Jihadi is a colloquial term for Muslims in general, but by definition is someone who participates in Jihad, or Holy War. The most pressing question facing the Nation today is how to tell the difference between someone who is a follower of the religion of Islam and someone who believes it is good, right and just to kill others in the name of Islam.
The most recent attack on Americans in the name of Islam was perpetrated by Mohammed Yousef Abdulazeez, a naturalized US Citizen from Kuwait. Abdulazeez grew up in Tennessee, attended Junior and Senior High School, was a member of the wrestling team and from all accounts was just an average, unremarkable kid. He was Muslim, by both birth and practice, and those who knew him are shocked by his actions. He was religious but didn’t seem, at all, like a fanatic or the kind of person who would indiscriminately open fire on American military personnel. Or anyone else.
Pundits are filling the airwaves, discussing every detail of his life in the search for clues to explain why this seemingly ordinary Muslim became radicalized enough to murder. He was married and had three children. He did recently travel overseas, and perhaps that was where and when he took up the cause. Yet, how devout of a Muslim he really was is in question, evidenced by his recent arrest for drunk driving. It is this oxymoron that is most confounding – a Muslim who is so devout he attacks, on US soil, American service members as ISIS has demanded – yet not too devout to not just imbibe alcoholic beverages, but to do so in sufficient quantity to warrant an arrest for drunk driving.
For many years, our anti-terrorist experts have trained law enforcement and military personnel to look for specific signs that a person has become radicalized and is about to commit violence. Every member of our military that has done a patrol in Iraq and Afghanistan knows that to see a Muslim man suddenly clean shaven is a sign he is preparing to meet his maker.
Here at home, Muslims who were just a short time ago average and blending into American society but suddenly become withdrawn, express increasingly angry and disillusioned views about America, our policies or society, are seen as red flags. Those who suddenly start attending Mosques that are known to preach radical and jihadist messages become more than a blip on the radar of law enforcement. Yet none of these signs were present in this case.
Within hours of the attack in Tennessee, the Council on American-Islamic Relations released a statement condemning the killings in no uncertain terms. CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said, “We condemn this horrific attack in the strongest terms possible. Such inexcusable acts of violence must be repudiated by Americans of all faiths and backgrounds. The American Muslim community stands shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens in offering condolences to the loved ones of those killed and injured and in rejecting anyone who would harm our nation’s safety and security. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by this tragedy.”
Perhaps we should look to the Muslim community then, for answers. Perhaps we should ask the Muslim community how to identify those who have taken up the cause of ISIS. Perhaps the onus of the responsibility should be placed on the larger Muslim community to correct and counter the bastardization of their religion, as they say the teachings and practices of ISIS represent. The trick is, how to hold the community responsible for those who defame their religion without blaming Muslims who are not, have not and will not take up the cause of Jihad.
More ink from bigger brains than mine has been written on what are the root causes of radicalized, violent Jihad. The consensus has been that it is the result of a lack of opportunities in both education and employment, general discrimination, marginalization and poverty that drives so many Muslim youth to become extremists. However, as in the case of the Dzhokhar Tsarnev and Tamarlan Tsarnev, Abdulazeez was not uneducated, poverty stricken nor disadvantaged.
All three were living at least modest, average lives in a country where freedom to practice their religion was not restricted. All three attended American schools and had a circle of friends that included Muslims and non-Muslims. Abdulazeez was noted for being deeply religious but not radical and otherwise seemed completely ordinary. Yet all three chose to use their religion as a pretext for violence in the belief that this is what their religion demanded of them.
With this recent case, discussion is now centering on one simple and terrifying fact – what we thought we knew is at best woefully inadequate if not completely wrong. Certainly, in places like the West Bank where there are no opportunities for a better life for anyone, including those who have managed to attain advanced degrees, a lack of jobs may be a factor. It is said that there are more unemployed PhD’s per square mile in the West Bank and Gaza than anywhere else on the planet, an expression not far from the truth.
We know that ISIS has attracted young people from around the world who do not have the options their brethren in the West enjoy. But Western born and raised Muslims also flock to the call of ISIS, and not just those from the slums and ghettos of Europe. It is important to remember that Osama Bin Laden and all of the 9/11 hijackers did not fit the profile of option-less, disadvantaged youth. In other words, trying to combat the growing radicalization of average, seemingly ‘moderate’ Muslims by directing jobs programs, educational opportunities and other typical social cures at Muslim youth is pointless. And ineffective at best.
Worse, addressing the issue at all in these ways both reinforces the message of ISIS and others while it bolsters the belief that we in the West, Americans in particular, are weak. How many times do we have to be told, sneeringly, that soldiers do not pass out candy, or strong leaders do not bend, but bend their opponents to their will? When will we finally understand that those who are buying into the call of ISIS are reverting to an ancient code that equates power with violence, right with might? We are laughed at for wrapping ourselves in silly intellectual elitism that won’t stop a bullet from entering our over-inflated brains.
We are deemed effeminate, and prove our weakness and vulnerability with our preference for negotiation and diplomacy, our desire to protect civilians and our refusal to engage in the Diaper Defense tactics so beloved by our enemies. Not using the cover of valueless women and children to attack our enemies isn’t uncivilized, it’s weak and actually an affront to God. Giving them the opportunity to die in the cause ensures their place in Heaven.
There are very few things our President and his administration says or does with which I will agree, but this one they got right. It was said in regard to the imperative for negotiations with Iran, but the message that the only other option is war is accurate. There are only two paths in dealing with radical Islam, whether we’re talking about Iran, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram or any other fundamentalist form of Islam – diplomacy and violence. Islam means ‘to submit’, Democracy means to choose. Islam can exist within the framework of our democracy and all that entails, but democratic freedoms as we know them cannot exist under the submission Islamic Sharia law requires.
In order to fulfill the tenets of the religion, Islam must be the one, supreme rule of all mankind. And it is in this statement, in the understanding of the depth and breadth of meaning of this statement that our future success or failure in combating Islamic terrorism lies.
ISIS and the KKK
In our not distant enough past, we here in the United States faced a very similar challenge as the Muslim community does today. There was a group who claimed to share the religion of the majority of Christians but who used that religion to justify their acts of terror in furtherance of their twisted world view.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Klu Klux Klan was at the pinnacle of it’s power and influence. It had been fifty years since our Nation had been torn apart over the issue of slavery; hundreds of thousands fought and tens of thousands of white, Christian males had died to end the practice and treat all mankind as our Constitution read –as created equal. Though it was a secular war, the early abolitionist movement was firmly rooted in the ideals and words of Christian charity, compassion and love for our fellow man.
Less than fifty years later, a group found frightening success using the same holy text, the same religion to justify the oppression and subjugation of the descendants of former slaves. Their position was further bolstered by supposed learned men of science and letters who pointed out the physical differences between Whites and Blacks as proof that the Black race was inferior. Arguments and treatises detailing the similarities between Negro features and primates were taken as serious studies; the lack of written language, buildings, cities and other trappings of civilization on the African continent was simply further proof this was a race of less evolved humans.
The most shocking part to our sensibilities of today is how widespread and accepted such attitudes were, even amongst those who fought for better treatment of Blacks. Couple these casual racist ideas with the ardent belief that it was their Christian duty to help, care for and protect Blacks, and we begin to understand how the KKK ascended to power.
Good White Christians accepted as truth that Blacks were human beings, just less evolved. The message of the KKK was to protect the Good White Christians from the heathen and unclean ways of the Blacks. It was a mark of Christian charity that we, the Good White Christians, were helping them to keep in their place, to not get above themselves, as doing so would only lead to their disappointment. Afterall, you wouldn’t give a child too much responsibility, and the Negro race were like children to the Good White Christians whose God given duty and responsibility it was to care for these lesser creatures, as we are enjoined to do with all God’s creatures, great and small.
When Good White Christians were upset and even appalled at the tactics of the KKK, they still didn’t disagree with the underlying message, the premise that Blacks were inferior and must be kept separate for their own good. It was unfortunate and distasteful when violence was used, but that was simply a matter of overzealous enforcement of mutually accepted beliefs.
It wasn’t until Good White Christians became disgusted enough with the lynchings and cross burnings that they took back their religion and put an end to the power of the KKK. Reason finally began to take hold, and the understanding that the KKK were nothing more than thugs who found an easy way to take power – fear – while bastardizing the religion to justify their lust for power and violence. Then and only then was the KKK and it’s members finally and rightly ostracized, marginalized and scraped into the dust bin of history where they belong.
Granted, the KKK still exists today, along with a plethora of other White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi groups, but no one outside of those groups would call them or their beliefs Christian. Nor will they ever again hold those positions of power granted by the tacit agreement of underlying beliefs. The attitudes and beliefs of those who still espouse that thinking may never be fully changed, and while it would be best if they did, their changing wasn’t and isn’t required. The Good White Christian evolved. The Good White Christian managed to hold on to the tenets of their faith while firmly rejecting the narrow interpretations and outright bastardizations that allowed those earlier, un-evolved and simply wrong attitudes to flourish.
This is the challenge facing Muslims today. While CAIR and others vehemently denounce the actions of Islamic terrorists, extremists and Jihadis, they do not disagree with the underlying beliefs. The problem is, Muslims cannot reject the notion that all the world is to submit to Islam to fulfill the tenets of the religion, as that is one of the most basic tenets of the religion. It is the definition of the religion. It would be like Christians saying belief in Jesus Christ is not required to be a Christian.
According to Islam, all the world must either convert or submit to Islam. Muslims believe that their way, their laws, Sharia, are the only acceptable supreme laws. This is not a matter of oppression and subjugation; Muslims believe in the benevolence contained within adherence to their religion.
For example, Muslims are ordered by their Prophet to allow others, at least Christians and Jews, to worship as they choose (dhimmi). Levying a tax on Christians and Jews who choose not to convert is only fair and just; afterall, all Muslims must monetarily contribute to Islam so Islamic courts, judges, teachers, scholars and holy men can effectively rule in accordance with holy law. Islam also requires Muslims to protect it’s society’s members, even the dhimmi, from those who seek to destroy Muslim lands and peoples. Since Christians and Jews are not contributing to the Muslim community but receiving the benefit of Muslim law and society, it is simply a matter of paying their fair share.
Muslims also believe that covering women is not oppressing them, it is protecting them. All women need to be protected from the lustful, unclean and base thoughts and needs that naturally arise in men who are confronted with the female form. Women are valued and cherished, and because of their special role as creators and caretakers of the next generation, they cannot and should not be burdened with the responsibilities of men.
The role of women is too important, too sacred to be forced to carry the same weight as men, such as dealing with matters outside the hearth and home. Because a woman has no or limited experience with the wider world, her testimony in a court of law is a only a percentage of a man’s, a simple reflection of her roles in wider society. A man is required to provide for women and children, but because he is biologically not capable of giving birth and sustenance to a child – a full time responsibility – it is possible for him to provide for several women and many children.
Where the treatment and rights of women are concerned, all Muslims agree that compared to other religions, Islam is more evolved. Women are more than just the property of men, they are the responsibility of men. Islam, all Muslims will tell you, guarantees the rights of women as does no other religion. Women have the right to divorce their husband, for example. A woman’s marital rights even supersede a man’s in that she can refuse to allow her husband to take an additional wife or wives.
In matters of divorce and child custody, Islam again guarantees the rights and holds sacred the position of the woman. Women are automatically granted custody of children except in extreme cases where doing so would put the children in danger, either physically or spiritually.
Boys are to remain in the care of their mothers until they are seven, at which time they go with the father to learn to be a man, something women cannot teach boys. Girls stay with the mother until age thirteen (or eleven, depending on onset of menses) where they can learn to be mothers and wives. Girls are then to go with the father so he can learn who she is and a suitable husband can be found for her.
Stories about Western or non-Muslim women who marry and have children with a Muslim man, and whose children are taken against the mother’s will to be raised in a Muslim society, Muslims say, are exaggerated and misunderstood. A woman does not have to convert to Islam to marry a Muslim man, but she must submit to Islam and it’s rules and laws. If the marriage ends in divorce, the children must be taken by the father as a matter of protection; their spiritual life – and that of the father for not doing his duty- is in danger if not raised as Muslim, something a non-Muslim mother cannot do.
These points are elucidated here to show how otherwise moderate, Westernized Muslims share beliefs with radicalized Jihadis. These beliefs are not out of some anger or rejection of Western thought. These are basic tenets of the faith accepted more deeply, culturally and spiritually, than the casual racism that once allowed the KKK to flourish. Understanding that moderate Muslims, even those who are devout but devoid of Jihadi inclination, agree with the shared tenets of the faith is the first step in finding ways to combat radicalized Islam.
When Good White Christians in the 1920’s and 1930’s who expressed opposition to the tactics of the KKK, because of accepted, mutually held cultural and spiritual truths, thei condemnation of the tactics was akin to denying the tenets of the shared religion. The Black population of the time was incapable of changing the underlying cultural norms and accepted spiritual truths, just as non-Muslims are incapable of changing the message of ISIS.
Islam is much more homogeneous in it’s core beliefs than is Christianity. Islam, either through the Koran, the Hadith or Sharia addresses every aspect of life, every human interaction, interpersonal and wider community relationship, so there is much less room for interpretation. That’s not to say there aren’t differences, but the majority run along familial, clan or cultural boundaries. A few, like the schism between Shia’a and Sunni date from the very beginning of the religion but most are a result of cultural accretion. But, regardless of the brand, flavor, or schism, all Muslims are united in the belief that their Prophet spoke for God when he said the only path to true and everlasting peace is for all the world to submit to Islam.
This is the call ISIS has issued. The creation of a world-wide Caliphate is the culmination of a prophecy, the goal of the religion itself. If blood needs to be shed in the process, it may be regrettable but it is acceptable. This is the part of the message the Muslim community must change. Truth be told, the wider Muslim community is more of a target than non-Muslims, but if ISIS can inspire non-Muslims to take out what they consider apostate Muslims for them, all the better. We’d kill their worst enemies and recruit for them all at the same time.
So, how do we tell the difference between a Jihadi about to embark on violence and an average, ordinary Muslim? Not by their beliefs, nor even necessarily the expression of their beliefs. Without the willingness of the Muslim community to address this situation within itself, our first clue may be when the next terrorist act begins.
Perhaps I’m just getting old and tired, but I’m not optimistic. I fear we are on a crash course with history, a fear ISIS is happy to inculcate. Their goal is simple – unending war with everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim alike until they are victorious. I fear they will get their all out war before this is done. I don’t fear the ultimate outcome because I don’t happen to buy into their apocalyptic end time prophecy. I do believe freedom will prevail, but I fear the price that ultimate victory will cost.
Most of all, I fear that the Muslim community, the only ones who will be able to derail the coming catastrophe, will not find the strength to stand up to their religious and cultural bullies until it is too late.
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