The British newspaper The Guardian today reported that the British counter-extremism group Quilliam had just published a line-by-line rebuttal of Fiqh al-Dima (The Jurisprudence of Blood), the key Salafi-jihadist text used by ISIS to justify its ideology and actions.
The Guardian quoted the Quilliam report’s claim that
There is a startling lack of study and concern regarding this abhorrent and dangerous text in almost all western and Arab scholarship. We hope to expose and deconstruct this unprepossessing yet deeply insidious and pernicious text.
In fact, this is par for the course and there is nothing “startling” about it at all.
As our quotes on Before Fake News elsewhere on this site make clear, the failure to read, let alone analyse primary and even secondary sources on the Arab and wider Muslim world has a venerable tradition in the West.
When I began reading extensively on Islam in the 1980s, I was immediately struck by the fact that most books and articles by Western “scholars” lacked any references in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and other languages spoken by large numbers of Muslims across Asia and Africa – especially in Indonesia, the biggest Muslim country on the planet.
No scholar working on the likes of France or Germany would get away with this total disregard for primary and secondary sources.
The main exception was the Syrian-German scholar Bassam Tibi, one of the very few scholars who actually took the trouble to read fundamentalist literature in the 1980s and interview members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and clerics at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University to find out what they really thought. This approach stands in marked contrast to the standard Western scholastic assumption that ‘it’s all about poverty” and/or “western imperialism.”
Tibi’s 1992 classification of the five different strands of Islamic fundamentalism and his “deconstruction” of its claims as twentieth-century “neo-Islamic” theological innovations having nothing to do with “original Islam” remain unsurpassed to this day. That, of course, highlights the risk of applying the term “fundamentalism” to the phenomenon, especially in view of the fact that the term was originally applied to describe Christian thinking. (See my 1992 review in Russian of his book here).
Tibi’s repeated warnings since the late 1980s and 1990s about Islamic fundamentalism and the risks to Western society of mass Muslim immigration have been consistently ignored despite his massive expertise, not least in 2015.
Iran is in the news again this week following U.S. President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
Many Western “world citizens,” with their Western and often Marxist education, believe(d) that the 1979 Iranian revolution was all about western imperialism, U.S. interference, capitalism, poverty and the brutality of the Shah’s regime.
Once again, the West applied sheer scholasticism to a phenomenon which it barely understood.
The reality is that the Iranian regime was and remains revolutionary and bent on exporting its ideology to the rest of the world, along with claims to leading the developing world against the “decadent” West.
But Iran’s 1979 revolution was theocratic, not communist or leftist – indeed, the Revolution executed many communists. Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the current Iranian regime, wrote some 40 books on religion. It is a very safe bet that precious few people in the West ever read his books.
The same caveat applies to the likes of Sayyid Qutb, Ibn Taymiyyah and the Arabian Wahhabis such as Osama bin Laden.
Like them, Khomeini was not interested in Western modernisation, whether in its liberal, capitalist and democratic or its centrally planned communist forms, preferring instead an ascetic form of Islam which is more interested in global domination, poverty and its view of morality than in health and wealth.
It is a striking fact that of the massive amount of “analysis” written in the West about Islamic fundamentalism since 9/11, the vast majority of it has been penned by people with no real experience of Muslim countries and no real knowledge of their history, languages, culture, politics and economies.
Robert Baer, for example, has claimed that when he was at the CIA, he was the only – yes, the only – person there who knew Arabic and Persian.
President Trump was subjected to massive criticism when he claimed that West had little idea what was going on in Muslim countries and introduced the so-called “Muslim ban,” even though the policy was developed under President Obama.
But Trump was right, and the best scholars and practitioners have been pointing that out for years and even decades.
As the standard Hollywood phrase goes, the West still has no idea of what it’s dealing with.
Such warnings, however, are rarely read, very rarely understood, and almost invariably ignored at policy level.
It is remarkable that besides Tibi’s work, the best analysis of Islam and similar phenomena remains Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements, which was originally published in 1951.