LibLink: Maajid Nawaz: Why Islamists beat liberals in the Middle East

Liberal Democrat PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn Maajid Nawaz has been setting out for War on the Rocks why Islamism has become so prevalent in the Middle East and what those who want to see a secular, liberal society need to do about it.

First of all, he outlines some key factors that have driven the growth of Islamism:

Put simply, it comes down to five structural distinctions that make Islamist movements so potent in ways that their secular, liberal competitors are not. When combined, these tools create Islamism, this blatant manipulation of religion, an attractive ideology that will almost inevitably supersede the appeal of its secular, liberal rivals.

What are they, then? First, it is the basis of their political motivations, the idea that drives them: Islamism. Here, I am referring to the desire and perceived imperative to enforce a version of Sharia as law.

This idea is then reinforced by the next tool: narratives. After all, every idea must be backed up by a series of narratives that confirm its legitimacy. The most often touted narrative that Islamists cling to — regardless of their creed — is that there is a war against Islam, and that Muslim victimhood across the world is a direct result of a “Crusader” conspiracy against the ummah. Ultimately, the response to the ideas peddled by such narratives is to fight back, to engage in jihad. It is not difficult to see why this might be appealing to the young and disenfranchised.

On top of narratives, every social movement needs a strong leader. If we take IS, which is almost certainly the most threatening jihadist group that we have ever faced, it revolves around the cult of personality associated with its self-proclaimed caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Time and time again, we are bombarded with his image, while many IS supporters use screen grabs from his Mosul khutba as their Twitter profile pictures.

He offers some suggestions as to how those who oppose Islamism should do to form a coherent organising to oppose Islamic State:

This does not mean establishing new political parties that appeal more to the youth of the region, nor is it simply a question of tackling the cronyism and corruption that is so endemic to Middle Eastern politics. No, what we need instead is a movement to emerge, something that crosses borders and demographics, a desire for change that it is deeper than loose coalitions of like-minded individuals.

We must help people in the region to correct this situation. We need to incubate and foster what is already there, help catalyze the formation of a social movement that seeks to spread a secular democratic ideal using — just like the Islamists do so successfully — ideas, narratives, leaders and goals. The trans-regional desire to remove despotism from the face of Middle Eastern politics must be harnessed. Perhaps, this could one day come in the form of a regional union based on principles of economic prosperity, freedom of religion and collective security. Certainly, there is a long way to go before this is possible, but the hope for something else, something secular, needs to be invigorated.

What the Middle East needs right now is a secular force that dreams a secular dream. At the moment, the only “dream” is the caliphate. It cannot continue without competition, though.

You can read the whole article here.

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  • Richard Dean 27th Aug '14 - 4:27pm

    I looked at two of the five videos on the Islamic State at Vice News. It was striking that there were few if any women in the videos. All the men seemed to be having great fun, almost like it’s the first time they’ve felt free. All the men seemed to have a simplistic certainty – for instance the guy who explained so clearly the ages at which children would be given what military training. Men were there saying “family is not important”. The men seemed to have a feeling of self-worth based on the idea that they were occasionally exposed to mortal danger.

    I suspect that an important factor is that Islamism appears to offer a simple and direct solution to all of men’s problems and frustrations – problems of work, self-image, relationships, freedom. These problems and frustrations must originate somewhere in the cultures from which these men come – in some cases these are Western cultures, and in some case they are Islamic cultures.

    Within the context of this fundamental factor, all the other five factors do make sense. Sharia Law becomes a means by which they believe they can fully implement their solutions. Narratives justify and leaders show how – very necessary for those who purchased “Islam for Dummies” before leaving their comfortable UK homes! Iconographic prowess gives it a modern feel, and the end goal is seen as simple and quick to achieve.

    I’m a Hegelian cynic. I think the only thing that will eventually defeat this awful movement is its internal and external contradictions. The inhumane system won’t work, there’ll be internal disputes and eventual revolts and breakups. Perhaps women, who are so badly treated in that narrative, will be the driving force of that revolution. But North Korea shows how a people’s beliefs can be manipulated for an awful long time.

  • If one looks at history small groups of determined fighters can defeat numerically superior numbers of people who have little desire to fight. The success of the Vikings and the Mongols was that every man was trained, equipped and determineThe Saxon monks did nor defeat the Vikings!d to fight. Only when Alfred organised the Saxons and convinced them to fight as a unit were the Vikings defeated. In most societies most men are not warriors, they neither have the strength, fitness or willingness to fight.

    The French and Russian Revolutions showed that a numerically small group , if they are prepared to be absolutely ruthless, can take over a country. By 1918 The Cheka were murdering 40, 000 a month.

    One of th few times a Revolution was stopped was in Germany in 1919. The Marxist were defeated by battle hardened veterans of WW1.

    Very few Liberals have the physical toughness, experience and inclination to fight the Islamicists: a life of office work is bad preparation to be a soldier. In many ways the Islamicists are like Lenin or Hitler , a few middle class intellectuals persuade violent blood thirsty criminals to put their enjoyment of inflicting pain and suffering on others to further the cause. Those Nazis who ran the execution squads and death camps were weak and cowardly rear echelon troops not battle hardened members of units such as the paratroopers. In WW2 , very few Cheka fought the Germans, they mainly executed Russian who retreated.

    What appears problematic is that people such as Lenin, Mao , Hitler and Himmler, though not being physically tough or warriors have the ability to tune in the resentment and bitterness of a minority of people and instruct them to do their bidding.

    I would suggest that many of the Islamists are very similar to the low life criminals, sadists and thugs who joined the Nazis in the 1920s and 1930s or Cheka post 1917. Very few of the officers who had fought in WW1 or came from military families joined the Nazi Party , SS or Gestapo.

    There are certain sayings which are relevant
    ” In the land of the sheep, the wolf is king”-Russian
    ” Political power comes out of the barrel of gun “-Mao.
    There is a need for Liberals who can run a country with minimal cronyism and corruption and have the military skills to defeat the fanatics. After all O bin Laden has said “People will favour the stronger horse over the weaker”. As Nancy Wake , the SOE officer ” If you do not have freedom , you have nothing”.

    Most people in the Middle East will sit on the fence and wait to see who is the stronger and then support them. For Liberalism to obtain support it must be seen to be able to defeat Islamism and be prepared to ” Pay whatever the cost may be “.

  • Richard Dean 27th Aug '14 - 5:54pm

    The Vice News videos also raise some other questions. In some of the scenes, you can see life going on as normal in the background. It’s as if the IS people are a travelling circus passing through, rather than an occupying force.

    For the local population in Al-Raffaq, life under IS is perhaps not very different from life under Assad. In IS-controlled areas of Iraq, probably not very different from life under the local Islamic/tribal system. Most people were and are poor and powerless, there is little or no benefits of health systems, justice is crude and people know how to corrupt it, and there appears to be no way most ordinary people can change things. So this may be another important factor: if nothing much has really changed, there’s no new reason to fight against the new system.

    If liberalism is the same as “not constraining”, then it can’t survive if people don’t have enough experience of that system to value it. Without that experience, liberalism looks the same as the old concept of a “power vacuum”, which selfish people will naturally fill.

  • Reading Richards very perceptive first comment, I had an burgeoning thought, that we are witnessing a kind of Islamic ‘Lord of the Flies’
    But whilst we witness a few thousand Islamic, impressionable, and very naive ‘boys’ trying to make their mark on the world, I question whether they can be ignored, and simply contained until they ‘burn themselves out’. That they feel a blood lust for anything and anyone who is tangential to their caliphate, is bad enough. What we cannot ignore surely, is that they make their bed on a piece of sand, beneath which, lies the blood that runs the world?

  • Richard Dean 27th Aug '14 - 7:08pm

    I had the same impression of Lord of the Flies. And that there is a very un-Islamic demonization of others underlying much of what they do. I am a bit shocked by “blood that runs the world”. Does this refer to oil?

  • Good stuff. I think what’s really needed is to the gradual transformation of stable countries rather than an endless cycle of destabilisation based on a distaste of a particular regimes. Spain after all remerged as a democracy after Franco as have other countries with similar leaderships. At the moment the pattern seems to be either secular inclined dictatorship or theocracies.

  • Jayne Mansfield 27th Aug '14 - 7:42pm

    @ Richard Dean,
    What is Vice News , Richard?

    The small bit I watched having followed the link seemed like a propaganda exercise to me.

  • Richard asks :
    “I am a bit shocked by “blood that runs the world”. Does this refer to oil?”

  • Richard Dean 27th Aug '14 - 8:25pm

    All I know is what you know. Of course it was a propaganda film, IS would hardly be expected to allow a journalist free rein. But it does show informative things, and one can still learn from it. There’s a short clip of some beheaded bodies in a street, and a commentary that is hardly supportive of ISIS. There’s a scene of a Dutch father instructing his 10-year old son about how infidels must be killed. And a fighter using a mobile phone.

    They really do give the impression of people who’ve suddenly been given a lot of money and a lot of power to do what they want, and people who are very unwilling to question anything. But sooner or later the batteries will go dead, the diesel will run out, the broken parts of their captured war machines will no longer be fixable, their money won’t buy what they want, and shortages will create in-fighting and collapse.

    One of the strategies to use against them should probably be to hasten that moment. Not the only one, of course. I’m surprised that they still have access to the internet and cell-phones – someone must be providing that service to them. It will undoubtedly hurt the local civilian population too, but they’re going to be hurting whatever happens.

  • Tomas Howard-Jones 27th Aug '14 - 9:05pm

    I agree with Glenn here- the West’s policies SHOULD have been for the gradual stabilisation of countries and support for gradual improvements and reforms. Still, starting such a policy is better late than never!

    I had thought before the “Arab Spring” that an Eastern Mediterranean/Middle Eastern (EM/ME) ” regional union based on principles of economic prosperity, freedom of religion and collective security”, to borrow Maajid Nawaz’s phrase- a bit like the EU-could form. In fact, it seemed to naturally be evolving with the Turkish government starting to develop much greater trade with its neighbours, which had been largely neglected for so long in its Attaturkist drive to join the EU. (Partly by the Turkish Islamic govt getting exasperated with EU membership never getting closer)

    Turkey was therefore starting to open up trade with Syria and Iran, as well as with tiny but emblematic Armenia, to the benefit of all countries. Its diplomatic clout started to expand, as Mubarak’s Egypt also started listening. While one door was closing with Israel during its ‘cast lead’ war on Gaza and the Gaza blockade, Turkey’s growing influence – sometimes accused by the West as neo-Ottoman- across the region seemed to have great potential in having a benign impact.

    Imagine…Turkey taking a positive, leading role in presenting an EM/ME future of multi-faith nations – various forms of Islam and Christianity, with strong shared cultural cross-overs (Ottoman,Greek,Byzantine, Persian, Arab) to be celebrated and exalted as something to justifiably treasure. Maybe some countries in the EU (Greece, Bulgaria, Cyprus) would join both EU & EM/ME. And who knows- maybe the growing clout, pride & prosperity of peoples in the region, throwing off their shadows of humiliation from Western European colonialism/ neo-colonialism would even make Israel attracted to join the group and accept that multi faith model and truly allow Palestinians full civil rights in Israel and all occupied territories, as Jewish Israelis discover new welcoming neighbour states on their doorstep…..

    Maybe Western governments would hate that to take shape, as such an economic block might threaten control and access to resources.

    But the “Arab Spring” turned this all upside down. Turkey has taken a completely unhelpful, stridently partisan line in the Syrian Civil war, alienating . Our western governments- including, tragically, some of our party’s idols last year- fell into the trap in thinking that “removal” of the Assad secular regime could ever become a step towards a more liberal, freer middle east.

    Still, a dream of such a future EM/ME of “regional union based on principles of economic prosperity, freedom of religion and collective security” has got to be a vision worth pursuing, even if it seems ever further away and a pipe dream-otherwise, as Maajid Nawaz suggests, there’s only ever increasing circles of fundamentalism and despair coated in promises of less suffering in the next world.

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Aug '14 - 11:20pm

    I agree that a secular society is the one we need to aim for. I think we also need to aim for religious equality, otherwise people will fight for their caliphate’s. It is important to find out what narratives are being brandished about – I had started to slightly favour Israel in their conflict because their society looked a bit more secular, but then I seen others shouting about a Judeo-Christian alliance against Muslims and I thought how it is important not to feed such ideas.

    Part of me also thinks that if people want to live in a Sharia society then we should let them. However, we still need to argue for our secular, liberal, one that also includes religious freedoms.

  • Richard Dean 28th Aug '14 - 11:13am

    From CNN:

    “Abu Anwar is from Britain. He said …. “I hope that Allah gives me a chance to do … James Foley to another enemy,” he told CNN. “My hands are ready to commit to this blessed act.””


    “This week, in a basement cafe in east London, the supporters of radical British cleric Anjem Choudary told CNN that the so-called Islamic State is not a terror haven, but a utopia to welcome”

    (2nd and 4th videos here: )

    We need some way to effectively counter this wrong thinking. Locking people up won’t do that though. Perhaps we should start by research to find out why, in spite of gruesome information in the media and internet, people who appear to be quite gentle are still susceptible to guidance along this wrong way.

  • Richard,
    Some people are just attracted to totalitarian ideologies, violence, revenge and things that back up the idea that they are superior beings, These British Jihadists are simply Muslim equivalent of White Supremacist. They are a small nasty minded minority and in this case they are also war criminals so I think locking them up is a pretty good idea.

  • @Richard Dean
    “Perhaps we should start by research to find out why, in spite of gruesome information in the media and internet, people who appear to be quite gentle are still susceptible to guidance along this wrong way.”

    Steven Weinberg: “With or without [religion] you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

    Blaise Pascal: “Men never do evil so completely or cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

  • The Ikhwan tribesmen of the Najdi employed much the same barbaric tactics as Daish/Isis in establishing Ibn Saud as ruler of most of the Arabian peninsular in today’s Saudi Arabia. The Ikhwan was formed by Wahhabi clerics recruiting Bedouin and converting them from nomad raiders to soldiers for Islam (i.e. Wahhabi Islam). The Ikhwan became zealous religious warriors united and motivated by idealism more than allegiance to Ibn Saud . Their raids, which now had religious sanction were bloodier than before. Unlike nomadic raiders, the Ikhwan earned notoriety for routinely killing male captives and for sometimes putting children and women to death.

    With the conquest of the Hejaz in 1925, Ibn Saud had completed his territorial expansion and negotiated border agreements with his neighbors, the British protectorates of Transjordan, Iraq and Kuwait. Some Ikhwan leaders wanted to continue the extermination or forced conversion of Shia and non-muslims by expansion of the Wahhabist realm into these states, and launched raids into them. This left Ibn Saud responsible for military attacks originating in his country and facing British military power if he did not stop them. Ultimately the rebellious Ikhwan leaders and their followers were crushed with the aid of British military equipment and RAF combat pilots.

    The Salafist/Wahhabi ideology originating in Saudi Arabia continues to be the source of much of the warped radical extremism that has permeated the middle-east and other Islamic states since the discovery of vast oil resources in the region.

    As far as the UK and the West is concerned we should abandon the idea of engaging in ‘balance of power’ politics or great power rivalry in the Middle East and adopt the Gladstonian approach to foreign policy:

    Firstly, good government at home – to be precise, fiscal and economic stability.

    Secondly, to preserve to the nations of the world… the blessings of peace through the workings of the UN security council.

    Thirdly, to keep the permanent members of the security council and other powers of the world as far as possible in harmony with one another.

    Fourthly, to respect the culture and opinions of other nations.

    Fifthly – to acknowledge the equal rights of all nations.

    Gladstone made it clear – in his sixth and most important principle – that he regarded freedom as the foundation of a correct foreign policy. “The foreign policy of England,” he declared, “should always be inspired by the love of freedom. There should be a sympathy with freedom, a desire to give it scope, founded not upon visionary ideas, but upon the long experience of many generations within the shores of this happy isle…”

    A Libdem Middle-East policy based firmly on these principles of human rights and justice would focus around the promotion of the unadulterated UN Charter of Human Rights throughout the middle-east – Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, equal rights for women etc.

  • Stuart
    I don’t think it’s simply down to religion. Armies and Nations have committed atrocities for all kinds of reasons. Most of the religious people I’ve ever met from conservative Muslims to strict christens have been nice pious individuals and I’m not convinced they are really a problem. It’s when beliefs and politics combine in a way that seems exciting to some men. ISIS think what they are doing is right In exactly the same way The Khmer Rouge, the SS and Southern lynch mobs thought what they were doing was right. We need to defeat them not waste time trying to understand them.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 28th Aug '14 - 4:22pm

    The only way to make LD policies which consider Sharia in UK [as they are LD supporters] is to include the best people who have the best contacts – and that must include Maajid Nawaz.

  • Richard Dean 28th Aug '14 - 4:42pm

    @Joe Bourke
    Very interesting history. But does it mean we should essentially regard the Caliphate as just another one of the periodic wars that the local inhabitants engage in, and let’s leave alone so they can sort it out? Just part of the local culture? This time seems different – they’re explicitly threatening the entire world – though maybe that’s just a consequence of the new availability internet and phone technology?

    @Tony Rowan-Wicks
    In what way should the UK “consider Sharia”? Like other countries, the UK already has its laws, and its procedures for developing and refreshing them.

  • Joe Burke
    Why should we respect the opinions of those consider it is acceptable to murder, rape and enslave others? Gladstone was very critical of the Muslim Ottoman Turks in the policy of mass extermination in Bulgaria. For many in E Europe , the memory of rule by the Muslim Ottoman Turk is one of horror or have you decided to ignore the Armenian Genocide?
    I would suggest that if one loves freedom, then their are many countries and peoples who do not have equal rights as they wish to deprive others of their freedom. Any group which wishes to reduce the freedom of others is not to be respected but resisted.

  • To merely state that the Islamic State is a jihadi terrorist organization is to miss the point about what their political aims are and the historical basis for the religious and political position they are taking. Daish/ ISIS is a rational actor and its terror tactics are consciously designed to dissuade fifth column movements in its rear areas and to enhance its ability to consolidate power in the areas it already controls and to bring further areas under its control.
    Furthermore, brutal as its tactics appear to us, there is a lawful basis for the killing of apostates under Shari’a law and IS has been acting according to what in their minds is a lawful position. The fact that this dovetails nicely with asset seizures is of course highly convenient.
    As Gladstone understood, no Western policy in the Middle East will ever succeed unless we know what the players in the region are doing and why they are acting the way that they are within the context of their own cultural imperatives. This understanding has been sorely lacking on our part for decades. Without this understanding we will never be able to make informed policy choices.
    In respect of the self proclaimed Caliphate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria it is of interest to look at the historical basis for this move by Ibrahim Al Baghdadi and how he is attempting to use this new ‘State’ as a political platform to attract other Muslims to his cause.
    There is no certain historical evidence as to who came up with the title of Caliph. The full title was initially Khalifat ul Rasul Allah, which means the successor (or as it has also been styled, vice regent) to God’s Prophet. It is important to understand that the first Caliph Abu Bakr As-Siddiq who was Caliph from 632-634 C.E. saw himself as the successor (or vice regent) of the Prophet, and not as God’s vice regent on earth. However, the expansion of the role of the Caliph from being that of a political one to one of religious authority happened very quickly. By the time of the third Caliph ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, who was Caliph from 644-656 C.E., the title had become Khalifat Allah, or “God’s Vice regent.” That ‘Uthman was accorded this title is cited in ‘Aghani, vol. xvi, p. 326.
    All of the ‘Ummayyad Caliphs had the title Khalifat Allah, and this concept that the head of the Muslim community is God’s Vice Regent on earth is widely accepted with the Muslim ‘ummah.
    The justification for the use of the title Khalifat Allah is found in two verses of the Qur’an: 2:28, in which God says in reference to Adam that “I am placing a Khalifa on earth”; and in verse 38:25 in which God tell the Prophet David that, “we have made you a Khalifa on earth”.
    Although Abu Bakr As Siddiq explicitly claimed to be only the Caliph of the Prophet and not of God, many Arabs and Muslims at the time accepted that Abu Bakr’s rule was by divine right and sanction, and that idea permeates the thinking of Ibrahim Al-Baghdadi and the adherents of the Islamic State today. The early rebellions against Abu Bakr As-Siddiq and the early Muslim state were termed the “Wars of Apostasy” (hurub ar-ridda). They were seen not as rebellions against Abu Bakr’s rule, but as rebellions against Islam. It is this idea that has gripped the leaders of the current Caliphate of the Islamic State and is leading them in part to such brutal attacks on those amongst them that they view as “apostates” from Islam. This is not the first time in Islamic history that a group of Muslims have taken their inspiration from their interpretation of the past and have attempted to impose it on contemporary society. A good example of this was the failed attempt by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab to reenact the Muslim conquests of Persia and the Levant.
    It is important to bear in mind that the head of the Islamic State, Ibrahim Al-Baghdadi, is actively trying to recreate the days of early Islam and that his attempt to do so will resonate with many Muslims. That is one reason why he styled himself Abu Bakr in a conscious imitation of the legitimacy of the first Caliph. Both at the time of the first Abu Bakr and now, the term “apostates” (murtaddin) was extended to cover everyone who went to war with Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, or anyone who is at war with Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, no matter what their actual motivation. Thus, according to Ali Abd Al-Razeq (1888-1966) and brother to the famous rector of Al Azhar University Mustafa Abd Al-Razeq:
    “All Abu Bakr’s wars thus took on a religious coloration and were fought in the name of Islam, so that joining Abu Bakr was taken as equivalent to placing oneself under Islam’s banner, and deserting him was seen as equivalent to abjuring and corrupting Islam…“it now seems clear that this title—Caliph of God’s prophet—carrying as it does all of the overtones we have mentioned and many others we have not, was one of the main causes of misapprehension into which most ordinary Muslims have fallen, namely that the Caliphate is a religious role, and that he who holds power over Muslims occupies amongst them the same position as God’s Prophet.
    “It was in the interest of the various sultans to propagate this error amongst the people, so as to use religion as a shield with which to protect their throne against rebels. Such is the practice to this day. They have used every available means to convince the people that to obey the Imams is to obey God, and that to disobey them is to disobey Him. Furthermore, the caliphs did not content themselves with what Abu Bakr had accepted, nor did they refuse what he had refused; they claimed that to be sultan was to be God’s Caliph on earth, His shadow over all the faithful.”
    Thus, it is religious as well as political authority which the self-proclaimed Caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is claiming for himself; he is claiming absolute sovereignty over all Muslims as God’s shadow on earth. He and his followers are using the justifications within shari’a for the lawful killing of apostates or those they deem apostates as a cover for their appropriation of assets belonging to Christians, Shi’i Muslims, ‘Alawites and Yazidis etc. That this political and ideological position has put them on a collision course with both the West and regional powers is not in question. What remains to be seen is how much of the Muslim world they can sway to their cause if they continue with their present successes.

    Isis cannot be defeated by Assad or the Iraqi Shia’s alone, even with the aid of US air power. Ultimately they will need to be dealt with militarily by the Kurds and the Sunni states, Turkey, Jordan and the Saudi’s. The role of the West and the UN – is to support culturally sensitive political reform in the region that can usher in peace and security, or as Maajid concludes his article – “What the Middle East needs right now is a secular force that dreams a secular dream. At the moment, the only “dream” is the caliphate. It cannot continue without competition, though.”

  • Richard Dean 28th Aug '14 - 6:07pm

    Every culture has its savages. But what is it about Islam and the Middle East that allows these things to flourish in that context? Ibn Saud previously. IS now. It’s not Maajid’s five factors – something like those factors exists as a basis for brutal criminal gang cultures everywhere. Is there some feature of political or religious life that’s missing in the Middle East?

  • I believe Islamists beat liberals in the middle east because the majority of people in the middle east are not liberal, don’t want to become liberal, and will not ever accept liberal values. Some so called liberal intellectuals seem to be incapable of getting this through their thick heads though. It’s almost like those liberal intellectuals are not capable of seeing that what they really, really, really want to be true just isn’t so. Such blindness to reality is very childish to be honest. The world is what it is I guess, not what you want it to be. Children often deny reality when it doesn’t suit them…

    I do not think the middle east will become liberal or democratic in my life time. I do not even believe they are capable of having a democracy in most parts of the middle east (the Kurds and the Israelis are notable exceptions) . Most middle eastern society’s are too tribal and too religious for any political system that we in the West would consider ‘fair’ or ‘democratic’…

    Come to think of it, Islamic law and democracy & human rights are probably incompatible – I can’t see how you can have a legal system based on the rules from the Arabian desert in the 7th century, and have freedom, democracy and human rights as we know them. Unlike Christianity and Buddhism and such like, Islam has a written legal code. If the Muslim world wants western style liberal democracy it will have to give up the role Islam plays in their political and legal systems and this is something that the Muslim world do not seem to want to do because they believe their religion to be true.

    I do not think we should be trying to force our values on them either, and I think the government was utterly stupid for even considering arming Assad’s opponents. The mess that has resulted in Iraq after toppling Saddam Hussein also makes me think that the only thing that will keep the Jihadists in line is brute force.

  • UK foreign policy has to operate within the confines of national interest. Freedom includes the freedom to trade with unsavoury regimes whether they be in Saudi Arabia, China, Russia or anywhere else where human rights are routinely disregarded.

    Saudi Arabia is run as a family concern. Article six in the Saudi constitution puts it thus: “Citizens are to pay allegiance to the King in accordance with the holy Koran and the tradition of the Prophet, in submission and obedience, in times of ease and difficulty, fortune and adversity”

    No political parties are allowed, let alone free elections to a sovereign parliament. Women are, of course, second class subjects and suffer all manner of humiliating restrictions and punishments. They are unable to drive, vote, or access medical attention without permission from their male guardian and are strictly segregated from men in restaurants, hospital waiting rooms, buses. Religious minorities are forbidden from openly practicing their religious rituals. No expression of dissent is tolerated and critics of the state are regularly arrested and held without charge or basic due process guarantees.

    Birthdays, weddings and anniversaries cannot be celebrated publicly, as they are considered ‘inventions’ of the infidels, and therefore, are not tolerated. Deviation from the government’s edicts can result in public flogging, the loss of work and total social isolation. Free and independent thinking is made even less possible by the economic dependence of the Saudi people on its government. . It controls all public utilities, the oil industry, religious and educational institutions, ground and air transportation, and virtually the entire health care system. All the money from oil sales goes directly into the King’s coffers; who then allocates funds in consultation with senior members of the Royal family.

    The western world in general and America in particular benefits from cheaper Saudi oil. During the period of the cold war, Saudi Arabia also provided a counterweight to Arab nationalist regimes like that of Gamal Abdul Nasser, regimes that tended to lean towards the USSR. It also lavished money on anti-communist forces in the region such as the mujahedin. Now, however, despite this role being much diminished, it remains a key, and usually loyal, US ally in the region.

    In return for cheap oil the US and British companies supply vast quantities of the latest sophisticated weaponry – battle tanks, surface-to-air missiles, fighter-bombers, ships, etc. . Far too much for Saudi defence needs, much of it simply rusts. Furthermore the royal family does not trust its own people nor even the officer caste. For example, only those closely related to it are permitted to fly armed aircraft.

    As long as the citizens of the west remain dependent on imported oil and the export of arms to pay for it – there will continue to be an unavoidably ambiguous relationship with the oil producing states of the middle-east, in which political reform and human rights concerns remain secondary to the maintenance of stability and mutual economic interests.

  • Mr. Wallace,

    This article in Foreign Policy magazine reports that – buried in a Dell computer captured in Syria are lessons for making bubonic plague bombs and missives on using weapons of mass destruction.

    The ISIS laptop contains a 19-page document in Arabic on how to develop biological weapons and how to weaponize the bubonic plague from infected animals. The laptop also includes a 26-page fatwa, or Islamic ruling, on the usage of weapons of mass destruction. “If Muslims cannot defeat the kafir [unbelievers] in a different way, it is permissible to use weapons of mass destruction,” states the fatwa by Saudi jihadi cleric Nasir al-Fahd, who is currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. “Even if it kills all of them and wipes them and their descendants off the face of the Earth.”

    In the case of ISIS and similar Islamic extremists (that include qualified chemists and physicists) that seek to spread their evil ideology far and wide, I would concur with your conclusion that the only thing that will keep the Jihadists in line is brute force. This applies across the middle-east and beyond from Algeria to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines.

    Replacing Islamist intolerance and terror with military dictatorships will only ever be a short-term solution that cannot provide permanent stability. Sharia law has no more place in the modern world then medieval witchcraft laws and cannot be the foundation of the political and legal systems of any state that expects to be accepted within the family of civilised nations of the world, anymore than a North Korean type brutal military dictatorship can.

  • @JoeBourke :”Replacing Islamist intolerance and terror with military dictatorships will only ever be a short-term solution that cannot provide permanent stability.”

    Well, you might say that but I can see no alternative. Islam as it is in much of the middle east right now isn’t about democracy or human rights it’s all about submission. Demanding submission because you believe you know the mid of God is by it’s very nature illberal and undemocratic and the total submission that these ISIS lunatics demand is about as anti-democratic and anti-liberal as you can possibly get. Secular dictators have keep all this Jihadi lunacy in check in the past, so you can’t say that’s not a solution unless you can name one other thing that will stop these lunatics from taking up arms and attempting to enforce their 7 century barbarism on everyone and turning their countries into failed states.

    I can see no alternative to dictatorships until the middle east goes through an enlightment of it’s own and religion is regulated to it’s proper place as a private set of spiritual beliefs and nothing else. You can’t make them see this though, and it might take centuries of trouble before they can see this for themselves. An enlightened dictator is probably as good as it’s going to get for those countries until the majority of people in those countries are enlighted because until they are democracy just won’t work. You can’t have a democracy in a tribal society where the majority believe the that people should be forced to submit to Islam and Islamic law. Democracies can only work if the minority can accept the will of the majority and the majority respect the human rights of the minority.

  • Richard Dean 29th Aug '14 - 7:01pm

    The Middle East is surely going through that process of enlightenment right now? One of our mistakes was to assume it would be a comfortable process, for us and for them.

    In any enlightenment, there’ll be those who oppose it. The key factors that allow IS to happen are probably the rapid and multi-way transmission of information across the globe, and the shallowness of the Western media. The rapid transmission means that IS can recruit globally, and probably attract funds globally, and the shallowness means the media feeds of the results.

    A problem with the dictatorship route is surely that the oppressed peoples don’t have the education or experience to set up alternative political structures? So chaos and in-fighting naturally follow the fall of a dictator, which weakens the opposition and allows extremists to hijack the revolution – Syria. That’s what we’re also seeing generally as the result of the “Arab Spring”. The Billion Dollar Brain mistake.

    Another mistake we can make is to assume that we in the West are able to solve the problem. We can’t, because any solution requires the enlightened and experienced participation of Middle Eastern populations. We cannot gain for them the experience they need. They cannot be in charge of their own destiny if we take charge of it for them.

    But we surely can and must do something, and Cameron’s statement is at least starting to do that. In the end, though, I see little real alternative to a military solution to IS.

  • @Richard Dean: “The Middle East is surely going through that process of enlightenment right now? One of our mistakes was to assume it would be a comfortable process, for us and for them.” – Possibly. Maybe this is what it takes for people to realize that religion is just an opinion and not fact. But even if this process is part of an enlightenment there is no guarantee that it won’t take hundreds of years before it succeeds and things improve.

    @Richard Dean: “A problem with the dictatorship route is surely that the oppressed peoples don’t have the education or experience to set up alternative political structures?” – No I don’t think so. The people of Poland and other Eastern European countries were oppressed and there was very little alternative political structures in the old USSR. But these people wanted genuine Western style democracy and were ready for it. So when the dictatorship fell they got it. They were ready for it and hence made it happen. Libya isn’t a mess because Gadaffi didn’t allow education or alternative political structures. It’s a mess because it’s a tribal society full of religious extremism and their is no longer a Gadaffi to keep that in check,

    I am sad to see what happened in Libya and hoped the fall of Gadaffi would work for them but I didn’t expect it to. I remember when Cameron and the French and the Americans started attacking Gadaffi’s troops as they were heading to Bengazi and I suspected then that the rebels would continue to receive British, French and American air support until the old regime was toppled and that once the regime was toppled things would very quickly become what they are today. What really amazes me is that anyone else, especially the world leaders, could have expected a different result.

    I’m also amazed that after seeing this that they even contemplated attacked Assad in Syria.

  • In 1922, following the collapse of the Ottoman empire, Libya was occupied by Italy.

    When Libya was freed of Italian occupation in the aftermath of WW2 , representatives of the Libyan provinces of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan came together under the auspices of the United Nations in a national assembly that decided on a constitutional monarchy for the country. Gaddafi overthrew the monarchy in a coup in 1969.

    With the fall of the Gaddafi regime, disparate militias of nationalists and Islamists continue to contest control of the region and its oil resources. Libya doesn’t need another military dictatorship to replace Gaddafi. It’s main tribal and nationalist leaders need to come together, as they did in 1949, to both rid themselves of Islamic extremist militias and decide on a workable regional and national political settlement for the country.

  • @Joe Bourke “Libya doesn’t need another military dictatorship to replace Gaddafi. It’s main tribal and nationalist leaders need to come together, as they did in 1949, to both rid themselves of Islamic extremist militias and decide on a workable regional and national political settlement for the country.” – That would be nice but do you actually think this is likely to happen? Or are the different tribes going to fight for control of the oil resources whilst the Islamic parties of God attempt to enforce 7th century religious law on everyone? What needs to happen is merely what you and I would like to see happen, but that is not the same as what probably will happen.

  • Richard Dean 31st Aug '14 - 12:11am

    What mostly has to happen is that they work it out for themselves, perhaps with external intervention only if they make serious mistakes like the IS.

  • Another great article by Maajid. We need to help the Middle East to start giving its people a positive message of Liberalism, something they can really believe in. Right now, their only experiences of liberal cultures is military forces, big companies and what they are told by Jihad groups – hardly an award winning cheerleader group.

    Richard’s first comment also provides an interesting perspective. Every person needs something to give them some sort of ‘self-actualisation’. If the mainstream culture not only seems to be failing to provide that, but actually seems to be trying to deny it to you (whether it is or is not), then it is not shocking that going off on an adventure to ‘fight in the glorious war’ is sadly something which will capture some young and angry people. I believe this is something that Maajid speaks about quite often.

    One thing I think we need to remember is that very few wars are actually started for religious reasons; however, many people who fight in wars do so for religious reasons. These ones are so different. Many (not all) of the leaders of these different groups are fighting for a range of different reasons (power, land, resources, political change… etc); however, these same people are smart enough to know that their personal ambitions are very unlikely to inspire a community to follow them to ‘death’. Sadly, many people are willing to die for their religion, so if you make your aims seem interchangeable with their religion, you suddenly have an army.

  • These ones are NOT so different. (sorry.)

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Sep '14 - 3:03am

    Maajid Nawaz is in the media everywhere talking sense.

    Tonight I was watching Bill Maher clips (a US show) and up pops Maajid Nawaz saying how showing someone photos of the Iraq war protests can de-radicalise someone.

    Last night I was reading about ISIS and came across an interview with him in The Times saying how it is important to show ISIS sympathisers that Sunni Muslims are even against ISIS and it is not just a religious or a sectarian war.

    Very impressed.

    Last night I came across this very good article on Quilliam and in The Times with his explaining the west’s strategy against ISIS has to be ideally Sunni on Sunni so as to make clear it is not a religious war.

    The links are below.

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Sep '14 - 3:04am

    Sorry, ignore the last two paragraphs, I was meant to delete them because I didn’t want to post a bunch of links.

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