law and institutions (ie the risk of the of ‘Islamisation’ that that the Q Society opposes) can probably best be reduced by boosting recognition of the importance of widespread Christian adherence in the community to the emergence and sustainability of Australia’s liberal legal and governmental institutions (see Religious Education: The Need for a Bigger Picture View). It is also worth noting that Islamic communities are not the only ones whose prospects seem to be constrained by dysfunctional cultural assumptions (eg see Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism, 2010).
|What Went Wrong in Iraq?||
Re: Bush’s folly has left Obama out of options as ISIS surges in Iraq, The Conversation, 13/6/14
I should like to try to add value to your useful comments in relation to the potential emergence of a dangerous base for Islamist extremism in the Middle East. There is no doubt as you suggested that: (a) the goal of the US led invasion of Iraq was to create a model for modern Middle Eastern regimes; and that (b) seeking to establish such a model through military intervention was unwise.
However the gravest failure arose in the humanities and social science faculties of Western universities as no attempt was made: (a) to expose the cultural obstacles to the success of the US-led effort to refashion the Middle East by force; or (b) to seek better ways to enable the troubled Muslim societies in the Middle East to find systems of political economy that would enable them to overcome their historical relative backwardness.
My attempt to read between the lines of post 911 debates (see September 11: The First Test, 2003) parallels your interpretation of the motives of the US Bush administration in endorsing an invasion of Iraq as its primary response to the September 11 attacks in America (presumably by Western-educated Islamist extremists). There had long seemed to be a risk of revolution against authoritarian regimes in the Middle East by Islamists who were seeking ways to modernise the Muslim world. Such revolutions would have had the potential to create a basis for major long term conflicts – perhaps equivalent to another Cold War. Pre-emptive military action was hoped to prevent this. Though Iraq was not apparently implicated in the 911 attacks, it was seen to be: (a) morally exposed because of the ruthlessness of the Sunni-dominated regime of Saddam Hussein; (b) a clear threat to its region (and others) if its claims about ‘weapons of mass destruction’ were valid; and (c) a suitable place to establish a liberal democratic-capitalistic system of a political economy as a model for the Middle East.
However, if one looks more closely at the cultural and institutional requirements for a liberal system of political economy to work, it is clear that those pre-requisites did not exist in Iraq and could not have been created by military intervention (see Fatal Flaws, 2003). This was an issue that required a great depth of understanding of the practical consequences of a society’s cultural assumptions. Liberal social, political and economic institutions work on the basis of rational analysis and decision making by individuals as citizens, workers, employers, administrators and politicians. This can’t work when individuals are subjected to ‘tribal’ pressures (from families and communities) – because those pressures make ‘rational’ decision making much less reliable (because situations become too complex), and impose severe constraints on initiative and thus on the changes that are required for social, economic and political progress. Muslim societies in the Middle East have arguably been backward for centuries because of constraints implicit in the communal coercion which has been the way in which Islamic Law has traditionally been enforced – presumably as a consequence of the Arabic tribal context in which Islam emerged (see Islamic Societies: The Realm of the Self-Repressive Tribes?, 2001+ and Even Moderate Islam Seems Damagingly Rigid, 2013).
The goals of the US-led invasion of Iraq (ie creating a basis for peace and prosperity in the Middle East and thus creating an environment in which Islamist extremism could not survive) could arguably have been achieved by enabling Muslims generally to understand the source of their historical problems. Some suggestions about how this might have been achieved (and the ideology is Islamist extremists thereby discredited) were in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002). More recent suggestions (in the context of ending the violence that confronts the world with large refugee flows) were in Boat People Magic (2013).
The US’s national security advisers had no way to understand such issues a decade ago. Quite similar factors were arguably responsible for the ultimate failure of the US-led intervention to establish a liberal democratic-capitalist model for ‘Asia’ in Vietnam. In East Asia the ‘community’ has traditionally been given high priority while the ‘individual’ (who must be emphasised for liberal institutions to work) has been given low priority. Getting to grips with these issues required leadership by social science and humanities experts in Western universities.
What went wrong in Iraq (and arguably in Vietnam) was that those ‘experts’ had not given any serious consideration to the practical consequences of differences in cultural assumptions – and thus were unable to suggest non-military options. And Japan, a US ally who of all countries was the most familiar with the incompatibility between communal and individualistic cultures because of their century-long struggle do modernise, chose not to alert the US administration to the reasons that its efforts were likely to fail.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
The Effect of Political Instability: A Note Added Later: An informed observer drew attention to the fact that the above comments don't pay attention to: (a) the effect of political failure in Iraq (eg because the situation could have been better if Allawai rather than Maliki had been Iraq's prime minister); and (b) what has happened in Syria.
There is no doubt about the impact of political failure in
Iraq and the Syrian conflict, but the underlying problem is that Muslim
dominated societies (especially those in the Middle East) probably have no way
to create successful liberal systems of political economy because their cultural
traditions (ie the way Islamic Law is enforced) feature communal suppression of
individual difference and initiative. And they don’t have the option of going
down the East Asian neo-Confucian route because they are even further from the
cultural features that that would require.
|Is the Barbarity of ISIS Another Attempt to Ensnare the US in the Middle East?||
In June 2014 an attack by a Sunni Islamist Group (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which is similar to, but not the same as, al Qa'ida) was unexpectedly successful in quickly capturing large areas of Sunni-dominated north Iraq as the Iraqi regime (whose forces significantly outnumbered the ISIS forces) simply abandoned their positions. The ISIS group was almost unbelievably brutal in murdering those they considered enemies and posting the killings to the Internet and social media. Examples of this material can be found at ISIS massacre claim (ABC, 16/6/14) while other reports of brutality include Rival Rebel Fighters Crucified (The Australian, 1/7/14).
There are regional and domestic factors that contribute to these events (eg see The Effect of Political Instability). A belief that establishing an Islamic state (ie one in which the religion of Islam would be the basis of government) would solve the historic problems that Muslims have faced has also been a factor.
However the exceptional and public barbarity ISIS exhibited in Iraq suggests that there is a need to consider other aspects given: (a) prior US involvement in seeking to establish a democratic regime in Iraq hopefully as a model for the Middle East in future; and (b) other aspects of the broader geo-political context as mentioned below.
It is possible that one purpose of these murderous excesses (though not necessarily of ISIS's regional objectives in themselves) has been to put public pressure on the US administration to re-engage militarily in the Middle East. And that possibility needs to be considered in light of the fact that:
|Is ISIS a Bit Player in a Bigger Story?||
Re: Avoiding Catastrophe in Iraq, Inside Story, 20/6/14
Your article provided very useful insights into the regional context in which ISIS is operating.
Some reasons to wonder whether what is happening in Iraq might usefully be viewed in a larger context are outlined in Is the Barbarity of ISIS Another Attempt to Ensnare the US in the Middle East? While ISIS may not have obvious allies, it may have some who are hidden, desperate and ruthless.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
|An Alternative to Fighting Radical Islamism for 100 Years||
Professor Peter Leahy
RE: Nicholson B., We’ll fight radical Islam for 100 years, says ex-army head Peter Leahy , The Australian, 9/8/14
You were quoted as suggesting that Australia needs to be prepared for a very long term and savage war (with high costs in ‘blood and treasure’) against radical Islam.
There is no doubt that it might take (say) 100 years to defeat radical Islamism if one chooses to try to do so through ‘fighting’ radical Islamists. However if one were to go about this another way (ie seek to discredit Islamists in the eyes of potential recruits and supporters) that outcome should be achievable in a relatively short time and with relatively little cost in ‘blood and treasure’.
Communism was defeated after a Cold War (with periodic hot-spots) that lasted for decades. However it was defeated not by ‘fighting’ communists (eg by a war in Vietnam) but rather when communists themselves realized that what they were fighting for would not work.
Some undoubtedly-improvable suggestions about accelerating the process whereby Islamists’ potential recruits and supporters themselves recognize that what Islamists are fighting for can’t work in practice were put forward in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002+). Needless to say the methods that the latter suggested would primarily require that the ‘fight’ be conducted by those with expertise in the relationships between culture and the social, economic and political effectiveness of societies. Radical Islamist ideologies appear to have been developed in Western universities with significant inputs of ‘modern’ / scientific ideas - resulting in a naive belief that Muslim societies could become successful / powerful if only they displaced religious fundamentalism with natural science (see Modernizing Islam?). This belief is naive because of its lack of consideration of what the social sciences have learned. Such ideologies can’t be ‘fought’ on the battlefield with the foot soldiers that the intellectual elites have recruited to their cause..
However, if serious attempts had been made 10 years ago to discover and organize expert review of why radical Islamist’ ideologues think that what they are doing represents a real solution to the world’s problems (with ordinary Muslims as a ‘jury’), I submit that the ‘fight’ could probably have been won several years ago.
Islamism and 'Team Australia' +
Re: ‘Don’t migrate unless you want to join our team’: Abbott meets Islamic community, The Australian, 18/8/14
Your article referred to the Prime Minister’s effort to encourage Australia’s Muslim community to assist in efforts to guard again any spill-over of Islamist extremism (eg if extremists’ Australian recruits return) from the Middle East.
Australia’s Prime Minister (Tony Abbott) called on Australia’s Muslim community to embrace ‘Team Australia’. He discussed the governments nation security strategy to reduce the risk of young Muslims joining extremist factions in the Middle East. He saw a serious problem with radicalized young people going to the Middle East to join terrorist groups and then coming back radicalized, militarized and brutalized. He argued that everyone needs to be in ‘Team Australia’ ie to put Australia’s interests / values / people first. He will stress that people should not come to Australia if they don’t want to join the ‘team’. Free speech reforms were abandoned because they complicated efforts to promote a ‘team Australia’. He saw it to be important for the moderate mainstream to speak out. It is important that communities should not be caricatured because of a militant few. The proposed terror laws were not about protecting some Australians from others. All communities need to expose and counter any potential for home-grown terrorism. A mass casualty event would damage Australia’s rich / strong social fabric. He is concerned that 150 Australians involved in conflicts in Syria / Iraq may bring radicalized views of Islam back. Australia has been successful, so far, in identifying and preventing potential terrorism. The Islamic community is concerned about parts of counter-terrorism package (eg vising designated areas without valid reason). It wants to make detailed inputs regarding proposed new laws. Samier Dandan (Lebanese Muslim Association) called for community engagement and debate about the proposed laws – as there was a risk of going back to the days of first terror bills under John Howard. There is a need to ensure that this is not just targeting one group in the community. All team members need to know what the strategy is.
However a broader approach to the issue would be useful.
Firstly the risk associated with Islamist extremism can’t be addressed just by seeking to discourage migration by those who don’t support ‘Team Australia’ (ie put Australia’s interests / values / people first). There are apparently domestic sources of Muslim dis-satisfaction with the values that underpin ‘Team Australia’. For example Mission Islam (apparently a product of the Muslim Information and Support Centre of Australia) has published a criticism of democracy as it has been practiced in Western societies from an Islamist viewpoint – ie it is argued that democracy involves people taking absolute authority upon themselves and thereby, in effect, rebelling against God.
“Democracy is the mastership of the people: and that mastership is an absolute and supreme authority. This authority consists in people’s right to choose their leaders and legislate whatever laws they want. …. With democracy, the supreme authority does not recognize any other authority to be higher than it, because its authority emanates from itself. Therefore, it does that which it wills and legislates that which it wills, without being accounted by anyone. But this is the ATTRIBUTE of Allah (swt)” (extracted from Abdul Qadir Bin Abdul Aziz, ‘'The Criticism of Democracy and the Illustration of its Reality')
A recent psychological study in Denmark of differences between Westernised and Muslim youth in detention implied that the latter’s dissatisfaction with what a modern liberal Western society tends to be like can have deep roots – and implied that ‘Team Denmark’ was not something that Muslims in Denmark tended to want to be part of even after several generations (see outline of ‘In Denmark a Bruising Multiculturalism’). The latter also noted that such problems are not confined to Denmark though they are less severe in countries such as the US and Australia (perhaps because ‘Europe’ tends to involve Roman Law systems under which the state has legal priority because it is seen to embody the culture of the society as a whole where British Law (which Australia inherited) gives citizens legal equality with the state and the state thus tends to be more ready to respond to its citizens).
None-the-less the cultural obstacles to Muslims being part of ‘Team Australia’ illustrated by Mission Islam’s view of democracy is an issue that would seem to require attention (eg by those concerned with multicultural and educational affairs).
Secondly much of the Muslim world seems to be in turmoil. Many of its communities have suffered from decades (and sometimes centuries) of unsatisfactory political and economic arrangements. Many now suffer the effects of instability or conflicts because of disagreements about the what sort of system of government should prevail (and what role, if any, Islam should play in such governments). Australia’s government reasonably perceives extremists (eg in Syria and Iraq) who resort to terrorism in support of ‘Islamism’ (which simplistically could be described as government by God’s ‘right-hand-men’ to enforce Shar’ia Law) as the main potential source of a threat to Australia (ie if returning extremists think that there is some reason to continue their conflicts here). However, if the Muslim world can’t ‘get its act together’, importing terrorism is not the only threat that Australia might face (see The Muslim World Seems to be Headed for Chaos, 2013). And the misery that various factions in the Muslim world inflict upon one another (and on others) is another reason that it is desirable to help Muslims address their problem at the source rather than merely seeking to be protected from the consequences of their turmoil.
Some suggestions about how Australia might help in resolving both of these problems were outlined in An Alternative to Fighting Islamism for 100 years. This would involve seeking to discover whether a system of political economy that was compatible with Islamist aspirations (ie that the state should claim divine authority for enforcing Islamic religious laws) could actually work in practice. If it was found that such a system would be impractical then Islamist extremists would be unable to gain supporters and many of the cultural obstacles to Muslim participation in ‘Team Australia) (or ‘Team Denmark’) should disappear. The present writer believes that this is likely to be the case for reasons that are implicit in comments on the advantages Western societies gained because New Testament Christianity emphasized individual responsibility to God. The requirements of any religion, no matter how detailed, can never cover all situations. And, if the interpretations that social and political elites choose to place on religious principles need to be taken into account in day to day affairs, then neither citizens nor the state can be free to meet their responsibilities as effectively as might otherwise be possible.
One way to start such a process might be to invite Mission Islam (who, as noted above has criticised Western democracy because it does not involve state claims to divine authority in enforcing Shar’ia law) to develop and publish a detailed explanation of how an Islamist regime might work in practice. The viability of their proposal could then be assessed by the Muslim community as a whole taking into account publically-available input from experts on political and economic systems.
70% of Danish youths in detention are Muslim. Nicholae Sennels (a psychologist) sought to discover why.
The reasons came down to an insular community’s distain for what a modern and liberal Western nation represents. Sennels’ worked in prisons in Copenhagen and wrote about what was learned from working over 10 years with 150 Muslim and 100 non-Muslim youths. This provided a useful understanding of: the culture and minds of Muslim offenders; their often violent behaviour; and the high crime rates in their communities. Sennels sought to discover why violence and criminality was a feature of the Muslim community and why Muslims have difficulty fitting into Western societies.
70% of inmates in Danish prisons come from immigrant families – and almost all of those families were Muslim. Sennels analyzed behavioural problems under four headings: (a) anger versus weakness; (b) honour versus security; (c) victim-hood versus self-responsibility; and (d) Muslims versus non-Muslims.
Anger is perceived from a Western viewpoint as a quick way to lose face, yet Muslims see anger not as a weakness, but as a sign of strength. In anger-management classes, Muslim participants often believed that aggression was an accepted / expected behaviour in conflicts. A study from Germany showed that boys growing up in Muslim families were more likely to be violent.
In relation to self-confidence, Westerners regard criticism as an honourable thing when offered honestly. Accepting valid criticism is a sign of trust – so criticism is handled unemotionally and perhaps even with gratitude. But in Islam criticism is viewed as an attack on one’s honour – and anything but an aggressive response is considered dishonourable. What Western observers would see as a sign of insecurity and childishness is viewed as fair.
The expectation that Muslims will integrate into a wider society seems to many Muslims to imply criticism – and thus leads to enmity with that society.
In terms of self-control Westerners tend to see their lives being a result of their own choices. However within Islam all of life is ordained by the will of Allah – not individual choice. The daily lives of Muslim delinquents were governed by sharia, cultural traditions and male family members. Their experience was of being controlled. Personal wishes, democratic impulses and individual choices were disregarded / punished. Asking Muslims to make a choice was seen to have little relevance. Sennels’ clients did not perceive any responsibility to change to integrate into Danish society. They rather expect the state to change to match Muslim ways.
Muslim youths charged with crimes tended to blame their victims for provoking their response. This is speculation in professional circles that Muslim culture (which promotes a locus of control outside the individual) might create psychopathic tendencies.
In relation to Muslims versus non-Muslims, the Western notion of tolerance as a virtue and a defining characteristic of good citizens does not exist.
Within Islam, intolerance of non-Muslims / sexual minorities / women / non-Muslim authorities / secular laws is expected. This spawns: parallel societies; alarming crime statistics; terrorism; and suppression / oppression of women. Most of Sennels' Muslim clients did not see themselves as ’Danish’ though they generally came from second and third generation immigrant families. In Denmark only 14% of Muslims identify with an organisation Democratic Muslims which avows that Muslims can be democratic and Danish. The notion of ‘us’ and ‘them’ leads most victims of Muslim crimes being non-Muslims. Though there is a relationships between anti-social behaviour and poverty, it is the crime and anti-social behaviour that leads to poverty (not the other way around).
Research in Denmark showed that 64% of children with Arabic backgrounds were so poor at reading and writing after 10 years in the school system that they could not proceed to further education – double the number of other Danish students. Three times as many Muslims as non-Muslims failed to reach IQ levels needed for recruitment into Danish military. Their countries of origin place less emphasis on knowledge and education. The world average for publication of articles is 137 per million citizens. In OIC countries the average is 13. The UN’s Arab Human Capital Development report noted that only 100,000 books have been translated since the ninth century – roughly the number that are translated into Spanish every year. Being unable to read and write well, dropping out of education and coming from a culture that has little interest in science and knowledge generally severely impacts a person’s ability to get well paid (or any) job. This leads to anti-social / criminal behaviour and ultimately to poverty / welfare dependence.
To integrate, Sennels argues that immigrants must: want to be part of host society; be allowed to join that society; and have the capacity to do so. Few Muslim immigrants seem to meet that criteria. While other Western countries face similar difficulties, the situation in Europe appears to be particularly severe.
|Does the 'Islamic State' have Staying Power?||
Islamism and 'Team Australia' on my web-site may be of interest in relation to your article Going the distance: does Islamic State have staying power? (The Conversation, 27/8/14). The criteria that your article suggested as needed for a ‘functional state’ (ie ensuring security / provision of goods and service / perceived legitimacy) are not adequate in themselves to prevent a society from suffering ongoing relative disadvantage.
The real question is not whether the Islamic State (IS) has staying power but rather whether the Muslim world has staying power – ie can the Muslim world create governments that don’t perpetuate the backwardness that affected communities have generally suffered in recent centuries?
Islamist regimes (such as IS seeks to be) seem to merely exacerbate the problems that Muslim-dominated societies suffer because of rigidities within those communities themselves that seem to arise because of the legalistic and coercive way Islam is enforced - presumably largely as a reflection of the Arabic tribal environment in which Islam emerged (eg consider Even Moderate Islam Seems Damagingly Rigid).
Many cultures that perpetuate affected peoples’ relative disadvantage are accepted (eg consider UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perpetuating Disadvantage?). But a political faction such as the Islamic State, that apparently not only wishes to perpetuate Muslim people’s relative disadvantage but also believes that it is acceptable to kill anyone who disagrees with its ideology, is in a somewhat different category – and is unlikely to have ‘staying power’.
Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State
F. Britney Bruton,
Re: US will 'degrade and destroy' ISIS militants: Obama,, NBC News 3/9/14
I noted with interest your article’s report about the US administration’s intended response to the murder of journalists (and others) by the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). I should like to suggest for your consideration why President Obama’s proposal seems extremely smart. He had referred to both: (a) the long reach of the US and its desire to obtain justice; and (b) battling against the ‘kind of barbaric and empty vision that ISIS represents’.
The latter is smart because, while at one level the so-called ‘Islamic State’ is a group of militants, at another level it is an idea.
If outsiders intervene to battle the ‘Islamic State’ primarily as an extreme group of militants, there is a risk of turning what is a dispute within the Muslim world (eg about what role, if any, Islam can usefully play in politics) into a conflict between those outsiders and Muslims generally. Experts who study terrorism seem to believe that generating a harsh response is often the motive of ‘terrorism’. The 9/11 attacks in America were arguably orchestrated by a marginal / Westernised Muslim group with a view to encouraging a Western response that would enable extremists to attract more support to their Islamist ideology (ie that Islam should guide social and political life as well as personal life through the creation of an ‘Islamic State’). At the same time the ignorance of those extremists was being roundly criticised by some Islamic scholars (eg consider Fundamental Errors, 2001). The same generate-a-harsh-response motivation arguably applies now to ISIS’s widely-publicized slaughter of innocents (ie motivating Western audiences to demand that governments ‘do something’ - see Is the Barbarity of ISIS Another Attempt to Ensnare the US in the Middle East?).
Eliminating ISIS by focusing on its militancy could take a long time and create risks of unintended consequences. However success should be achieved much faster if the ‘idea’ of an Islamic State is challenged (with the mainstream Muslim world playing the role of the ‘jury’ in deciding whether it is ‘innocent’ or ‘guilty’) - see An Alternative to Fighting Radical Islamism for 100 Years . Moreover an emphasis on exposing their murderers’ ideology to international scrutiny (so that Muslim people generally gain a realistic understanding of the practicality of the murders’ Islamist ideology) would be a fitting tribute to the US journalists who were recently made ‘martyrs’ to the cause of a free press in the Middle East.
The idea underlying an ‘Islamic State’ (ie that religious compliance by citizens should be promoted by the state) seems to be an extension of the notion of ‘guardianship’ under which it is apparently expected by some Muslims that families, communities and jurists have a responsibility to ensure that individuals comply with Islamic requirements – as an alternative to reliance on the self-discipline of individuals. The resulting enforcement of behaviours that family / community leaders believe is appropriate is probably a continuance of tribal traditions in the 6-7th century Arabic environment in which Islam emerged. However it is a tradition that, despite its 'logic' in a tribal environment, has arguably created severe difficulties for affected societies in recent centuries because these well-intended expectations combined with strict religious legalism (ie compliance with the letter of the law) must tend to stifle the difference / initiative / innovation that is needed for constructive social, economic and political adaptation / progress by such societies as a whole in a constantly changing environment (see Domestic Causes of Disadvantage).
Explanation: Close family / communal supervision of individuals’ action must lead to problems for much the same reason that economic planning by external ‘authorities’ cannot work. Why this is so may not be immediately obvious. However economists have known for decades that central planners can never make good economic decisions (eg because the information needed for appropriate decisions is complex and dependent on insider insights that the ‘authorities’ can’t access and also because what ‘authorities’ do inappropriately affects what enterprises do). Market economies (where decisions are made internally within enterprises taking account, amongst other things, of a simple legal framework) works better.
Likewise reliable judgments are not assured where outsiders with good intentions try to judge individual actions on the basis of: (a) generalised religious requirements which are unlikely to apply exactly in any particular case; and (b) the necessarily limited understanding outsiders must have of the circumstances an individual faces. And even worse the fact that individuals have to be concerned about unpredictable family / community reactions means that individuals can’t just get-on-with it (ie respond promptly to their own circumstances in terms of a reasonable understanding of proper practices). If coercive reactions by families / communities to individuals’ actions are likely, individuals face an environment of great uncertainty. Where Muslims are subjected to family / communal pressures to conform with others' interpretations of religious laws, they would have essentially no control over, or reason to believe that they have any responsibility for, whatever happens.
A psychiatrist’s account of ‘locus of control’ differences between Muslim and non-Muslims offenders in Danish prisons perhaps illustrates the consequences (see ‘In Denmark a Bruising Multiculturalism’). That study suggested that non-Muslims tended to see themselves as having some control of events. This presumably arises because in a Western environment it is presumed that individuals will act more-or-less responsibly because they should have received a reasonable education and are ultimately accountable to God. Thus ‘liberal’ social, economic and political institutions can exist in which individuals have some level of control of the way they respond in a complex and ever changing world. However the reverse tended to be the case for the Muslims the psychiatrist studied. Their perception of having little scope for influencing what happens presumably arose because what happened in their lives did not depend primarily on their own responsible decision making / initiative (ie they perceived a ‘locus of control’ well outside themselves). This is not a formula for practical achievements, or even for gaining the level of education that is now needed for such achievements.
Change is a constant feature of life on earth and in human societies. The ‘peace’ that Islam aspires to achieve requires enabling people collectively and individually to adapt to those changes. Exposing people who face complex challenges to religious legalism and / or authoritarianism by family and community leaders is a formula for stifling initiative and ongoing frustration. An ‘Islamic State’ would merely increase the difficulties that Muslim societies have had in responding to ongoing and increasingly rapid change. Islamists apparently believe that Muslim societies’ problems arise from insufficient coercion by religious authoritarians. However the reverse seems to be more realistic.
Enabling Muslim communities to a develop vision of how compliance with religious requirements could be built on a foundation of individual self-discipline that takes account of the 'spirit' of the religious law should both help overcome Muslim societies’ historical difficulties and eliminate naïve expectations that a so-called ‘Islamic State’ can be a practical solution to those difficulties.
As suggested in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002), Islamist extremists have arguably created a crisis for Islam which requires Muslims to make a choice. Ironically that choice could make it possible for Muslims to escape from centuries of intellectual bondage – which does not seem to have been the extremists’ intention.
Conflicts Must Arise Without Self Discipline: A Speculation (added later): If it is assumed that self-discipline can't or shouldn't be relied upon to ensure responsible behaviour, it may seem logical to conclude that peace can only be achieved if Muslims are not exposed to anyone outside the Ummah (ie the brotherhood of other Muslims) because outsiders might put temptation, rather than the necessary discipline, in a brother's way.
This could lead to the conclusion that the mere fact that there are non-Muslims is the source of the lack of 'peace' that Muslims seek - and thus that outsiders need to be forced to become insiders or eliminated. However, for reasons suggested above, even if the whole world was converted, the Ummah would continue to face difficulties in adapting / progressing in a constantly changing environment unless the individual self-discipline needed to facilitate timely and appropriate responses (progress) is emphasized. 'Peace' could never be achieved.
This speculation is simply that - as the present writer has no way of knowing whether it is valid. However it is noted that the comments about the apparent difficulties that Muslim inmates in Denmark had in self-control suggests the hypothesis is worth considering. Likewise a report about the need for support (discipline?) from the Ummah that Muslim youth in Brisbane apparently required to avoid engaging in criminal behaviour tends to point in the same direction .
Outline: An individual connected with the Muslim group, Ummah United, suggested that: (a) he would probably have joined IS (the Islamic State) is not for the support of his ‘brothers’; (b) the same qualities that made him a potential IS recruit drew him to Ummah United - ie he was mixing with the wrong crowd; and had been arrested / jailed a few times; and (c) others join IS because they have been arrested so often – and can’t take it anymore. (Doorley N., 'If it wasn’t for Ummah, I’d be in IS’, Sunday Mail, 7/9/14)
|Shariah: The Threat to Muslims||
Frank Gaffney and Christine Brim
Might I respectfully suggest that, while there is no doubt that the tactics that this report focused on require a response, there is just as much (and arguably much more) to be gained by a focus on the weaknesses of those responsible for attempts to spread Shariah influences. Their weaknesses seem to be mainly a by-product of religious legalism and of traditional ‘tribal’ ways of thinking about discipline that lead them to believe that Shariah can be a viable option.
This point is explored in Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State. . The presumption which motivates attempts to spread Shariah (ie enforcement of religious law through the state) is that peace requires (not responsible self-discipline subject to the 'spirit' of the religious law but) that all submit to Islam (ie to family / community leader’s understanding of Islam’s requirements). The 'logic' behind that presumption seems (for rather complex reasons) to be the main source of: (a) the problems that Muslim dominated societies have experienced in recent centuries – because the individual initiative needed to adapt to changing circumstances (ie to progress) has thereby been repressed; and also perhaps (b) Muslim community’s worldwide tensions with outsiders to the present day. My suspicion is that it would be desirable to encourage Muslims to focus on the threat that the ‘logic’ underpinning Shariah poses to themselves.
It can also be noted that Islamic traditions are under threat. There is dissention in the ranks (eg consider Fundamental Errors (2001) which presented a knowledgeable scholars’ view of, and criticism of, the actions of Islamist extremists). Islam appears to be suffering a high rate of desertions (see Islam in Fast Demise concerning the situation in Africa in 2003). Previously-exceptionally-high Muslim birth-rates seem to have collapsed (see Declining Muslim Birthrates Worldwide). And though they are being fiercely resisted, the most ‘fearsome’ threat to Islamic traditions seems to be coming from women’s desire to improve their status (eg consider Girls’ education in Pakistan – Malala Yousafzai and The Next Great Movement: Muslim Women’s Liberation).
The ‘threat’ that Shariah poses to Western countries needs to be kept in perspective.
|Politicians are Wrong: Terrorism by Islamist Extremists Does Involve Islam||
Associated Professor Mark Lauchs,
You were quoted as drawing attention to the likely inadequacy of current efforts by Australian politicians and the media to make a clear distinction between Islam as a religion and the murderous actions of some Islamists.
However political leaders are making a mistake in saying that the problem has nothing to do with Islam. The only way to discredit extremists’ Islamist ideology (and thereby eliminate any support within the Muslim world quickly and with minimal loss of life) is for Muslim scholars to urgently review those Islamic traditions related to religious discipline – as these can cause some Islamists to believe that what they are doing is ‘Islamic’ (see An Alternative to Fighting Radical Islamism for 100 Years ).
My Interpretation of an article in which you were quoted: A An Islamic leader in Brisbane has suggested that every Muslim should ‘stand up and condemn this horrible thing’ – as tensions over elevated terror threats increase. The media and politicians also need to calm emotions and irrational fears according to Mark Lauchs (QUT). Both Queensland’s Premier (Campbell Newman) and Australia’s Prime Minister (Tony Abbott) have stated that increased anti-terrorism actions are not about religion – but rather about a small group of criminals. The Prime minister also suggested that everyone needs to work together under common values to eliminate the threat. However Mark Lauchs is concerned that, while these points need to be made, history shows that this doesn’t always work. For example, through Tony Abbott said that what was happening was unrelated to Islam, few media outlets reported this. Dr Siki Sabdai (formerly president of Islamic trust for Juraby Mosque) said his community needed to constantly stress that what is happening does not involve Islam. Muslims, he suggested, can live in harmony with others no matter what their beliefs, and it is not Muslims business to decide for them. And if they can’t live with others Muslims should find somewhere else to live.
There are is no doubt that being Muslim does not in itself make people into homicidal maniacs (as those involved in groups such as the (so-called) ‘Islamic State’ seem to be). However, like Australia’s political leaders, the British Prime Minister (David Cameron) was wrong in arguing strongly that Islam (which undoubtedly sincerely >aspires to be a religion of peace) can at present actually be a ‘religion of peace’.
Quoting David Cameron: "They are killing and slaughtering thousands of people… they boast of their brutality… they claim to do this in the name of Islam, that is nonsense, Islam is a religion of peace. They are not Muslims, they are monsters". (Cameron says ‘Islam is a religion of peace … we will destroy ISIL with an iron determination’, , Breitbart - London, 14/9/14)
The problem with not considering the relationship between Islamic traditions (eg those related to religious discipline) and the ideology of Islamist extremists is that responsible nations are then left with nothing but security / military / diplomatic tactics to degrade and destroy groups such as the (so-called) ‘Islamic state’. And history shows that this doesn’t actually eliminate the risk - because the extremists’ naïve perceptions of what is needed to make the world a better place can’t be discredited that way. Thus there is nothing to stop others, who are equally ignorant, taking up the cause.
An Aside on ‘Grand Conspiracy’ Theories: The situation is also complicated by the fact that the world’s ‘outsiders’ are susceptible to the speculations of those who want to see all problems to be the result of intentional conspiracies. The world (and especially the Middle East) is complex and increasingly unstable – and many suffer as a consequence. However those who see everything that goes wrong to be the result of devious plots and ‘oppression’ by their favourite and ‘all-powerful’ faction seem to be mainly characterised by ignorance of how the world actually works (see About ‘Grand Conspiracy’ Theories).
US President Obama seemed to be on the right track in suggesting that ‘battling against the barbaric and empty vision that ISIS represents’ would be a key feature of the US’s response to ISIS (see reference in Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State). However David Cameron’s apparent desire to avoid any examination of the relationship between Islamic traditions and extremists ideology left him with a string of proposals for suppressing ISIS, but no way of discrediting its Islamist ideology.
Islamic traditions related to religious discipline seem to include legalism and coercing individuals to comply with family / community leaders’ understanding of what Islam requires, rather than reliance on individual self-discipline. Though coercion had some 'logic' in the Arabic tribal environment in which Islam emerged, this has arguably been a major cause of the difficulties in coping with a changing world that Muslim-dominated societies have experienced in recent centuries, and of the tensions that arise when Muslims are surrounded by anyone apart from other Muslims (for reasons developed in Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State). The latter also drew attention to how those traditional ‘tribal’ practices could (in the extreme) ‘justify’ what the (so-called) ‘Islamic State’ is aspiring to achieve (ie base a state on Islamic law, so that Muslims would also be forced to comply with what those who claim to be God’s ‘right-hand-men’ believe that Islam requires). It also suggested encouraging mainstream Islam leaders to develop a vision of individual self-discipline guided by the 'spirit' of the religious law as the primary basis for ensuring compliance with Islam’s requirements – because this could: (a) overcome the problems of backwardness that many Muslim communities have suffered; (b) reduce tensions with other groups; and (c) eliminate the foundations of Islamist extremists’ ideology.
Thus, rather than encouraging political leaders and the media to argue that the excesses of Islamist extremists have nothing to do with Islam, it might be more useful to encourage (say) the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) to do what would actually be likely to discredit the ideology of the extremists (eg explore self-discipline guided by the 'spirit' of the law, rather than inflexible legalism and communal coercion, as the most appropriate way to promote conformity with Islam’s religious requirements).
The ANIC recently put out a press release indicating its rejection of ISIS’s claims and violence. It could go further and eliminate the threats posed by ISIS (and its ilk) altogether – and at the same time dramatically improve the prospects / prosperity of Muslim peoples worldwide. The ANIC’s press release rightly pointed to the adverse effects that outside (military) intervention had had in the Middle East. However it was arguably the fact that a previous generation of Western politicians did not want to consider any relationship between Islam as a religion and the excesses of Islamist extremists that left them unaware that implanting institutions that provided for peace and prosperity in the West would not automatically help in (say) Iraq (see Fatal Flaws).
|Eliminating the Need to Focus on 'Muslims'||
Re: Once again, Waleed Aly can’t say ‘Muslim’, Herald Sun, 19/9/14
My attention was drawn to this article in which you noted that a spokesman for Australia’s Muslim community believes that there is no link between Islam and Islamist extremists. In this he seems to have much in common with senior Australian political leaders.
However I would like to suggest for your consideration that, though Islam aspires to be a religion of peace, the legalistic way compliance with Islamic requirements has traditionally been sought and enforced seems unfortunately to allow extremists to claim that ‘Islam’ justifies their barbarity. My reasons for suggesting this are outlined in Politicians are Wrong: Terrorism by Islamist Extremists Does Involve Islam . The latter suggests moreover a quite simple way in which Islamic authorities could make it impossible for extremists to claim that they are acting in the name of Islam, and at the same time dramatically reduce the difficulties that Muslim communities seem to have had in keeping up with a changing world in recent centuries.
|Cooperation with Australia's Muslims Could Help Solve the Crisis Facing the Whole Muslim World||
Dr Robert Imre,
Re: Terrorists can be defeated by fighting fear with cooperation, The Conversation, 19/9/14
I should like to try to add value to your useful observations about: the goals of terrorist organisations; the way ‘heavy’ attempts to suppress them can backfire; and the potential for success through cooperation with the communities from whom extremists have come. It is undoubtedly desirable to adopt a similar approach in relation to current violence by Islamist extremists.
However, much of the Muslim world is in turmoil because of clashes between different religious and political factions and uncertainty about what political and economic arrangements would allow Muslim-dominated societies (especially those in the Middle East) to overcome the difficulty they have had in keeping up with the modern world in recent centuries (see Islamic Societies: The Realm of the Self-Repressive Tribes? and The Muslim World Seems to be Headed for Chaos). Islamist extremists are only one amongst many factions involved in current conflicts (and probably themselves reflect several incompatible ideologies). Helping Muslim communities in Australia deal with any domestic frustrations they have won’t suppress terrorist violence that is a spill-over from a whole civilization’s need to find a better future.
Threats of violence in Australia by Islamist extremists have to be viewed and dealt with in a very broad context.
Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State and Politicians are Wrong: Terrorism by Islamist Extremists Does Involve Islam provide some speculations about how Islamic leaders in Australia might help the whole Muslim world to find a path to a better future (ie by emphasizing individuals’ responsibility for their own behaviour in accordance with the 'spirit' of the religious law) while at the same time making it impossible for Islamist extremists anywhere to claim that what they are doing is ‘Islamic’.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Taking Away the 'Islamic State's' Religious 'Oxygen'||
Re: Bid to change Islamic State name to remove link to the religion, Sunday Mail, 21/9/14
You were quoted as suggesting that changing the name used to refer to the (so called) ‘Islamic State’ would remove the implication that the religion of Islam is associated with extremism. However this would not remove the extremists’ belief (and ability to recruit Muslim youth by claiming) that what they are doing is ‘Islamic’. Cutting off the extremists’ Islamic ‘oxygen’ requires that Islamic scholars eliminate the expectation that communal coercion to comply with legalistic Islamic requirements has any place in Islam.
My Interpretation of an article in which you were quoted: E Experts have asked Australians to follow the French precedent and start referring to IS under a new name (eg Danesh) to avoid associating the Islamic religion with extremism. Council of Imam’s chairman (Yusuf Peter) suggested using the French name – or something similar, because the actions of extremists are not Islamic. QUT media professor (Axel Bruns) suggested that it was a good idea to avoid referencing the group as an Islamic State – though this would require the international community to agree on what that name should be.
My reasons for suggesting that Islamic scholars (rather than the Australian public or the international community) are the ones best placed to prevent the (so-called) ‘Islamic State’ from claiming to be ‘Islamic’ are outlined in Politicians are Wrong: Terrorism by Islamist Extremists Does Involve Islam and Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State. . While extremism is not a component of the religion of ordinary Muslims, Islamism (ie which involves state coercion in the hope of increasing individual compliance with Islam) is an extension of the notion of communal coercion to enforce compliance with inflexible practices that seems to have been embodied in Islam presumably because this was the ‘way things were done’ in the 7th century tribal environment in which Islam emerged. Because of this, Islamist extremists (eg Al Qa’ida, ‘Islamic State’ and numerous others) can claim that what they are doing is ‘Islamic’. Moreover, despite its 'logic' in a tribal environment, the moderate coercion that is a feature of mainstream Islamic practice is arguably the main reason that Muslim societies have performed relatively badly in recent centuries. Communal coercion (out of a desire to ensure that individuals comply with established community leaders’ understanding of what Islam requires) inevitably suppresses the individual initiative / innovation required for smooth and timely adaptation / progress in the face of a constantly changing social, political and economic environment (see Even Moderate Islam Seems Damagingly Rigid, 2013 and Islamic Societies: The Realm of the Self-Repressive Tribes? in Competing Civilizations, 2001). Much of the Muslim world (especially in the Middle East) is in turmoil as those societies struggle to find a way of overcoming their chronic problems (see The Muslim World seems to be Headed for Chaos). And the Islamist extremists (eg the (so called) ‘Islamic State’) are involved in Middle Eastern conflicts because they naively claim that they have a truly ‘Islamic solution’ to the Middle East’s problems.
Developing a ‘vision’ of Islam as a religion that is implemented by individual self-disciple to conform with the 'spirit' of religious law should eliminate the threat that Islamist extremists pose to the Middle East (and elsewhere) by both: (a) enabling Muslim societies as a whole to see a way to ‘progress’ more readily – and thereby over time reduce the political conflicts about this that now afflict the Middle East; and (b) eliminating extremists’ ability to claim that they have a truly ‘Islamic solution’ to Muslim society’s problems. This should also significantly reduce the humanitarian disaster represented to the umpteen million refugees who have had to flee from the conflicts that have resulted from political disputes about the best future for Muslim-dominated states.
There is an urgent need to eliminate Islamist extremists’ ability to claim that what they are doing is ‘Islamic’ – but this has to be done by Islamic scholars rather than by outsiders to Islam.
Bringing Freedom to Muslims Would Bring Peace to the Middle East
Hon Mr Tony Abbott, MP
Tony Abbott warns balance between freedom and security may shift as Government
acts to combat 'darkening' terrorism threat , ABC, 22/9/14
, ABC, 22/9/14
You were quoted as suggesting that:
You were quoted as suggesting that:
However reducing freedom is not the best domestic option to deal with the security threats posed by the (so-called) ‘Islamic State’. In fact this would arguably simply play into their hands (for reasons suggested in Is the Barbarity of ISIS Another Attempt to Ensnare the US in the Middle East? ).
Helping Muslims to find the freedom they have been denied for centuries would be far more effective.
Many with experience in analyzing terrorism (eg in North Africa) seem to believe that terrorist tactics are usually used to encourage a ‘heavy’ response against the community from whom potential terrorists may be drawn. As it is very difficult to tell who is a threat and as the stakes can be very high, serious collateral injury to innocent parties is likely – and terrorists seem to rely on this to build support for their probably-otherwise-hopeless cause (see also Cooperation with Australia's Muslims Could Help Solve the Crisis Facing the Whole Muslim World).
A strong military / security focus in response to Al Qa’ida's terror tactics (eg the 9/11 attacks in America) degraded that organization but the ideology motivating Islamist extremists was transmitted to, and transformed by, other groups rather then being eliminated. As was pointed out by former General Peter Leahy it could take 100 years to defeat the influences represented by (so-called) ‘Islamic State’. However this would only apply if a primarily military / security emphasis was used again to 'defeat' the extremists. This would stimulate others who feel alienated to join the terrorists’ cause while doing nothing to either: (a) reduce the underlying problems that lead to dissention and conflicts in the Middle East; or (b) deprive the extremists of the Islamic ‘oxygen’ that is needed for their naïve ideology to be credible with potential recruits (see An Alternative to Fighting Radical Islamism for 100 Years).
Helping Muslims find a path to freedom from religious legalism is arguably the key dealing with this threat. Muslims are accustomed to ‘oppression’. They are subjected to moderate ‘oppression’ (ie pressure that reduces their sense of self-control and responsibility) by family and community leaders in the belief that this is needed to ensure 'peace' by forcing their compliance with Islamic religious requirements. Islamists (many of whom believe that a truly ‘Islamic’ state would not use terrorist tactics) seem to believe that Muslim societies can only be at 'peace' if ordinary Muslims were also coerced to conform by a state that is guided by Islamic ideals. However even the moderate ‘oppression’ that is implicit in the ancient ‘tribal’ methods that are used to promote Muslims’ compliance with Islamic law is arguably a major factor in the difficulties that Muslim-dominated societies have endured in recent centuries. Even moderate ‘oppression’ by family / community leaders is likely to be enough to suppress the initiative / innovation needed for timely / constructive responses to changing social, economic and political environment. This did not matter too much when little changed from generation to generation - but it has had a disastrous effect as the pace of change has accelerated in recent centuries / decades (eg see Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State).
Muslim societies' problems can be overcome – but only if Islamic scholars start to develop a ‘vision’ of how Muslim societies can succeed by relying on individual self-disciple in compliance with the 'spirit' of the religious law and thereby setting individual Muslims free from family and community (quite apart from state) ‘oppression’. Such changes could not be made overnight, but if such a ‘vision’ were in place then those Islamists who are willing to use terrorist tactics to achieve their aim would lose the Islamic ‘oxygen’ they need for survival (eg see Taking Away the 'Islamic State's' Religious 'Oxygen').
Thus there is a pressing need to help Muslim leaders (in Australia and elsewhere) to discover the advantages that their societies as a whole would gain if Muslims were freed from claims that 'peace' can only be assured if Muslims are forced to comply with what community leaders guess is the correct interpretation of Islamic requirements in the new situation they are now encountering. There would simultaneously (probably) be value in encouraging such leaders to develop proposals for consideration by others for enhancing the whole global system (eg as speculated in Defusing a Clash, 2001).
Developing such constructive 'visions' would be more effective than a ‘heavy’ emphasis on security – as the latter is presumably what the ‘(so-called) ‘Islamic State’ hopes will result from outraged community reactions to its public barbarity and threats. A 'heavy' response advantages IS by increasing Muslims’ sense of oppression and alienation from ‘free’ society and thus reduces the prospects of overcoming the underlying problems in the Muslim world that the existence of Islamist extremism reflects.
Moreover it is not only Islamist extremists whose vision of the future appears to involves state 'oppression' to suppress individual freedom (see Enlightenment is Needed to Counter Chaos).). As the latter noted, a more enlightened approach by those who value freedom (ie one that builds on real understanding of the practical implications of non-Western cultures) is needed if ‘visions’ of the future that are built on freedom are to be discovered by social / political elites everywhere who currently favour the state conditioning and coercing people to act out the 'rituals' (religious or otherwise) that the elites believe are appropriate.
"It seems to me that the current Federal legislation flood is possibly what is not required to solve the current security problems if your thesis is correct. One phrase that you might use effectively to describe the basis of the problem is the lack of “self actualization” in the Muslim community generally and by individuals therein over a long period of time. The basic problem which underpins all of this seems to be a desire of some for Sharia Law in OZ. This may be the real stumbling block which leads to the lack of self actualization of individuals and their community. ...... Spoke to a technical guy who was educated in Kenya and the UK who said that he had many dealings with Muslims - in his work in Africa whilst working for a large English company. He thought that the problem here was incurable based on his experiences. This is the second person who has made such a comment, the other being a retired judge. Against that there seems to be a strong OZ community desire for maintenance of a free society that seems to be strengthening rapidly. ...... " (Personal Communication)
|Creating the Cultural Preconditions for Liberal Institutions Such as Democracy||
Re: We can’t impose democracy where it is not wanted, The Australian, 26/9/14
There is no doubt, as your article suggested, that it was naïve to expect that democracy could be successfully implanted in the Middle East and thus bring an end to that region’s chronic problems. Liberal institutions (such as democracy and capitalism) simply can’t be effective in an inhospitable cultural environment.
However the Middle East’s traditional authoritarian rulers are not a solution either. They are able to suppress the tribal and religious problems that your article noted are now re-emerging – but they did not allow their countries to be anything but backward and distressed. And it was that distress and backwardness that encouraged a diversity of Islamist ideologies to be developed (eg by: the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 20th century; and extremists such as Al Qa’ida in the late 20th century and the (so-called) ‘Islamic State’ in the early 21st century). Imposing democracy where it is not wanted is foolish. Creating conditions decades ago under which it would be demanded would have been smarter.
The blame for the resulting problems ultimately lies in humanities and social science faculties of Western universities – because of the latter’s ‘post-modern’ aversion to any consideration of the practical consequences of non-Western cultural assumptions.
My Interpretation of your article: Defeating ISIL / ISIS / Islamic State is proving difficult. They can be beaten militarily but continue to prosper in cyberspace. A key question is how this group of barbarians became significant for the world so suddenly. The Arab spring was a problem. It was seen as the solution to the Middle East’s problems – but tribalism and religion are now dominant because democracy can’t be imposed where people have no history of, or stomach for it. The situation degenerates into control by local warlords who are deeply suspicious of each other. Democracy has failed in Iraq and is a joke in Afghanistan. The Islamic State is well armed and well financed. The West should stop chasing the fantasy of a perfect democratic result in Syria and Iraq. Turning back the Islamic State village by village will cause them to lose their glamor and perceived heroism.
Some suggestions about why trying to impose liberal institutions (eg democracy) in the Middle East (eg through displacing Iraq’s morally bankrupt regime) was naïve were outlined in Fatal Flaws (2003). This was based on an undoubtedly-improvable attempt to identify the cultural foundations of the different paths to development of Western and East Asian societies and extend this to an attempt to understand the Muslim world’s problems in Competing Civilizations (2001).
During the Cold War against Communism the US had pursued what was called a ‘realist’ foreign policy – which involved providing distasteful support for brutal authoritarian regimes because they: (a) were there; and (b) opposed Communism. It was then recognised that doing so encouraged ‘blowbacks’ (ie the West was blamed for the brutality of the regimes it was unwillingly supporting). This gave rise (under the influence of the US Neocons) to an ‘idealist’ foreign policy style – under which it was believed that Western power should be used to change, rather than rely on, the authoritarian regimes. The US-led attempt to transform Iraq as a hopefully-successful model for the Middle East was the result (see Unilateral Action, 2003). This was not a success.
However simply abandoning foreign policy ‘idealism’ in favour of a renewal of traditional ‘realism’ would not solve the Middle East’s problems. There is a need to go deeper – and create conditions where backwardness and distress are no longer the region’s only option. Some suggestions about how this might be achieved were in Bringing Freedom to Muslims Would Bring Peace to the Middle East . This basically involved recognising that the ‘oppressive’ way in which the Middle East’s dominant religion (Islam) has been enforced (arguably as a reflection of the tribal environment in which it emerged) has probably been the major source of the backwardness and distress that that part of the world has endured in recent centuries. The fact that Western universities have scrupulously avoided any study of the practical consequences of non-Western cultural traditions has made it virtuallyspan> impossible for anyone to really understand what would be needed to more effectively help Middle Eastern societies (see Cultural Ignorance as a Source of Conflict , 2001).
Defeating the Ideology of Islamist Terrorists
Hon Theresa May, MP
Re: Theresa May’s speech on terrorism and extremism, The Spectator, 30/9/14
Your speech made a very important point:
“…. we will not prevail against the terrorist threat through military strength or counter-terrorism powers alone. We need to defeat the ideology that lies behind the threat.”
The need to defeat the ideology of Islamist extremists has been obvious for many years. Some suggestions about how this might have been achieved based on an early attempt to identify Islamist's ideology and its weaknesses were in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002).
Your speech suggested that there were many tensions in the Middle East that have contributed to ‘a battle for the heart and soul of Islam’, but that the extremists’ ideology had nothing to do with Islam itself.
“When you look at what is going on across the Middle East, there is a battle raging for the heart and soul of Islam itself. And that battle is very complicated. There is the ancient split between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Tribal rivalries and hostilities. Autocracies, theocracies and, yes, democracies too. States that fight proxy wars against others in third countries. Countries that sponsor insurgent movements and terrorism. Whole regions that are beyond the control of their governments. Terrorist groups that are more powerful than the states they’re based in. A conflict between different interpretations of the true faith, between scriptural literalism and modernity, between tradition and progress, between unelected strong men and popular consent, between nihilistic violence and human rights. This is a battle that has already been fought for many years, and will be fought many years into the future. And it is not for Britain, or any other Western power, to try to resolve it. Only the many peoples of the world’s Muslim countries can determine their future. Yes, we should stand up for human rights. Yes, we should support friendly states and moderate elements within other states. Yes, we should provide humanitarian support when wars are fought. But we have to disentangle our own national interest from the struggle that is going on in the Middle East and across the Muslim world.”
“This hateful ideology has nothing to do with Islam itself. And it is rejected by the overwhelming majority of Muslims in Britain and around the world. The Quran says: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other.” It says: “let there be no compulsion in religion.” So let the message go out from this hall that the extremists will never succeed in dividing us. Let the message go out that we know Islam is a religion of peace and it has nothing to do with the ideology of our enemies. Let us stand side by side with the British Muslims who are coming together and saying “not in my name”. “
However, while (as you suggest) the conflicts across the Middle East have many dimensions and most Muslims reject the extremists’ ideas and methods, it is probably not correct to suggest that what is happening has nothing at all to do with Islam.
While there is an Islamic ideal of avoiding ‘compulsion in religion’ there seems in practice to be a well-intended day-to-day ‘compulsion’ in the way Islamic practices are enforced within families and communities that has had devastating long-term impacts on Muslim societies as a whole (in the Middle East in particular). The nature of that problem, how it contributes to conflicts (including even the role that Islamist extremists can play in those conflicts) and how it might be remedied are suggested in Bringing Freedom to Muslims Would Bring Peace to the Middle East and Creating the Cultural Preconditions for Liberal Institutions Such as Democracy . The ‘freedom’ for individuals, that is required to ease the Middle East’s chronic problems and take away the Islamist extremists’ Islamic ‘oxygen’, is from the enforcement of grass-roots ‘religious legalism’.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Putting the 'Caliphate' in Context||
RE: "Caliphate fantasy gathers its force from the earliest traditions of Islam" (The Australian, 6/9/14)
I was interested in your suggestions that ancient ideas and practices seem to be being resurrected by Islamist extremists such as the (so called) ‘Islamic State’. I have added a summary of your article to my web-site – because it was mentioned by one Australian observer in relation to some of my own recent speculations (see Defeating the Ideology of Islamist Terrorists, 2014). The latter parallels your article (and also differs in various respects).
However I should also like to draw your attention to another situation in which ancient practices seem to be being resurrected as the basis for current governments, and to the possibility that the proponents of the latter may have a collaborative connection with Islamist extremists because of their shared anti-Western interests. The latter involves the rule by what amount to neo-Confucian bureaucracies in East Asia (most notably in Japan since WWII and in China since the late 1970s).
As I understand it both Islam and Confucianism seek to have people live ‘ritualistic’ lives - ie lives based on unthinkingly performance of ‘tribal rituals’ that are: (a) prescribed in Islamic traditions in one case; and (b) determined by a bureaucracy drawing upon a consensus of social elites and inculcated without promoting understanding through the education system and state administration. In both cases, the emphasis on individual initiative which has arguably been the key driver of Western progress and influence is seen as the ‘enemy’ that needs to be defeated in order to fix the world’s current problems. The ‘logic of this from the perspective of Chinese nationalists is perhaps along the lines spelled out in The Abduction of Modernity (2003).
Again in both cases, these ancient traditions rest on intellectual foundations that are radically different to those in the Western world, and are thus anything but easy to get to grips with (eg see Why Understanding in Difficult (2001+) and Babes in the Asia Woods (2009+) in relation to East Asian traditions). My attempt to outline what is different about thinking and practices in societies with an ancient Chinese cultural heritage is in East Asia: The Realm of the Autocratic, Hierarchical and Intuitive Ethnic Group? (in Competing Civilizations, 2001). Another version by a recognised Asia-specialist is ‘The Poor understanding of two thought cultures’ (2012). A core difference apparently lies in the approach taken to abstract concepts. Western societies emphasize ‘rational’ social, economic and political problems solving on the assumption that abstracts provide adequate models of reality, while such methods are incompatible with traditional social orders in East Asia.
This difference has generated major distortions of global financial and economic systems – because the notion of ‘profit’ is an abstract which can’t be dealt with under East Asian traditions (eg see Evidence; The Cultural Revolution needed in 'Asia' to Adapt to Western Financial Systems, 1998; A Generally Unrecognised 'Financial War'?, 2001; Structural Incompatibility Puts Global Growth at Risk, 2003; Understanding East Asia's Neo-Confucian Systems of Socio-political-economy, 2009; Impacting the Global Economy, 2009; and 'Currency War': A Counter-attack by the Federal Reserve?, 2010+).
It has also generated significant differences in methods of government (eg as suggested in Are Analysts Making a Big Mistake about China and Japan? and Broader Resistance to Western Influence?). These refer, for example, to:
Indications of the motivation and possibility of covert collaboration between Islamist extremists and East Asian nationalists are in IsIs the Barbarity of ISIS Another Attempt to Ensnare the US in the Middle East? The latter attempts to place what is happening in the Middle East in a broader geo-political context.
Apart from shared (but not identical) anti-Western interests, the strongest indication (though not solid proof) of actual collaboration was Osama bin Laden’s reference at one stage to the US nuclear attacks in Japan that ended WWII as one of the justifications for attacking the US. This is an agenda of Japan’s ultranationalists and all other ‘reasons’ that bin Laden mentioned seemed to refer to the agendas of groups with whom Al Qa’ida was likely to have been negotiating. Also it needs to be recognised that, under traditional East Asian Art of War methods, a diversity of apparently unrelated ‘attacks’ can be expected (eg see An Art of War Perspective on North Korea's Threats).
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
Liberating Muslim Women (and Men)
Professor Sahar Amer
Re: Burqa and Niqab: they cover the face, not the mind, >The Conversation, 3/10/14
As I interpreted it the key point in your article was that liberating women (Muslim or otherwise) is more important than concern about whether they wear veils. As you noted veils do not stop Muslim women from expressing constructive ideas.
While endorsing that view, I should like to submit that there it is not only women who need liberation. My reasons for suggesting this are outlined in Bringing Freedom to Muslims Would Bring Peace to the Middle East. This basically suggests that:
The women’s liberation movement seems to be a very progressive / constructive influence in the Muslim world. But it is not enough.
Wearing the Burqa: A 'Canary in the Coalmine' for Muslim Communities (Note Added Later): Questions have been raised in many places about Muslim women wearing veils (eg the burqa). However what is probably most significant is why they do so. It arguably makes a massive difference to the prospects of a Muslim society whether women wear the burqa: (a) because they think it suits them; or (b) because they are forced to do so by family / community pressure or by religious traditions. If the latter is the case, it is likely that religious legalism will be constraining a communities' ability to adapt to changing circumstances and thus adversely affecting that communities' prospects in the medium to long term (because difference / initiative / innovation is then likely to be impeded across the board).
|Fairness and Trust are Only the Start in Countering Terrorism||
Adrian Cherney (UQ) and
Re: Fairness and trust make all the difference in countering terrorism, The Conversation, 3/10/14
As I interpret it, your article suggests that, if Muslim communities are a key line of defense against terrorist propaganda, then it is important to reverse / overcome the resentment, hostility and backlash against counter-terrorism policing and law amongst Australia’s Muslim communities.
There can be no doubt about this because it seems that the purpose of terrorist actions is usually to generate actions that dislocate the communities from whom potential terrorists could be drawn as the best way to mobilize additional support for the terrorists’ cause. However the issue seems to be a bit more complicated because Muslim communities have arguably been an inadvertent source of severe problems – problems which explain most (but not all) of the historic weaknesses and conflicts in the Muslim world – including the conflicts in the Middle East which currently encourage terrorism by Islamist extremists. My reasons for suggesting this are outlined in Bringing Freedom to Muslims Would Bring Peace to the Middle East . This suggests that a core problem for the Muslim world lies in the communal enforcement of religious legalism – and that this seems to be a spin-off from the Arabic tribal environment in which Islam emerged.
Bringing Muslim communities onside is vital. However this cannot be just so that they promulgate traditional communal values. To make any real difference, they need to be onside to make changes in communal practices that have been and remain the source of many problems for themselves and others.
|Winning the 'War on Terror' Would be Better than Fighting it Forever||
Dr Keith Suter
Re: Are we winning or losing the war on terror?, Online Opinion, 3/10/14
Your article implied that the so-called ‘war against terror’ that started in 2001 is not being won – and that the tactics that have been used by Western powers to try to deal with the threat have simply played into the terrorists’ hands. Your article also validly pointed out that provoking ‘heavy’ responses by Western powers to terrorist acts has apparently been a key to extremists’ strategy for the establishment of a new Islamic Caliphate (ie The Management of Savagery’, 2004).
In relation to this I should like to draw your attention to:
It remains likely that the only way to defeat Islamist extremism in a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost is through a primary emphasis on exposing the fact that the ‘Islamic State / Caliphate’ they aspire to establish would worsen rather than improve the position of Muslim societies in the Middle East. Some suggestions about how the region’s chronic problems might be genuinely reduced (while at the same time depriving Islamist extremists of their Islamic ‘oxygen’) are in Bringing Freedom to Muslims Would Bring Peace to the Middle East.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems||
Dr Anne Aly
Re: Is it fair to blame the West for trouble in the Middle East? The Conversation, 6/10/14
I should like to provide some feedback in relation to your observations about the role that Western influence has played in the Middle East’s problems, and in the emergence of Islamist extremism. Your article pointed to:
A perspective on the problems that Muslim societies have had is in Competing Civilizations (2001+). The latter included a comparison of the radically different paths to development that have characterised Western and East Asian societies, and was primarily the result of an opportunity that the present writer had in the 1980s to ‘reverse engineer’ the intellectual basis of East Asian economic ‘miracles’.
In relation to Islamic societies, Competing Civilizations suggested that they seem to be characterised by huge difficulties in dealing with change – and thus in developing. The ability to change quickly and effectively is critical to both economic prosperity and to a society’s ability to cope in a changing environment. Based on a comparison with the paths to development of Western and East Asian societies, it seems likely that the core problem that Islamic societies face lies in the communal enforcement of religious legalism. Reasons for this are also suggested in: Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002+; Even Moderate Islam Seems Damagingly Rigid, 2013; and Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State, 2014.
Enforced individual conformity with 7th century religious requirements that are believed to deal with all aspects of life, severely inhibits the use of rational / analytical decision making by individuals / organisations as a basis for progressive social and economic change. And the (ironic) proclamation by Islamic scholars that Muslims must submit to God rather than to man leads to often-violent political instability where the development of democracy (and more-or-less rational policy development) is advocated [Bill J., and Leiden C., Politics in the Middle East, 1974]. Affected communities thus tend to be subjected to authoritarian rulers to suppress the claims by some Islamic scholars that Muslims (and non-Muslims) should submit to them (ie to would-be theocrats who want to rule on behalf of God) because (despite their limited understanding of the modern world) they believe that they are the best at interpreting 7th century Islamic texts.
While you are quite correct in pointing to the diversity of factors that affect the Middle East (including Western interventions) the factor that probably overwhelms all other lies in the constraint that enforced religious legalism places on difference / initiative / innovation. Freeing Muslims from religious legalism while emphasizing individual self-disciple guided by the 'spirit' of the law instead would be most likely make a huge difference to the prospects of peace and prosperity in the Middle East – while also depriving Islamist extremists of ‘Islamic ‘oxygen (see Bringing Freedom to Muslims Would Bring Peace to the Middle East).). The wearing of (say) the burqa by Muslim women probably does not in itself makes any real difference to anything. However whether Muslim women wear the burqa by choice or by compulsion or a sense of religious obligation is likely to be critical to the long term prospects of their communities (see Wearing the Burqa: A 'Canary in the Coalmine' for Muslim Communities).
The suggested reform would not mean that parents could not teach or discipline their children (or that adults could not advise their family / friends / neighbours; or that religious leaders could not teach about their faith). But a society must suffer when mortal humans claim that they have authority for judging the morality / ethics of what others do.
Some early speculations about development in Muslim societies (in the light of the different ways that Western and East Asian societies had achieved this) was in Comparative Development Theory: Indonesia / Australia (2002). This had been presented to a group in Indonesia that was working with the Sultan of Jogjakarta (Indonesia’s cultural leader) on strategies for Indonesia’s advancement. Some observations at about that time concerning the general lack of relevance of ‘conspiracy theories’, which conveniently ascribe local problems to oppression by a favoured all-powerful external groups, was in About 'Grand Conspiracy' Theories (2002). This suggested that (while there are undoubtedly conspiracies) the typical ‘grand conspiracy theorist’ would probably not know a real one if they fell over it.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Blocking 'Hate' Preachers||
Paul Maley and Natasha Robinson
Re: Radical preachers to be blocked from entering country , The Australian, 9/10/14
There is a touching sense of naivety about the federal government’s belief that ‘hate’ preachers who are a threat to social cohesion can be blocked at the border by intelligence agencies and immigration officials.
There is a lot of ‘hate’ being preached on the Internet, and not all who preach ‘hate’ could be prevented from doing so because they overtly advocate violence.
For example Culture versus Islam (on the website of Mission Islam – which is perhaps a product of the Muslim Information and Support Centre of Australia) preaches ‘hate’ of what it describes as ‘Western values’ – and thereby lays a foundation for those who propose radical action. In fact Mission Islam is preaching hate of the all-too-real erosion of the values that have been the foundation of the liberal institutions that permitted rapid Western progress in recent centuries – but it does nothing to make this critical distinction clear to potential readers.
Getting a sense of real understanding to potentially-radicalised Muslim youth requires attention to all of the ways they are influenced (eg through the Internet / education system / non-violent ‘hate’ preaching) not just through border controls on Islamist extremists.
Both moderate and extreme Islamists believe that they have a ‘solution’ to the ills of the modern world. While the modern world suffers many ills, the Islamist’s ‘solution’ is nonsense because the enforced rigidity of an idealised Islamic life has been, and remains, incompatible with tolerance of the difference / initiative / innovation that is required if Muslim societies are to cope with, and prosper in, a changing environment (eg see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East’s Problems). However this can’t be demonstrated by merely preventing a few of those who seek to achieve that ‘solution’ through violence from visiting Australia in person.
If the public were aware of the real issues, Australia's Muslim's would get widespread public sympathy
Re: Politicians and media let us down in fight to curb rising Islamophobia, The Conversation, 10/10/14
Your article highlighted the need to curb any tendency towards harassment of Australia’s Muslims.
I should like to suggest for your consideration that if politicians and the media were more up-front about Muslims’ predicament, the public would be pro-actively supportive rather than at-times abusive. Muslims’ problems are not of their own making but seem to be a result of the legalistic approach that has been taken to, and the at-times communal enforcement of, religious requirements. These approaches to religious discipline: (a) create massive difficulties for affected societies in coping / prospering in a changing world; and (b) thus provide a this-must-be-due-to-outside-oppression motivation for, and Islamic ‘oxygen’ to, extremism (eg see Politicians are Wrong: Terrorism by Islamist Extremists Does Involve Islam and Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems).
However the fact that individual Muslims deserve sympathy can only be made clear to politicians and the media (and thereby to the general public) if the social science and humanities faculties of Western universities overcome their chronic reluctance to analyze the practical consequences of non-Western cultural traditions (eg see Creating the Cultural Preconditions for Liberal Institutions Such as Democracy).
Are Outsiders to Blame for the Middle East's Problems? - Note Added Later
In response to receiving a copy of the above email an observer suggested that:
"...... the majority of Australians, if they understood more about the context in which Muslim Australians are finding themselves harrassed and abused, often after coming to Australia to escape persecution, they would be more sympathetic and compassionate. However, in my opinion, I would probably consider that the political consequences of colonialism and imperialism upon the Muslim world (in the Middle East, Asia and Africa) over the past 150 years have more impact upon the current geopolitical situation of Muslims than anything particularly inherent in Islam. During the medieval and early modern periods, for example, Europe was dominated by extremely exclusionary forms of Christianity, whilst the Muslim world at the time was comparatively advanced in many sense - political, social, economic and intellectual. " (Personal communication)
The present writer does not agree. Massive difficulties in changing are inherent in current legalistic and coercive approaches to enforcing compliance with Islam. This may be (and probably is) a defense mechanism against pressures from the outside world – but it is none-the-less the dominant factor in the backwardness of Muslim communities at the present.
There is no doubt that Muslim societies in the Middle East were subjected to disruptive external influences (eg when the Ottoman Empire was restructured after WWI to suit Western interests).
However East Asian societies were subjected to Western influences that disrupted the traditional order but discovered a method of change that was compatible with their cultural traditions (ie the use of collegiality and consensus as a basis for decision making in a manner similar to that used by bureaucracies everywhere – see East Asia: The Realm of the Autocratic, Hierarchical and Intuitive Ethnic Group?). The Muslim world has nothing equivalent. And the approach that seems to be taken to science (see About Arabic Thought and Islamic Science) is equally unlikely to allow Muslim communities to cope with the modern world. Unless and until universities start to take the consequences of dysfunctional cultural assumptions seriously as a cause of the world’s problems, the world will continue to have major problems. And it is not only in relation to the Muslim world that the failure to seriously examine the practical consequences of non-Western cultural assumptions in likely to have disastrous consequences (eg see Are East Asian Economic Models Sustainable? and Comments on Australia's Strategic Edge in 2030).
Europe certainly was dominated by an exclusionary form of Christianity – and got nowhere as a consequence for centuries – but then along came the Reformation (with its serious re-examination of New Testament Christianity which broke down the basis for authoritarian religion) and the Renaissance / Enlightenment etc (which brought in science / rationality). Taken together these permitted rapid progress in many dimensions (see Cultural Foundations of Western Progress: The Realm of the Rational / Responsible Individual). And this in turn created both power to influence others and a desire to ‘share the benefits’ without actual awareness of the importance of the cultural foundations of those benefits – and the fact that those foundations did not exist everywhere. The problems associated with colonization / imperialism were also partly a reflection of failures in the universities to do any serious work on the practical consequences of cultural differences – because this meant that the Western ‘do-gooders’ (who wanted others to share the benefits) were thus unaware of what they really needed to do to ‘do good’. The US-led invasion of Iraq was the most notable recent example (eg see Fatal Flaws).
The outsiders who are most to blame for the Middle East's inability to find a peaceful way out of its chronic and current problems are in the humanities and social science faculties of Western universities.
|Heading off Violent Jihad through an Australian Centre for Social Cohesion||
Senator Christine Milne
Re: Kenny M., ‘Greens move to head off jihad’, Brisbane Times, 10/10/14
You were quoted as suggesting that: (a) social cohesion and multiculturalism should be emphasised to reduce the risk of domestic terrorism; and (b) that the federal government’s commitment to war in the Middle East without any real plan for winning it is foolish. I should like to endorse the latter point, while suggesting that ‘multiculturalism’ requires some reconsideration if social cohesion is to be ensured. I should also like to suggest a specific mission for an Australian Centre for Social Cohesion.
My Interpretation of the above article in which you were quoted: Home grown terrorism is more risk than returning jihadist fighters according to Senator Christine Milne, who has proposed the creation of a national body (ie an Australian Centre for Social Cohesion – ACSC) to strengthen social cohesion and dissuade young Muslims from succumbing to radical ideas. Prevention is better than cure and requires a cohesive, tolerant and inclusive community to protect Australia’s multiculturalism. Government should spend money bringing communities together rather than promoting divisive laws. State and territory leaders have supported federal de-radicalisation proposals. There remain concerns about radicalisation amongst Muslim youth. And signs of hostility towards Australia’s extensive Muslim population are increasing. This slows the flow of helpful intelligence from Muslim communities while adding to ‘us and them’ perceptions that can stoke violence. South Australia’s premier stated that Australia’s Muslims were full and valued members of the community, while acknowledging that women were vulnerable to racist / anti-social treatment due to highly identifiable attire. Ms Milne argued that the Prime Minister was increasing domestic risks by blindly following the US into another unwinnable war in the Middle East. The government is both spending on war with without a plan, and cutting programs that protect multiculturalism and social cohesion. The COAG communiqué had stressed inclusion and that counter-terrorism efforts are targeted at preventing criminal activity – not against any specific ethnic or religious groups.
Eliminating Islamist extremism by defeating the so-called ‘Islamic State’ in a war and promoting social cohesion between Muslims and others in Australia both face the same obstacle. The obstacle is that a feature of Islam (ie the legalistic and coercive way it has been enforced) seems to be a major factor in both: (a) the historic failures in the Middle East that have led to conflicts; and (b) the emergence of Islamist extremism as a global phenomenon (eg see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems). The key point is that religious legalism that is coercively enforced creates a communal rigidity that inhibits the initiative and innovation that is needed for societies to progress and prosper in a constantly changing environment. Thus it is impossible to win a ‘war’ against Islamist extremism by pretending that it has nothing to do with Islam (see Politicians are Wrong: Terrorism by Islamist Extremists Does Involve Islam). Likewise one cannot build social cohesion between Muslims and others in Australia by pretending that the legalistic and coercive way Islam has been enforced does not create severe difficulties for affected communities (see If the public were aware of the real issues, Australia's Muslim's would get widespread public sympathy).
More generally Australia’s traditional approach to ‘multiculturalism’ has long needed reconsideration because of its failure to recognize that differences in cultural assumptions have practical consequences (see Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism). It is all very well to be tolerant of others’ cultures but when those cultures are a major factor in economic and political failures and generate conflicts, common sense needs to prevail (see also Cultural ignorance as a Source of Conflict).
Islamists (radical and otherwise) believe that the Middle East’s chronic problems (and the problems facing the world generally) could be resolved by establishing a Caliphate under which Islamic religious law could be strictly enforced. That claim could probably be shown to be nonsense if it was ever subjected to serious critical review (Discouraging pointless Extremism, 2003+ and Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State).
The Islamist’s view is comparable to the political agenda of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party in the 1990s (see Assessing the Implications of Pauline Hanson's One Nation, 1998). Both reflect the views of ‘outsiders’ that are: (a) disadvantaged by current political and economic systems whose logic they do not understand; and (b) advocates of radical alternatives. Australia’s democratic political process allowed One Nation to gain sufficient political involvement for its grievances to be heard and its supporters to learn that the world was more complex than they had realised.
The violence used by extremist Islamists is an obstacle rational debate about their ideology and agendas. However an Australian Centre for Social Cohesion could probably make a useful contribution by providing moderate Islamists with an opportunity to explain their grievances and get informed feedback in relation to whether their proposed solution would actually work in practice. Suggestions about the benefits of doing this were outlined in Discouraging pointless Extremism (2003+). Actually doing something like that would probably do more to promote social cohesion in Australia (and head off violent jihad) than anything else that your proposed Centre could do.
|ISIS would be 'Islamic' Even If Beheadings are Not||
Re: PBS Provides Disinformation on Islam and Beheadings, October 14, 2014
Your article suggests that the fact that beheadings are mentioned in the Quran means that President Obama’s ‘ISIS is not Islamic’ narrative is wrong. You also suggested that claims on PBS by Rashid Khalidi (Columbia university) that Sura 47, Verse 4 of the Quran did not justify beheadings were incompatible with the way that verse is interpreted in all available versions of the Quran.
However it is not necessary to consider whether the more barbaric actions of groups such as ISIS are Islamic because (irrespective of the methods used) the goal of such groups (and moderate Islamists) is (apparently) to create an Islamic State as another vehicle to enforce strict Islamic Law. This would merely be an extension of the coercive religious legalism that is often enforced through Muslim families / communities that arguably accounts for most of the problems that the Middle East has experienced in recent centuries (because it stifles the initiative / innovation required for progress and prosperity in a constantly changing environment). That approach to the enforcement of religious law, which seems often to be a part of even moderate Islam because of Islam’s origins in an Arabic tribal environment, would merely be taken to a higher and more damaging level if an ‘Islamic State’ were created to imposed strict Islamic law (see Politicians are Wrong: Terrorism by Islamist Extremists Does Involve Islam, Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems and Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State). The problems that Muslim societies have experienced could probably be dramatically reduced by a different approach to seeking adherence to Islam’s religious requirements (eg see Bringing Freedom to Muslims Would Bring Peace to the Middle East). This would also take away the Islamic ‘oxygen’ that extremists like ISIS depend on to motivate their naïve fighters.
|The Barbarity of the so-called 'Islamic State' is not the Only Problem||
Re: Alberici and the apologist: Islam on Lateline, Online Opinion, 17/10/14
Your article contended that, in seeking to establish a caliphate, the Islamic State is simply following the aims, methods and example of the Prophet, and that the views of those (eg Hizb-ut-Tahrir) who support this should be heard and debated rather than being suppress with anti-terror laws. It also suggested that moderate Muslims seem to play down the less tolerant elements in the Koran and Hadith.
Encouraging debate about these issues seems like a useful idea – and is perhaps the best way to overcome the problems that Muslims experience.
My Interpretation of your article: Wassim Doureihi of the anti-democratic Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahris was a guest on Lateline on October 8. He refused to condemn anything that Islamic State has done – and portrayed Muslims as victims. Host Emma Alberici struggled to get him to answer questions. Doureihi would not condemn Islamic State because that is what Hizb-ut-Tahrir wants. A caliphate is their objective and the Islamic State is simply following the Prophet’s aims, methods and example in trying to achieve it. Doureihi can’t express this openly without violating anti-terror laws. These laws need to be changed so that extremist views can be heard openly and debated. The ideology of Islam needs to be undermined as it causes people to behave unreasonably. The goal should be to demythologize Islam and all religions – on the basis of reason and evidence. The Islamists are honest about their beliefs – but others are not. Lateline also interviewed Haset Sali (a lawyer and former president of Australian Federation of Islamic Councils) who came across as calm, peaceful and ecumenical. The ABC headline suggested that the Koran does not call for a caliphate. However it calls for the world to be ruled by Allah and his followers. This was only the start of apologist disinformation. Sali said that the Koran encourages all religions to exist in harmony – which is incompatible with many verses about infidels being punished, smitten, slain and beheaded. There are a few conciliatory verses in the Koran (eg 2:256 – ‘There is no compulsion in religion’ ). However this verse is seen to reflect something Mohamed said quite early, and under Islamic traditions it would be by the bloodthirsty verses delivered later. Sali claims that Mohamed prevailed after battles that arose because others were trying to kill him (ie he was the victim). However Islamic history records that it was Mohamed who launched unprovoked attacks on others. Sali quoted part of Koranic verse 5:52 which seemed benign by discouraging killing, but left out the part of it that referred to brutality being acceptable against those who ‘spread mischief’. Mr Sali tries to represent genuine and sincere Muslims who find the Islamic State and embarrassment. But it is not helpful to misrepresent the Koran in doing so. Islamists who reject democracy and human rights are objectionable – but at least they are honest. There is a need for a more substantial debate about the nature of religious beliefs, their desirability and their authenticity. Until reason, rationality and secularism are considered – especially in relation to Islam – a downward spiral of disharmony and conflict must continue.
I should like to suggest for your consideration the barbarity associated with Islamist extremists (such as the so-called ‘Islamic State’) is not the only reason for concern about the implications of Islamism. Some reasons for this are outlined in ISIS would be 'Islamic' Even if Beheadings Aren't . This endorsed the Islamist view that Muslims are indeed victims – while suggesting that: (a) the primary source of their oppression is internal rather than external; and that (b) Islamism would simply exacerbate Muslims' problems. The ideologies and agendas of those who seek to pursue Islam’s ‘political’ aspirations through moderate tactics need to be publicly exposed and debated as much as those who are willing to adopt barbaric tactics to achieve them. How this might be achieved in practice was speculated in Heading off Violent Jihad through an Australian Centre for Social Cohesion – a Centre that was proposed by the Australian Greens.
Some thoughts in relation to your also useful suggestion about debating the nature / desirability / authenticity of religious beliefs are in Increasing Understanding of Secularism and Freedom and It's Time to Expel Religious Naivety from Universities.
|Finding Real Solutions for the Middle East||
Niamatullah Ibrahimi (ANU) and
Re: Third wave of global ‘jihad’ challenges community as a whole, The Conversation, 17/10/14
I should like to try to add value to your useful suggestions about the inadequacy of security / military action in preventing the radicalization of Muslim youth and the need therefore to take action to address the real-world problems that can lead some young Muslims to be radicalized – including the severe political instabilities and economic failures that afflict the Middle East.
My Interpretation of your article: Dreadful events in Iraq and Syria and counter-terrorism raids in Australia have alarmed Australians, including the 500,000 Muslims. This reflects a third wave of global ‘jihad’ that started in 2001. Existing de-radicalization’ programs (including activities of intelligence / law-enforcement agencies, state-sponsorship of ‘modern Muslims’ and education / mentoring investments) have proven inadequate. The socioeconomic dynamics of Muslim community and external factors driving youth radicalization have been under-estimated. However this is not just a problem for the Muslim community. Whole community needs to ask why some young people are susceptible to violent extremism. Some offenders are following the same radical / violent ideologies that their parents fled to come to Australia. Muslims are the primary victims of groups like Islamic State. For Australia’s Muslims the small minority of radicals puts social pressure on the majority who simply want to live peaceful lives. External forces are a factor in youth radicalisation (eg due to the Palestininan-Islali conflict, US support for corrupt political regimes in the Middle East, extreme poverty in Yemen and elsewhere and failed states in Iraq and Syria). Also traditional seats of power in the Arab world have been toppled creating a void and opportunities for other Arab nations to vie for power. Competition between and within Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and Egypt – as well as emerging Gulf State (eg Qatar and UAE) has contributed to the regional chaos that IS fighters exploit – and attract recruits from Australia. Radicalised youth are likely to be second generation children – and have parents who lack English skills and understanding. Like others, Muslims in Australia are exposed to extremists’ propoganda and horrifying actions. Extremists are seeking to polarise countries like Australia on religious lines. Law enforcement won’t win the battle for young minds. The US led coalition also needs to learn from experience that military action alone is not enough. It is vital to fight for young minds, rather than fight IS. This requires concerted efforts and renewed political engagement in the region – to work with governments and tackle the underlying causes of socio-political upheavals (eg severe unemployment, rapid urbansation and failing political systems). Australia’s engagement needs to be with the entire Muslim community – not just ‘community leaders’. Youth need to understand that more violences is not a way to solve the Middle East’s problems – as this merely harms deprived / oppressed people. Young Australians should use their education opportunities to foster people-people relations in the Middle East (eg to reduce the unemployment / poverty that corrupt regimes have long ignored).
Your article mentioned several factors that have contributed to the stresses in the Middle East that extremists use to attempt to radicalise Muslim youth (eg the Palestinian / Israel issue, US support for corrupt regimes, poverty, failed states). I should like to suggest a couple of other external factors that should (perhaps) be included in seeking to identify the sources of current chaos in the Middle East. These include: (a) factors that have affected emerging economies generally (see Non-Western Societies and the Difficulties They Face); and (b) factors that compounded the frustrations of Muslim societies in particular (see West as a Problem).
The ‘general’ factors included: (a) the effect of past colonisation – and the unsound basis for future progress this created in some states; (b) side effects of the Cold War against Communism; (c) distortions in international trade regimes (eg agricultural subsidies); (d) the failure to seriously consider that cultural traditions can be an obstacle to political and economic progress; (e) the adverse effect on effective local economic leadership that foreign investment can have in resource rich regions (ie the so-called ‘resources curse’ problem); and (g) the unsatisfactory impact of some traditional forms of foreign aid.
The Muslim-specific factors included: (a) Muslim societies having initially been more advanced than the West – and being the conduit through which Western societies re-discovered classical Greek learning; (b) difficulties in coping with Western influences; (c) relative deprivation; (c) UN-supported recreation of the state of Israel; (d) innocent victims of retaliation against extremists’ attacks; (e) differences in the weight places on different peoples’ suffering; (f) and the immorality that can arise in liberal societies when individuals drift away from their ethical moorings.
Your article was also useful in highlighting the desirability of educating Muslim youth to understand that violence is not going to solve the Middle East’s problems.
I would also suggest that they also need to be helped to understand that the Islamist aspirations that are being pursued through violence would not be a solution to the Middle East’s problems even if they were able to be implemented in the absence of conflict. The Middle East’s problems are not simply the result of external pressures. Features of the way Islam has been enforced have arguably also been a major factor in blocking change, progress and prosperity. Islamism (ie the regime that the so-called Islamic State is striving to establish) would merely reinforce those obstacles. My reasons for suggesting this are outlined in Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East’s Problems.
One possible way to get a serious discussion of the sources and possible practical solutions to problems in the Middle East that otherwise risk world-wide ‘jihad’ was suggested in Heading off Violent Jihad through an Australian Centre for Social Cohesion.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Making Islamists' Ideology the Focus in Countering Terrorism||
Re: We need a complete strategic rethink, The Australian, 1/11/14
Your article suggested that the West’s strategy in dealing with terrorism since 2001 has been a failure and needs a complete rethink. Who can disagree?
As I interpreted it, your article suggested that:
However the latter are merely a revised version of the security / military tactics that have been used to try to deal with Islamist extremism since 2001. There is a common feature in all of the future focus areas that you have suggested (namely the ideology that motivates Islamist extremists). If the latter were seriously investigated it is likely the whole problem could be made to disappear relatively quickly and with minimal cost in lives and treasure (as suggested in An Alternative to Fighting Radical Islamism for 100 Years).
Your article suggested that groups such as the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (in Syria and Iraq); al-Shabab (in Somalia); Boko Haram (in Nigeria); the Taliban; and al-Qa’ida groups have a tough and resilient ideology (which your article implied involved Salafi-jihadism). However your article said nothing about what that ideology actually involves, or what is wrong with it. Though there are variations, all seem to advocate Islamism (ie requiring government that is based on the religion of Islam).
Some speculations about the possibility that there is a massive and fairly-easily-demonstrated problem with Islamists’ ideology are listed in Suggestions about Solutions (eg consider Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems which points to the constraints on the change required for progress and prosperity that result from the way the religion of Islam has traditionally been enforced – and which Islamists’ ‘solutions’ would exacerbate).
While the future focus areas that your article mentioned are relevant, the ‘war against terror’ must be fought mainly in the academy – as it is not possible to defeat ignorance on the battlefield. The failure to date of Western strategy in dealing with Islamist extremism is, I submit, largely a result of the fact that Western universities have not bothered trying to expose Islamists’ ignorance about the cause of Muslim societies’ problems and what is required to remedy them (for reasons suggested in Hitting Osama but Missing Islamist Extremism, 2011).
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
Beating Radicalization - email sent 4/11/14
Hon Michael Keenan, MP
Re: Box D., Beat Radicals on Home Front, The Australian, 4/11/14
You were quoted as highlighting the importance of preventing young people falling under the thrall of international terrorist groups as part of a coordinated global response to Islamic extremism. The above article then went on to imply that this required ‘deradicalisation and community engagement’ (eg via ‘youth diversion activities, healthcare, mentoring, employment and educational pathway support and counselling’).
However I should like to submit for your consideration that efforts (eg by social workers) focused on at-risk individuals would be quite inadequate. To put a quick end to the whole phenomenon, it is essential to research the ideology of Islamist extremism and discredit it in the minds of potential recruits – and this is not something that grass-roots social workers / mentors / educators can be expected to do - any more than military / security specialists can be expected to do so.
Some speculations about what might be required (and about the ideological problems in Western universities that arguably explain why this has not already been done) are in Making Islamists' Ideology the Focus in Countering Terrorism.
|Analyse the Practicality of Extremists' Ideology||
Analyse the Practicality of Extremists' Ideology - email sent 5/11/14
Thank you very much for the recent press release which outlined key findings of Quillam’s new report Islamic State: The Changing Face of Modern Jihadism. The report is a very useful account of the development and tactics of extremist Islamist groups. However, I would like to submit for your consideration that there is a need for a great deal more work to analyse and critique the ideology that drives these groups.
Quillam’s new report highlighted the undoubted importance of discrediting extremists’ ideology. It defined this as follows:
“The belief that Islam is a totalitarian political ideology. It claims that political sovereignty belongs to God rather than people. Islamists believe that their reading of Shariah should be state law, and that it is the religious duty of all Muslims to create and pledge allegiance to an Islamic state that reflects these principles”.
However there are indications that Islamist extremists’ ideologies are far more complex / sophisticated than this (eg see Speculations about Extremists’ Manifestos, 2001). The spiritual leaders who seek to radicalize jihadists appear to convincingly present their ideology not only as a religious duty but as a ‘solution’ to problems in the Middle East and the world generally. Moreover they typically seem to have studied undergraduate science and apparently argue that nature’s strict conformity with laws of behaviour parallels and supports the need for strict human compliance with the laws of behaviour embodied in their interpretation of the Qur’an and Hadith. My suspicion is that doing so reflects their ignorance of advanced science and of what the social sciences have learned of practical requirements for a successful government and economy (eg see Problems in Extremists' Manifestos, 2001 and Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State, 2014).
The problem is that, without help, potential jihadist recruits have no way to know that there is anything wrong with the apparently ‘sophisticated’ ideas of Islamist intellectuals.
The background to my suggestions about this are outlined in Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems (2014). This involved a study of the quite different paths to development of Western and East Asian societies, and an attempt to assess the likely practicality of Islamist ideologies on the basis of what others have required for success.
My speculations (in Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2001+) are undoubtedly not the final word on the subject. However I submit that examining extremists’ ideology from the viewpoint of whether it could be the basis of a system of political economy that would work in practice is probably the best option for eliminating Islamist extremists’ ability to attract new jihadist recruits. This should also help mainstream Muslims to realize why extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and the (so-called) Islamic State are simply ‘hammering nails into the coffin’ of their religion rather than giving it a sustainable future by helping to overcome the many real problems that Muslims have been experiencing (eg see The Crisis Facing Islam, 2001).
Discrediting Islamist Ideologies is Not Anti-Muslim
Discrediting Islamist Ideologies is Not Anti-Muslim - email sent 26/11/14
RE: Universities prove fertile ground for Islamist propaganda, The Australian, 26/11/14
While I have no direct information relevant to your detailed suggestions about Islamist extremism in universities, I should like to try to add value to your general theme. Even where extremist tactics are not being advocated, there seem to be fairly deep issues that universities need to consider in relation to ways that some ‘academic’ efforts seem to reinforce Islamists’ naive ideologies, and constrain their critical examination.
My Interpretation of your article: Universities claim to be good for the health of liberal democracies - but have done little to defend democracy against Islamic State's illiberal ideology. The Melbourne Islamic Society’s facebook page proclaimed ‘Fear Allah Alone’. Sydney University’s Muslim Student’s association planned to celebrate the 911 anniversary with an event featuring an Islamist terrorist group (Hizb ut-Tahrir). The WA Muslim Student’s Association invited the same person to speak on campus. Muslim Students Associations have become important in disseminating Islamist propaganda. UK PM’s advice to counter jihadism by defeating Islamist ideology needs to taken seriously. A new report, Learning Jihad, documents Islamist’s extensive use of English universities to propagate jihadist ideology. There has been no study of Islamist extremism in Australia’s universities. Sheik Shady Alsuleiman recently appeared at University of Sydney Law School and Univerity of Melbourne’s National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies. As secretary of National Imam’s Council he met with Attorney General to discuss anti-terror legislation. In online lectures he praises jihadism – and argues that those who fight and die gain Paradise. The promise of Paradise is a major lure to jihadists. He argued in another lecture that Western societies love to be attacked, because it gives them an excuse to attack Islam. For decades Western university leadrs have indulged Islamism – censoring comments that offend its advocates, turning a blind eye to barbarity in Islamist state and accepting that the West is to blame for its violently inhumane rule of law. This comes from neo-Marxist ideology which now embraces postcolonialism and critical race theory – and provides a fertile ground for Islamism on campus. The academic hard Left and Islamists share a hatred of Western civilization, culture, creed and citizens. Danish ministry of Justice found that typical left-wing terrorists in 1970-80s were males with higher education or university drop-outs – and the concept of Umma (Caliphate) now plays a similar role to the ‘proletariat notion in 1960s. Victim blame is used to deflect critical analysis of Islamist ideology – as is reference to Islamophobia. When Sydney University prevented Hizb ut Tahrir presentation, it was accused of Islamophobia. Anti-terror legislation has been claimed to cause this. Humanities academics often research Islamophobia. Islamophobia is seen to cause recruits to Islamic State. After 911, Middle Eastern scholar were afraid to study Islamist militancy for fear of triggering Islamophobia. That term was invented as a first line of defence in the 1990s by the Muslim brotherhood. It has been seen as a means for beating down criticism. Western universities and political Islam are incompatible. Yet universities have hosted Islamism while academics defended the illiberal ideology that motivates the genocidal Islamic State. Universities need to change.
An attempt to identify the ideology of Islamist extremists just after the 911 attacks indicated that the leadership in Islamist terrorist organisations seemed to involve individuals who had studied undergraduate science (eg as engineers or doctors) often in Western universities – see Speculations about Extremists' Manifestos (2002+). Undergraduate science presents a picture of nature as strictly conforming to fairly mechanically to ‘laws’ of behaviour. This could be construed as a reason for believing that Islamists’ ambition (ie ensuring that human societies conform mechanically to Islamist’s claims about the laws embodied in the Koran and Hadith) is consistent with ‘science’. However more advanced physical sciences and mainstream social sciences (which Islamic scholars don’t usually appear to study because they are only interested in ideas that seem compatible with the Koran / Hadith) reveals a reality that is more complex – and also demonstrate that what Islamists want to achieve would not actually work in practice. Thus I would suggest that universities need to consider the effect that undergraduate ‘hard’ science may have, and whether a balanced approach to university study might need to be promoted.
And while there has undoubtedly been a reluctance by academics to critically review the ideology of Islamists, this arguably is not just based on being afraid of accusations of ‘Islamophobia’. The humanities faculties of Western universities seem to be in thrall to ‘post-modern’ ideologies that hold that claims about ‘truth’ / ‘knowledge’ in human affairs are simply social constructs to suit political elites. In other words asserting that anything is ‘true’ in relation to human affairs is viewed has more to do with politics than with whether a statement matches reality. The result is that substantial components of the efforts of the humanities seems to involve intellectual ‘gamesmanship’ – ie using argument to ‘prove’ whatever political ideology a post-modernist favours rather than studying reality. This is perhaps best equated with the sophistry that eventually gave ancient Greek philosophers a bad name. This point was developed in Who is to Blame? (2011). This seems to adversely affect efforts to discredit Islamists’ ideology – but to be not limited to that issue (see Eroding the West's Cultural Foundations and Cultural Ignorance as a Source of Conflict, 2001+). A radical rethink of the way the humanities (and social sciences) relate to the study of non-Western cultural traditions generally is long overdue (see A Case for Restoring Universities, 2010).
Finally claims that efforts to discredit Islamists’ ideology must reflect ‘Islamophobia’ are nonsense. Doing so would be strongly pro-Muslim. Muslim societies have experienced chronic problems arguably because the way their religion has come to be enforced stifles the difference / initiative / innovation that their progress and prosperity requires in a changing environment (see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems, 2014). Islamism simply involves a worsening of Muslims’ chronic problem (eg see Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State, 2014). Muslims are the major victims of some practices that have crept into their religion. They would be the major victims of Islamism. Saving them from that fate would not be anti-Muslim.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
Resulting Interchange with Noah Bassil
Reply to Noah Bassil - 27/11/14
Thanks for your comments. I would greatly appreciate your permission to reproduce them on my web-site following Discrediting Islamist Ideologies is Not Anti-Muslim. I would also appreciate reference to the best starting points in the work of Gilles Keppel to Peter Mandaville.
I have no doubt that the complications that you refer to have been part of the story – and that more serious debate (about religion as well as politics) is vitally important to help resolve the region’s problems. However my ‘superficial and culturalist account of the spread of Islamism’ is also part of the story.
Culture is a major determinant of a society’s ability to achieve material progress (eg see Culture Matters). Unless a culture supports learning and change (which many traditional cultures do not seem to do), this has to have a damaging effect on the societies’ prospects no matter what political and economic institutions are put in place. The lack of serious consideration of the pervasive foundational effect of culture has not been limited to the Islamic world (eg see UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Perpetuating Disadvantage? and Strengthening Australia's Democracy). The latter refers to the dramatic cultural differences between Western and East Asian societies that makes proper understanding of East Asian political and economic systems (‘progressive’ or otherwise) essentially impossible in terms of Western concepts – and to the serious adverse consequences of that breakdown in understanding (see also China as a Dominant Power).
And the repression of serious debate about anything in the Middle East has (as I understand it) been a significant feature of the Islamic religion within itself – quite apart from the fact that this fact may have been convenient to the region’s autocratic rulers.
Response from Noah Bassil - 28/11/14
|The 'Dirty Work' Needed to Contain Terrorism Risks is a Major Rationale for Terrorism||
The 'Dirty Work' Needed to Contain Terrorism Risks is a Major Rationale for Terrorism - email sent 13/12/14
David Taylor and Michael Evans
Re: Dirty work shredded US moral authority, defiling democracy, The Australian, 13/12/14
Your article suggested that the ‘dirty’ methods used by the US for interrogation of suspected Islamist terrorists has defiled democracy. However, there is nothing unusual about the use of ‘dirty’ methods in seeking to contain terrorism risks, and the fact that ‘dirty’ methods have to be used is apparently one of the main reasons that terrorism is favoured as a tactic. The ‘dirty’ methods that have to be used generate an outraged reaction against the terrorists’ enemies and thus advance the terrorists’ cause.
While I have no direct knowledge of anti-terrorism tactics, the subject was studied following the 911 attacks in America in a ‘clash of civilizations’ context (see Risks in a Clash with Islamist Extremists, 2001+; Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002; and September 11: The First Test of Globalization, 2003).
A discussion of the problems that France had in dealing with terrorism was identified which indicated (in brief) that:
Intelligence is the key to any war against terrorists - which police, rather than the military, are best equipped to obtain. Such intelligence must be obtained from indigenous populations, and the methods used tend to abuse human rights. The Battle of Algiers is a movie presentation of a real situation that graphically illustrates the problems of defeating terrorists (and has been studied by terrorists for this reason) (Hoffman B. 'Raising capital for a very dirty business', Financial Review, 1/2/02)
There are probably ways of putting an end to the risks associated with terrorism by Islamist extremists that do not require so much ‘dirty work’ (eg see Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002 and Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State, 2014). However this would require the humanities faculties of Western universities to get off their backsides and do some serious work to discredit the ideology of the Islamists (see Making Islamists’ Ideology the Focus in Countering Terrorism, 2014). So long as security and military groups are left unaided to deal with the problem in the field, ‘dirty work’ will presumably be hard to avoid.
|Helping Muslims Resist Islamism||
Helping Muslims Resist Islamism - email sent 19/12/14
Re: In denial there is no security, The Australian, 19/12/14
I should like to try to add value to your article which: (a) highlighted Australians’ apparent inability to get to grips with the fact that the motivations for the Martin Place incident (though complex) had an Islamic religious component; and (b) suggested that the problem can’t be resolved until this issue is openly discussed.
My Interpretation of your article: Following the attack in Martin Place’s Lindt Café there was an immediate social media reaction – seeking to deny that this terrorist event had religious roots. The Right criticised religion, while the Left focused on politically correct scapegoats. However Man Haron Monis made clear that he was driven by extremist beliefs – and sought to connect himself with Islamic State. Why is the latter’s link to unspeakable violence not considered? Other systemic physiological causes are blamed for violence (eg misogyny) – but why can this not be extended to Islamic extremist violence? Naming the systemic cause does not blame particular groups of people. Why is it ‘anti-Muslim’ to examine Islamic extremist terrorism? Saying that ‘it’s not religion’ fails to address the embedded cultural and systemic issues. This prevents a solution being found. Some say that terrorism is purely political – which is nonsense as terrorist regimes are religio-political. Why is Monis’s attack shrouded in denial? The Left wants to prevent xenophobia – but fails because dialogue is needed for resolution. Australia’s safety requires confronting these issues.
It is important not to forget that major systemic problems have been associated with Islam out of a desire to accept Muslims as people.
As you noted the terror event in Sydney involved an individual who was affected by the ideology of the Islamic State. That ideology was recently described by a prominent Muslim (ie the Crown Prince of Bahrain) as ‘theocratic’ – and incompatible with Islam. However, though the issue is complex, a significant problem for ordinary Muslims has long been embodied in even moderate Islam (see Even Moderate Islam seems Damagingly Rigid, 2013) . This arises because, rather than treating an individual’s compliance with religious requirements as a matter for judgment by God, families and communities have come to judge and enforce individual compliance with their interpretation of religious requirements – and this has impeded the difference, initiative and innovation that is required for progress and prosperity in a changing environment. Muslim dominated societies have arguably experienced centuries of bad government and economic backwardness largely (though not only) because of the systemic repression that their people impose on one another (see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems, 2014). An Islamic State (in which the state would also enforce individual compliance with religious requirements) would compound the problems that Muslims have traditionally experienced.
While we should not hate / condemn Muslims as people, we should: (a) not forget that they have a problem; (b) try to help them to escape from the chains that bind them; and (c) do everything possible to discredit the ideology of an Islamic State that would chain them even more tightly (eg as suggested in Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002+).
Some previous suggestions that parallel those in your article (ie that well-intended efforts can block discussion and resolution of this serious problem) were in Discrediting Islamist Ideologies is Not Anti-Muslim (2014).
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Individual Accountability to God: A Critical Requirement for Overcoming Muslim Societies' Historical Disadvantages||
Individual Accountability to God: A Critical Requirement for Overcoming Muslim Societies' Historical Disadvantages - email sent 19/1/15
Professor Clive Kessler
Re: Islam cannot disown jihadists driven by rage against history, The Australia, 17/1/15
I should like to comment on your very useful contribution to this debate. Your article highlighted the fact that Islamist extremism derives from frustration with Islam’s historical experiences and thus can’t be dealt with by de-radicalization efforts directed towards individuals.
My Interpretation of your article: Terrorist attacks represent rage against history that lurks in modern Islam. This rage has its source in wounded soul of Islamic civilization. Muslim world has intensely political religion. Muhammad was both prophet and political leader. He was followed by other political forms (eg caliphate). This continued for 1000 years. Islam lived in its own world and imposed that world on others. Islam sees itself as successor to Judaism and Christianity - which it sees as incomplete or corrupted. Unlike them it has a fully developed social and political blueprint. This view could only be maintained as long as it was not counterfactual. However it eventually succumbed to the post-Christian Christian world ie the Western world. It was defeated and routed by the application of modern attitudes and techniques - born of the enlightenment and the scientific revolution. In late 19th early 20th century much of the Islamic world had fallen under European domination. It ceased to live under Islamic law. This was humiliating. Islam had a long history of worldly success and a presumption that this would be ensure by God forever. History of modern Islam involves attempts to overcome this dissonance. First came religious modernism / reform - but this failed. This was followed by a return to religion. Islam is seen as the solution. Islam has not failed, but Muslims have failed Islam. The radical seek to actually do something about this. This may exist only on the margins of Islam - but Islam generally can't say that this has nothing to do with Islam. Islamic community leaders must deepen their commitment to modern liberal, democratic and pluralist values, principles and action. To deal with this requires seeing Muslims as fellow citizens. However counter-terrorism / de-radicalization programs (which treat the problem as one of individuals) would not be adequate. That approach appeals to politicians. But the problem lies in Islamic historical traditions. Treatment at the individual level can never work unless these deeper problems of Islamic faith community are acknowledged.
Some suggestions about why Islam experienced an historical reversion of its fortunes in the face of modern Western attitudes and techniques in recent centuries are outlined in Competing Civilizations (2001+).
The latter pointed to the ability that Western societies gained to exploit the power of rational problem solving (in economic and political domains for example) because of Christianity’s emphasis on individual accountability to God for the morality of individual actions (see Cultural Foundations of Western Progress: The Realm of the Rational / Responsible Individual). Reason works well in dealing with relatively simply probems, but fails in dealing with complex situations (as is well recognised in economic, management and public administration literature).
And, where individual behaviour is subjected to family / communal / state coercion to ensure individual conformity with religious requirements (a tradition that Islam seemed to inherit from its Arabic tribal origins), individuals are faced with a situation in which they can’t make reliable ‘rational’ decisions on the basis of simple local considerations. They are always constrained in doing so by the need to try to second guess how others will react – and by the fact that they will thus often be forced forced to do things that do not follow from the logic of their own situation (see Islamic Societies: The Realm of the Self-Repressive Tribes? and Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems).
Your suggestion about the need for Islamic leaders to move towards ‘modern, liberal, democratic and pluralist values, principles and action’ has a great deal to commend it in relation to easing the historic problems that Muslim communities have faced (and thus eliminating the motivation for Islamist extremism). However this can’t work unless and until individuals are accepted to be directly accountable to God for the morality of their actions – rather than being subjected to family / communal / state coercion in meeting religious requirements as a by-product of Islam’s Arabic tribal origins.
|Using the 'Power of the 'Pen' to Defeat Islamist Extremism and Give Muslim Societies a Better Future||
Using the 'Power of the 'Pen' to Defeat Islamist Extremism and Give Muslim Societies a Better Future - email sent 22/1/15
Re: Muslims can make the pen mightier than the sword , The Australian, 21/1/15
Your article suggested that ‘puritanical’ interpretations of Islam (derived, for example, from Saudi Arabia’s Wahhibism) have motivated extremist Islamist groups such as al Qa’ida, the Taliban and Islamic State. You also suggested that an emphasis on the ‘pen’ (ie words, books, debate, difference, diversity, rationality) would offer Muslim societies a much better future. However it seems likely: (a) that al Qa’ida reflected a modernising variant of Islam that had incubated in Western universities rather than a puritanical variant, and (b) that an emphasis on the ‘pen’ simply in an academic or political sense would not in itself be sufficient to overcome the chronic backwardness that many Muslim societies have suffered.
My Interpretation of your article: Attacks against Charlie Hedbo (and similar attacks) reflect a puritanical, authoritarian Islam that has no room for diversity, difference and doubt. It is the Islam of the gun. It sees history as frozen since the murder of the 4th caliph in 661AD. These Islamists want political power to restore the golden age of Islam which started with Mohammed. It is authoritarian / legalistic / exclusivist / misogynistic. Puritan Islam has a long history. Yet recently this has been led from Saudi Arabia - the home of Wahhabi puritanism. This started in the 18th century. This and Saudi political regimes were characterized by violence - with then-hegemonic British support. Muslim extremists are seeking to promulgate this version of Islam and its way of achieving power. It is a minority phenomenon. However Islam was born of the pen / words / books not of the sword. It was these that produced Islamic civilization. Doubt, debate and differences dominated. Diversity was welcomed - long before Europe won freedom of expression. Those seen as heretics were respected, not killed. An Islam based on the foundational values of justic, mercy and compassion from the Koran and promoted by rational thinking is what is now needed. Moderate Muslims should not just condemn extremists. They also need to marginalize the preachers of puritan Islam - and to recognized that it can come with offers of financial support (eg Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia and the Shia brand from Iran). Muslim schools should emphasise critical thinking. And they should be taught the achievements of rational Islam. Western powers should not focus on military force to defeat terrorism - but seek permanent solutions by identifying and marginalizing its ideology. Saudi Arabia is the nursery of religious authoritarianism. The Wahhabi brand produced al-Qa'ida, the Taliban and now Islamic state. The West should consider the consequences of its alliance with Saudi Arabia.
While I do not pretend to be an expert on groups such as Al Qa’ida, the Taliban and Islamic State, I attempted to try to understand the ideology of al Qa’ida in the era following the 911 attacks in America. This strongly suggested that it was a ‘modernising academic’ group with a political agenda – rather than a ‘puritanical religious’ group with a political agenda (see Modernising Islam, 2002). This tended further to suggest that al Qa’ida’s roots were more likely to lie in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood rather than in Saudi Arabia’s Wahhibism.
Your article usefully highlighted the importance of understanding the ideology of Islamist extremists. However to ensure that such understanding is accurate, it would seem desirable to locate and publicise the contents of documents (or other sources) that reliably spell out such groups’ ideologies. This does not seem to have been systematically done, thus making it difficult to challenge extremists’ ideologies. Documenting extremists’ ideologies reliably would allow those with leading-edge knowledge and experience of what is required for (say) an effective government and economy to promote informed debate in the Muslim world about Islamists’ agendas. This could be an effective way of showing the ‘pen’ to be mightier than the ‘sword’.
However it is my suspicion that there is a need to go further than your article has done in order to find a satisfactory solution for Muslim societies.
You suggested that Muslims need to think critically about what is now coming at them from Saudi Arabia (eg Wahhibism). However this is not the only thing from Saudi Arabia that needs to be subjected to critical thinking. What is important for a societies’ practical progress is that ordinary individuals are free to use what you referred to as ‘the power of the pen’ (eg analysis, debate and rationality) in their daily jobs and lives, and that social, economic and political institutions exist that can built on individual rationality and initiative. However it seems to be expected that Muslim communities will exert a (sometimes totally dominating) influence over individuals to enforce compliance with others’ interpretations of religious duties. This is presumably a carry-over from 7th century Arabic tribal practices, and arguably suppresses the difference and initiative in practical grass-roots activities that societies need for constructive change and progress. This point is developed further in Individual Accountability to God: A Critical Requirement for Overcoming Muslim Societies' Historical Disadvantages. This is another area in which the ‘power of the pen’ could be used to help Muslims think critically about something that has come at them from Saudi Arabia.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Individual Responsibility for Actions||
Individual Responsibility for Actions - email sent 29/1/15
I noted your suggestion on ‘Sunrise’ today that what happened in Martin Place had to be viewed as an individual thing (rather than as something that could be associated with Islam) because everyone is is an individual who is responsible for their own actions.
While I am not seeking to draw any conclusions about what Man Haron Monis did in December 2014, as a general point I submit that, while individualism and individual responsibility are features of Western societies because of their Christian heritage, this is anything but the case in Muslim societies – presumably because of Islam’s origin in an Arabic tribal environment.
These points are developed in Cultural Foundations of Western Progress: The Realm of the Rational / Responsible Individual and Islamic Societies: The Realm of the Self-Repressive Tribes?. Under Islamic traditions individuals are usually NOT expected to be responsible for their own actions (eg see Is There Coercive Religious Legalism in Islam?). Family, communal and even state pressure is expected to be required to ensure that individuals ‘do the right thing’. This is the notion of ‘guardianship’. Where individuals are not surrounded by strict disciplinary pressure, irresponsible and criminal behaviour is quite likely (eg see In Denmark a Bruising Multiculturalism’ ). This is the reason that Muslims can presume that the ‘peace’ that Islam aspires to can only be achieved if non-Muslims are either converted or killed (ie so that that those in the Ummah are surrounded only by disciplinary, rather than tempting, influences). A lack of individual responsibility is also arguably the reason that Muslim societies have suffered centuries of backwardness (for reasons suggested in (eg see Individual Accountability to God: A Critical Requirement for Overcoming Muslim Societies' Historical Disadvantages ).
Your ‘Sunrise’ statement about individual responsibility is a great aspiration – but is not yet a fact in the Muslim world.
|The Islamic Roots of Islamic Radicalism||
The Islamic Roots of Islamic Radicalism - email sent 9/2/15
Professor Robert Bestani,
RE: The psychological roots of Islamic radicalism, Business Spectator, Feb 6, 2015
Your article realistically argued that Islamist radicalism reflects the action of ‘true believers’ in a cause that derives from unsatisfactory present day conditions in the Middle East and Muslim countries elsewhere.
I should like to suggest for your considerations that the unsatisfactory political and economic conditions in those countries are largely a consequence of the coercive way the religion of Islam has been enforced. My reasons for suggesting this are indicated in Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State, Politicians are Wrong: Terrorism by Islamist Extremists Does Involve Islam and Individual Accountability to God: A Critical Requirement for Overcoming Muslim Societies' Historical Disadvantages . These suggest that the Islamist agendas would compound, rather than reduce, the fundamental source of Muslim societies’ historical problems. By way of background, these speculations were a by-product of an opportunity that I had to study differences between the paths to development of Western and East Asian societies and thus to consider the implications for other societies (see Competing Civilizations, 2001+).
Some suggestions about how it might be possible to direct frustrated Muslim youth towards more constructive causes were outlined in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002).
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Life Wasn't Meant to Be Easy||
Life Wasn't Meant to be Easy - email sent 18/2/15
Re: When talking about terrorism, let’s not forget the other kind, The Conversation, 18/2/15
I noted with interest your very appropriate observations about ethics in warfare, and would like to offer a couple of observations on the complexities involved.
Your article referred to the old cliché “one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”. It needs to be recognized that non-state actors who use terrorist tactics are not necessarily righting for ‘freedom’. They may well be fighting for the power to be ‘oppressive’ (eg consider Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State).
Your reference to the WWII attacks against Hamburg and Dresden as ‘terrorism’ needs to be put in the context of what else happened at that time. German air attacks against British military facilities had been seen as a precursor to invasion from early 1940. However in August 1940 some German bombers drifted off course and accidentally destroyed a few London homes (see The Blitz). The British responded by bombing Berlin the next night. This led to a major shift in German bombing objectives towards British cities rather than military objectives. The raids against Hamburg and Dresden that you referred to were a continuance of precedents established by the German ‘Blitz’. The ironic thing is that Germany might well have won the Battle of Britain if it had continued simply attacking military installations – as this would probably eventually have eliminated British air-force capabilities. Thus it could be that breaking the principles of ethical warfare that your article described was one factor in Germany’s defeat in WWII. However doing so it seems was the result of the escalation of the consequences of an initial accident. It is a bit hard to make valid ethical judgments about such actions.
|Rescuing Islam: Intellectual Freedom for Scholars Would Not Be Enough||
Rescuing Islam: Intellectual Freedom for Scholars Would Not Be Enough - email sent 20/2/15
Re: The Trouble with Islam: Learning is the Traditional and Best Remedy, The Conversation, 18/2/15
I should like to try to add value to your suggestions about how Muslims can improve their positions by fostering a culture of learning. My main point is that freedom for scholars to develop modern interpretations of Islam (ie to no longer be obliged to restate the conclusions of 7th century scholars as the only ‘authentic’ view) would not be enough to overcome the problems Muslim communities have experienced in recent centuries. Ordinary Muslims need similar freedom to think for themselves in their daily lives and work, as well as social, economic and political institutions through which any resulting initiatives can gain practical expression.
My Interpretation of your article: Nothing in Islam makes to dangerous / threatening to the modern Western way of life. However those who favour violence can always find reference to text that supports their prejudices. Combatting this requires fostering a culture of learning and of accepting diverse experiences and opinion. Aftab Malik has argued that: (a) traditional Islamic values can overcome extremism; and (b) religion is a benign force that creates enlightenment – and that its malign manifestation is an inversion . This only applies when religion is aligned with a culture of learning. Virulent and dangerous forms can arise otherwise. Islam’s potential as an incubator of knowledge and participant in social change can be seen from its success as a leading civilization from antiquity to the early modern period. From 750-1550 CE the Muslim world was a pioneer of learning. The role of the madrasa was critical. This now teaches traditional Islamic education, but the medieval madrasa was like a modern university. There was an impartial atmosphere of learning. Religion can’t be the cure for all problems. A culture of learning must be promoted. Australia’s Muslim community is not homogeneous. And, while Islamic traditions has given an impression of uniformity, this was not so in early Islam. Australia’s young Muslims don’t need ‘authentic Islamic education’ but rather a culture of learning.
As you will be well aware Irshad Manji (a Canadian Muslim) has started something of a ‘cultural revolution’ (and controversy) in parts of the Muslim world with her book ‘The Trouble with Islam Today’ (2005). This, like your article, emphasizes the role of learning and of independent thought (‘ijtihad’) in Islam’s early history. She furthermore argues that the political suppression of that tradition (because ‘ijtihad’ made it difficult for authorities to maintain control) led to the decline of Islamic civilization.
"Toward the end of the 11th century, the gates of ijtihad closed for political reasons. The fragile Muslim empire--from Iraq in the East to Spain in the West--was experiencing a series of internal convulsions. Dissident denominations were popping up and declaring their own runaway governments. So the main Muslim leader, known as the caliph, cracked down politically. Within a few generations, Islam saw the closing of something else--the gates of ijtihad. The 135 schools of thought were whittled down to only four, in which conservative Sunni teachings reigned. This in turn produced a rigid reading of the Quran as well as a series of legal opinions known as fatwas that scholars could no longer overturn or even question, but only imitate. With some glorious exceptions, that's what Muslim scholars have been doing to this day--imitating each other's medieval prejudices, without much introspection. In fact, after the gates of ijtihad were closed, innovation was deemed a crime. Tolerance took a severe beating as result. One of the enduring lessons of history is that whenever an empire becomes insular to "protect" itself, intellectual decline and cultural intolerance are sure to follow. " (from Conversation with Irshad Manji)
However ‘learning’ / ‘independent thought’ is not just something that is needed in a university / madrasa. It is not enough to enable intellectuals to develop theories that are not simply derived from the ‘authentic’ views of 7th century Islamic scholars. To achieve practical gains ‘learning ‘ / ‘independent thought’ is also required by ordinary people about things that happen in their daily lives without being constrained to an ‘authentic’ 7th century interpretation of Islam or the various theories of later Islamic scholars. In its glory days Islamic civilization was into ‘learning’ / ‘independent thought’ by scholars but not much into the practical application of ‘independent thought’ to the same extent that Western societies subsequently achieved.
This, I suggest, was because (while intellectuals were originally free to ‘think’) ordinary individuals were constrained in their social and economic activities by family and communal pressure that required them to conform to the way scholars believed that Islam required them to behave. Breaking through the barrier that constrains ‘learning’ / ‘independent thought’ in ordinary peoples’ lives arguably has been and is critical to Muslim societies’ ability to turn ‘learning’ into practical progress – for reasons suggested in Individual Accountability to God: A Critical Requirement for Overcoming Muslim Societies' Historical Disadvantages. It would not be sufficient to merely free Islamic scholars from the constraints imposed by insistence on not moving beyond 7th century interpretations of Islam’s requirements. Ordinary Muslims need to be freed from the authoritarian enforcements of even the ‘modern’ interpretations of Islam’s requirements that Islamic scholars might devise.
However mere intellectual freedom for ordinary Muslims would achieve little unless social, economic and political institutions exist which enable the ideas and initiative that can then emerge within a community to be given practical expression. Moreover political systems need to exist that can cope with the diversity that Irshad Manji argues overwhelmed the caliphate in the 12th century.
In any event Muslims who want to rescue their religion presumably need to ensure widespread recognition that it would not helpful to impose a strict 7th century interpretations of Islam on Muslim communities - a step which it was recently argued is what the so-called Islamic State is trying to achieve (see Wood G., What ISIS Really Wants, Atlantic Monthly, March 2015).
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
Islamist Extremists are not Alone in Favouring Pre-modern Social Systems
Islamist Extremists are not Alone in Favouring Pre-modern Social Systems - email sent 27/2/15
Re: What ISIS Really Wants, The Atlantic, March 2015
Your article provided a very interesting account of the probable goals of the Islamic State (ie replicating the way Muslims lived and acted in the 7th century) – and of the difficulties of, and options for, dealing with this.
On the basis of study of this and related issues in recent years I should like to suggest some broader contextual issues that may be relevant, ie that:
These points are developed further in A Possible Relationship Between Illiberal Systems on my web-site. Though there is no certainty, there are indications that something like what is outlined above might have actually happened. Thus that possibility should not be ignored.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations.
A Possible Relationship Between Illiberal Systems
Nationalistic factions in East Asia, who wield real economic and political power, are like Islamic State in that they favour pre-modern social systems in which autocratic elites (ie they themselves) supervise their societies to ensure that people behave the way the elites believe is appropriate. And (though the nature and goals of those elites is different) there is a possible relationship between those factions that should be considered. For example the emergence of Islamist extremist groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State may partly reflect ‘Art of War’ manipulation of Muslim discontents using traditional East Asian methods for exerting influence, in order to divert attention and effort away from countering East Asia’s more heavyweight challenge to Western societies’ view that a liberal social order is the ultimate definition of ‘modernity’.
That possibility was outlined in very simple terms in Is the Barbarity of ISIS Another Attempt to Ensnare the US in the Middle East? (2014) and Putting the Caliphate in Context (2014). However there is a great deal of background that needs to be considered before that possibility can be seen to make any sense. A brief outline of this is in a Background Note below.
Following the 9/11 attacks in America in 2001 it seemed that the liberal post WWII international order was being challenged by both: (a) terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists; and (b) an undeclared / generally-unrecognized ‘financial war’ against the liberal international system that seemed to be being mounted from East Asia because of the incompatibility of East Asia’s bureaucratically-orchestrated non-capitalist systems of socio-political-economy and the 'liberal' international political and economic order that is dominated by democratic capitalist systems of political economy (see The Second Failure of Globalization?, 2003+).
Also it seemed likely that (rather than simply having something like East Asia's different / incompatible approaches to learning and change), in Muslim-dominated societies learning and change were severely repressed because of the coercive way in which Islamic religious requirements have been enforced – presumably as a consequence of the Arabic tribal environment in which Islam emerged (see Islamic Societies: The Realm of the Self-Repressive Tribes?, 2001+). And the resulting suppression of the difference / initiative / innovation required for practical progress seems likely to have been the main (though not only) cause of the relative backwardness that such societies have experienced since Western societies’ rate of social, economic and political progress accelerated (ie about 1750) and since Japan initiated East Asia's Neo-Confucian path to progress in the second half of the 20th century (eg see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems, 2014).
Islamist extremists - initially represented by Al Qaeda - seemed to involve Western-educated Muslims who were trying to find a way to overcome the historic problems that Muslim societies have suffered. However the Islamist options that Muslims were being offered by the extremists could not work. Coercive religious supervision of individuals by an Islamist state would significantly increase the historical obstacles that Muslim societies have faced (ie those related to coercive religious supervision of individuals by families / communities). While al Qaeda’s goal seemed to be to modernise Islam, success was impossible because of: (a) the violent methods al Qaeda favoured to achieve its goal; and (b) the ever more severe constraints on Muslim societies’ ability to learn and change that Islamism involved . The Islamic State’s more recent Islamist vision of Muslims’ future (which as your article pointed out involves replicating the way ISIS believes things were done by Muhammad and his early followers) is clearly unlikely to be of more benefit to affected societies than the excesses of Cambodia’s Kymer Rouge or China’s Cultural Revolution.
A better ‘solution’ is arguably achievable by encouraging and helping Muslims to find paths to the future that might actually work (see Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002+). In particular acceptance by Muslims of direct submission to God (rather than submission to 'middle-men' who claim a religious right to impose discipline as God’s agents) arguably offers the best prospects for overcoming Muslim societies’ chronic problems (see Individual Accountability to God: A Critical Requirement for Overcoming Muslim Societies' Historical Disadvantages , 2015 and Rescuing Islam: Intellectual Freedom for Scholars Would Not Be Enough, 2015).
However as suggested in the Background Note below there have been indications (such as a reference by Osama Bin Laden to an agenda of Japan’s ultranationalists as one justification for the 9/11 attacks in America) that stimulating the emergence of Islamist extremism might in part be a diversionary tactic in a strategy in recent decades to challenge the liberal post-WWII international order that has been led by nationalistic would-be aristocrats from East Asia.
Under Confucian traditions strategic power seems to be exerted by groups with access to the best available practical knowledge (ie of history and of current events). As suggested in Acquiring 'Soft' Power, such groups use accumulated knowledge to stimulate the development of new social and economic systems in their entirety (ie by stimulating the development of ‘visions’ of the future that participants find attractive and networking potential participants). If the emergence and evolution of Islamist extremism was encouraged by neo-Confucian East Asian elites using methods like the 'vision development and administrative guidance' tactics that Japan's bureaucracy used to create market-oriented industry clusters, that intervention would have been essentially invisible. All that would be involved would be the collection of vast amounts of information, providing ‘suggestions’ about solutions that appealed to potential Islamists; encouraging cooperation within / and action by such groups; and perhaps providing an ongoing flow of intelligence / suggestions / undetectable strategic resources.
Though the Islamist’s actions would not be in the real interests of Muslims, manipulating naïve potential jihadists might be viewed as a masterful tactic from the catalysts’ point of view. It would: (a) disrupt the ‘liberal’ international system; (b) divert Western societies’ attention away from East Asia’s real economic, financial and geo-political challenges to the West’s preference for a liberal social, economic and political order; and (c) create a new system in the Muslim world that was intrinsically incapable of achieving any real power in the medium to long term (ie because Islamism would severely inhibit affected Muslims’ ability to learn and change).
In the 1980s the present writer had an opportunity to reverse-engineer the intellectual foundations of Japan’s post-WWII economic miracles. This indicated reliance on ways of thinking and doing things that are radically different from (and in some ways incompatible with) the ways in which Western societies tend to think and act on the basis of their Judeo-Christian and classical Greek heritage. These apparent differences are outlined in Competing Civilizations, 2001+ (ie see Cultural Foundations of Western Progress: The Realm of the Rational / Responsible Individual and East Asia: The Realm of the Autocratic, Hierarchical and Intuitive Ethnic Group?).
A core issue involves epistemology (ie assumptions about the nature and use of knowledge). It is widely recognized that rationality (ie the use of abstract concepts as models of reality) fails in complex situations - such as those confronting would-be central economic 'planners'. Despite this Western societies have built their social, economic and political systems on the presumption that rationality / abstract ideas can reasonably reliably be used by individuals to make decisions in ‘liberal’ social, economic and political environments. This has arguably worked because:
By contrast East Asian traditions (whose main concern is ensuring the strength of ethic communities as a whole and place little emphasis on the welfare or capabilities of individuals) hold that abstract ideas are not useful for rational decision making (because reality is too complex). This is, for example, central to China's traditional religion (Daoism - whose core precept is 'the Dao (way / truth) that can be known is not the true Dao'); a major feature of the Buddha's 'enlightenment'; and reflected in Confucianism's rejection of universal values / laws. As an alternative to responsible individual rationality, hierarchical / group-based social environments are created for consensus building and supervision of individuals' behavior (eg individuals must 'meet others' expectations' / 'maintain face'; and legal systems punish deviations from consensus rather than being a framework for independent initiative). And these social environments are so complex and restrictive of individual initiative that assumptions about the inadequacy of individual or collective rationality are self-fulfilling.
These differences have very significant practical implications. For example:
However there has been another dimension to all this because the present writer's initial opportunity to ‘reverse engineer’ the intellectual foundations of East Asian economic ‘miracles’ was accompanied by direct exposure to the ‘dark side’ of Japan (ie to ultranationalist and Yakuza / organised crime factions) who both: (a) had top level status behind the scenes with Japan’s government; and (b) still seemed to be trying to win WWII – for his role in which the lead Japanese player had been classified as a war criminal in 1945 (see The Dark Side of Japan in Australia).
This and other indicators (such as the generally-unrecognised ‘war’ that Japan (initially) seemed to have been waged for decades against the international financial system (because of that systems’ incompatibility with Japan’s ‘bureaucratic non-capitalist’ economic methods) caused concern that there might be a relationship between that undeclared ‘financial war’ and the 911 attacks in America (see Attacking the Global Financial System?, 2001). There were many indications of the possibility of linkages between Islamist extremists and Japan’s ultranationalists (see Geopolitical Context to a More-Than-Passive Attack). For example:
Since the late 1970s China has also gained economic strength through the adoption of a variation of the neo-Confucian system of socio-political economy that had been the basis of Japan’s post-WWII economic miracle. In China’s case the catalytic role that a (presumably-Imperially-mandated) bureaucracy had played in governing Japan behind a democratic face was played by China’s (so-called) ‘Communist Party’. However recently changes have been made that make it more obvious that autocratic traditions of quasi 'Confucian' administration have been restored in China also (see The Resurgence of Ancient Authoritarianism in China, 2014). And at the same time China’s education system seems to be being re-structured to condition its people accept the limitations of individual understanding and thus to be willing to accept elite guidance without question (see Competing Thought Cultures, 2012). China's President (Xi Jinping) also seems to be seeking to establish a religious foundation for the Chinese state (eg see The Dali Lama's Search for Moral Wisdom, 2013 and Merging Political Power and Religion Can Create Problems, 2015).
And while China and Japan appear to be in potential conflict, it is also possible that collaboration against the effects of 'liberal' Western social, economic and political system by those who favour elite-dominated social hierarchies exists below the surface (eg see Broader Resistance to Western Influence?).
|Creating a Better World||
Creating a Better World - email sent 14/3/15
Re: Apocalyptic erotica now: the allure of Islamic State online, The Conversation, 13/3/15
Your article was very interesting and is (presumably) realistic in the sense that jihadists probably think that they are the heroes saving the world. However that perception is undoubtedly wrong. Moreover the blame for their ignorance arguably lies in the failure of the humanities’ faculties of Western universities to explore the practical consequences of different cultural traditions.
My Interpretation of your article: Many are bewildered by the power of Islamic State to recruit / radicalize young Muslims. There is concern that such people will return to inflict new horrors on West. Yet there has been no real focus on IS's character, culture or allure. Its PR success is only belatedly being recognized - and little can be done about it. Western governments misread IS, know little of the Internet or how it can affect teenagers. Also IS is seen to be a perversion of Islam and its place in social progress / pluralism that the West propagates. However IS recruits see a cruel western world governed by material greed, violent hierarchies and moral vicissitudes. Islam is seen as the only alternative to a world in decay. Deep solace and hope can be found in Islam's apocalyptic and messianic potential (eg Qu'aranic notion of 'Appointed Time'). A similar apocalyptic thread runs through all Abrahamite religions - and this remains strong despite secularisation. IS reflects the same heroic / apocalyptic style as many Hollywood thrillers. It is about struggle and justice. The west, like IS, justifies its claim to moral and political legitimacy by invoking transcendence and historical destiny. IS is a little like Australia's exaltation of Gallipoli. Like everyone else IS is struggling with modernization and globalization. Understanding its dark vision requires looking directly at ourselves and the terror we are creating.
As the jihadists are told, the world is not in good shape. My speculations about economic crises and geo-political tensions that are now likely in the short, rather than the medium, term are in The Second Failure of Globalization? (2003+).
However a key factor in the potential financial / economic crises and geo-political breakdown is the fact that cultural assumptions have massive implications for the way in which economic and political systems operate – and for affected societies’ ability to achieve progress. A ‘clash of civilizations’ has been a major factor in the emergence of potential economic crises and geo-political instabilities – yet this has received essentially no attention from Western universities whose responsibility would presumably have been to research the issues involved (see Competing Civilizations, 2001+). The latter refers, for example, to: (a) the cultural foundations of liberal Western institutions; (b) the difficulties that other societies can have in operating within such institutional frameworks; (c) the radically different and incompatible cultural / intellectual foundations of East Asian political and economic systems which has led to an undeclared ‘financial war’ and attempts to create an authoritarian alternative to the liberal post-WWII international political order; (d) the fatal constraints that Islamic societies have imposed on their prospects; and (e) the fact that ignorance of these issues is a major source of conflict (eg because potential jihadists have no access to realistic explanations of why Muslim societies have experienced centuries of backwardness – and, in an intellectual vacuum, they thus conclude that Muslims must have been subjected to external, rather than internal, oppression) .
Might I respectfully suggest that rather than merely endorsing the jihadists’ perception of that the world is in a mess, it would be more constructive to help Muslim communities (for example) work out how they might realistically create a better future for themselves (eg see Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002+). The latter suggests: (a) why the jihadists’ ‘solutions’ would merely compound the difficulties that Muslim-dominated societies have suffered; and (b) that there are probably other solutions that would be more realistic.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
"Muslims Youth Pushed to Margins of Society" - by Islam?
"Muslims Youth Pushed to Margins of Society" - by Islam? - email sent 9/4/15
Re: Muslim youth pushed to 'the margins of society', ABC News, 8/4/15
I should like to suggest for your consideration that the assertion your article recorded (ie that Muslim youth are being pushed to the margins of society by media-induced Islamophobia) is at most part of the story.
A study in Denmark indicated that Muslim youth tend not to fit into modern / liberal societies (see ‘In Denmark a Bruising Multiculturalism’). The cultural obstacle that the latter research identified seems likely to arise from features of Islam (ie the fact that disciplined behaviour by individuals apparently requires that they be surrounded only by Muslims) – see Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State (2014).
Those same features of Islam (ie the expectation that responsible behaviour can’t be ensured merely by individual consciences – which is apparently a product of Islam’s origin in an Arabic tribal environment) seem also to be the main factor in the suppression of difference / initiative / innovation that underlies the profound difficulties that Muslim-dominated societies have experienced in recent centuries (see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems). Reform within Islam would not only allow Muslim youths to avoid the cultural traits that leave them on the margins of modern / liberal societies – but would go a long way to solving the problems facing the Middle East and Muslim-dominated societies elsewhere (see Individual Accountability to God: A Critical Requirement for Overcoming Muslim Societies' Historical Disadvantages , 2015 and Rescuing Islam: Intellectual Freedom for Scholars Would Not Be Enough, 2015) .
Response from an Australian Muslim Organization that Wishes to Remain 'Anonymous'
Email 9/4/15 - Well researched. Muslim youth of Arab extraction are the major problem perhaps in Europe. Not other Muslim ethnicities. Islam is a multi-ethnic faith. Not all Muslims are Arabs. Do not be discouraged keep up the good work. If u visit ... do make time to come and visit us at .....
CPDS reply 9/4/15 -
CPDS reply 9/4/15 -Thanks. One problem is that those who do have that Arab background try to spread their interpretations world-wide – and claim (I understand) that Islam can’t even be properly understood if not presented in Arabic. I would appreciate your permission to add your comment (perhaps in a modified anonymous form if you prefer) to my web-site .
'Anonymous' Response 9/4/15 - Yes you can. Anonymous is preferred. This is because some here may not agree with my educated point of view.
|Countering Islamic State Propaganda||
Countering Islamic State Propaganda - email sent 20/4/15
Re: Brothers, believers and brave mujahideen: how to counter the lure of Islamic State propaganda, The Conversation, 20/4/15
Your article realistically pointed out that: (a) Islamic State propaganda portrays what it is doing as a moral response to prevailing problems facing Muslim communities; and that (b) counter-propaganda which merely argues that terrorism is wrong is an inadequate response. You also suggested that engaging potentially-radicalized Muslim youth in finding ways to counter violent extremism is potentially a better alternative.
I should like to suggest for your consideration that the most constructive way to engage at-risk Muslim youth would be in trying to develop practical solutions to the problems facing Muslim societies. What this might involve was suggested in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002). If looked at from a ‘big picture’ viewpoint, it soon becomes obvious that what Islamic State (and other extremists) are offering is the opposite of the solution to Muslim societies’ chronic problems that potentially-radicalized youth are presumably seeking (see Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State, 2014).
|Exposing the Unrealistic Intellectual Foundations of Islamist Extremism||
Exposing the Unrealistic Intellectual Foundations of Islamist Extremism - email sent 29/4/15
Hon Peter Dutton, MP
Re: ‘Australian Islamist Video Deplored’, The Australian, 26/4/15
In the above article you were quoted as expressing concern that an educated Australian (ie a doctor) had been recruited to Islamic State. However there is absolutely nothing unusual about supposedly ‘educated’ individuals being associated with extreme Islamism. Islamism has a complex ideology developed by intellectuals who have had a great deal of ‘education’. Islamic State can’t be discredited merely by claiming that it is a ‘death cult’. Rather the lack of realism in the intellectual foundations of its ideology must be exposed.
Quote: “Immigration Minister Peter Dutton says Mr Khamleh is the first known Australian medical professional to join the extremist organisation. It proved Islamic State isn’t just recruiting fighters, and security agencies will be alert to the new threat, he said. The acting attorney-general and foreign affairs minister said it was disturbing development that a highly-educated person had succumbed to “the death cult’s evil message”.”
When the (so-called) ‘war against terror’ was first launched over a decade ago, there were strong indications that al Qa’eda’s leadership involved Muslims who had been educated in Western universities – and that engineers and doctors had significant roles in al Qa’eda (see Modernising Islam?, 2002+). Moreover Islamists aspire to make the world a better place (see Creating a Better World, 2015 and also Why hundreds of westerners are taking up arms in global jihad, 2014). The use of barbaric methods is seen as necessary – and to replicate the methods by which Islam was originally spread in the 7th century (see outline of What ISIS Really Wants, 2015). But barbarity is apparently only one stage in a considered strategy to create a sustainable ‘caliphate’ as a base for international jihad. In 2014 Islamic State’s emphasis shifted to recruiting the professionals (eg doctors) who will be needed when ‘order’ is re-established (see outline of Islamic State theoreticians have honed plans for battle and a state, 2015)
To prevent educated people (or anyone else) joining the extremists’ cause it is not sufficient to point to the barbarity of the methods the extremists have used (see An Alternative to Fighting Radical Islamism for 1000 Years). Rather it is necessary to identify and discredit the real, complex and diverse ideologies of the Islamist extremists (ie why they believe that the use of barbaric methods can, and is necessary to, make the world a better place). The challenge is a bit like that associated with Communism whose adherents also thought that the use of violent methods was justified to create a utopian future. And, as was the case for Communism, the main problem is that a lack of real world knowledge makes it impossible for naïve ‘revolutionary’ intellectuals to understand why their idealistic solutions would not actually work in practice. Once there was practical experience of ‘communism’, its limitations and consequences became blindingly obvious and communist ‘revolutionaries’ are now very thin on the ground.
Some suggestions about weaknesses in the intellectual foundations of Islamist ideologies have been outlined in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002+). A number of issues that might be considered in relation to this are:
There is arguably a need to consider also the influence that Sayyid Qutb’s view of Western societies has on rationalising the Islamists’ cause because Qutb’s claim that Western societies lacked healthy values: (a) strongly influenced the Muslim Brotherhood whose ideology in turn influenced other radical Islamist groups; and (b) is being reinforced by the post-Christian decline in responsible individual behaviour in countries such as Australia (see Erosion of the Moral Foundations of Liberal Institutions, 2003+).
There is a need for a more sophisticated understanding of the factors involved in Islamist radicalization. Neither Islamist extremism nor Muslim’ societies’ chronic problems can be successfully dealt with by naively labeling extremists as a ‘death cult’.
|The Role of Theology in Combatting Islamic State||
The Role of Theology in Combatting Islamic State - email sent 8/5/15
Emeritus Professor Terry Lovatt
Emeritus Professor Robert Crotty
Re: Believe it or not, we could actually learn something from Islamic State , The Conversation, 22/4/15
I should like to try to add value to your suggestion about countering the theology of Islamic State with a more serious emphasis on theology in education generally.
My Interpretation of your article: Theologians know that Islamic State is not as inherently hostile as it is seen to be. Modern educated Westerners tend not to take theology seriously because of the rational methods of their education. Thus in trying to understand IS theologians are not consulted. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a clever theologian. He can use sacred texts to mobilize those with troubled backgrounds - and many assume that all followers have such backgrounds. By manipulating the texts he paints the West (especially Jews and Christians) as the infidel. There needs to be counter strategies to this - with theologies to empower people to do great things. A more serious commitment is needed to educate students about the religious beliefs / values of their own societies. Greater emphasis could be given to teaching and research on theology in universities. This would lead to greater theological literacy world-wide. Harmony between religions has been achieved in the past - and should be possible again.
While attention to Islamic State’s theology would undoubtedly be of value, emphasis should also be given to the practical consequences of the (theologically influenced but not simply theological) ideology of such Islamist extremists (see Exposing the Unrealistic Intellectual Foundations of Islamist Extremism). This highlighted the fact that (as your article noted) the appeal of radical Islamism is not simply to those with troubled backgrounds. It also reflects a perception that the coercive way Islam has been enforced (presumably as a consequence of its origins in an Arabic tribal environment) has created chronic problems for Muslim societies in coping with a changing world – and that Islamists’ aspirations would compound those problems.
Your suggestion about a more serious approach to religious education generally is paralleled in a couple of other documents on my web-site namely Religious Education: The Need for a Bigger Picture View (2013) and It's Time to Expel Religious Naivety from Universities (2014). And, in relation to potentially upgrading the emphasis given to theology in universities in a rational modern environment, it is worth considering: (a) the apparent limitations of rationality and science as a basis for understanding (see Problems in an Internally Deterministic Scientific Worldview, 2001+); and an (arguably overly-simplistic) East Asian view that ‘rational’ thought is a significant limitation on Western societies (see Competing Thought Cultures, 2012).
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Ending Muslim Jobs' Discrimination is Easy: Just Liberate Muslims||
Ending Muslim Jobs' Discrimination is Easy: Just Liberate Muslims - email sent 28/5/15
Re: Mismatched Muslims: school smart, job poor, The Australian, 27/5/15
Your article points to indications that Muslims in Australia tend to face discrimination in seeking employment. I should like to suggest that ending these problems would be comparatively simple. Muslims do not just bring themselves to an employment opportunity – but also (in some, perhaps most, cases) they bring ideas and entanglements that are a distinctive product of their religion – and the predictable consequences of those ideas and entanglements inevitably affects potential employers’ perceptions. Liberating Muslims from the intellectual and physical constraints they impose on one another would enable them to operate more effectively in many different contexts, and thus reduce the apprehensions that others may have.
The Muslim world as a whole has experienced problems (and relative backwardness) for centuries. And their problems are not going away (see The Muslim World Seems to be Headed for Chaos).
Though this history and current strife can be conveniently blamed on external ‘oppression’, an alternative (and very reasonable hypothesis) is that these problems are the result of: (a) constraints on the initiative and change required for progress because of the coercive way Muslim’s religion has traditionally been enforced – probably as a reflection of Islam’s origin in an Arabic tribal environment; and (b) of a distorted approach to the natural and social sciences that could otherwise facilitate social, economic and political progress (see Islamic Societies: The Realm of the Self-Repressive Tribes?, 2001 and About Arabic Thought and Islamic Science, 2005).
In Australia, employees tend to be expected to operate as individuals – and the effectiveness of Australia’s economic and political institutions depends critically on their ability to do so (for reasons related to the fact that this permits the effective use of rationality as a reasonably reliable means of problem solving – as suggested in Cultural Foundations of Western Progress: The Realm of the Rational / Responsible Individual). Muslim traditions however apparently involve expectations that individuals should be subject to family and community coercion to ensure that they conform with Islamic religious requirements (eg see Is There Coercive Religious Legalism in Islam?). Individuals can then suffer considerable difficulties in environments (such as Australia) where the ability of individuals to act independently is essential. It seems likely that this has been a major (though not the only factor) in the problems that Muslim societies have experienced (see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems). And, if communal constraints (rather than individual consciences) have to be are relied upon to provide discipline, a study in Europe apparently suggested that it is very difficult for individuals to act responsibly if those in their environment do not constrain them – ie where not ‘everyone’ is Muslim (see ‘In Denmark a Bruising Multiculturalism’ ). The notion that those who provide temptation are responsible for the crimes committed against them (eg rape) is a product of Islamic expectations – but would not arise under the dominant world views in Australia.
While the above hypothesis is a product of the present writer’s study of the effect of culture on the different paths to development of Western and East Asian societies and a consequent comparison with the practical constraints imposed by features of Islamic practices, it can be noted that a non-trivial Islamic group in Australia has indicated some level of agreement with this view (see Response from 'Anonymous' Muslim Organisation – a group that indicated that it did not wish to be named because not everyone shared its educated perspective).
And there seems to be a dysfunctional bias in traditional Islamic approaches to scientific knowledge that must tend to reduce the effectiveness of employees who were educated in those traditions (see About Arabic Thought and Islamic Science). Natural ‘science’ has apparently been viewed as a way of better understanding God, rather than a way of understanding God’s creation – because the presumption that everything that happens is merely a reflection of God’s will. And there has been a reluctance to encourage study of the social sciences, as these deal with situations in which people do more than conform with variations of 7th century Islamic practices on the assumption that these can cover every aspect of life in the 21st century.
There is thus a need for caution about assuming that the education gained in Muslim schools is really of a ‘high level’. Also there are reasons for concern about the quality of some education in Australia’s universities (see The Humanities May be Thriving - But Universities Aren't). The ‘post-modern’ assumption, ie that it is useful to view supposed knowledge as merely a matter of elite political preference, has a strong hold in the humanities – and constrains the development of realistic knowledge (ie what is likely to happen / work in practice). This affects non-Muslims as well as Muslims but means that unrealistic ideologies (ie those that would not work in practice) are politely accepted as valid opinions (ie ‘For X, A causes C’; 'For Y, B causes C') – rather than being exposed to a reality check (ie does “A” or "B" actually cause “C”?).
The restrictive ideas and entanglements mentioned above do not the limit of the world-view of all Muslims – and it seems likely that some in Australia would prefer an environment in which individuals were accepted to be directly accountable to God for the morality of their actions, rather than to those who appoint themselves to be ‘enforcers’ on behalf of God. Also some Muslim academics apparently aspire to freedom of thought – ie to not simply being bound by ideas that are compatible with the way the Qu’ran and Haidith are interpreted by dominant Islamic scholars ( see Rescuing Islam: Intellectual Freedom for Scholars Would Not Be Enough). However, until and unless it is widely accepted that communal enforcement of religious legalism and academic enforcement of 7th century thinking is a problem, the constraints that Islam has long imposed on Muslims’ prospects (in employment and elsewhere) will remain.
Widespread recognition by Muslims of the practical importance of gaining freedom from communal religious coercion and narrow thinking would improve their job prospects. Moreover, it would also: (a) dramatically reduce the numbers of disaffected Muslim youth who can potentially be radicalized; and (b) discredit the ideology that extremist groups such as Islamic State promulgate in their attempts to radicalize disaffected Muslims (see Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State, 2014).
|Military Tactics are Not Enough||
Military Tactics are Not Enough - email sent 2/6/15
Re: Islamic State won’t be defeated by the status quo , The Australian, 2/6/15
There is no doubt that you are right that current tactics will not defeat Islamic State.
While I have no theory about what military methods might be more effective on the battlefield (which seemed to be the main theme of your article), I would like to suggest that the key to defeating Islamic State (and Islamist extremism generally) is to defeat the idea – not just to win on a battlefield (eg see An Alternative to Fighting Radical Islamism for 100 Years, Winning the 'War on Terror' Would be Better than Fighting it Forever, Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State, Making Islamists' Ideology the Focus in Countering Terrorism, Taking Away the 'Islamic State's' Religious 'Oxygen' and numerous other items in Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002+).
And, as with the Iraq invasion, military victory over Islamic State would be anything but a sufficient basis for creating a situation in which liberal Western style systems of political economy can actually work in Iraq / Syria as an alternative to authoritarian dictatorship or Islamism (see Fatal Flaws , 2003). The Allies’ military victory over Japan (like the militarily focused campaign in communitarian Vietnam) also demonstrated that attempts to introduce a Western-style system of democratic capitalism can’t work in the absence of an appropriate cultural environment (eg see Establishing Japan’s Post-WWII Political and Economic Systems).
It seems to me that the Obama administration is sensibly trying to head in a much broader direction – ie towards an emphasis on a political solution and regional self-help. But for this to work a dramatically increased emphasis would need to be placed in the cultural dimension.
There is also a need to recognise the possibility that the Middle East’s instability associated with Islamist extremism may be not only be the outcome of genuine issues in that region, but also may have been encouraged by East Asian ultranationalist as a diversion to inhibit an effective Western response to a much larger security challenge – see Islamist Extremists are not Alone in Favouring Pre-modern Social Systems. The process of creating what would, in effect, be a realization of Japan’s ultranationalists’ notion in the 1930s of an Asia Co-prosperity Sphere is underway. That effort does not currently have a primarily military dimension, and is much harder to deal with if merely military considerations dominate national security debates.
|Some Thoughts on Reforming Islam and the World||
Some Thoughts on Reforming Islam and the World - email sent 21/7/15
Dr Patrick Sookhdeo,
Re: The Two Faces of Islam, Barnabas Fund, 29/8/2014
Your article noted the difficulties facing Muslim leaders who seek to take a tolerant approach their faith. I should like to suggest how their ability to get a constructive message across might be strengthened.
My Interpretation of your article: I recently met the Grand Mufti of Syria (Dr Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun) who has long pleaded for harmonious relations between Muslims, Christians and all other religions. For this he has been abused by fellow Muslims and was targeted for assignation by Saudis. Islamist hitmen killed his son instead – and, when visiting the killers in prison, the Grand Mufti forgave them. By contrast the Islamic State is a barbaric face of Islam that is reminiscent of the early Assyrians and later Babylonians who once inhabited the same region and were known for their immense cruelty. Islamic State has started producing a magazine (Dabiq) which refers to a town that is significant in Islamic history – and also the site where a hadith (ie a traditional recording of Muhammad’s words) predicts that a great battle will be fought in End Times – in which Muslim forces will defeat Christian forces before going on to conquer the world. Jesus (who Muslims call Isa) is expected to descend from the Great Mosque of Damascus to lead his armies to victory (ie destroying all crosses, killing all Jews and pagans, converting or killing all Christians). This apocalyptic vision shapes how Islamic State sees what it is fighting for. In the first issue of Dabiq, it was argued that Islamic State is now re-establishing the Caliphate which collapsed in 1922-23. The second issue considered Noah and the flood. Islamic State was portrayed as an alternative to another biblical flood because of the polluted ideologies that afflict people world-wide. Dabiq argues that the only alternative is to eliminate the principle of free choice – and implement God’s will. All opponents will suffer the same fate as those who opposed Noah. This face of Islam (which is based on Islamic sources including the Quran and hadith) is as authentic as the peaceful tradition of the Grand Mufti of Syria. Both have existed through Islamic history. The Grand Mufti is told by other Muslims that he is not a true Muslim – and, in the UK, he had to be protected against those who disagreed with his theology. Now he can’t get a visa to visit Britain. It is not possible to identify one true Islam. There are many Islams – and all can validly claim to be theologically based on the same Islamic source texts. Fortunately there are some peaceful interpretations. However there is also a rising radical Islam that is propagated by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey that is funded by vast oil resources and now shaping Islam. This dominant face of Islam brings extremists to the forefront and gives rise to movements like Islamic State. Islamic State has been publicly disowned by Muslim and Western leaders – and some of the latter assert that Islamic State has nothing to do with Islam. However it will do so as long as Saudi Arabia and countless Islamic clerics insist on a literal interpretation of Islam’s source texts. It is now impossible for Christians to survive in the regions controlled by Islamic State – and hope has disappeared there as the international community seems unwilling to either defeat these extremists or welcome those who are forced to leave as refugees. The Grand Mufti of Syria had predicted a decade ago that many mosques in Britain would become radicalized – and this has happened. If courageous Muslims like the Grand Mufti do not come to present a more enlightened view – then the terror that exists in the Middle East will spread to the West. The Assassins were a ferocious Ismali Islamic sect that spread a reign of terror from 11th to 13 centuries – and was only eliminated when Christians and Muslims joined forces to oppose a group that threatened everyone. Unless a concerted effort is made in the Middle East and worldwide, the Islamic State will continue to grow and threaten everyone.
Some other articles that point in the same general direction as your article (eg in relation to identifying Islamic State’s apocalyptic theology) are outlined on my web-site. Moreover, other observers have also pointed to the difficulties that moderate and responsible Muslims have in presenting less extreme ideas. For example, it was suggested that:
As I understand it, the rationale for Islamist extremism does not only lie in the way some scholars have interpreted Islamic texts. It also relies on the presumption that Islamism (ie the state enforcement of strict Islamic law) is the solution to:
In order to provide moderate / responsible Muslims with a way to make progress against their extremist competitors, it would arguably be desirable to:
If Muslims such as the Grand Mufti of Syria have a more realistic understanding of practical global and national options that would improve their communities’ prospects, their ability to discredit Islamist extremists should increase while at the same time their interpretation of Islam should move much closer to Islam’s Judeo-Christian roots.
|Terrorism Can't Be Dug Out Just at Grassroots Level||
Terrorism Can't Be Dug Out Just at Grassroots Level
Local de-radicalization programs are severely limited in what can be achieved. The desired outcome arguably primarily requires attention to, and reform of, the religion of Islam itself.
In August 2015 it was suggested that:
Outline of Schliebs M., Research hub aims to dig out terrorism at grassroots level (The Australian, 10/8/15 ): A high level research centre designed to stop radicalization at the grassroots level (ie the Australian Intervention Support Hub) will be set up by two universities (ANU and Deakin) with federal government support and AFP links. This was announced by federal Minister for Justice (Michael Keenan). It will provide expertise to communities and governments in combatting extremism. Those going down the wrong path will be able to be recognised. The Hub will be led by Clarke Jones (ANU) and Greg Barton (Deakin University) – and will work with other universities / centres
On the basis of some study of the phenomenon of Islamist extremism since the 911 events (see Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002+), it seems probable that Clive Kessler is likely to be correct in his argument that local deradicalization is unlikely to be effective – because mainstream Muslim communities are broadly sympathetic to the the extremists’ goals (though many would object to the methods used).
The fundamental problem seems to be that there are limitations on the economic and political prospects of Muslim dominated societies because of features of the religion of Islam itself (eg see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems) – and that (because the study of anything that does not imply that Islam is a total solution to everything is (sometimes-violently) discouraged) Muslim communities are unaware that they are the source of their own problems and thus tend to believe that their problems must be the result of external ‘oppression’. This is simply wrong as the primary ‘oppression’ that limits their prospects is internal. This observation is based on the present writer's study of the different paths to development of Western and East Asian societies - and recognition of the importance of change (which the way Islam is enforced inhibits) to such development.
The problem can only be overcome by building recognition in the Muslim world of the need to reform Islam – perhaps by methods such as those suggested in Some Thoughts on Reforming Islam and the World. The most constructive steps that the Australian Intervention Support Hub could take would thus arguably be to disseminate understanding of the need for fundamental reform of Islam within Australia’s Muslim communities.
Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization
Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization - email sent 12/10/15
Cameron Stewart and Sid Maher,
Re: Malcolm Turnbull calls terror crisis talks, The Australian, 10/10/15
Your article noted, in relation to the risk of domestic terrorist attacks by radicalised Muslim youth, that Australia’s prime minister emphasised forming a closer relationship between the government and the Muslim community while also enhancing official de-radicalization programs.
This offers Mr Turnbull an opportunity to make a major difference both domestically and globally – providing his government’s main emphasis is on encouraging Australia’s Muslim leaders to focus on the pressing need for reform of Islam. Doing so would allow Muslim communities’ chronic problems and their frictions with non-Muslims to be reduced, and also put an end to individual radicalization by discrediting claims by Islamist extremists that they have a potentially-viable solution to Muslims’ problems.
Religion is clearly a major factor in the radicalisation of Muslims to commit extremist crimes both as individuals and as organisations such as al Qa’ida and Islamic State. Muslim societies have chronic problems. Islamists claim that these are the result of external (mainly Western) oppression (eg see Islam can’t disown jihadists driven by rage against history). On this basis they justify resistance to (and attacks on) the West in addition to gaining control of ‘Muslim Lands’ to establish Islamist regimes (ie those where the state itself would enforce Islamic religious precepts). And Islamic scholars have developed complex arguments about why this is appropriate that can appeal to highly ‘educated’ Muslims partly because of a reluctance to study social sciences that are seen to be incompatible with Islam. Thus discrediting the intellectual credibility of those who seek to radicalize Muslim youth is anything but a trivial exercise (eg see Exposing the Unrealistic Intellectual Foundations of Islamist Extremism, 2015).
Studies of the process of individual radicalization show both a belief that Muslim communities are being oppressed by others and that individuals have a religious duty / opportunity to do something about this. A similar perception that Muslims’ problems are the result of external oppression seems to pervade mainstream Muslim communities – thus making it futile to try to control individual radicalization simply by seeking to introduce ‘moderating’ influences from the Muslim mainstream. And the barbaric practices of extremist groups such as Islamic State seem to involve replication of those used to expand Islam’s influence in the 7th century (eg see About Islamic State).
There is no doubt that Western progress has created problems for Muslim societies in recent centuries (eg see The West as a Problem, 2002).
However Muslim societies chronic problems seem primarily to be the result of an internally-imposed inability to make the rational changes that are required for social, political and economic progress. This apparently arises from the constraints on individual thinking and initiative implicit in the de-facto coercive enforcement of the religion of Islam by Muslims’ families and communities - presumably because this was the way things were done in the 7th century Arabic tribal context in which Islam emerged (eg see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East’s Problems, 2014). The huge advantages that Western societies gained from the use of abstract rationality and analysis for political and economic problem solving by independently-responsible individuals can't exist in cultural contexts where the 'tribes' generalized understandings dominate over the individual's particular circumstances. Rationality / analysis becomes increasingly unreliable as the complexity of individuals' environments increases - as a result of such pressures.
Islam seems to involve the assumption that all outcomes are the consequence of external influences - rather than of the efforts of individuals / communities. Events are seen to conform strictly to the will of God. This is reflected in traditional Arabic thought and Islamic science. The purpose of Islamic 'science' has apparently been to study reality in order to learn about God - rather than about a creation whose behaviour arises internally to a greater or lesser extent and can be understood by observation and experiment. God is presumed to want to provide good outcomes for Muslims - and, if this does not happen, it must be due to the distorting effect of other influences.
A study in Denmark found that Muslim youth were distinctive in lacking a sense of being in control. It also implied that responsible behaviour by Muslims depended primarily on individuals being subject to morally-coercive and non-tempting family / community influences. Though this is a cultural feature that requires deeper understanding, this seems to lead to: (a) a perceived need for Muslims to remain separate from non-Muslim influences ; (b) a belief that others can be held responsible for the crimes (eg rapes) committed against them by Muslims [1, 2, 3]; (c) a perception by Muslim communities collectively that anything that goes wrong is someone else’s fault; and (d) a belief (by extremists) that non-Muslims must be either converted, or killed, or driven away.
There is thus a clear and pressing need for real reform of Islam in order to:
A suggestion about what reform might require was outlined in Reform of Islam is the Only Real Solution to the Refugee Crisis (2015). The latter includes reference to numerous other observers’ arguments about the need for, and the possible nature of, reform of Islam. None of these options can be realistically explored with Australia’s Muslim community through channels that are concerned only with individual radicalization, such as police or the National Security hotline.
Mr Turnbull’s proposal for close cooperation between Australia’s government and the Muslim community creates an excellent opportunity to explore the reform-of-Islam issue and thus deal with the underlying cause of Islamist radicalization with both domestic and global benefits. In relation to this opportunity, it is clear that at least some Muslim groups in Australia believe that there is a need for reform (eg see response in relation to ‘Muslim Youth Pushed to Margins of Society’ – by Islam?, 2015). Unfortunately, as the latter indicated, Muslims who are willing to consider reform of Islam face risks even in Australia. However these risks could be minimized given: (a) the relatively progressive character of Australia’s Muslim community; (b) participation of significant numbers of prominent Muslims in such a process with government encouragement; and (c) an offer of government protection services to prominent Muslims who become involved in considering reform-of-Islam issues.
Private Response from Asian Counter-terrorism Expert
|The Solution Must Go Deeper than Race Hate Laws||
The Solution Must Go Deeper than Race Hate Laws - email sent 21/10/15
Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization may be of interest re your article NSW government to overhaul race hate laws after Parramatta shooting, The Australian, 19/10/15.
Muslim societies have a serious problem which is arguably due to features of their religion (ie to pressures to conform strictly with perceptions of God’s detailed requirements for people’s lives that emerged in the 7th century). However those same features imply that Islam (ie strict conformity with perceptions of God’s detailed requirements for people’s lives that emerged in the 7th century) could not possibly be a problem. If features of Islam are not the Muslim communities’ chronic problem then the source of their problems must be external interference (eg as suggested by Hizb ut Tahrir’s Uthman Badar in Finger points at Islam every time, The Australian, 21/10/15 in which he criticized your criticism of Hizb ut Tahrir).
Outlawing ‘hate speech’ is not an effective way of resolving this stand-off. What is arguably needed (as was suggested in Discouraging Pointless Extremism in 2002) is to go back to an earlier stage by:
Doing so would either: (a) enable a viable (perhaps Islamist) model to be identified for Muslim communities; or (b) discredit Islamists’ ideology in the eyes of extremists’ potential recruits – and thus quickly put an end to the whole problem of Islamist radicalization.
|Muslims Need to Decide for Themselves Whether Islamism Could Work||
Muslims Need to Decide for Themselves Whether Islamism Could Work - email sent 3/11/15
Rosie Lewis and Ean Higgins,
Re: Hizb ut-Tahrir: National anthem is ‘forced assimilation’, The Australian, 2/11/15
Australia’s former immigration minister, Scott Morrison, may be correct in labelling the Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir, as an enemy of Muslims because it objected to them singing the national anthem or endorsing democracy. However, Mr Morrison is not a Muslim spokesman. Surely it would be helpful for the Federal Government to encourage Muslims themselves to develop well-informed views of Islamism and its liberal alternatives.
Encouraging Australia’s Muslim community to investigate and suggest how currently-failing Muslim-majority states could have a better future would not only allow Mr Morrison to discover whether his assumption is correct, but might also discredit the ideology of Islamist extremists in the eyes of potential recruits. Trying to put words into Muslims’ mouths merely allows Islamists to claim that they are the oppressed (rather than would-be oppressors).
The Muslim world is in crisis – as illustrated, for example, by the torrents of refugees that affected countries are generating (eg see The Muslim World Seems to be Headed for Chaos, 2013 and A Mass Migration Crisis, and it May Get Worse, 30/10/15). And, the refugee crisis is largely a consequence of disputes and conflicts that result from uncertainties about ways to overcome problems (ie economic backwardness and self-interested authoritarian rule) that many Muslim-dominated states have endured for centuries. Islamists (such as Hizb ut-Tahrir) believe that Muslims’ problems have their source in external oppression. Hizb ut-Tahrir, as your article noted, focused on perceptions of ‘oppression’ of Muslims by Australian security agencies.
And, for Muslims, the issues involved in identifying a desirable future path for their communities are anything but straight forward because external factors have in fact been involved. For example:
In this environment Islamists (eg Hizb ut-Tahrir) have concluded that the best ‘answer’ for Muslim-dominated states would be to establish governments that simply and strictly enforce 7th century Islamic principles. Your article referred to Hizb ut-Tahrir’s view of history and its preference for Islamism over democracy. And more extreme Islamists are responsible for inciting terrorism worldwide and for mass barbarity in the Middle East and Africa as a non-democratic (and arguably the 7th century Islamic) way of gaining power.
However, despite the externally-sourced complexities, Muslim communities’ problems are probably mainly the result of internal oppression in the form of constraints on individual Muslims’ thinking and initiative (probably as a consequence of the way individuals were traditionally disciplined in the Arabic tribal environment in which Islam emerged). Islamists’ aspirations (ie further increasing constraints on individual Muslims) is likely to be the reverse of what is required. However freeing individual Muslims from internal / communal oppression probably requires some reform of Islam itself – for reasons suggested in Reform of Islam is the Only Real Solution to the Refugee Crisis, 2015. And Australia’s new federal government would seem to have a chance to provide the Muslim community with an opportunity to access informed expert views about this from diverse sources - as suggested in Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization (2015).
Creating an opportunity for Muslims to study and gain a truly informed understanding of the practical implications of Islamist and more liberal options would probably be far more effective than expecting them to automatically agree with official government pronouncements about the virtues of democracy and Australia’s national anthem. And doing so could help ease the growing international crisis and security risks related to the chronic problems experienced by Muslim-dominated states.
Muslims' Responsibility For Stopping Terrorism
Muslims' Responsibility For Stopping Terrorism - email sent 16/11/15
Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization might be of interest re Paris attacks: closing migration routes into France won’t stop terrorism – resisting xenophobia might , The Conversation, 16/11/15.
Your article pointed to an apparent increasing intolerance in France of religious minorities and their freedoms, and pointed out that xenophobia won’t help. This is undoubtedly so because it is Muslims who have to take most responsibility for stopping terrorism (ie by eliminating the grounds that groups such as Islamic State currently have for believing: (a) that intolerance and suppressing freedom are part of the religion of Islam; and (b) that further suppressing Muslims' freedom through the enforcement of sharia law by a Caliphate will benefit their communities).
Rather than excluding Muslims altogether (or trying to work around them by merely mobilizing security responses to particular threats of violence), politicians need to emphasize the central role that Muslims must play if the ideological foundations of Islamist extremism are to be eliminated.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
In response to receiving a copy of the above a contact with an Indian background suggested that:
"Fine comments but realize that resort to violence is prescribed in the Koran. The full brunt of this violence was experienced by the Hindu civilization for seven centuries. The only solution seems to be for Muslims to reject Koranic teaching & accept that God did not speak via Mohammad. Repeating " Islam is a religion of peace" is no longer valid."
"The history of India shows clearly how Hindus were 'converted' at the point of the sword and hundreds of temples destroyed and replaced by mosques on the same sites. The caste system also helped the invaders in their conversion of some segments of Hindu society in a legitimate manner.
There are many injunctions in the Koran for Muslims to destroy 'non believers' which give lie to any suggestion that Islam is a religion of peace. The fact that Muslims did not come to India by invitation but by conquest of the country in the name of 'Allah ho Akbar' much like the current attempted conquest of the West with every bomb exploded! You really have to read the Koran, to pronounce it as a "butchers' road map to Heaven." (a Google search on the subject will confirm).
You may use my comments for shaping your response to the current happenings but not naming or acknowledging me in any way. I still want to live."
|Defeating Islamist Ideology Faces Obstacles||
Defeating Islamist Ideology Faces Obstacles - email sent 16/11/15
Re: The West is losing the war of ideas, The Australian, 16/1/15
Well said. There is no doubt that the contest with Islamist extremists (such as al Qa’ida and Islamic State) is primarily a battle of ideas, and that it can’t be won by the security / intelligence agencies who at present are expected to deal with terrorist threats.
Some suggestions about the importance of winning the ideological contest (and how this might have been achieved) were in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002+). This basically involved encouraging Muslim groups to try to define political and economic systems that might produce more satisfactory practical outcomes for Muslim-majority states than has been their experience in recent centuries – and to assess whether Islamists’ ambitions met those practical criteria.
Unfortunately, despite your very useful attempt to highlight the need to take the challenge of discrediting the ideology of Islamist extremism seriously, recent history suggests that progress is likely to be VERY slow. The problem in winning the ideological contest is not only that security / intelligence agencies have no relevant expertise in dealing with the above questions, but also that:
And there is a very high potential for disaster to result from the ‘obvious’ primarily security / intelligence response to Islamist extremism. The world’s Muslim population is about $1.6bn. Something like 15% of Muslims reportedly have sympathy for the extremists’ cause. If strong military security action in diverse countries against Islamic State (and similar groups) were able to be convincingly portrayed in Mosques as a new Western ‘Crusade’ against Islam, something like 250 million new recruits to the extremists’ cause might suddenly emerge worldwide.
|Embrace Reformist Muslims in Fight Against Jihadist Threat||
Embrace Reformist Muslims in Fight Against Jihadist Threat - email sent 18/11/15
Re: Paris attacks: Embrace Muslims in fight against jihadist threat , The Australian, 18/11/15
Your article provided a useful account of the challenge of discrediting the ideology of Islamist extremists. However it suggested that mainstream Muslim communities must provide the first line of resistance against Islamic State. This would certainly be so if Islamists’ violence were the only problem. However, for reasons suggested in Islamist Extremism is Not Muslim Reformers' Biggest problem, violence it is only a symptom of problems that are deeply embedded in many Muslim communities.
Islamist extremists believe that violence is necessary because Muslim communities are being ‘oppressed’ by outsiders (ie the West in particular). However the reality is that Muslims are severely ‘oppressing’ one another in various ways, while blaming their communities’ resulting problems largely on outsiders (as illustrated by recent comments by Australia’s Grand Mufti and National Imams Council that your article mentioned). Until the damage that Muslim communities often do to themselves (ie blocking with coercive religious legalism the changes required for social, political and economic progress) is recognised and corrected, there will always be those who can justify violence against outsiders on the assumption that what others do must be the main source of Muslims’ problems. This point is developed further in Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization and Muslims' Responsibility For Stopping Terrorism.
There would be value in investigating external factors (such as those the Grand Mufti and National Imams Council mentioned). But the internal factors also require attention – as they are likely to be very significant. And, for reasons suggested in Defeating Islamist Ideology Faces Obstacles, the internal causes of Muslim societies’ problems are likely to be difficult to get to grips with until such time as the humanities’ faculties of Western universities start to take their responsibilities seriously.
|Reforming the Grand Muftis' Role In Australia?||
Reforming the Grand Muftis' Role In Australia? - email sent 19/11/15
Re: Grand Mufti’s office ‘needs reform to deal with public’, The Australian, 19/11/15
Your article pointed to the fact that various observers (eg Mehmet Ozalp, Islamic Sciences and Research Association) believe that the Grand Mufti of Australia needs an office that would allow him to communicate more effectively. You also noted that: (a) the Grand Mufti’s role (to perform which he is appointed by the Australian National Imams Council) is to make ‘fatwas’ (ie determinations on Islamic law) rather than to be head of an organisation (as an archbishop, for example, might be); and (b) in other countries a grand mufti would receive government funding and have direct inputs into government policy.
While there might be a need for the Grand Mufti to develop an office, it needs to be recognised that the issuing ‘fatwas’ (which your article pointed out is the traditional role of such office bearers) and making direct inputs to government policy is part of the religious ‘legalism’ that stifles the prospects of Muslim communities worldwide (eg see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems, 2014).
In order to significantly improve the prospects of Muslims and improve Islam’s compatibility with Australia secular state, reform of Islam (which would presumably include changing the Grand Mufti’s traditional role) would seem highly desirable (eg as suggested in Overcoming Muslims' Problems by Reforming Islam). As the latter noted religious legalists might very well have an input to such a reform process, but would probably not themselves be able to identify a viable solution.
|Winning the 'War on Terror': A Suggestion||
Winning the 'War on Terror': A Suggestion - email sent 20/11/15
Re: Cold War Model Best Bet for Middle East, the Australian, 19/11/15
I should like to try to add value to your constructive comments. As I understand it your article suggested that: (a) history showed that in the Middle East over the past 15 years neither ‘idealistic’ intervention nor non-intervention has worked; and thus that (b) a return to Cold War ‘realism’ (ie working with authoritarian regimes) would now be the least-worst means of dealing with the Middle East (including the Islamist extremism that has spilled over to affect the world more broadly).
While the post-911 ‘idealist’ view that military intervention (eg in Iraq) could create a model for success and peace in the Middle East was naïve, that failure was predictable (see Fatal Flaws, 2003) as were the problems associated with the ‘Arab Spring’. Consideration of why this is so should make it possible to do much more now than just return to Cold War tactics (ie recognition that the ‘liberal’ institutions that the West advocated or tried to introduce required the pre-existence of a compatible social / cultural environment).
There is no doubt that another ‘heavy’ intervention in the Middle East to try to deal with the threat posed by Islamic State would be counter-productive. In response to a recent suggestion (ie Muslim’s Responsibility for Stopping Terrorism), I had a response from an Australian Muslim group speculating that a Western attack on the Islamic world like that in the 12th century might result from the recent Paris atrocities. The world’s Muslim population is about $1.6bn. Something like 15% of Muslims reportedly have sympathy for the extremists’ cause. The Grand Mufti of Australia recently indicated that mainstream Muslims assume that Western actions are primarily to blame for the Muslim world’s problems that have generated a jihadist response (see Embrace Reformist Muslims in Fight Against Jihadist Threat). If strong military action against Islamic State (and similar groups) in Muslim-majority states were able to be convincingly portrayed in mosques as a new Western ‘Crusade’ against Islam, something like 250 million new recruits to the extremists’ cause might emerge worldwide.
However it should be possible to do more than the least-worst option of going back to Cold War ‘realism’ in the Middle East (ie collaborating with authoritarian regimes to maintain ‘order’ as long as they don’t actually murder their people).
Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization and Muslim’s Responsibility for Stopping Terrorism suggested giving priority to defeating Islamic State by enabling Muslim reformers to identify practical paths to peace and prosperity for Muslim-majority states and thus discredit Islamists’ ideology (ie discredit Islamism’s credibility as a workable solution to anything in the minds of potential recruits / supporters). This would need to be complemented by:
|Paris Attacks in Broader Context?||
Paris Attacks in Broader Context? - email sent 21/11/15
In Paris attacks: Islamic State sees its attacks as sacred strategy (The Australian, 21/11/15) you pointed to the need to need to understand alien cultural systems on their own terms – and that the failure of Europe’s elites to take this seriously had created the basis of their current problems with Islamist extremists.
The same applies also to East Asia where a near-universal Western unwillingness to try to understand alien cultures in their own terms has led to other threats that are arguably much more serious than those posed by Islamist extremists (see Babes in the Asian Woods, 2009 and Comments on Australia's Strategic Edge in 2030). Both involve ancient cultural traditions whereby common people are expected to conform without question or understanding with whatever social elites believe is appropriate behavior (though the way in which elites determine the nature of appropriate behaviour is different) – see Islamist Extremists are not Alone in Favouring Pre-modern Social Systems.
It is moreover possible (though by no means certain) that ultranationalists from East Asia played a role in encouraging Islamist resistance to Western societies (eg see Is the Barbarity of ISIS Another Attempt to Ensnare the US in the Middle East?). The latter refers, for example, to: (a) the existence of a long term ‘war’ that has been waged by major East Asian powers in relation to the nature of the international financial system – because of the incompatibility of their traditional cultures and the prevailing Western-style financial system; and (b) indicators of possible collaboration between Japanese ultranationalists and the Islamists who launched the 9/11 attacks in America – the effect of which was to distract the US with security concerns from attention to the much more significant real-economy challenge that was coming from East Asia that was built on dubious financial foundations.
It can also be noted that China seems to be both:
It is thus very interesting that the Islamic State has chosen the lead up to China’s likely financial-economic crisis to launch what threaten to be significant terrorist attacks world-wide – and which thus encourage Western leaders to give priority to dealing with security issues and perhaps also do everything possible to help China to avoid the looming consequences of its elite-controlled / non-capitalist financial practices.
|Muslims' Problems Won't Be Solved Just by Embracing the Majority||
Muslims' Problems Won't Be Solved Just by Embracing the Majority - email sent 22/11/15
Re: Embrace Muslim Majority, Sunday Mail, 22/11/15
Your article referred to the difference between comments on the Paris attacks by Australia’s Grand Mufti (who suggested that the West’s actions are mainly to blame) and a Muslim journalist (Waleed Aly) who criticised Islamic State. It then suggested that the Australia community should embrace Muslims generally because the majority are moderates who provide the information to police and ASIO that is needed to deal with terrorist threats. However this is not enough.
While it is appropriate for Australians generally to embrace Muslims, it is essential to recognise that they are fellow human beings with very serious problems.
The Grand Mufti of Australia is appointed by the Australian National Imams Council as Islam’s ultimate religious authority. His comments on the background to the Paris attacks can be presumed to reflect what is being taught on Fridays in Australia’s mosques – and to be what Muslims generally are likely to believe if they are true to their faith.
However what the Grand Mufti is saying (and what Muslims are likely to believe) is largely wrong – because the problems Muslims face arise primarily from their religion (ie from the way it restricts social, economic and political progress). And Muslim’s problems are closely connected with ‘legalistic’ approach to Islam that is the primary reason for the existence of a Grand Mufti (see Reforming the Grand Muftis' Role In Australia?).
Making real progress in dealing with the threat posed by Islamist extremists (who are promoting what they see as ‘solutions’ to Muslim’s problems within the constraints of Islamic traditions) requires finding social, economic and political options that would genuinely allow Muslim-majority communities to be more successful than they have been in recent centuries. Finding practical solutions that go beyond Islamic traditions is needed. This is primarily an intellectual challenge that has to be addressed by Muslim reformers (eg Waleed Aly) in conjunction with experts in the social sciences and humanities (eg see Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization ).
Islamic State is not just an organisation. It is primarily an idea. Defeating the idea is not a challenge that police and ASIO can realistically be expected to deal with no matter how many tip-offs they receive from mainstream Muslims.
|Islamic State Would Love to See 'Boots on the Ground'||
Islamic State Would Love to See 'Boots on the Ground' - email sent 23/11/15
RE: ‘Fed up with ISIS Terrorism’ editorial, Sunday Mail, 22/11/15
Your editorial reported on the results of survey which suggested that (about) 50% of Queenslanders believe that Australian ‘boots on the ground’ in Syria to attack Islamic State is the appropriate response to the recent Paris attacks. Your editorial then went on to suggest that, irrespective of whether ‘boots on the ground’ is the best option, the public’s view about the need for drastic action is a wake-up call to: (a) counter-intelligence agencies and police to be more effective; and (b) Muslim leaders to take a role in countering home-grown terrorism. However much more than that is needed for reasons the present writer first suggested in Discouraging pointless Extremism (2002+).
There is little doubt that ‘boots on the ground’ to destroy Islamic State in Iraq and Syria would not help. Islamic State operates in many places – and is able to do so because: (a) many governments are weak or ineffectual; and (b) there are significant numbers of Muslims who believe that what Islamic State is trying to do would be ‘progressive’. It is likely that Western-based Islamist extremists have launched attacks against prominent Western targets (eg in America in 2001) in the hope that Western ‘boots on the ground’ will boost their support base by alienating Muslims in the Middle East. And history has shown that intervention that does not result in the creation of viable systems of government in affected states can be counter-productive.
The latter point, as well as speculations about how the challenge might be dealt with more effectively, are outlined in Winning the 'War on Terror': A Suggestion. The latter argues that:
|Current Anti-Extremism Programs are Probably Almost Content Free||
Current Anti-Extremism Programs are Probably Almost Content Free - email sent 23/11/15
Hon Michael Keenan, MP
Re: Anti-extremism Programs are Best Practice, The Australian, 23/11/15
Your article suggested that, to inhibit individual radicalization, ‘community organisations’ have been commissioned to produce online content to challenge the appeal of extremist narratives or promote inclusive values. Producing such content would be a MAJOR exercise – and well beyond ‘community organisations’.
The challenge is not just to discourage violence, but rather to challenge the notion that the geo-political transformation that Islamists are seeking to achieve through violence would improve the world. This would be an extremely complex exercise requiring sophisticated understand of existing and potential political and economic systems for reasons suggested in Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization and Winning the 'War on Terror': A Suggestion. The latter argues that:
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Changing What Needs to be Changed: Islam||
Changing What Needs to be Changed: Islam - email sent 24/11/15
RE: Changing What We Can Change, Online Opinion, 23/11/15
There is no doubt about the benefits of preventing conflicts in terms of saving lives and money that your article highlighted. However a critical requirement for doing this involves coming to grips with the effect of culture (and of a widespread preference for remaining ignorant of the practical consequences of culture) on creating conditions under which conflicts are likely. In relation to current challenges related to Islamist extremism, the best option for promoting peace arguably involves recognising and correcting the disadvantages that Muslim communities suffer (and the incentive this creates for extremist violence) that is associated with the coercive and legalistic way Islamic religious requirements have traditionally been enforced.
Australia has an opportunity to make a major global difference – for reasons suggested in Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization. However this is unfortunately not the way the present federal government seems to be headed because Australia’s approach to multiculturalism has been, and remains, highly dysfunctional (for reasons suggested in Moving Australia Beyond Traditional Multiculturalism,2010).
Cultural makes a major difference to a community's ability to be materially successful and to live in relative peace and harmony (eg see Culture Matters in Competing Civilizations, 2001+). Culture affects: people's goals and aspirations; the way they understand reality (and thus how they go about solving problems, and whether they can develop technologies); their ability to learn, to cope with risk and to change; the way people relate; the scope for initiative; and the institutions their society maintains. In the 1980s I had an opportunity to ‘reverse engineer’ the intellectual basis of East Asian economic ‘miracles’ and compare them with Western traditions. A key difference involves the ability that Western societies have as a by-product of their Judeo-Christian heritage to create social, economic and political environments (eg via a rule of law / democracy / capitalism) in which rationality (ie the use of abstract concepts) can be used for reasonably-effective / progressive problem solving by individuals / organisations who can act independently because of their freedom from religious legalism and their ultimate responsibility to God for the morality of their actions (eg see Christian Foundations of Liberal Western Institutions, 2010). There are significant limits to rationality that are well recognised in management, public administration and economic literature (ie rationality is recognised to fail often in dealing with complex systems because complete information about a situation can never be available). East Asian societies with an ancient Chinese cultural heritage start by rejecting the use of abstract concepts ( eg truth, law, universal values, profitability) because the problems that complexity raises are recognised. Since WWII many have, with Japan’s leadership, developed alternative (though probably unsustainable) means for achieving change (and even economic ‘miracles’) through consensus-building within hierarchical social networks.
Islamic societies by contrast have not had the ability to achieve progressive change either through the use of abstract concepts / rationality as the basis for independent decision making, or through hierarchical social networks. Coercive pressure on individuals by families / communities (and at times by states) means that individuals’ / organisations’ environments are too complex for rationality to be effective, while social hierarchies focus legalistically on compliance with principles for behaviour that were considered appropriate in the 7th century. This is arguably the main source of the problems that Muslim-majority societies have had in recent centuries (see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems, 2014). For example change is critical to economic productivity and competitiveness (as well as to social and political progress) – so, where societies are constrained from changing because of the way their dominant religion is enforced, backwardness is an inevitable outcome.
However the fact that most Western analysts have had a total aversion to considering the practical consequences of cultural differences (to avoid offending anyone) means that those who are adversely impacted by dysfunctional cultural traditions have no way to understand the source of the problems. In the case of the Muslim world this failure has been compounded by: (a) an aversion to studying social sciences that imply that rigid compliance with (religious) law (which is what undergraduate science encourages by what it teaches about physics) might not be socially / economically beneficial because of the importance of change; and (b) an assumption (expressed most recently by Australia’s Grand Mufti) that external oppression is the cause of such societies’ failures and the consequent breeding of Islamist radicals. The humanities’ faculties of Western universities have a lot to answer for because they also have been unwilling to consider such questions (see Cultural Ignorance as a Source of Conflict , 2001).
As you (and the former UN official, Mary Robinson) implied, bombing / invasion in countries like Syria won’t solve a problem that also requires attention to problems of disadvantage, discrimination and despair. Some suggestions about what might work reasonably well are in Winning the 'War on Terror': A Suggestion. Complementary changes that would make it easier to ‘wage peace’ include:
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
Studying and Fixing Islam's Problems
Studying and Fixing Islam's Problems - email sent 1/12/15
Re: Terror highlights ‘problem in Islam’, says Josh Frydenberg, The Australian, 30/11/15
Your article reported both that: (a) some federal Liberal Parliamentarians are concerned that ‘problems in Islam’ can lead to violence; and that (b) the leader of the newly-established Australian Muslim Party suggested there were no ‘problems in Islam’ that might require reform or close study of his religion. I would like to submit for your consideration that both of these views need reconsideration.
Diaa Mohammad’s view that Islam does not have ‘problems’ that requires study or reform is arguably wrong.
Many Muslim-majority societies have suffered severe problems in recent centuries (ie economic backwardness and political authoritarianism) both of which seem to be primarily (though not only) a by-product of features of their religion (eg see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems, 2014). And, other apparent Islamic assumptions (ie that such problems simply could not have arisen internally in societies where the letter of Islamic religious law is enforced), seems to lead to:
There is thus a very good case for encouraging study and reform of Islam as a means to both: (a) overcome the problems that have long beset Muslim communities; and (b) discredit the ideology of Islamist extremists (see Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization). And, as the latter points out by reference to Overcoming Muslim’s Problems by Reforming Islam, there have been very many calls for reform of Islam from diverse sources (eg from Muslim leaders; moderate Muslim dissidents; political leaders in Muslim-majority states; Islamist extremists; and many non-Muslims).
The views expressed by Mr Frydenberg (and the other Liberal politicians you quoted) are also arguably wide of the mark because the violence they identified as the most important target of any efforts to reform Islam is arguably not Muslims’ core problem (see Islamist Extremism is Not Muslim Reformers' Biggest Problem). While violence is the most obvious problem to outsiders, it is only a symptom of problems that lie much deeper – arguably in the social, economic and political rigidities that seem to result from the way Islam has come to be enforced.
None-the-less Mr Frydenberg’s view that there are ‘problems in Islam’ that require attention in order to put an end to Islamist violence is probably correct. And, as noted in Overcoming Muslim’s Problems by Reforming Islam, the major current obstacles to making progress are: (a) the desire by some politicians to believe that what is happening has nothing to do with Islam; and (b) the assumption (eg by ‘postmodern’ academics) that it is undesirable to consider the practical (eg political and economic) consequences of other cultures – because doing so risks giving offence (see also Changing What Needs to be Changed: Islam). However, if those Muslims who are not advocating reform of their religion are offended by the many suggestions that this is needed, they can arguably blame Osama bin Laden. A crisis in Islam was always a likely result of Al Qaeda’s 2001 attacks in America, because Islamist extremists had to eventually make it necessary for the world generally to inquire deeply into their religion.
By way of background, I note that I am anything but an expert on Islam. These comments are based on:
|An Outside-in Strategy for Defeating Islamic State?||
An Outside-in Strategy for Defeating Islamic State? - email sent 4/12/15
RE: Islamic State: Why West’s plan may not work, CNBC, 3 Dec 2015
In this article you were quoted as arguing that current strategy for defeating Islamic State may be inadequate – partly because of the lack of a viable coalition.
There is another possible route to defeat of Islamic State in which what happens in Iraq and Syria would be the consequence (not the cause) of their defeat. How defeat from the ‘outside-in’ might be engineered is suggested in Winning the 'War on Terror': A Suggestion.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
Towards a Frank and Open Discussion About the Causes of Islamist Extremism
Towards a Frank and Open Discussion About the Causes of Islamist Extremism - email sent 6/12/15
Dr Adrian Cherney,
RE: Yes, let's have a frank and open discussion about the causes of extremism and terrorism, The Conversation, 4/12/15
I should like to try to add value to your call for a ‘frank and open’ discussion of the source of Islamist extremism. The effect of the way the religion of Islam has come to be practised requires close attention in this regard. However (as your article emphasised) other factors also need serious consideration.
The research by Hafez and Mullins on Islamist radicalization that you mentioned seems a plausible account of the processes involved. And there is no reason to doubt the conclusion by the Tony Blair Foundation (in Inside the Jihadi Mind) that Islamist extremists interpret their religion selectively in justifying what they do.
Despite this it is wrong to suggest that the religion of Islam itself is not a very significant issue or that those who know most about Islam can provide the best defence against extremism. Aspects of that religion (which may have little or nothing to do with radicals’ violence) seem to be a major (though not the only) cause of the Muslim grievances that: (a) are blamed on outsiders; (b) lie behind the radicalization process; and (c) justify it in the minds of extremists.
In the above-mentioned video Mohammed Hafez noted that the radicalization process tends to be driven by an underlying ideology, namely the view that: (a) Muslims suffer under domestic secular regimes – which often act as agents of Western interests; (b) existing governments in the Muslim world are too weak to resist; and (c) heroic actions by individuals and groups could redeem Islam.
My point is that the ideology that motivates the radicalization process needs to be discredited mainly by focusing on the dysfunctional consequences for Muslim-majority societies of aspects of traditional Islamic thought and practices.
More: Some of the apparent dysfunctional practical consequences are outlined in Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist (2015); Source of the Refugee Crisis (2015); Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems (2014); Challenging the Idea of an Islamic State (2014); and About Arabic Thought and Islamic Science (2005).
The implications of those consequences are also explored in Ending Muslim Jobs' Discrimination is Easy: Just Liberate Muslims (2015); "Muslims Youth Pushed to Margins of Society" - by Islam? (2015); Rescuing Islam: Intellectual Freedom for Scholars Would Not Be Enough (2015); Individual Accountability to God: A Critical Requirement for Overcoming Muslim Societies' Historical Disadvantages (2015); If the public were aware of the real issues, Australia's Muslim's would get widespread public sympathy (2014); Fairness and Trust are Only the Start in Countering Terrorism (2014); Liberating Muslim Women (and Men) (2014); Bringing Freedom to Muslims Would Bring Peace to the Middle East (2014); Shariah: The Threat to Muslims (2014); Even Moderate Islam Seems Damagingly Rigid (2013); Please Don't Trivialize Oppression (2013); and Saving Muslims from Themselves (2012).
Hafez and Mullins are presumably correct in suggesting that extremists’ ideology is not purely Islamic. However the problem that Islamists think that they are trying to solve through terrorist tactics is probably largely Islamic – though the extremists have no way to know this because the humanities and social science faculties of Western universities have not wanted to recognise that cultural assumptions can have significant practical consequences (see Cultural Ignorance as a Source of Conflict, 2001).
Your conclusion that Islamic scholars and leaders would be the best allies and defence against extremism seems unlikely to be correct for reasons suggested in Overcoming Muslims' Problems by Reforming Islam and Reforming the Grand Muftis' Role In Australia?. What those scholars and leaders traditionally teach and do in relation to the moderate enforcement of the Islamic religion is likely to be the main source of the problems in Muslim-majority states that Islamist extremists’ naively believe they are ‘solving’. Emphasis should rather be given to collaboration with, and seeking public commentary from, the growing numbers of Muslims who can understand the benefits of reforming / modernising Islam.
As your article validly noted ‘a frank and open discussion about the causes of extremism and terrorism’ has to deal with issues other than the Islamic religion (eg Islamophobia and foreign policy grievances). Some suggestions about how those broader concerns might be addressed in parallel with a consideration of the consequences of Islamic thought and practices are in Some Thoughts on Reforming Islam and the World and Winning the 'War Against terror': A Suggestion.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
CPDS Reply to John Esposito - sent 6/12/15
There is no doubt about the relevance of issues such as those you mention eg: oppressive / authoritarian regimes; outside support for these; Western interventions; identity / marginalization issues for Western recruits; and the inadequacy of military interventions.
As my previous email noted the need to address these (and other) broader issues was outlined in Some Thoughts on Reforming Islam and the World and Winning the 'War Against terror': A Suggestion. These referred directly and indirectly, for example, to:
In relation to the specific issues you mentioned, it is noted that:
|Drawing Attention to Opportunities to Reform Islam is Constructive||
Drawing Attention to Opportunities to Reform Islam is Constructive - email sent 11/12/15
Brendan Nicholson and Jared Owens,
RE: Warning to quit sniping over Islam from former army chief, The Australian, 10/12/15
Your article drew attention to criticism by a former senior army officer and intelligence sources of suggestions by a former prime minister (Tony Abbott) about the need for changes in Islam to deal with Islamist terrorism. For example he was seen as ‘playing into the hands of terrorists’ and: (a) distorting debates about how to deal with Islamist terrorism with domestic politics; and (b) potentially putting off-side people whose cooperation was needed. I should like to submit for your consideration that, though Mr Abbott’s arguments in relation to this have been too simplistic, some of his critics seem to be taking an even narrower and more inadequate view of the issue.
At one level identifying and confronting Islamist extremists with police, intelligence and military tactics is essential. However at a higher level there is a need to confront the likely major causes of the problems in the Muslim world that have given rise to extremist responses by a minority of Muslims (and also to centuries of economic backwardness and political authoritarianism, as well as to many current conflicts and a global refugee crisis).
It is wrong to suggest that there should be no reference to ‘big picture’ problems affecting the Islamic world because doing so complicates tactical responses to some symptoms (ie Islamist extremism) of those ‘big picture’ problems. The need to deal with ‘big picture’ issues as a higher priority was reasonably argued by Greg Sheridan (in It’s politicians’ duty to talk about Islam and extremism, The Australian, 10/12/15). And the failure to deal with ‘big picture’ issues (such as the effect of culture on the prospects of non-Western societies) was arguably responsible for the debacle associated with the invasion of Iraq (see Fatal Flaws, 2003). Attempts were made at great cost in human life and treasure to introduce liberal political and economic institutions into Iraq (presumably in the hope of creating a successful model for the Middle East ) without considering that those ‘liberal’ institutions (which work well in a Western context) required a compatible social and cultural environment which did not exist.
Mr Abbott’s assessment of the need for reform of Islam is arguably pointing in the right direction (eg towards something like the Reformation’s resistance to the unquestioned power of central religious authorities and acceptance of the desirability of separating religion and state) – see Towards a Frank and Open Discussion About the Causes of Islamist Extremism. However he arguably places: (a) too little emphasis on seeking properly-researched expert support for his assertions; (b) too much emphasis on the violence that emerges mainly at the margins of Islam (as well as on military options to deal with it); and (c) too little emphasis on the day-to-day constraints on individuals (and thus on social, economic and political progress) that can exist in an un-reformed religious context. Considering the latter constraints is critical because, in Islam’s history, those constraints have apparently periodically led some (including modern Islamist extremists) to take the view that violence is the best / only way to make ‘progress’.
Moreover, as Peter Leahy argued, debates about reform of Islam need to take place within the Islamic world, not in a domestic Australian political context. Outsiders can provide suggestions and relevant information especially to the many Muslims who have started exploring reform options, but they can’t force the outcome. And any such process is bound to be long and difficult for the same reason that Western societies’ Reformation was long and difficult. Those who gain power directly or indirectly from religious authoritarianism will presumably often resist reform. And those who have lived all their lives in an illiberal environment will initially have no experience on which to build an understanding of an alternative way of life.
It is however naïve to claim that drawing attention to the opportunities for reform of Islam that would probably improve all Muslims’ prospects: (a) constitutes blaming all Muslims for the crimes of a few (as your article stated that Mr Turnbull did); or (b) is undesirable because it complicates the work of intelligence agencies (as your article stated that Mr Shorten did).
|Australia's Official Misunderstanding of Muslims' Problems||
Australia's Official Misunderstanding of Muslims' Problems - email sent 16/12/15
Re: Tony Abbott ‘risking regional ties’ over Muslim comments, The Australian, 16/12/15
In relation to calls for ‘reform’ of Islam, your article drew attention to assertions by Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs) that there is no hierarchy in Islam to control the interpretation of the religion. That is certainly true in relation to the ‘interpretation’ of the religion. However it is also not the point – because the primary need for reform of Islam arises in relation to the authoritarian tribal-style ‘enforcement’ of religious requirements by the leaders in families and communities (and by states if Islamists have their way).
In a parallel article Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells suggested that Islam differs from other religions because there are no intermediaries between God and the individual.
That understanding is seriously deficient. In Islam individuals are supposed to submit to God – but in reality they are forced to submit to those in their families and communities who claim to be acting as God’s enforcers to ensure they comply with (the perceptions of family / community leaders about) Islam’s religious requirements (eg see Islamic Societies: The Realm of the Self-Repressive Tribes?, 2001). This constraint on individuals has devastating effects on Muslim communities as a whole, and on their relationships with others – eg consequences like those suggested in Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization. In relation to Australia’s collaboration in SE Asia in dealing with Islamist extremism, it can be noted that that the latter email was described as ‘very useful’ by a widely-recognised Singaporean counter-terrorism expert. Other examples of the dysfunctional effects of the way Islam is enforced are referenced in Towards a Frank and Open Discussion About the Causes of Islamist Extremism.
The problems that Muslim-dominated societies experience that give rise to extremism by some frustrated Muslims is not a result of any lack of ‘moderate’ Islamic teaching. Rather it is the product of the nature of moderate teaching (eg see Even Moderate Islam Seems Damagingly Rigid, 2013). Genuinely creating a situation in which Muslims are directly accountable to God for meeting the requirements of their religion is arguably the key reform that is needed (see Overcoming Muslims’ Problems by Reforming Islam). As the latter noted, this would probably require taking more seriously the teachings of Islam’s greatest prophet (‘Isa, who Christians call Jesus) who challenged and broke down the authority of the religious elites of his day and thus made individuals directly accountable to God for the morality of their behaviour (see The Judeo-Christian Foundation in Cultural Foundations of Western Progress: the Realm of the Rational / Responsible Individual, 2001).
There is certainly a need for sensitivity in Australia’s dealings in SE Asia to the problems that result from the coercive way Islam is traditionally enforced – and to Islamists’ belief that Muslim societies have problems because religious enforcement has not been coercive enough. Some suggestions about how Indonesia (the world’s largest Muslim nation) might think about the challenge of economic development were in Comparative Development Theory: Indonesia / Australia (2002). This was an address that the present writer had the opportunity to present to Indonesians connected with the Sultan of Jogjakarta (Indonesia’s cultural leader) who were concerned about Indonesia’s modernisation and aware of the constraints that resulted from Islam. Australia’s approach to this challenge might be similar – ie focus on the requirements for practical success in collaboration with those who recognise the limitations that traditional Islam imposes. The resulting successes should allow the constraints that traditional Islam imposes to simply fade into history.
|Eliminating the Need for Surveillance and Soft Despotism||
Eliminating the Need for Surveillance and Soft Despotism - email sent 21/12/15
Re: Western democracy’s new maxim: surveillance and soft despotism, The Conversation, 18/12/15
As your article suggested the primary reason that surveillance by democratic government agencies is needed lies in concerns about terrorism.
I should like to suggest for your consideration that the solution to this problem lies in serious efforts by the humanities and social science faculties of Western universities to find solutions to the obstacle that Islam creates to Muslims’ progress and success in the modern world. My reasons for suggesting this are outlined in Drawing Attention to Opportunities to Reform Islam is Constructive.
The crisis that Islam is facing (which has given rise to Islamist extremism) was also highlighted by a prominent Australian Muslim, Waleed Aly (in Attacks by Tony Abbott, Donald Trump: Arch conservatives offer nothing but guff, Sydney Morning Herald, 10/12/15).
The issue is, however, more complex than Mr Aly suggested because, while a parallel can be drawn between the reformation and what Mr Aly implies about Wahibbism (ie that both involved a rejection of traditional religious authorities and a re-emphasis on study of original scriptures), there was a massive difference in the consequences. The Christian Bible pointed to a relatively liberal social environment (eg because judging whether others comply with religious requirements, a matter for God, was forbidden), while the Islamic scriptures not only pointed towards the Christian Bible but also included features that could be read as requiring the rigidities of Wahhibism (and perhaps even the excesses of Islamic State).
Rather than focusing on (say) the restrictions on privacy that arise from the need to guard against the threat of Islamist extremism, I submit that serious students of the humanities and social sciences would be better occupied trying to help Muslim reformers find a solution to the crisis that Islam faces that has given rise to centuries of turmoil and economic backwardness, and also to current levels of extremism - eg as suggested in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002+).
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
Is 'Truth Telling on Religion' by Politicians Compatible with a Secular State?
Is 'Truth Telling on Religion' by Politicians Compatible with a Secular State? - email sent 23/12/15
Re: Truth-telling on religion is not of itself blasphemous, The Australian, 23/12/15
Your article points to reasons for discussing the Islamic religion. However, while doing so may be needed, this is not something that can be done by politicians if Australia is to have a secular state (ie one in which the state deals with everything but religion).
Your suggestions about examining / debating religions seem valid. However any such debates surely need to be kept out of politics - as political debate is ultimately about appropriate state policies.
Some other observations in relation to debating religion are in Where Did Religious Freedom Come From?. Amongst other things this suggests that, not only was freedom to debate religion necessary to the creation of a secular state, but that such freedom depended on widespread Christian adherence in the community. And, in relation to another point raised in your article it is worth noting that: (a) the original emergence of a productive ‘scientific’ world-view was largely led by Christians because of the expectation that the universe would be lawful because of its creation by a lawful God; and (b) though a ‘scientific’ world-view has many benefits, it also has limitations (eg see Problems in an Internally Deterministic Scientific Worldview).
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
An Alternative View
In response to a copy of the above email, one observer noted that:
"Islam is a political religion. You cannot separate the religion from
politics therefore it is a public political discussion. "
In other words the fact that: (a) Islam is traditionally viewed as a religion which deals with all aspects of life and thus could be the basis of government; and (b) Islamists seek to put that aspiration into practice, means that the desirable separation between religion and politics in a secular state such as Australia would not apply to Islam.
|Getting Australian Muslims a 'Fair Go'||
Getting Australian Muslims a 'Fair Go' - email sent 24/12/15
Re: Peace loving Australian Muslims deserve a ‘fair go’!, Online Opinion, 24/12/15
I should like to endorse your call for Muslims who are encouraging reform of Islam to get a ‘fair go’ – and also to suggest what they probably need to do to ensure that they get it.
Your article suggested that debating issues related to reform of Islam in a political context is not a good idea - as mixing politics and religion (as Islamists are not alone in doing) can lead to serious problems. That suggestion seems very reasonable for reasons indicated in Is 'Truth Telling on Religion' by Politicians Compatible with a Secular State? (which refers to current debates in Australia) and Merging Political Power and Religion Can Create Problems (which refers to the emerging situation in China).
From your description it seems that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is heading in the direction of the sorts of reforms that Tony Abbott and others would argue is needed within Islam – though it was not clear from your description that that Community endorses the separation of church and state that both you and Mr Abbott advocated.
However Mr Abbott’s view is arguably too simplistic. Even deeper reform probably needs to be considered to enable Australia’s Muslims to get a ‘fair go’ because their problems do not just arise from the use of violence by some of their coreligionists to achieve supposedly ‘religious’ political ends. Reasons for considering even deeper reform, which relate more to adverse consequences for Muslims of the way their religion is enforced, are suggested in general terms in Drawing Attention to Opportunities to Reform Islam is Constructive and in more detail in Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization .
As you correctly noted changes in Australia would only affect a small minority of the world’s Muslims. However. if deeper reforms were explored by Australia’s Muslims, there would be scope to promote similar reforms elsewhere and thus potentially to dramatically improve the prospects of Muslim communities worldwide – and thereby reduce the conflicts, huge refugee flows and Islamist extremism that are current consequences of the backwardness of Muslim-majority societies in recent centuries.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Getting Aussie Muslims and non-Muslims Together is Not That Simple||
Getting Aussie Muslims and non-Muslims Together is Not That Simple - email sent 9/1/16
Re: 2016 survival kit for Aussie Muslims and non-Muslims (in 6 simple steps), Online Opinion, 8/1/16
It is good to see the barbarity of Daesh (the so called Islamic State) being vigorously rejected from a Muslim viewpoint.
However your suggestions about how relationships between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians can be improved do not go far enough.
Muslims do not just have problems in their relationships with non-Muslims because:
As pointed out in an earlier email, Getting Australian Muslims a ‘Fair Go’, Muslims create problems for themselves and in their relationships with others because of the coercive way their religion has come to be enforced. For reasons suggested in more detail in Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization, the expectation by many Muslims that the family / community / state is responsible for the behaviour of individuals (rather than individuals themselves being responsible) is:
Without reforms that would free Muslims from the coercive religious legalism that probably arises from Islam’s origin in an Arabic tribal environment, the ‘survival guide towards peace’ for Australian Muslims and non-Muslim that your article suggested for 2016 will not be able to go anywhere near far enough.
|Scale of Propaganda is Irrelevant if It is Challenged Decisively||
Scale of Propaganda is Irrelevant if It is Challenged Decisively - email sent 18/1/16
Dr Carl Ungerer,
Re: Scale of propaganda is real challenge, The Australian, 18/1/16
As I interpreted it, your article suggested that countering jihadists’ propaganda requires attention to how electronic media are being used to promulgate it – as well as thinking about the character of radical Islam and its relationship with the interconnected world order.
The latter is vastly more important – because, if the ideology that jihadists are promulgating is thoroughly discredited, then jihadists who try to promulgate a message that ‘everyone’ knowns is nonsense will achieve nothing no matter what technologies they use. It is the quality of the counter-message that matters, not the diversity of channels through which it is presented. Moreover the audience that must be convinced is the Muslim mainstream – not the individuals who might potentially be radicalised. Communism was defeated when the mainstream community in Communist countries realised that it did not work – not when potential revolutionaries in non-Communist countries were de-radicalised.
The email that is reproduced below points to a suggestion about the nature of a counter-jihadist message that:
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
Reform of Islam key to thwarting regional terrorists - Email sent 16/1/16
Re: Editorial - Co-operation with Jakarta key to thwarting regional terrorists, Courier Mail, 16/1/16
With respect, while cooperation with Indonesia is undoubtedly desirable, the key to thwarting Islamist extremists in SE Asia is the same as it is elsewhere – namely reform of Islam to: (a) reduce the severe problems that Muslim societies have experienced that extremists blame on external ‘oppression’; and (b) make it obvious that Islamists’ ideology is a formula for worsening Muslim societies’ problems.
My reasons for suggesting this are outlined in Reform of Islam is the Only Real Solution to the Refugee Crisis and Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization - the second of which was described by an Asian counter-terrorism expert as ‘very useful’.
|Muslims Must Lead the ISIS Fight - But Muslim Armies Can't||
Muslims Must Lead the ISIS Fight - But Muslim Armies Can't - email sent 19/1/16
Re: Muslim armies must lead ISIS fight: Malcolm Turnbull, The Australian, 19/1/16
There is no doubt that Mr Turnbull (and the other leaders your article quoted) are correct in asserting that foreign armies can’t create the basis for lasting peace by defeating ISIS. However Muslim armies are in exactly the same predicament. Muslims need to take the lead in defeating Islamist extremists such as ISIS – but their armies can’t be the ones that take the lead in doing so.
Muslim societies have chronic problems to which Islamist extremists claim that they have a political solution (ie basing government on the religion of Islam). The key to defeating extremism is to defeat that ideology. Doing so requires putting together (and boosting understanding by Muslims generally of) more practical proposals for future success by Muslim societies (eg as suggested in Scale of Propaganda is Irrelevant if It is Challenged Decisively). This requires leadership by groups of Muslim religious reformers, social and political scientists, economists as well as business and political leaders.
Defeating Islamist extremism (ie discrediting its ideology) is not something that Muslim armies should be expected to do.
|Muslims' Problems are Not Limited to Islamist Extremism, and Can't Be Solved Simply by Reclaiming Islam's Past Intellectual Traditions||
Muslims' Problems are Not Limited to Islamist Extremism, and Can't Be Solved Simply by Reclaiming Islam's Past Intellectual Traditions - email sent 2/2/16
Dr Mohamed Bin Ali ,
Re: Countering ISIS Ideological Threat: Reclaim Islam’s Intellectual Traditions, RSIS Publications, 25/1/15
I was interested in your effort to discredit the ideology of the so-called Islamic State by encouraging open debate about a return to the traditions of Islamic intellectuals. However I should like to submit for your consideration that: (a) Muslims’ core problems lie in the obstacles to practical social, economic and political progress that are implicit in Islam’s past intellectual traditions; and (b) Islamist extremism is not the source of the crisis now facing Islam but merely a naïve attempt to deal with Muslims’ chronic problems by replicating the way things were done in Islam’s earliest history. As your article suggested there is thus a need for debate about Islamic intellectual traditions.
Your article pointed to the undoubted fact that the Islamic world faces an intellectual crisis. The likely emergence of such a crisis (because of the actions of Islamist extremists) has been obvious for many years (see The Crisis Facing Islam, 2002). The latter suggestion was based on:
You suggested that Islam has encouraged the pursuit of knowledge – but only if that knowledge was compatible with the Quran, Hadith and ‘prescriptions rightly derived from them’. This has been a serious limitation.
As you pointed out Islamist extremists seem to reject what rational Islamic scholars built on the Quran and Hadith over many centuries. Their leaders, you noted, have not had significant traditional Islamic religious education. Osama Bin Laden, for example, was a medical doctor. And it is my understanding that all of Al Qa’ida’s senior leadership were Muslims who had studied undergraduate science in Western universities. However they do not seem to have studied the social sciences that: (a) would be central to creating a successful system of political economy; and (b) do not involve the mechanistic compliance with unchangeable laws that would be compatible with traditional Islamic presumptions about Muslims’ need for mechanistic compliance with religious laws. And ISIS is equally naïve as it seeks to overcome Muslim societies’ chronic problems by returning (as your article noted) to the way of life of Mohammed and his early followers by studying only what is in the Qu’ran and Hadith.
One observer suggested that the ideology of a precursor to Islamist extremism (ie Wahhabism) could be equated with the Christian Reformation – in that both involved going back to original scriptures and disregarding what had been done and said by religious authorities / scholars over later centuries (Eliminating the Need for Surveillance and Soft Despotism). However, as the latter points out, there was a huge difference between what Islamic scriptures and the Christian New Testament presented as appropriate ways to create the Kingdom of God. And the fact that Islamic radicals can portray violence as a legitimate religious tactic has undoubtedly contributed to the disastrous (authoritarian) regimes that have often held power in Muslim-majority states – because something had to be done to suppress the use of violence by ignorant religious radicals.
As your article suggested, Islamist extremists (eg al Qa’ida, ISIS and the like) do not offer practical solutions to the crisis facing Islam. However, as outlined above, re-emphasising the intellectual traditions that were developed over past centuries by Islamic scholars would not do so either.
Some suggestions about what might help in practice are outlined in Reform of Islam is the Only Real Solution to the Refugee Crisis and Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization. The former suggests, for example, close examination of the nature of the Kingdom of God proclaimed by ‘Isa (Islam’s greatest prophet, whom Christians call Jesus). This involved an emphasis on individuals’ next-life accountability to God and the prohibition of judgment of others (and control of their compliance with religious requirements) by those who would like to claim responsibility or Divine authority for doing so (see Where Did Religious Freedom Come From?). While this would not fully overcome the intellectual crisis now facing Muslims, it should: (a) improve their ability to identify and implement such solutions; and (b) discredit any claim of practical relevance to Muslims’ future by extremist groups such as ISIS.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Should Muslims Aspire to Recreate The Golden Age of Islam?||
Should Muslims Aspire to Recreate The Golden Age of Islam? - email sent 18/2/16
Professor Aaron Hughes
Re: If Islamic State is based on religion, why is it so violent?, The Conversation, 18/2/16
Your article suggested that the violence of Islamic State (IS) is not intrinsic to Islam – and that external interventions (rather than Islam) are primarily responsible for problems in the Middle East (and thus for the emergence of IS). However I would like to submit for your consideration that there are features of the way Islam has been practised that are more significant than external interventions in explaining the Muslim world’s chronic problems. Recreating Islam’s ‘golden age’ would not be enough.
One cannot look back at the ‘golden age’ of Islam and suggest that this would provide an adequate ‘vision’ that modern Muslims might aspire to as a better option than the violence of Islamic State to overcome their chronic problems. That ‘golden age’ provided freedom of thought for scholars – but the progress required to overcome Muslims’ problems requires liberty for Muslims in their lives generally, not just intellectual freedom for scholars (see Rescuing Islam: Intellectual Freedom for Scholars Would Not Be Enough, 2015). Thus there is arguably a need for even more profound reform of Islam as speculated in Muslims' Problems are Not Limited to Islamist Extremism, and Can't Be Solved Simply by Reclaiming Islam's Past Intellectual Traditions.
Also it is simplistic to point out that religion is not always peaceful. The more important point is that religion does not become the basis for significant wars unless it becomes the foundation of a political system (as Islamic State believes Islam should).
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Discrediting the Ideological Foundations of Islamist Radicals||
Discrediting the Ideological Foundations of Islamist Radicals - email sent 23/3/16
Your press release suggested that there is a need for a considered / coordinated response to recent terrorist attacks in Belgium – and that (in addition to dealing with immediate security issues) this would require: (a) examining the ideological underpinnings of radical cells; and (b) mobilizing families / local communities to provide organic resistance to local extremism.
I should like to submit for your consideration that the most critical requirement for discrediting the ideological basis of Islamist extremism is to put a serious effort into understanding the practical consequences of cultural differences. My reasons for suggesting this are outlined in Muslims' Problems are Not Limited to Islamist Extremism, and Can't Be Solved Simply by Reclaiming Islam's Past Intellectual Traditions. There are not-immediately-obvious cultural reasons for the economic backwardness and political inadequacies that Muslim majority states have suffered in recent centuries. Islamist extremists claim to offer Muslims a solution to those societies' problems (on the false assumption that they are primarily due to external 'oppression'). Extremists' 'solutions' would, however, merely amplify the culturally-sourced problems that have faced Muslim majority states. Enabling the Muslim majority to understand the internal source of their historical problems should quickly eliminate any claims that extremists have to be offering a credible solution.
|The West Won't Defeat ISIS with Military Forces||
The West Won't Defeat ISIS with Military Forces - email sent 5/4/16
Re: Catherine McGregor says it’s time to take the fight to ISIS, Courier Mail, 4/4/16
Your article referred to the views of Australia’s former prime minister (Tony Abbott) – and made a case for increased use of Western military forces against ISIS because, that article suggested, ‘the West won’t defeat ISIS with tweets and candles’.
I should like to submit for your consideration that Islamic State (ie a state based on the religion of Islam) is primarily an idea (and one that is shared by many groups of Islamist extremists). It has to be defeated as an idea. It can’t be defeated on the battlefield – because others would then take up the idea. Discrediting the Ideological Foundations of Islamist Radicals includes a suggestion about a ‘weapon’ / ideas that might achieve this. The difficulty in defeating Islamist extremists (including ISIS) has arguably been that the problem has been primarily addressed as a military / security issue – rather than by those who could show the Muslim mainstream why Islamists’ ideology can’t solve the chronic problems suffered by Muslim-majority states.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
Solidarity with Muslims is OK - Suggesting that Islam Doesn't Need Fundamental Reform is Not
Solidarity with Muslims is OK - Suggesting that Islam Doesn't Need Fundamental Reform is Not - email sent 21/4/16
Associate Professor Paul Hedges
RE: The Need for Global Solidarity with Muslims, RSIS Publications, 1/4/16
Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization may be of interest. The critical need is arguably not just for Muslims to accept individuals’ freedom of religion – but rather individuals’ freedom within religion. Some of the umpteen proposals for reform of Islam that have been put forward by Muslim leaders and others are mentioned in Details of Why Reforming Islam is the Only Real Solution to the Refugee Crisis.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
Thank you for these responses. I haven't had time to read them thoroughly and will do so in due course when I can then give you a more considered reply.
Maybe I could make a few points in response to your point about freedom within religion. I would agree - although this is part of the international freedom of religion and belief framework - that there can be a policing of internal structures that are problematic. How far this relates to wider problems within society may, however, be debatable, but needs addressing.
CPDS Reply to Paul Hedges - 22/4/16
My basic point is that ‘policing’ within Islam creates a situation under which progressive social / economic / political change is highly constrained.
The freedom from such ‘policing’ is a unique factor in Christianity (see Where Did Religious Freedom Come From?) and is arguable the necessary foundation of Western society’s ability to achieve progress through the use of abstract concepts (eg rationality / analysis) as a basis for problem solving / progressing (see Cultural Foundations of Western Progress: The Realm of the Rational / Responsible Individual).
CPDS Reply to Paul Hedges - 27/4/16
Thanks for your observations. However the issue is more complex than you indicated.
1. The problem that Muslim majority nations have in dealing with modernity is of course partly a reflection of external intervention.
2. However the bigger issue is that in Muslim-majority nations serious constraints exist on social, economic and political change (and thus progress) because of the lack of freedom for individuals under the Islamic religion – ie family / community (and even state) pressure tends to be applied for conformity with what others believe Islam requires in relation to ALL aspects of life. And freedom for individuals in dealing with practical (eg economic) issues is vital for abstract concepts (ie rationality / analysis) to be a reliable basis for decision making / problem solving – because those problem solving methods don’t work in dealing with complex situations (eg central economic planning fails and individual rationality fails where it is necessary to second guess the reactions of social / political elites). Even intellectual freedom would not be enough to allow practical progress to be achieved – because freedom is also needed in day-to-day dealing with practical affairs (eg see Rescuing Islam: Intellectual Freedom for Scholars Would Not Be Enough).
3. As previously noted, freedom for individuals from supervision of their conformity with religious requirements is implicit in New Testament Christianity and (though it has often not been applied in practice) it was foundational to the social, economic and political institutions that emerged (initially in the UK) as a product of the reformation (ie of the re-emphasis on New Testament Christianity). It allowed an unprecedented rate of change / progress over subsequent centuries.
4. The repressive political systems (ie dictators) that have prevailed in the Muslim world are primarily a reflection of the continuing need to repress religious radicalism – as the latter is both: (a) endemic; and (b) incompatible with achieving the practical progress that modernising political elites presumably aspire to achieve.
5. The current situation in Iraq is certainly a product of external (ie post 911) intervention which demolished (rather than reforming) established institutions. However there were even more fundamental problems which are referenced in An Authoritarian or a Liberal Future for the World (namely that: (a) the liberal economic and political institutions that the US was ‘idealistically’ trying to introduce to Iraq could not work without a liberal social environment; and (b) the US was ignorant of that constraint because of failures in dealing with the practical consequences of cultural differences in Western universities). However the problem in Syria doesn’t primarily result from Western intervention – as it largely reflects a continuance of the conflict between Sunni and Shia versions of Islam that started just after Muhammad's death.
6. My suggestion of what ‘reform’ of Islam would best mean (ie a foundational change in religious understanding by taking Isa, Islam’s greatest prophet, seriously) is suggested in Overcoming Muslims' Problems by Reforming Islam. The latter also includes reference to many other views of the nature of reform of Islam.
7. There is no doubt that Western societies learnt umpteen things from the classical Greek world through Islam (see The West Poses Real Problems for Islamic Societies). However the West could achieve practical progress through the application of those techniques (because of its Christian heritage) but the Muslim world couldn’t (because it didn’t take Isa’s objections to authoritarianism on the basis of religious precepts seriously).
8. It is grossly irresponsible not to consider the practical consequences of differences in cultural assumptions (eg see Racial Discrimination is Not the Only Cause of Ethnic Distress). Unfortunately the humanities and social science faculties of Western universities seem to believe that ignorance of such issues is a virtue – and this is arguably the reason that fundamental reform is long overdue (see A Case for Restoring Universities).
9. There is no doubt that a variation of Confucian practices is the basis of economic ‘miracles’ in East Asia (eg see Understanding East Asia's Neo-Confucian Systems of Socio-political-economy). In the absence of any belief in the value of abstract concepts or of individual liberty, neo-Confucian social hierarchies allowed economic change / development to be accelerated. However they also created huge problems for (a) the world; and (b) the countries that relied upon them (eg see comments on risks facing China in a working draft of A Royal Commission and a Potential Banking Crisis at the Same Time?).
If you have no objections I will add your emailed comments on my argument to my web-site – along with any further observations you may have.
|Middle East's Problems: Are Domestic or External Factors More Important?||
Middle East's Problems: Are Domestic or External Factors More Important? - email sent 14/5/16
Professors James L Gelvin (University of California) and Aaron W Hughes (University of Rochester)
Re: Hughes A., The Sykes-Picot Agreement and the making of the modern Middle East and Gelvin J., Obsession with Sykes-Picot says more about what we think of Arabs than history, (The Conversation, 13/5/16)
Your accounts of the Sykes-Picot Agreement (as either a key to understanding problems in the modern Middle East or as a symbol of what some see as the source of the region’s problems) were very interesting and useful.
I should like to submit for your consideration that (despite the effect that external meddling has had in the Middle East / Arab world) a far more important source of the region’s problems is probably cultural – for reasons suggested in Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems (2014).
By way of background I would point out that I have spent over 3 decades studying the implications of cultural differences for societies’ progress. This started with a study of the difference between the intellectual basis of Western and East Asian progress – which various Asia experts indicated was significant. This comparison made it immediately obvious in the post 911 context that Muslim societies lacked the means for achieving the rapid practical change / progress needed to compete with either the Western or the East Asian methods. And, as was also indicated here, the panel of experts working on requirements for Indonesia’s modernisation on behalf of the Sultan of Jogjakarta (Indonesia’s cultural leader) seemed quite interested in 2002 in the implications in a Muslim context of the difference between Western and East Asia methods. I also note that some suggestions about what might be required to overcome Muslim societies’ chronic problems in the context of putting an end to extremism were described as ‘very useful’ by a leading SE Asian counter-terrorism expert.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
|Islam Promotes Stress Between Muslims and Everyone Else||
Islam Promotes Stress Between Muslims and Everyone Else - email sent 10/6/16
Re: Most ADF soldiers ‘believe Islam promotes violence and terrorism’, The Australian, 9/6/16
Your article highlighted the conclusions of a recent study which showed that most ADF personnel believe that Islam promotes violence and terrorism despite the ADF’s official ‘cultural sensitivity training’ which encourages members to believe that Islam is a ‘religion of peace’. Unfortunately the ADF’s ‘cultural sensitivity training’ does not seem likely to enable ADF personnel to really understand how a ‘religion of peace’ can be widely associated with violence and terrorism.
For reasons suggested in Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization (2015), there appears to be a problem in Islam (mainly related to the way the religion is traditionally enforced). Presumably because of Islam’s emergence in an Arabic tribal environment, there seems to be a reliance on communal / state pressure (rather than on individual consciences responsible to God) to ensure responsible ‘Islamic’ behaviour by individuals. This implies that: (a) for moderates, Islam can be a religion of ‘peace’ so long as Muslims separate themselves from the rest of whatever community they are living in; and (b) for extremists (such as Islamic State), ‘peace’ under Islam can be achieved only when non-Muslims have been driven away, converted or killed.
It also implies that the individual differences, initiatives and innovations required for social, economic and political progress are constrained. This constraint on constructive change largely (though not solely) accounts for the fact that Muslim-majority states have experienced centuries of backwardness. Despite this many Muslims believe their historical problems are the result of external oppression (because 'everything' is viewed as mainly the outcome of external influences rather than of internal action) and that belief is a major factor in the recruitment of violent extremists.
The ADF arguably needs to look more deeply at why its personnel have trouble seeing Islam as a ‘religion of peace’.
|Why Muslims Don't Integrate: A Suggestion||
Why Muslims Don't Integrate: A Suggestion - email sent 11/6/16
Re: Kassam R., UK Equalities Chief Who Popularised the Term ‘Islamophobia’ Admits: I Thought Muslims Would Blend into Britain .. I Should Have Known Better, Breitbart, 10/4/16
You were quoted as drawing attention to fundamental problems in developing relationships between Muslims and others in the UK – and to the fact that that many Muslims are segregating themselves (into a nation within the nation) as a result. I would like to offer a suggestion about why this might be so.
A feature of Islam (namely the fact that compliance with religious requirements seems to be expected to be ensured by communal coercion rather than by individual responsibility) is arguably a major factor in: (a) the difficulties that Muslims have in living in close contact with others; (b) the fact that extremists believe that non-Muslims must be converted, killed or driven away; and (c) the inability that Muslim majority states have had in achieving social, political and economic progress in recent centuries – a failure that is naively seen to be due to external (rather than internal) oppression because of the belief that what happens is virtually entirely the result of external influences.
These points are developed further in links referenced in Islam Promotes Stress Between Muslims and Everyone Else.
I would be interested in your response to my speculations
Bendigo Mosque - email sent 16/6/16
Re: Bendigo Mosque will be built after High Court hearing, The Australian, 15/6/16
I was interested to learn that the High Court refused to hear arguments from those opposed to the establishment of a mosque at Bendigo.
In relation to this you might be interested in:
The issue in relation to proposals such as the Bendigo mosque should not be just whether mosques should be accepted on the basis of equality or rejected because Muslims are different. Muslim communities can suffer disadvantages and often have trouble in their relationships with others because of some features of their religion. Reform of Islam is arguably needed to eliminate those problems. However this is all too hard. Name-calling seems to be the preferred way to resolve such issues in Victoria.
Is Name Calling the Smartest Way to Deal with 'Hate Groups'?
Is Name Calling the Smartest Way to Deal with 'Hate Groups' ? - email sent 20/6/16
Re: Toohey P., ‘Support for Hate Groups is Swelling’, Sunday Mail, 19/6/16
You were reported as suggesting that support for far-right extremist groups (presumably mainly a reference to those opposed to Islamic influence) has risen rapidly in Australia. However if OHPI wishes to prevent this, there is a need to find ways to defuse the cause of the tension. Just calling ‘hate groups’ names, without addressing the causes of their frustrations, merely inflames the situation.
The article suggested that Pauline Hansen had been an ‘anti-Islam matriarch’ at one time – and that current groups are far worse.
However Pauline Hansen’s ‘One Nation’ phenomenon had causes that could have been addressed to defuse tensions (see Assessing the Implications of Pauline Hanson's One Nation, 1998). Unfortunately name-calling seemed to be the limit of the skills and ambitions of many of its opponents. One Nation arguably reflected the limited understandings of disadvantaged groups in economically marginal regions whose prospects had been harmed by the inadequate methods that had been used to try to change Australia’s economy. Those involved were generally under-educated and had no way to understand the policy issues or who should be blamed for their predicament. They thus criticised elite policies that provided special benefits to other disadvantaged groups (eg aboriginal Australians) – but not to them. And the elites of that day preferred to criticise the disadvantaged for perceived ‘racism’ while doing nothing to either help them to understand, or to address the causes of their predicament.
History seems to be repeating itself. Groups who are aware that ‘something’ is wrong with Islam but don’t really know what the problem is are reacting to the failure of Australia’s political elites to deal with the problem, or even to acknowledge that one exists. ‘Name calling’ those concerned about Islamic influence (while doing nothing about the source of the problem) does not help.
Suggestion about what the probable source of the problem, and what might be required to fix it, are in Should Australia's Political Leaders be 'Marketing' Islam? This includes reference to the fact that the person who invented the term ‘Islamophobia’ now believes that those who maintain that there are no problems integrating Muslims in a Western context are more to blame for ongoing problems than those who try to point out that problems exist.
If OHPI wants to prevent anti-Islamic ‘hate groups’ emerging the best approach would be to encourage: (a) structural reforms that are likely to make governments more competent; and (b) increased public understanding of the cause of the problem with Islam that the ‘outsiders’ vaguely perceive and how it might be fixed by ‘insiders’. And, though the phenomenon does not yet seriously affect Australia, an address-the-cause-of-the-problem approach (eg as suggested here) might also be the best way of inhibiting the growth of political extremism as a consequence of emerging economic problems.
Another Option for OHPI: Encourage Freedom of Speech?
In response to a copy of the above email, one observer responded as follows:
If this view is correct then another way in which OHPI could prevent the rise of extremist groups would be to advocate freedom of speech - so that those who non-violently express opinions that others see as 'politically incorrect' will never be called names or prosecuted for doing so.
It seems to the present writer that 'political correctness' is one of many threats that have arisen to the liberal institutions that have been critical to the use of rational / analytical methods of problem solving to achieve relatively rapid social, economic and political progress in Western societies.
|Terror Must be Met with Brains - At Long Last||
Terror Must be Met with Brains - At Long Last - email sent 17/7/16
Re: Terror Must Be Met with Iron Fist, Sunday Mail, 17/7/16
With respect I suggest that that your editorial’s proposed response to terrorism is neither new nor clever.
An ‘iron fist’ directed against terrorists (combined with security measures) has been the preferred response to the threat posed by Islamist extremists since the September 11 attacks in America in 2001. The problem is that: (a) it is often not obvious who to hit with the said ‘iron fist’; and (b) collateral damage from the use of ‘iron fist’ tactics can result in further recruitment to the extremist cause. In fact, it is my understanding that generating an ‘iron fist’ response (and thereby boosting support for the extremists’ cause) is the primary goal of terrorist attacks in the first place (eg see The Dirty Work Needed to Contain Terrorism is a Major Rationale for Terrorism; 2014; Islamic State Would Love to See 'Boots on the Ground', 2015 and Military Tactics are Not Enough, 2015). The latter argues that the US Obama administration achieved some progress in that it has encouraged local / Muslim (rather than Western) ‘iron fists’ to be used against Islamist extremists in the Middle East. However even the Obama administration has not been willing to consider using brains rather than brawn as the primary weapon in the battle against Islamist extremism generally.
Rather than reliance on military and security responses, it has long seemed that brains would be a better weapon. Defeating Islamist extremists requires discrediting the ideology that their spiritual leaders use to motivate recruits. What doing so might mean was first suggested in Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002) and more recently (for example) in Winning the 'War on Terror': A Suggestion (2015) and Should Australia’s Political Leaders be Marketing Islam? (2016). To make progress there is a need to do something that has to date been considered impossible: think!! Features of Islam have created major problems for Muslim majority societies for centuries (see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems, 2014). Those same features are: (a) what creates difficulties in the relationship between Muslim communities and others (see Why Muslims Don't Integrate: A Suggestion, 2016); and (b) what Islamist extremists’ spiritual leaders are able to convince their recruits is the ‘solution’ to Muslim societies’ problems if only taken to an extreme (because no one has bothered to show why this would not work in practice but would make Muslim communities’ problems worse).
|Reducing Ignorance: A Fresh Idea for Terror Response||
Reducing Ignorance: A Fresh Idea for Terror Response - email sent 17/7/16
Re: Bastille Day attack: Terror response needs fresh ideas, The Australian, 16/7/16
Your article suggested that, to make real progress, there is a need for more than increased use of the methods (eg military / intelligence operations) that ‘everyone’ automatically assumes are the best way to combat Islamist extremism. You suggested instead creating a community-led process (like that used successfully in various places to reduce gang violence) that would seek to engage and divert the small percentage of individuals who are prone to violence.
However, while a process to deal with Islamist extremism almost certainly requires leadership within the Muslim world, this must be leadership focused on reform of Islam rather than on reform of alienated individuals. My reasons for suggesting a need to emphasise reform of Islam are outlined in Terror Must be Met with Brains - At Long Last – which was a response to recent view that a heavy-handed approach is required to deal with Islamist extremism.
Reform of Islam is necessary to eliminate the key source of the problems that Muslim majority states have endured for centuries – problems that extremists (who are well aware of Muslim societies’ chronic problems but quite ignorant of what would be required to do better) claim that they are trying to solve. Because the issue has been never been systematically studied, the Muslim mainstream is also unaware of the adverse practical consequences of a traditional feature of their culture (ie external at-times-heavy-handed enforcement of individuals’ compliance with religious rules that are supposed to deal with all aspects of life). Unless and until the need for reform of Islam to overcome the main source of Muslim communities’ problems is widely understood, it won’t be obvious to the Muslim mainstream that extremists’ claims about ‘solutions’ would make the situation worse. Mainstream Muslim communities will thus tend to support the aims (if not the methods) of the Islamist extremists (see Terrorism Can’t Just Be Dug Out at Grassroots Level’). And those who give tacit (if not active) support to extremists can’t then be expected to collaborate in engaging and diverting violence-prone individuals through a community-led process like that your article suggested.
|Vilification Laws Can't Protect Religious Freedom||
Vilification Laws Can't Protect Religious Freedom - email sent 21/7/16
Professor Rick Sarre,
Re Can religious vilification laws protect religious freedoms?, The Conversation, 19/9/16
Unfortunately vilification laws are not a sufficient protection against the impact of a religion that does not unambiguously support religious freedom (see Is There Coercive Religious Legalism in Islam?; Rafizadeh M., Why I renounced Islam, Allah and Muhammed – and my Challenge to Every Muslim; Islamic Radicalization; and Why Muslims Don't Integrate: A Suggestion). In order to protect religious freedom, reform of Islam is needed to take the religious ‘oxygen’ from those who use it to justify coercive sometimes-violent enforcement of their perception of what Islam requires (eg see Reducing Ignorance: A Fresh Idea for Terror Response).
Dismissing Political Opponents as 'Racists' is Part of the Problem, Not a Solution
Dismissing Political Opponents as 'Racists' is Part of the Problem, Not a Solution - email sent 21/7/16
RE: Lurches to the right show us racism is the problem, not the solution, The Australian, 20/7/16
Your article pointed out Stan Grant’s sensible view that vilifying Pauline Hanson (or her supporters) is not helpful. However at the same time (in relation to the need to ‘calmly, clearly and powerfully repudiate Pauline Hanson’s ….. positions’) your article dismissed her as ‘bigoted’ and ‘racist’. This did not indicate any willingness to give any calm, clear and powerful consideration to what underlies her ‘positions’.
This was hardly constructive (see Name Calling is Still Not a Sensible Way to Deal with One Nation). Despite the fact that Hanson is anything but an expert in the area, there are problems with Islam that require much more than saying that most Muslims are not Islamist extremists. Likewise one can’t ‘calmly, clearly and powerfully repudiate’ Sonia Kruger’s proposals for dealing with Islamist extremism without (as ‘everyone’ seems to want to avoid doing) considering in some depth why such concerns exist (see attached email ‘Avoiding the Issue’). The Muslim reformer your article quoted (Felix Marquardt) is by no means the only person who recognises the need for Muslims to take the lead in overcoming the problems associated with Islamist extremism. However many recognise that it is Islam that needs to be the main focus of such reform - not just the extremists that Felix Marquardt sees as the problem (see Overcoming Muslim’s Problems by Reforming Islam).
It has been obvious for a long time that the actions of Islamist extremists would create a crisis for Islam (see The Crisis Facing Islam, 2002). Extremists have created a need to critically examine Islam and doing so is likely to erode the intellectual credibility of the Islamic scholars who control Muslims’ thinking (eg in relation to the lack of realism of Islamic science and the obstacles to economic and political progress that communally-enforced religious legalism creates).
|Victimhood May Have Become an Intrinsic Feature of Islam||
Victimhood May Have Become an Intrinsic Feature of Islam - email sent 4/8/16
RE: Islamic terror: France’s Benjamin Erbibou says stop blaming West (The Australian, 27/7/16)
Your article (which I have summarized here) made excellent points about discouraging Islamist extremism by not encouraging Muslims to see themselves as victims (eg by accusing Western societies of racism or ‘Islamophobia’).
However Islamic scholars may have made a ‘victimhood’ mentality a core feature of Islam whether or not outsiders encouraged it - because of their assumptions about cause and effect relationships.
There is debate in management literature about the extent to which a person who fills an established position in an organisation becomes just like their predecessor because of the environmental pressures they are subject to. Likewise in systems theory there is recognition of the effect that a system as a whole has on its elements – because certain characteristics are needed in elements for the system as a whole to function. Islamic scholars seem to have taken this very real phenomenon to an extreme – ie to have taken the view the everything is solely driven by external influences. In doing so they were perhaps influenced by traditional reliance on communal pressure to control individual behaviour in Arabic tribal societies at the time Islam emerged.
At a most fundamental level Islamic scholars seem to have believed that God totally and continually controls everything (see About Arabic Thought and Islamic Science, 2005). The goal of Islamic science has apparently been to study the world to understand God – not to understand a reality where outcomes are to a greater or lesser extent determined internally. God seems to have been presumed to constantly re-create the universe. Whatever happened was ‘The Will of Allah’. People were completely helpless. When disasters occurred there was no point in inquiring whether this might have been due to someone’s incompetence. Allah had given instructions about what people should do (ie comply with Islamic religious teachings) to win his favour. If they did so they would gain benefits as Allah controlled what happened. The reason that good things didn’t happen was not perceived to be the fault of Muslims - providing they had complied scrupulously with Islamic teachings. Problems had to be due to other human influences in Muslims’ environment. Muslims were always the innocent victims of others when bad things happened. They were not responsible - providing they had done everything they reasonably could to earn God’s favour.
This hypothesis is developed in Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization . It seems that individuals are traditionally not seen to be responsible for their own behaviour. Rather discipline from others in their environment must be available to ensure that Muslims are not subject to temptations (eg to rob or rape). Thus Muslim communities have preferred to keep themselves separate from non-Muslims. And it could be seen as necessary to convert / kill / drive away others who would not have provided Muslims with an environment that disciplines them. The fact that communal pressure has been presumed to be required to ensure that Muslims behave responsibly is also likely to be the reason that Muslim societies have suffered from a lack of social, economic and political progress during the centuries that Western (and later East Asian) societies were progressing rapidly (because communal pressures to conform suppressed individual difference, initiative, innovation). However from a traditional Islamic scholar’s viewpoint all of these problems had to be due to what others had done. Traditional Muslims would probably experience ‘victimhood’ without any external encouragement at all.
|Australians Should Unite Against the Repression of Muslims||
Australians Should Unite Against the Repression of Muslims - email sent 13/9/16
Hon Mr Malcolm Turnbull, MP,
RE: Martin S., ‘Ideology of hate’ hits home 15 years after 9/11: Turnbull, The Australian, 12/9/16
As you reportedly implied, all Australians should unite with the Muslim community to discredit the ideology of Islamist extremists. However to achieve this Australia’s approach to multiculturalism probably needs reform.. Extremists’ ideology is not just about violence and arguably can’t be discredited without eliminating the repression that most Muslims believe that Islam requires them to impose on one another. Repression of Muslims could be eliminated through a public conversation between Muslims and the broader community if multiculturalism policy is reformed. Alternatively private conversations with individual Muslims could be encouraged.
That article quoted you as suggesting that Australia’s multiculturalism has been a success:
However Australia’s approach to multiculturalism is highly unsatisfactory. It prevents Australians generally providing public help to those (eg Muslims) whose worldviews cause serious problems for themselves and others. My reasons for suggesting that Muslims need such help were outlined in Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization, 2015)
The issues at stake are not limited to whether the ideology of Islamist extremists can be discredited and thereby eliminate terrorist attacks. For example:
While it could be difficult to address such issues in public conversations between Muslims and other Australians, the benefits of doing so could be immense and arguably justify putting aside the naïve assumption that underpins Australia’s traditional multiculturalism (ie that a communities’ culture / worldview is merely a part of its identity, and has no practical consequences). However, if a public conversation is impossible, Australia’s Government could actively encourage Christians (who comprise over half the population and have an obligation to love and reach out to others) to privately help their Muslim neighbours to understand that Islam’s greatest prophet (‘Isa, who Christians call Jesus) broke the power of those who claimed that they had a religious right / obligation to control others - as Islamic radicals and Islamist extremists (as well as the majority of Muslims in a milder way) still claim that they do).
No matter how it is achieved, it is important for Australians to unite against the repression of Muslims.
|Another Path to One Nation||
Another Path to One Nation - email sent 16/9/16
Senator Pauline Hanson
RE: Turnbull, Islamic leaders slam Hanson’s attack on Muslims, The Australian, 15/9/16
Might I respectfully suggest that rather than turning Muslim migrants away, Australians should reach out to help Muslims (both in Australia and elsewhere) to overcome the problems that limit their societies’ potential and create obstacles for Muslims in having close relationships with non-Muslims.
I should like to support your suggestion that (despite the Prime Minister’s view to the contrary) there are serious problems with Australia’s approach to multiculturalism. However, this is not because multiculturalism currently encourages acceptance of those with different ethnic or cultural backgrounds, but rather because it prevents help being given to those whose traditional worldviews create serious problems for themselves and in their relationships with others. My reasons for suggesting this, and what it might imply in the case of Muslims, are outlined in Australians Should Unite Against the Repression of Muslims.
I should also like to support your view about the need to review policies related to the construction of mosques. These need assessment from a national security viewpoint because it has been plausibly suggested that they may be breeding grounds for radical (and at times violent) views about how Islam’s ultimate goal should be achieved (ie ensuring that everyone ultimately conforms strictly with the tribal way of life Islam requires).
There is more than one path to overcoming national disunity.
|Religion and The State: Reducing Western and Islamic Problems||
Religion and The State: Reducing Western and Islamic Problems - email sent 12/12/16
RE: By framing secular society as a Christian creation, Hanson's revival goes beyond simple racism, The Conversation, 8/12/16
Your outline of the emerging political debate about the relationship between Western and Islamic world views and institutions was useful. On the basis of some study of the issues over the years (eg see Competing Civilizations, 2001+ and Discouraging Pointless Extremism, 2002+) I should like to try to add value to your article.
Your article drew attention to the fact that political groups in various Western countries (eg One Nation in Australia) have been objecting to Muslim migration because they argue that Islam is incompatible with the notion of a secular state that prevails in Western societies (ie a state that does not deal with religious issues).
There is no doubt about their claim that state secularism is largely a by-product of Western societies’ Judeo-Christian heritage. Amongst many other things, Jesus of Nazareth had challenged claims to religious authority by states (and religious legalists) and placed responsibility for religious adherence on individuals (see Where Did Religious Freedom Come From?, 2015). Moreover there was nothing in New Testament teachings about what states should do (see Church’s Mission). And many observers have pointed to the dominant influence that Christianity has had on traditional Western values and institutions more generally.
After the Reformation focused attention on New Testament Christianity, Western societies started to gain huge advantages from the freedom from family / community / state supervision of ‘religious’ adherence that individuals gained because judging others was forbidden and next-life moral accountability to God was emphasised. Most significantly, this allowed ‘liberal’ economic and government institutions to be created that were uncomplicated enough for rationality and analysis to be reasonably effective in practical problem solving. Given a presumption of inbuilt ‘moral sentiments’, Western societies were thus set on a path to centuries of unprecedented progress (see Western Societies: The Realm of the Rational Responsible Individual, 2001+).
Islam also acknowledges individuals’ next-life accountability to God. However, rather than individuals being responsible for meeting religious requirements, there has been a widespread view (presumably a result of Islam’s origin in an Arabic tribal context) that Muslim communities as a whole, rather than individuals, need to take responsibility (see Is There Coercive Religious Legalism in Islam?). Coercive religious legalism does not seem to be an unambiguous requirement under Islam. However, as many Muslims (especially Islamic extremists) believe that it is and use violence to enforce their view, there has been little scope for individual freedom, initiative or (ultimately) innovation. This feature of Islam was recently illustrated in what has ironically become a well-known criticism of Western societies.
For centuries this has blocked progress by Muslim majority societies and now creates increasing difficulties in their relationships with others – see Why Muslims Don't Integrate: A Suggestion (2016). As community pressure, not individual consciences, is seen to be needed to ensure religious conformity, liberal political and economic institutions in which rationality / analysis could be used for effective problem solving could not be created. And close and peaceful relationships between Muslim and non-Muslim communities have been almost impossible. As compliance with religious requirements seems to depend, not on individual responsibility, but rather on Muslims being surrounded almost only by the disciple other Muslims provide, Islamist extremists can ‘justify’ having to convert, kill or drive away non-Muslims.
However the fact that Islam has become incompatible with religious freedom and secular Western states should not be an absolute obstacle to Muslim migration. There has been a pressing need to overcome the problems that prevailing interpretations of Islam have created for Muslim majority states and in their relationships with others (eg see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems, 2014 and Reform of Islam is the Only Real Solution to the Refugee Crisis). As the latter indicated, there are now many Muslim leaders who advocate reform. And Islam recognises Jesus of Nazareth / ‘Isa’ (the source of religious freedom) as its greatest prophet. Also the number of Islamic ‘progressives’ seems to roughly equal the Islamist extremists who would exacerbate Muslim communities’ problems by taking state-enforced religious legalism to even greater extremes.
Australians generally could potentially help Muslims identify and overcome the problems that have been created by the way Islamic scholars have historically come to interpret that religion (eg see Increasing Understanding of Realistic Solutions, 2002 and Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization , 2015). And Christians have an obligation to reach out to others (eg see Matthew 28:19).
Unfortunately obstacles have emerged in recent decades to doing so because of the declining moral credibility of Australian society that have resulted from a lack of serious attention to the religious foundations of its liberal institutions and secular state (see Eroding the Moral Foundations of Australia's Liberal Institutions). Australia (and presumably other Western nations) have thus had a pressing need to address the moral failures that have been giving rise to severe social symptoms and also reducing Australia’s credibility with groups (such as Muslims) who are understandably very concerned about moral behaviour (eg see The Importance of Values Taught in State Schools , 2004; A Nation Building Agenda, 2010; and Philosophy and Religion: The Case for a Bigger Picture View 2010). Australia's Christians should aspire to the very high moral standards that Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed and be impelled to seek change.
Western countries should have no objection to Muslim migration, if effective non-governmental (eg church) programs were in place to: (a) address the moral failures that have been eroding the foundations of Australia’s secular state and liberal institutions; and (b) help Muslims to overcome the problems that have historically come to be associated with their religion.
As a minor concluding point, I note that your article identified, but did not clarify, confusion that exists about the nature of ‘secularism’ – ie should ‘secularism’ be regarded as the characteristic of a state that deals with everything but religion, or as a characteristic of worldviews that are presumed not to be ‘religious’ (as your article noted that some people believe). The former interpretation of ‘secularism’ seems more appropriate because all systematic-organised world-views (even those like Buddhism and Atheism that are non-theistic) are based on unprovable assumptions - and are thus ‘religions’ every bit as much as Islam and Christianity.
|Unfortunately Terrorism CAN be Viewed as an 'Act of Faith'||
Unfortunately Terrorism CAN be Viewed as an 'Act of Faith' - email sent 23/12/16
Hon Mr Daniel Andrews,
Re: Davies B., Hamblin A., and Dowling J., Police raids in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, Herald Sun, 23/12/16
You were quoted as suggesting that the alleged preparations for a terrorist attack in Melbourne had nothing to do with the potential perpetrators’ religion.
Unfortunately that suggestion is probably overly simplistic for reasons suggested in Why Muslims Don't Integrate: A Suggestion. There seem to be features in the way Islam has come to be implemented that: (a) limit the prospects of Muslim majority communities; (b) create problems in relationships between Muslim communities and others; and (c) allow extremists to view violence against others as compatible with their religion.
Rather than claiming that such problems do not exist, it would be more constructive to encourage reform of Islam to eliminate the cause of those problems (eg as suggested in Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization, 2015). Many prominent Muslims (and others) have spoken of the need for reform, and they need to be supported rather than ignored.
|Another View of Muslim 'Grievances'||
Another View of Muslim 'Grievances' - email sent 26/12/16
Re: Mainstream Media Still Omits Uncomfortable Truth About Muslim 'Grievances', PJMedia, 7/12/16.
Your article suggested that: (a) Muslim violence against non-Muslims is often justified by claims that Muslims have legitimate grievances because of prior violence against Muslims; and (b) this is done to divert attention from features of Islam that endorse violence.
I should like to suggest a different motivation – namely: (a) resentment related to the relative lack of progress that Muslim majority states have experienced in recent centuries – when Muslims are led to believe that mechanical compliance with the requirements of their religion is sufficient to lead to superior outcomes / status; and (b) extremists' view of the difficulties that Muslim communities have in ‘fitting in’ with others - see Blame Religious Legalism for the Middle East's Problems (2014) and Why Muslims Don't Integrate: A Suggestion (2016). These both suggest that the cause of these problems lies in the way the religion of Islam is expected to be enforced (ie by family / communal / state pressure on individuals to comply) – and that this is arguably a consequence of Islam’s origin in an Arabic tribal context.
By way of background my involvement in this area started with an opportunity to study the different paths to development of Western and East Asian societies based on their cultural traditions (ie different ways of thinking and social organisation led to different ways of making progressive economic and political changes) – and a suspicion that the way Islamic scholars have interpreted Islam has left NO comparable means for achieving progressive change (see Competing Civilizations).
Helping Muslim-majority communities to overcome the internal sources of their problems would arguably be the best way the eliminate grievances that arise from the apparent (and false) assumption that when anything goes wrong it must be the result of pressures from outside (see Discouraging Pointless Extremism (2002) and Encouraging Reform of Islam: Mr Turnbull's Opportunity to Counter Islamist Radicalization, 2015). Many prominent Muslims (and others) have spoken of the need for reform within Islam, and they need to be supported.
|The Problem with Old Certainties||
The Problem With Old Certainties - working draft (January 2017)
Bilal Cleland sought to promote a version of Christianity that is compatible with Muslim belief in the primacy of compliance with the letter of religious law (see Old Certainties being Challenged A History of those who followed the Torah and Gospel, Australian Muslim Times, 2/6/15). His article was very interesting (though somewhat lengthy and repetitive).
He cited James (ie see Epistle of James) as the real authority on what Christianity means (ie advocating works rather than faith / grace as the primary basis of justification) rather than Paul’s influential interpretations. He also referred to, and advocated accepting, the ideas of various other first century groups who had interpretations of Jesus' teachings that differed from the mainstream early Christian Church (ie different from the interpretations in the Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters and other texts).
A debate about this could go on forever between ‘experts’ on both sides of the Muslim / traditional Christian fence. It has been suggested that in interpreting ancient texts people tend to see what they want to see (ie a reflection of themselves).
However the evidence of history suggests that the New Testament is the best record available about Jesus’ life and teaching (and thus what Christianity was meant to be).
The Gospels record what various eye witnesses said or were believed to have said about what happened during Jesus’ life. The other New testament texts record what his most influential early followers did and the interpretations they put on Jesus life and teachings. A great deal of trouble seems to have been gone to get accounts that were as reliable as possible. And what Jesus is recorded to have said and done was totally opposite to what his early followers (especially Paul) had expected. Thus, while they struggled to understand, they clearly did not make the whole thing up themselves.
Suggesting that Jesus emphasised compliance with the letter of the law, rather than faith and grace is unrealistic. Jesus emphasised both faith (eg Mark 5:34 and Luke 17:19) and works (eg in the Sermon on the Mount - Matthew 5-7). In the latter Jesus is presented as raising the ‘goal posts’ for works to incredible heights (which advocates of justification primarily by faith regard as humanly impossible). The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is purely about undeserved grace by a father who presumably equates to God.
Bilal Cleland argued that Matthew’s record of Jesus’ opposition to scribes and Pharisees was not because they were overly concerned with religious law, but were not sufficiently rigorous in following it. However Jesus is presented as criticising the religious legalists for often proclaiming the ‘traditions of men’ (Mark 7:8) and as giving a Great Commandment (Matthew 22:35-50) which emphasised the importance of the spirit of the law rather than its details. There are many other areas in the New testament which refer to Jesus endorsing faith and grace (as well as works) which: (a) were not written by Paul; but were (b) compatible with the interpretation Paul put on Jesus' life and teachings.
Moreover what the New Testament texts described was seen to have ‘worked’ in practice at the time of the Council of Nicaea (325AD). Despite vicious persecution by the authorities of the day, an interpretation of Christianity like that in the New Testament had motivated and empowered early Christians to support themselves and others to the extent that they transformed the Greco-Roman world – and a Roman emperor (Constantine) ultimately decided that he wanted a piece of the action. And the New Testament interpretation of Christianity has continued to ‘work’. Jesus, as recorded in the New Testament, is widely regarded as the greatest moral teacher of all time. And Christianity has continued to motivate and empower people to support themselves and others to the point that other societies have continued to be transformed.
There are two significant practical problems with Muslims’ insistence on mechanical compliance with the letter of religious law.
Firstly doing so is compatible with the view of the natural world presented in the physical sciences. Reality is considered to comply precisely with physical laws. However such compliance is not characteristic of the systems dealt with by the biological, ecological and social sciences (ie with those that deal with life). Muslims study the physical sciences (because at an undergraduate level it is compatible with their views on strict compliance with physical laws) but seldom go anywhere near the social sciences – a fact that is a serious practical disadvantage to their communities (ie because they are not studying what happens in living systems). An emphasis on mechanistic compliance with ancient teachings is a major obstacle to practical progress.
Secondly many Muslims (especially but not only Islamist) have a theocratic view of the Kingdom of God (ie they want to rule on behalf of God by enforcing their view of the modern meaning of ancient teachings), which is surely internally inconsistent. Jesus, by contrast, was presented as unequivocally prohibiting this (eg see More on: here Did Religious Freedom Come From? ). The theocratic view would compound the obstacles to progress that Muslim societies already experience because of their insistence on compliance with the letter of religious law.
In order to overcome the many problems that Muslim majority states have experienced because of the assumption that mechanical compliance with the letter of 7th century religious teaching is the secret to success, reform of Islam as a result of challenging that assumption seems highly desirable and to have many Muslim advocates (see Overcoming Muslims' Problems by Reforming Islam) . A key to this might involve serious re-evaluation of the issues addressed in Bilal Cleland's article (ie what Jesus of Nazareth actually said and did in relation to the mechanical compliance with old religious law).
Keeping Americans and Everyone Else Safe from Islamist Violence