Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Little Bit Of Knowledge Is A Dangerous Thing

On Wednesday, GOP TV's Bill O'Reilly in his "Talking Points" segment declared "The holy war begins…. The holy war is here and unfortunately it seems the President of United States will be the last one to acknowledge it…. President Obama needs to lead – needs to lead the world in this holy war.” The following night, he told Reverend Jim Wallis of Sojourners (video below)"The ISIS people would behead you, your family and everybody you know and you’d be saying, ‘You know, the Muslim people have got to deal with it from within."

In his "What ISIS Really Wants," Atlantic contributing editor Graeme Wood uses the phrase "Holy War" but once, in referring to Peter Bergen's "Holy War, Inc," so titled, Wood reports, "in part to acknowledge bin Laden as a creature of the modern secular world." Though he believes some military action by the US is unavoidable, Wood cautions against invasion and occupation specifically because it would confirm the suspicion of jihadists worldwide, who "all believe that the United States wants to embark on a modern-day Crusade and kill Muslims."

ISIS will not be beheading Wallis, O'Reilly, and not "everybody you know" anytime soon. Wood explains

The humanitarian cost of the Islamic State’s existence is high. But its threat to the United States is smaller than its all too frequent conflation with al-Qaeda would suggest. Al-Qaeda’s core is rare among jihadist groups for its focus on the “far enemy” (the West); most jihadist groups’ main concerns lie closer to home. That’s especially true of the Islamic State, precisely because of its ideology. It sees enemies everywhere around it, and while its leadership wishes ill on the United States, the application of Sharia in the caliphate and the expansion to contiguous lands are paramount. Baghdadi has said as much directly: in November he told his Saudi agents to “deal with the rafida [Shia] first … then al-Sulul [Sunni supporters of the Saudi monarchy] … before the crusaders and their bases.”

However, O'Reilly was not completely delusional when he contended the President would be "the last to acknowledge" disturbing reality.   On Thursday, President Obama stated

Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy.  They try to portray themselves as religious leaders -- holy warriors in defense of Islam.  That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the “Islamic State.”  And they propagate the notion that America -- and the West, generally -- is at war with Islam.  That’s how they recruit.  That’s how they try to radicalize young people.  We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie.  Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek.  They are not religious leaders -- they’re terrorists.  (Applause.)  And we are not at war with Islam.  We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.  (Applause.)  

In his research, however, Wood found "every academic I asked about the Islamic state's ideology sent me to (Bernard) Haykel," who grew up in Lebanon and the United States and is of "partial Lebanese descent."   Muslims, Wood writes

who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” Many denials of the Islamic State’s religious nature, he said, are rooted in an “interfaith-Christian-nonsense tradition.”

Further, Wood remarks

Western officials would probably do best to refrain from weighing in on matters of Islamic theological debate altogether. Barack Obama himself drifted into takfiri waters when he claimed that the Islamic State was “not Islamic”—the irony being that he, as the non-Muslim son of a Muslim, may himself be classified as an apostate, and yet is now practicing takfiragainst Muslims. Non-Muslims’ practicing takfir elicits chuckles from jihadists (“Like a pig covered in feces giving hygiene advice to others,” one tweeted).

I suspect that most Muslims appreciated Obama’s sentiment: the president was standing with them against both Baghdadi and non-Muslim chauvinists trying to implicate them in crimes. But most Muslims aren’t susceptible to joining jihad. The ones who are susceptible will only have had their suspicions confirmed: the United States lies about religion to serve its purposes.

There is little doubt that most Muslims did appreciate the President's sentiment, which may in part have prompted William Saletan to argue that Republicans who believe that Obama is "unwilling to see, or unwilling to acknowledge, that the vast majority of terrorism in recent years has been perpetrated by Muslims" are mistaken about him. "There's a difference, Saletan writes, "between what he says about Islam and what he thinks about it. The difference isn't dishonesty. It's prudence."

But it's what Barack Obama believes is prudence- and it is dishonest from a President quite capable of being knowledgeable and insightful, and simultaneously misleading. Absence of discord, Wood discovered, is a prime interest of a majority of Muslims worldwide and in the affected region. They probably realize they are ill served by an American president who purports to know what their religion teaches, especially when it is inaccurate.   It is instead a gift to religiously-motivated terrorists, as are dire warnings  from American opinion leaders of a Holy War.

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