Cannot be avoided this morning: London terrorist attack turned tourist landmark into scene of horror and from a fellow-blogger, Stephen Liddell in London.
Happening to the day on the first anniversary of Brussels. Terrible, but London has survived much worse, and I think it is fair to say the authorities there have been very capable and measured in their response thus far.
Attacks like this are highly unpredictable but also highly likely. While the imminent elimination of ISIS also seems likely, the ideology it represents continues and will continue. And here we must be very specific and take the trouble to transcend blanket judgments about an entire religion and a quarter of the world’s population.
My reading lately has assisted me in getting better at that. First came Gabriele Marranci’s cool anthropological take in Wars of Terror (2016). Marranci is Australian — Macquarie University in fact. You can get a feel for his work in posts like Indefinite detention for advocating jihadi violence (2015).
Next is my current Wollongong Library borrowing, Graeme Wood, The Way of Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State (2017). It is a good read too, which helps, and I am finding it rings true with my own past encounters with the theology of advocates of what some would label extremism, in my case posted in 2004-2006 for example: Wolves in sheep’s clothing on an extremist Islamic mission.
See this Council on Foreign Relations launch of ‘The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State’.
ROSE: Explain for a second what a caliphate is.
WOOD: And a caliphate—a caliphate is a—it is a resurrection of an institution that most people think was—has been extinct since 1924 when the Ottoman Caliphate was abolished by the republican Turks. But it is a Muslim state that is led by one person, who is a caliph, which—a word which literally means a successor, successor usually considered to the prophet Muhammad as the political leader of Muslims all coming together.
So what ISIS—what they did by declaring a caliphate, for many of the people I spoke to, was—it’s as if they switched a light on. There was suddenly an entity that required the allegiance of all Muslims, caused them to be required, obliged individually to come to fight under the direction of the caliph.
ROSE: So, like, they send out a big bat signal, and now everybody has to come?
WOOD: It’s the ultimate jihadist bat sign, that’s right. And sure enough, you know, that’s what we observed from 2013 and then really in force once the declaration happened in 2014 up until the point where the bat sign turned out to be too dangerous to heed. Like, the Islamic State actually said, if you follow the bat sign, apparently you’re going to get killed, stopped, arrested; we’d rather you ignore it and then just attack where you are.
ROSE: You said that this is Islamic, but it’s a kind of oddball or extreme or not universally accepted operationalization of some strands of Islam. Is that basically correct?
WOOD: Yeah, it—
ROSE: And how would you gloss that?
WOOD: It’s not just that I say it. That’s what ISIS itself says, that they recognize that their interpretation is an extreme minority among Muslims. And they say that that interpretation, that means that most Muslims who have actively rejected them—which is most Muslims—are no longer Muslims. So they—
ROSE: So by definition, if you’re a Muslim but don’t agree that this is the new caliphate, you are an apostate?
WOOD: They’ve got a long list of things that they say would nullify your Islam. And these include voting in an election, any kind of worship of a grave or a saint. These—it—the list just goes on and on and on. But yeah, being persnickety about these questions is really their favorite sport, and they practice it pretty avidly.
See also the NPR interview In ‘Way Of The Strangers,’ Wood Explores Why Young People Embrace ISIS.
WOOD: Yeah. John Georgelas came from a military family. And I think there was still a sense that the way to succeed was by succeeding in a kind of American military sort of way. And so when the parents saw their kid go off in a jihadist direction, they thought of him as a follower. And yet all the Islamic State supporters I had been in touch with thought of him as their leader. So to have this impressionable kid really find his footing and become the leader of a sect within a terrorist group I think is truly inconceivable for the parents to see.
MARTIN: Yeah, a horrible kind of position for a parent to be in. You write in the book that part of the West’s misunderstanding of ISIS is a kind of refusal to acknowledge its religious roots, that there is a theology behind all of the violence.
WOOD: Yes. I think that there is a strong urge to say that Islam has nothing to do with religion, that ISIS is a bunch of psychopaths, people with blades cutting off heads wantonly. Unfortunately that’s just not true. ISIS has looked into Islamic history with historical accuracy, with intellectual rigor. And that’s part of what has produced that group as well as its Muslim opponents.
MARTIN: How do they justify the violence?
WOOD: You’ll find some who will say the violence is temporary. We are Muslims who are reviving the faith and we have to do this in a fallen world, so we’ll cut off the hands of thieves right now. But once the Islamic State is stronger and people realize this is the punishment, we won’t have to cut off hands.
MARTIN: The violence is a way to peace?
WOOD: Yes. That’s what you find with the nicer ones. The less nice ones just say this is a wonderful thing. The violence is not something that needs to be explained except to say that our scripture says it must be so. And so when it happens, we should celebrate it.
I think Wood’s book is excellent. A site he commends has connections with scholars from Princeton, among others: it is Jihadica. Well worth a look.
Jihadica is a clearinghouse for materials related to militant, transnational Sunni Islamism, commonly known as Jihadism. At the moment, much of this material is diffuse, known only to a few specialists, and inaccessible to the public and policymakers unless they pay a fee. Jihadica provides this material for free and keeps a daily record of its dissemination that can be easily searched and studied. These records are accompanied by the expert commentary of people who have the requisite language training to understand the primary source material and advanced degrees in relevant fields.
Oh and please ignore groups such as our self-appointed “patriots” and One Nation. I recently unfriended someone on Facebook after he serially commended “patriot” gatherings and the latest anti-Muslim hysteria. I really don’t need to see that stuff when there is so much better out there. Serious knowledge we need, blanket Islamophobia we surely can do without.