Sunday, July 24, 2005

Jihadism: three articles

Waging the war of words

There's no shortage of polemic for Islamic militants seeking to 'purify' their religion. Suhayl Saadi is depressed by what he discovers in bookshops and on the net

The Times July 23, 2005

IN POWER STRUGGLES, EVERY letter is a bullet, every word a bomb. So what might the London bombers have read? When I walk into most “Islamic bookshops”, I am struck by apocalypse. Texts of fire and brimstone abound; books of which John Knox would have been proud. Most such shops are run by miserabilist Islamist organisations.
Perhaps the young Islamists were studying Jihad in Islam (1930), by Maulana Maududi, the founder of the IndoPakistani political party Jamaat-eIslami. This book combined rigid theology with political theory in search of state power. Or perhaps it was the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones (1964) — a primer for political Islam. In Saudi Arabia, Qutb’s brother taught the “crusader” Ayman al-Zawahiri (author of Knights Under the Prophet ’s Banner), the chief ideologue to the leader of the “blessed avant-garde”, Osama bin Laden.
Through words, money and guns, this cocktail of fascism, anti-colonialism and puritanical Wahhabism hijacked the Salafi reformist movement which had been created to “purify” Islam. From the mid-1970s, inadvertently encouraged by the US and its Saudi and Pakistani client states, the concept of global jihad began to spread, crushing mystical and rational streams of Islam, establishing book chains, taking over mosques and severely destabilising Muslim society and culture. This intensified during the Afghan wars of the 1980s and 1990s. In this context, the continuing role of powerful, simplistic, mass-proselytising groups like the cultish Tablighi Jamaat — a Pakistan-based group — remains deeply problematic (Tablighi Nisab — Seven Essays).
The 1980s shift from economic to tribal consciousness, fuelled in the West by racism, hyper-materialism and social exclusion, generated a hybrid of individualism, monolithism, a cult of victimhood and political violence.
The trans-national production of madrassa stormtroopers reached industrial levels, while Islamist literature degenerated into the cheap “hate books” that today crowd bookshelves and the web, exhorting young Muslims to “become time bombs”: Jihad Unspun: 39 Ways in the Service of Jihad and Taking Part in It; Sawt al-Jihad (Voice of Jihad); Defence of the Muslim Lands; and The Islamic Legitimacy of the Martyrdom Operations.
Thought, theology and the word have become secondary. The driving force of “third-generation” jihadism today is simply the will to power. Its publications justify political statements by quoting the Koran or Hadith (sayings of the Prophet), but the tone is of supremacist rage.
The political party Hizb-ut-Tahrir — which is banned in some countries but operates openly in Britain — publishers of The Inevitability of the Clash of Civilisations and Democracy is a System of Kufr (an unbelief in Islam), describes a process of “culturing . . . a party structure from people . . . melted by Islam”. An existential dislocation between outward stability and a politically alienated core combined with an emptying of spirituality leads to its teenage readers becoming the drum-majorettes of Islamism.
With core concepts extant since Islam’s first century — as outlined in Islam in the Digital Age: E-Jihad, Online Fatwas and Cyber-Islamic Environments (Gary Bunt, Pluto Press) — the Islamist supremacist movement is a paragon of postmodernism, with its cyber-jihads and snuff movies. The sex industry has played a major part in the web, so it is deeply appropriate that the web has become the medium par excellence for the pornographers of the soul. Through links redolent of paedophile rings, one slips easily from soft to hard-core.
Sadly, it seems that what I — and the bombers — are unlikely to find in most Islamic bookshops are collections such as Shattered Illusions: Analysing the War on Terrorism (ed. Aftab Ahmed Malik, Amal Press), Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism (ed. Omid Safi, Oneworld) or the works of the UCLA professor Khaled Abou el-Fadl, such as Islam and the Challenge of Democracy (Boston Review). And certainly not the former CIA shrink Marc Sageman’s Understanding Terror Networks (University of Pennsylvania Press).
There are other books that the London bombers might not have read, and which I have little hope of finding in the Islamic bookshop, but which ought to be there, if only because of their objectivity. Some of them are listed in the box below.
I leave the bookshop depressed, angry. Perhaps there can be too many words, and too few. Islamist terrorism was the logical outcome of 80 years of Western complicity, conflict and covert operations. The equally hardline approach of Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington would sometimes almost seem to urge strategic ahistorical terrorism on behalf of imperial power. Global populist resentment casts young people into the hallucinatory cyberworld of Islamism, and until there is a will to move beyond these dynamics the texts of illumination will remain unread by those who most need to read them — and there can be no peace, anywhere.
I want to scream at the shopkeeper, a man at least 15 years my junior, who had ticked me off for wearing a gold wedding ring. I want to tell him: it’s power, stupid, not theology! But I buy a paper instead and read about “The War on Terror”. It seems that once again I have passed through the looking-glass and am supping at a table of Mad Hatters. Perhaps the London bombers were reading Lewis Carroll. Or Mary Shelley. Or simply nothing at all.
Suhayl Saadi’s novel, Psychoraag (Black and White Publishing), was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
Inside Islam
· Liberal Islam: A Sourcebook, ed. Charles Kurzman (OUP)
· Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong (Modern Library)
· Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid (Yale UP)
· The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity by Tariq Ali (Verso)
· The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Sa’ud from Tradition to Terror by Stephen Schwartz, (Doubleday)
· My Jihad by Aukai Collins (Lyons Press)
· Desperately Seeking Paradise: Journeys of a Skeptical Muslim by Ziauddin Sardar (Granta)

The cloud still over us all

In 1946 The New Yorker devoted an entire issue to an account of the bombing of Hiroshima. John Hersey’s classic reportage remains brutally relevant, says Eric Schlosser

The Times July 23, 2005

[see penultimate two paragraphs]

At 8AM ON AUGUST 6, 1945, AIR raid wardens in Hiroshima gave the “all clear” signal. The three American planes flying above the Japanese city seemed to be on a reconnaissance mission. People emerged from basements, went outside, returned to work. Fifteen minutes later one of those planes, a B29 Superfortress, dropped the first atomic bomb used on a civilian population. The bomb, nicknamed “Little Boy”, exploded above Hiroshima with a force equal to 20 million tons of TNT. Temperatures at the point of detonation reached more than 500,000C. Roughly half of the city’s population was killed or seriously wounded in an instant. Everything within three miles was heavily damaged. Windows shattered as far as 12 miles away. The prevailing wind at 8.15 had been about 5mph, but within moments of the blast 40mph winds created a firestorm. Dust and debris rose 70,000 feet (21,000m) into the air. US government investigators later concluded that Little Boy had performed “exactly as according to design”. Robert Lewis, co-pilot of the B29, watched Hiroshima vanish beneath a mushroom cloud and recorded in his journal: “My God, what have we done?”
Three days later Nagasaki was destroyed by an atomic bomb called “Fat Man” — and the day after that, the Japanese leadership decided to surrender. In the United States the Bomb was proudly viewed as a technological marvel, the “ultimate weapon” that had ended the Second World War and saved the lives of thousands of American servicemen preparing to invade Japan.
Newspaper accounts dwelled on the awesome power of the atomic bomb, the details of its construction, its potential in future warfare. William Shawn, the managing editor of The New Yorker, thought that a crucial aspect of the story was being neglected: what was it like to have one of these bombs dropped on your city? Shawn asked the American journalist John Hersey to write about the bomb’s impact on ordinary people in time for the first anniversary of its use. Hiroshima , the book that emerged, proved to be not only one of the most influential literary works of the 20th century — paving the way at The New Yorker for other classics of long-form reportage, such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood — but also a work that’s unfortunately relevant today, amid the nuclear proliferation, and sacred terrorism of our age.
Hersey was the right man for the job, a war correspondent who knew Asia well. He was 31 and had been born in Tsientsin, China. He learnt Chinese before he learnt English. He later attended Yale and Cambridge universities, then worked as an editor at Time magazine. After Pearl Harbor, Hersey covered the war for Time and for Life and wrote several books based on his experiences in combat. His first novel, A Bell for Adorno (1944), the tale of an American officer assigned to govern a small town in Sicily, won a Pulitzer Prize.
Hersey visited Japan for several weeks late in the spring of 1946, interviewed Hiroshima survivors, returned to the United States, wrote furiously, and submitted a 31,000-word manuscript to The New Yorker. It followed the lives of six people — a filing clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, the owner of a private hospital, a young widow, a surgeon at the Red Cross Hospital, a German Jesuit priest, and a pastor at the Hiroshima Methodist church — from the moment of the bomb’s detonation through the nightmare and devastation of the following year. Without preaching or moralising, Hersey described what happened to the people of Hiroshima. The facts spoke eloquently for themselves. He had originally hoped that the article would run in four parts. Instead Shawn persuaded The New Yorker’s editor, Harold Ross, to devote an entire issue to the piece.
Readers expecting The New Yorker’s usual light-hearted fare were stunned to find a lengthy description of what an atomic bomb does to people. Aside from advertisements and the “Goings on About Town” section, the magazine was devoted entirely to Hersey’s account. When the issue hit the newsstands in August 1946 it sold out within hours. No other magazine article has had such a profound effect. It presented a reality that most people had suspected but had been suppressed. It created sympathy for an enemy recently despised. It took the wind out of American triumphalism and created grave doubts about the atomic bomb. A month later the American Broadcasting Company cancelled half an hour of its programming for four nights so that actors could read the article over the radio. The text was broadcast by the BBC and by radio networks in Canada and Australia. In October, the article appeared as a book, Hiroshima. Hundreds of thousands of copies were distributed free by the Book-of-the-Month Club.
Hiroshima is full of apocalyptic scenes and imagery: a city in flames; voices crying out from the rubble; the dead and dying silently lying on the grass in a bucolic park; burn victims, horribly disfigured, wandering through streets like zombies; clothing patterns seared into the skin by the sudden flash; the lone surgeon in a six-hundred bed hospital, crammed with ten thousand people, bandaging wounds like an automaton. But the book is much more than a catalogue of the grotesque. It is a page-turner, a true story that continually defies belief. Hersey shows the horror but never lingers too long. For all the death and despair, in the end Hiroshima is oddly life-affirming. It is the story of six survivors. In an afterword written in 1985, Hersey describes the mundane lives later enjoyed by a few of these victims. Their perseverance suggests that the capacity to endure can overcome the instinct to destroy.
Hiroshima has grown more timely in the four decades since its publication. Today some of the most moderate and sober members of the American foreign policy establishment believe that a nuclear weapon is likely to be used against civilians during the next decade. In the worldview of radical Islamicists, New York City, London, and Washington, DC, constitute an axis of evil. William Perry, who was Secretary of State during the Clinton Administration, thinks there’s a 50-50 chance that a large city will soon be destroyed by a nuclear bomb.
Graham Allison, the founding dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, says the likelihood is greater than that. In his recent book Nuclear Terrorism (Times Books, USA, 2004), Allison gives an unsettling account of what would happen if a ten kiloton bomb (less powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima) exploded in Times Square. About half a million people would be killed instantly. Allison’s website,, shows what such a bomb would do to any city in the United States, once you type in its zip code. According to former Governor Thomas Kean, who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission, Osama bin Laden has not only studied Hiroshima, but has already tried to obtain nuclear weapons, convinced that the destruction of an American city would lead the United States to remove its troops from the Middle East.
Hersey died in 1993, having written more than two dozen books. None of them, however, approached the grandeur of Hiroshima. Six years ago the journalism school at New York University compiled a list of the 100 most important works of American journalism. I generally can’t stand such lists, but I agree with the ranking that Hiroshima was given: No 1. (Silent Spring was No 2; Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate reporting, No 3.) Hiroshima confronts one of history’s most important events with fierce honesty and compassion. “Few of us have as yet comprehended the all but incredible destructive power of this weapon,” the editors of The New Yorker wrote in August 1946, making their justification for giving Hersey’s article so much space: “and everyone might well take time out to consider its terrible implications”.
Eric Schlosser’s most recent book is Reefer Madness . . . and Other Tales from the American Underground (Penguin)

Giving the Hatemongers No Place to Hide

Thomas L Friedman

New York Times July 22, 2005

I wasn't surprised to read that British police officers in white protective suits and blue gloves were combing through the Iqra Learning Center bookstore in Leeds for clues to the 7/7 London bombings. Some of the 7/7 bombers hung out at the bookstore. And I won't be surprised if today's bombers also sampled the literature there.

Iqra not only sold hatemongering Islamist literature, but, according to The Wall Street Journal, was "the sole distributor of Islamgames, a U.S.-based company that makes video games. The video games feature apocalyptic battles between defenders of Islam and opponents. One game, Ummah Defense I, has the world 'finally united under the Banner of Islam' in 2114, until a revolt by disbelievers. The player's goal is to seek out and destroy the disbelievers."
Guess what: words matter. Bookstores matter. Video games matter. But here is our challenge: If the primary terrorism problem we face today can effectively be addressed only by a war of ideas within Islam - a war between life-affirming Muslims against those who want to turn one of the world's great religions into a death cult - what can the rest of us do?
More than just put up walls. We need to shine a spotlight on hate speech wherever it appears. The State Department produces an annual human rights report. Henceforth, it should also produce a quarterly War of Ideas Report, which would focus on those religious leaders and writers who are inciting violence against others.
I would compile it in a nondiscriminatory way. I want the names of the Jewish settler extremists who wrote "Muhammad Is a Pig" on buildings in Gaza right up there with Sheik Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sudayyis, a Saudi who is imam of Islam's holy mosque in Mecca. According to the Memri translation service, the imam was barred from Canada following "a report about his sermons by Memri that included Al-Sudayyis calling Jews 'the scum of the earth' and 'monkeys and pigs' who should be 'annihilated.' Other enemies of Islam were referred to by Sheik Al-Sudayyis as 'worshipers of the cross' and 'idol-worshiping Hindus' who must be fought."
Sunlight is more important than you think. Those who spread hate do not like to be exposed, noted Yigal Carmon, the founder of Memri, which monitors the Arab-Muslim media. The hate spreaders assume that they are talking only to their own, in their own language, and can get away with murder. When their words are spotlighted, they often feel pressure to retract, defend or explain them.
"Whenever they are exposed, they react the next day," Mr. Carmon said. "No one wants to be exposed in the West as a preacher of hate."
We also need to spotlight the "excuse makers," the former State Department spokesman James Rubin said. After every major terrorist incident, the excuse makers come out to tell us why imperialism, Zionism, colonialism or Iraq explains why the terrorists acted. These excuse makers are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists and also deserve to be exposed. When you live in an open society like London, where anyone with a grievance can publish an article, run for office or start a political movement, the notion that blowing up a busload of innocent civilians in response to Iraq is somehow "understandable" is outrageous. "It erases the distinction between legitimate dissent and terrorism," Mr. Rubin said, "and an open society needs to maintain a clear wall between them."
There is no political justification for 9/11, 7/7 or 7/21. As the Middle East expert Stephen P. Cohen put it: "These terrorists are what they do." And what they do is murder.
Finally, we also need to shine a bright light on the "truth tellers." Every week some courageous Arab or Muslim intellectual, cleric or columnist publishes an essay in his or her media calling on fellow Muslims to deal with the cancer in their midst. The truth tellers' words also need to be disseminated globally. "The rulers in these countries have no interest in amplifying the voices of moderates because the moderates often disagree with the rulers as much as they disagree with the extremists," said Husain Haqqani, author of the new book "Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military." "You have to deal us moderates into the game by helping to amplify our voices and exposing the extremists and their amen corner."
Every quarter, the State Department should identify the Top 10 hatemongers, excuse makers and truth tellers in the world. It wouldn't be a cure-all. But it would be a message to the extremists: you are free to say what you want, but we are free to listen, to let the whole world know what you are saying and to protect every free society from hate spreaders like you. Words matter.


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