What's Worse than Violent Jihadists?

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Mr. Furnish, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor, History, Georgia Perimeter College; Ph.D., Islamic History; M.A., Church History.

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Islamist terrorist bombings in the London subways. Buddhists beheaded by fanatical Muslims in Thailand. Hurricanes and Live 8 aside, the global event horizon these days seems to encompass little else but revolutionary (actually reactionary) Islamic violence. How much worse could it get?

Much worse.

So far the bombings, attacks, murders and beheadings have been the province of mere jihadis—basically mundane, albeit dangerous, Islamic fundamentalists. Islamic fundamentalists, in a nutshell, reject modernity;1 that is, they anathematize the mainstream of Western—and, by now, global—thought which has predominated since the Enlightenment, predicated upon: a Cartesian cleavage between reason and revelation, politically-enforced separation of religion and state and optimistic (well-nigh utopian) faith in science and technology. Many Christian fundamentalists share this antipathy for modernity. But jihadis (perhaps somewhere between 1 and 10% of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims) differ from Jerry Falwell in that, for them, history has taken a horrible wrong turn. The religion of the final and perfect revelation of Allah to mankind still lags, in number of adherents, to that superseded tritheism known as Christianity (with its 2 billion members). Islamic political power, regnant from Morocco to Indonesia and from the Hungarian forests to the African savanna in 1491, was first eclipsed by Europeans and now is dwarfed by the American imperium and its Cowboy Christian Caesar (triply galling to Usamah bin Ladin, as well as to Democrats and the French) and betrayed internally by faux Muslim leaders like Mubarak, Musharraf and the Saudi princes.

The cure for Islamic religious, political and cultural malaise, according to jihadi fundamentalism, is simple (albeit easier said than done): replacing fake Muslim rulers and governments with truly Islamic ones that impose and enforce shari`ah, or Islamic law. (Of course, “that depends on what your definition of ‘Islamic law,’ is.” Wahhabi? Turkish? Nigerian? Iranian?) And of course the preferred way to get such leadership in place is through regime change, whether violent (the former Taliban in Afghanistan) or more populist (the Islamic Revolution in Iran). Jihadi ideology also calls for an end to outside “imperialism”—i.e., American influence and intervention—in the Muslim world in general and the Middle East in particular (especially Arabia, the site of the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina).

There is another strain of fundamentalist ideology, however, that may not be willing to wait for jihadi governments to come to power: Mahdism. Al-Mahdi is “the rightly-guided one” who, in Islamic traditions allegedly going back to Muhammad (and nowhere to be found in the Qur’an), will come before The End of time to usher in a worldwide Islamic state with a little help from his returned prophet friend Jesus.2 Mahdism is believed by many (including scholars, who should know better) to be the province only of the Shi`is, but many of the most successful Mahdist movements in history have been Sunni. Most prominent here would be Ibn Tumart’s al-Muwahhids (Almohads) who ruled from Portugal to Tunisia, 1130-1269 CE, and Muhammad Ahmad’s Sudanese Mahdists—about whom the movie Khartoum, starring Charlton Heston and Sir Laurence Olivier was made—who ruled Sudan from 1885-1898. Another famous Mahdist movement, albeit ultimately unsuccessful, was the attempt to overthrow the Saudi regime in 1979: one Juhayman al-Utaybi declared his brother-in-law Muhammad al-Qahtani to be the Mahdi and led several hundred armed followers to occupy the main mosque in Mecca (eventually all were either killed or captured and then executed). Scores of other self-styled mahdis have arisen over the last millennium of Islamic history. If nothing else, Mahdism is certainly a powerful means of expressing dissatisfaction with extant Islamic government.

And Mahdism shares many characteristics with mere jihadism, the most important of which are: a yearning (indeed demand) for Islamic law and a burning desire to restore Islamic rule to its former environs and, in fact, to engineer the creation of a global caliphate. But Mahdist movements “are to fundamentalist uprisings what nuclear weapons are to conventional ones: triggered by the same detonating agents3 but far more powerful in scope and effect.”4 Once a charismatic Muslim leader becomes convinced he is the Mahdi, all bets are off. The Mahdi (and each one is of course convinced he is THE, not simply a, Mahdi) will, according to the Islamic traditions, be directed by Allah to restore the Prophetic caliphate and, as such, is not bound by the letter of the Islamic law. For example, both Ibn Tumart and Muhammad Ahmad declared that they alone were capable of interpreting the Qur’an, so any previous opinions and commentaries were relegated to irrelevance. And of course the opposition to them by establishment religious figures—for both of these men, as do most Mahdist, led revolutions against existing Islamic governments5—only served to reinforce their Mahdist claims, since true Muslims could recognize the Mahdi. Anyone claiming to be the Mahdi, then, is largely unfettered by any norms, Islamic or otherwise. Ibn Tumart and his leadership, for example, killed tens of thousands OF THEIR OWN FOLLOWERS deemed lukewarm in their support. And Muhammad Ahmad, who had Charles Gordon decapitated and his head displayed, may have proved just as bloodthirsty had he not died of malaria some six months after taking Khartoum.

There is, today, no one claiming to be the Mahdi—at least not yet. A number of Arabic books and websites have begun speculating whether Usamah bin Ladin might be him.6 Certainly no one else in the Islamic world has the stature to even attempt such a claim. Bin Ladin’s charisma, mysterious whereabouts, ability to strike and hurt even the American imperium and ongoing criticism of existing (illegitimate) Islamic rulers may not quite qualify him for the Mahdi’s ring of power—but they get him closer, certainly, than anyone else. What if he were to seize it? No doubt the vast majority of the world’s Muslims would reject such a claim out of hand. Many who see Bin Ladin now as something of a Muslim Che Guevara would certainly renounce him as Mahdi, but the small percentage that would accept such a claim would be intensely devoted and fanatical. If that amounts to only 1 percent of the world’s Muslims, the Mahdi would have 13 million potential suicide bombers.

And make no mistake: Mahdists would have even fewer constraints on their behaviour than do jihadis. Since the end result of the Mahdi’s plans would be, they believe, a global caliphate nothing would he asked would be beyond his followers: detonating a nuke in Vegas or Manhattan, intentionally infecting oneself with plague or smallpox and then criss-crossing American aiports, suicide-bombing Christian day care centers in the Midwest. Helping the Mahdi restore Islam to planetary predominance would obtain one even more glory than the promised 72 huris in Paradise. And were Bin Ladin (or anyone else) to take power in, say, Arabia as the Mahdi, the entire world (even the French) would soon be waxing nostalgic about the Saudis.

Even if Bin Ladin eschews a Mahdi claim, someone eventually will make it. The Mahdi is often associated with a mujaddid, a “renewer” that according to other Islamic traditions will come every 100 years to reinvigorate Islam. And considering that the 16th Muslim century begins in 2076, the American tercentenary may be met with more than normal fireworks.

1 See my article “Islamic Fundamentalism,” Encyclopedia of Fundamentalism ( New York and London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 235-240.

2 Mahdism and Madhist movements are the focus of my new book Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden ( Westport, CT: Praeger, 2005).

3 Such as perceived illegitimate “Islamic” governments; a perceived diminution of Islamic norms; moral laxity of rulers and/or society; interference by foreign powers (usually, but not always, non-Islamic ones; the Sudanese Mahdi, for instance, despised the Ottoman Turks although they were Muslims).

4Ibid., p. 1.

5 Ibn Tumart led the overthrow of the previous al-Murabit (Almoravid) sultanate, while Muhammad Ahmad and his followers ejected the Ottoman Turks, Egyptians and British from Sudan.

6Holiest Wars, especially chapter 6: “Who will be the next Mahdi?”, pp. 150ff.

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omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

"The cure for Islamic religious, political and cultural malaise, according to jihadi fundamentalism, is simple ():
- replacing fake Muslim rulers and governments with truly Islamic ones that impose and enforce shari`ah, or Islamic law.
-And of course the preferred way to get such leadership in place is through regime change,
-Jihadi ideology also calls for an end to
outside “imperialism""
(Thus Spake Furnish.)

Except for an inborn blind ideological hostility to Islam, any and all three above objectives would have been acceptable to Furnish, Friedman et all as legitimate political goals.

All one has to do to see that is replace the term Islam, and its derivatives, with say "Democracy" or "Zionism".

Had it read as:

"The cure for (....) religious, political and cultural malaise, according to (Democratic/Zionist) fundamentalism, is simple ():
- replacing fake (Democrat/Zionist) rulers and governments with truly (Democrat/Zionist)ones that impose and enforce (Democrat/Zionist)law.
-And of course the preferred way to get such leadership in place is through regime change,
-(Democrat/Zionist) ideology also calls for an end to outside “imperialism""

It is hard to imagine either of them, Furnish and Friedman, objecting to the "revised" goals"!
If any thing both would have heartily supported them.

Therefore, it is NOT a stand based on firm objective principles: self determination, free choice etc, as much as a personal, subjective, opinion starting with and culminating in Islam phobia!

Both fail to see that their like or dislike of Islam and Islamist objectives is immaterial and superfluous; it is the likes and dislikes of MOSLEMS that SHOULD and WILL determine the validity and legitimacy of the "unrevised" goals!

Both in their peculiar way are reiterating the old colonialist/imperialist dictum:" I give you the right to chose as long as I agree with your choice!"

In his vain search for an original contribution Furnish, to the constant lauding and uninterrupted applause of Friedman, falls on the question of "Al Mahdi" imparting it with great significance and contemporary import in a pseudo erudite post as far as its "significance" .
Since, for anybody with a little knowledge of the subject, Mahdisim is as significant and has as much influence in Islamist circles as has the Communist Party of the USA in the USA
But it serves their purposes well: an additional reason, no matter how contrived and ephemeral, to hate and fear Islam.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Mr Clarke
My mistake I should have clearly indicated, for the purpose of my point: "Democrat" OR "Zionist" ;either, not the two, to replace "Islamist" !
The DUO in the title actually reffered to Furnish and Friedman, NOT "Democracy" and "Zionism
In no way do I equate Democracy, for all its faults particularly in the US model, with the aggressive, Racist and retrogessive Zionist doctrine.
I stand corrected for an imprecise statement!

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

In a typical Friedman move, when confronted with an adverse opinion , the way out is to bring in an unrelated , to the specific point under discussion, "fact" with the necessary impressively round, though not necessarily correct, figure .
"....2 million Christians and animists killed by the Islamists in Sudan?"
Where did Mr Friedman get the "two million" figure? Probably from Pipes or equivalent!
20000 or 200000 would have been as galling and repulsive but "two million" that is 2,000,000/00 is really more impressive and to hell with accuracy and objectivity.
Respect for numbers is as good as any indicator of objectivity and, ultimately,honesty .

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Thanks for coming off the high horse. It is a good way to not trash threads.

1. I never blamed the administration for the "amorphous, unconventional nature" of modern terrorism. That would be silly. I fault it for making the problem worse by its ill-hatched, badly bungled, and thus unnecessarily provocative occupation of a Moslem country. In your haste to criticize rather than offer a single constructive suggestion of your own, you misattribute.

2. I also never said that the recent revolution in information technology is not an important historical development, (There have also been many prior technological revolutions which have proven important over time although they tend not to be exactly what they seem at first). I don't quite see why you harp on this, however. Airplanes, skyscrapters, box-cutters, and hijackings are not exactly contemporary high tech. Nor are bombs and subways, or kidnappings, or beheadings. Nor does it take rocket science to understand that, historically, lasting regime change of a country like Iraq takes many times longer and costs many times more than Bush & Co pretended in 2002-03, and that high tech information systems were and are not likely to change that timetable or cost requirement significantly.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Putting "democratic" and "Zionist" together separated by a slash makes about as much sense as would a similar juxtaposition of "Moslem" and "Bedouin". There may be some slight historical interaction but no equivalancy. It is a mix not of apples and oranges, but of a giant bag of dozens of different types of apples with a small sack of pungent dried currants. The posting duo you identify fit together much more closely, but are still quite different from each other.

I do, however, think that your main point, about hate- and fear-mongering, is spot on.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

If your religious "logic" held, there would be 1.3 billion "Jihadists", e.g. dozens if not thousands more than there actually are. Ergo illogic. After the 400th repetition of such decontextualized obsession with the extremes of the Moslem world, the suspicion of paranoia is, at least, not to be ruled out.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Make that: "dozens if not thousands OF TIMES AS MANY as there actually are". I can post twice too.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I did not ask "why terrorist responses to Iraq can't be blamed on the "stupidity" of expecting otherwise positive dividends from it (Iraq)."

My comment addressed means not ends (e.g. for most people, hornets are a dangerous pest to be removed or thwarted assidiously but carefully). Your failure to grasp the difference may explain the convoluted and confused remarks you have been making here.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

The point is that you fail to differentiate between the 1% terrorist-prone and the 99% non-terrorist-prone thus condemning the innocent in advance for the crimes of the guilty, and condemning yourself to a hopeless situation where the deadly enemy is growing in number endlessly no matter what anybody else says or does. It is a fatalistic, prejudiced, unhistorical and ultimately useless perspective. I do not say that there is no value in understanding the mindset ofsuicide bombers and their intimate supporters, but you blow this attempted understanding way out of proportion. World history is not shaped only, or even mostly, by religion, let alone by the most extreme and violent edge of one single religion.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

The relative role of religion generally in world history is a huge subject best left for another forum, but you cannot credibly blame Islam wholesale for the deeds of a miniscule and non-representative fraction of its members. If you could, you might have done so 400 posts ago, moved on, and gotten a life.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

You reveal your ignorance and paranoia again, N. You would sound less ridiculous if you could get hold of a dictionary and look up big words in it, like "genocide", before you use them. Mr. Baker's comments above contain some extreme and inflammatory language, which I do not in any way endorse, but they say nothing about killing people, let alone systematically wiping out a whole people. The main deficiency I see in his main comment above is a conflation, in his "duo", of a victim with a perpetrator. But I have explained, implored and pressed you to clean up your motor-mouth prejudiced act scores of times already, so I leave you to reap what you sowed. Enjoy the meaningless name-calling.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


"I am blaming a specific doctrine held by people in many parts of the world, including in Europe and the Americas. Those who follow that doctrine are have a predilection for violence of the type we are seeing for reasons I have asserted on numerous occasions."

This I would agree with. But it is very unspecific as regards who these "people" are. Most of your remarks here and in on past comment pages, make it sound as though a billion Muslims "follow" the "doctrine" and have the particular form of violent "predilection" (by which I assume you mean terrorist attacks). That (and I would have to agree with Arnold's remarks in this respect), is a historically untenable claim, and a utterly unworkable position on which to base a policy for combatting such terrorism.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

In response to the long twisting thread above (which I began and many others jumped into), a few general observations are in order. These are based on several years of frequently visiting the HNN website.

1. This website, despite its packaging, is not primarily by or for historians, professional or amateur. It is basically a debating forum focused mostly on political issues in a wide sense. It does have a broad range of history-related window-dressing features, but most of the hits to it are by commenters with their own personal political axes to grind. The partial relegation of some of the more extreme voices to the HNN blog section over the past year or so has dampened the political-debating orientation of the main article comment pages only slightly. My personal position vis-a-vis all this is: "when in Rome, do like a Roman."

2. Due at least in part to point 1, first-rate historians appear on this site only rarely (usually when articles originally presented elsewhere are reprinted here). A large minority (often in the early years, a majority) of article writers on HNN have not been historians at all.

3. Whatever the caliber and credentials of the article-writers, it is extremely rare to have an author featured on HNN intervene with a large number of comments to HIS (there are notably few females here) own article.

4. Given the structure and orientation of HNN (few top-rate historians, a clear penchant for politically controversial topics not infrequently topped with misleading sensationalistic headlines, the lack of any real editorial screening or moderating of comments, and the front-and-center political back-and-forths), substantive discussions about history are not to be expected often here. Nonetheless, it ought not to be controversial that a relatively narrow topic (such as the religious causes of contemporary Islamic terrorism) is more capable of being discussed in a usefully focused manner than is a very broad topic (the role of all religion in all human history). Of course, when the HNN debating society degenerates into a verbal slugfest (very often on 2 or 3 comment pages a week), then the most matter-of-fact remark can become something to nitpick or get hot and bothered about.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

The practical distinction between a "Jihadist" and a "Mahdist" is neither clearly nor convincingly established here. The price of advancing labels at the expense of critical analysis is a historically diffuse argument. I suspect that what ever happens between now and 2076, hairs split over defining layers of lunacy within the lunatic fringe of Islam will be among the least of our worries.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

True to form, you guys are quick to take issue with things I didn't say (i.e. that debate is unuseful or that this is an uninteresting website).

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Believe it or not, after God knows how many months of reading your never-ending epistles against Islam, N, you are finally starting to make a bit of sense, although only a bit.

You have now presented a consistent theory of a contemporary Jihad by Moslems against non-Moslem peoples and countries. The first thing lacking, however, is convincing evidence to support this theory (and I will decline in advance any invitation to go on a fishing expedition through works of your pet authors to try to dredge up supporting details which you may think you remember). The second problem is that you have completely ducked the question of which Muslims this Jihad belief applies to.

Presumably if it holds at all, it must do so for Al Qaeda, but the fit does not appear to be a very good one. On the one hand, if you go by what Bin Laden et al SAY, then your theory goes too far. They talk at length about the mistreatment of Moslems in the Mideast, and say little about “spreading Islam to any infidel nation” that may opportunistically “present” itself (whatever the heck that might mean). On the other hand if you look at Al Qaeda’s DEEDS, then your template does not go far enough. There is nothing in your six points about suicide or slaughtering innocent civilians, for example.

If you try to apply your Jihad model more widely across many millions of Moslems, it becomes even crazier. It strains the fanstasizing capacities to think that a billion people scattered around the planet all operate under an illusion that they are mandatorily and actually at war with any country they have a “reasonable chance” of defeating. This application of your theory and the real world are hopelessly at odds. You have a better chance of trying to claim that Jews around the globe are fundamentally disloyal to their countries of residence and loyal only to Israel, or that Catholics as a group will follow slavishly, and to the last minute detail, everything the Pope orders them to do. There are at least a lot of groups from past history holding those forms of blind and unfounded religious prejudice.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Going by your own categories, Mr. Furnish, Al Qaeda -which is certainly an extreme element within Islam by any unbiased assessment- is LESS extreme than "Mahdism". Knowledge of "Islamic history" is not a rationale for illogical arguments.

When it comes to defending the security of western civilization against radical terrorists, how "eschatological" various subcategories of them may or may not be is perhaps number 300 on the list of things I (and probably most normal citizens) would want to know about them.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I would agree, Mr. Robins, if the categories in question were clear, historically, geographically, or in any other way useful to the policy question of how to protect against the threat of fanatical terrorists. Distinguishing theoretical nuances between bogeymen may have some indirect benefits to general knowledge, but I seriously doubt whether, for example, the perpetrators and plotters of the recent London bombings fall usefully into such abstract pigeon holes, and also doubt whether Scotland Yard or British policymakers place these sorts of vague categories high on their priority list for investigation. Moslems, as far as I can understand are extremely diverse. I have no problem with those who might observe dispassionately and objectively that there are some general problems with that whole religion when it comes to democracy, human rights, and rule of law, but I have seen no decent historical argument suggesting that those deficiencies or any other inherent features of Islam add up to a comprehensive explanation for the attacks by Al Qaeda et al over the past decade or so.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I took a look at this article. The author, Patrick Sookhdeo, is an Anglican convert from Islam who writes well but is neither not a scholar nor a historian. His basic point in the article is that there are two versions of Islam that can be readily extracted from its central documents: a peaceful one and a warlike one. According to unspecificed "Islamic scholars", Sookhedeo says, the warlike interpretation is supposed to take precedence over the peaceful strain because (a) later passages in the Koran supercede earlier ones, and (b) the warlike sections were added to the Koran after the peaceful ones were. Later in his own article, however, Sookhdeo mentions several more recent and prominent attempts within Islam to assert the primacy of a peaceful approach (recognizing separation of mosque and state, affirming democratic values, denouncing terrorism, etc.).

Nowhere in this article is there the slightest support for Mr. Friedman's crude, convoluted and repeated assertions that all "believers" in Islam think they are in a "Jihad" against Western countries, people, or values. This article raises some interesting issues, but ends no "debate", and leads here to the question of why Mr. Friedman is so personally obsessed with the most frightful aspects of Islam that he is unable explain convincingly (a) why he so ferverently believes that they are by far and away the most important cause of contemporary Islamic terrorism, and (b) why he is so utterly unable to distinguish amongst the many diverse subsets of the over one billion adherants of this religion, when it comes to its more fearsome aspects.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


Sookhdeo does indeed assert that the warlike version of Islam is dominant within the faith, and I did note this when I read him, but as my earlier comment indicated, he offers little in the way of convincing proof as to why that need be so doctrinarily. Nor does he present much by way of historical context (e.g. why was there no Al Qaeda in, say 1972 ?) He, like you (except when pressed), also avoids directly addressing the question of where the great mass of Moslems comes down on this point. These are basically legitimate omissons by him, however, because his main agenda seems quite clearly to be pointing out that there are fundamental problems within Islam that need to be tackled, IN ADDITION to cracking down on the very small fraction of Moslems who participate in or actively support terrorist acts, and other general safety measures. This is a viewpoint that I and no doubt many others find entirely reasonably if not 100% convincing in every detail. Sookhdeo is certainly not arguing, at least not in this piece, that ALL Moslems are inherently warlike.

You have been trying (at great length and largely in vain as far as I can see) to claim something quite radically different: that all (or nearly all) faithful Moslems are inherently, and SOLELY BECAUSE OF THEIR RELIGION to be regarded as violent Jihadists.

( This is NOT a misstatement of your views see for example:


the doctrine makes obligatory, under specified circumstances, the use of violence...Such circumstances include offensive war to spread Muslim rule to regions now ruled by infidel....
where an opportunity to spread Islam to an infidel nation presents itself.. Jihad is mandatory if there is a reasonable chance of success.

(#65669) the doctrine applies to all believers.

and it is silly of you, when your foolish wholesale prejudice is repeatedly pointed out, whether politely or forcefully, to whine over and over like a child, that you are misunderstood.)

Sookhdeo attempts no such wholesale scapegoating nonsense, and your attempt to hide behind his essay is transparently bogus.

I know that this is not the purpose of the forum here, but I really think it might help you to describe why you, an American not living in the Mideast but, I presume, in an urban area of the USA with probably thousands of non-terrorist Moslems in general vicinity, are so worried about a billion people somehow being condemned by their misguided faith to try and convert or kill you. The chances of your getting hit by a terrorist attack are almost surely massively lower than your changes of getting hit by a car on a freeway, for example, yet you don't write hundreds of comments about America's over-dependency on automobiles (fueled in part by oil from terrorist-financing monarchies). If you are genuinely concernd about the threat of Islamic terrorism to others, not yourself, then you would help them much more effectively, if you could set aside your unfounded assumption that all Moslems are at fundamentally at fault and that all other factors pale in comparison.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Yes it is clear, and it was clear when I read Sookhdeo, and it was clear that it was clear in my prior comments. But Sookhdeo's article also said that Moslems tend to cherry pick the Koran to find support in it for whatever they want to believe. Ulema Schpulema. Obviously what the West needs to do is to encourage non-violent, democratic, "moderate" Islamic believers and help them ward off the Jihadies, not lump the two together in one basket as you have done repeatedly, despite your feeble denials, N.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Warning flags to up when a "historian" writes in bold, broad, black and white terms. Was Paul Wolfowitz on the "right side" of history when he predicted a cakewalk to Baghdad ? Was Junior Bush on history's "right side" when he predicted that France and the UN would support his hypocritical hype on the need to "disarm Saddam" by force before the inspectors had completed their mission in March, 2003 ? Was Lydie England on the "right side of history" at Abu Ghraib ? Was the Brazilian Menezes on the "wrong side" of history when he was gunned down in the London subway ? Reality is more complicated than Mr. Hanson pretends.

That said, he is at least not so blind as to fail to realize that the main issue here is "a minority of religious fanatics", not all of Islam.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

If you bash your way straight into a hornets' nest, stupidly expecting the hornets to shower you with flowers, is your stupidity the fault of the hornets ?

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

E.S.: I reject utterly any association of my comments with your juvenile cartoon fantasies. Going into Iraq the way Bush & Co did (without international support, or a rational justification, or even a halfway plausible strategy, and crapping all over American traditions in the process) was asinine, regardless of how anyone tries to do pseudopsychohistory on Islamic terrorists.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

In reverse order, Mr. Ryan,

I am not interested in "refuting his large points": Hanson makes dozens of them in dozens of subject areas, I don't have all day, and most of them I basically agree with anyway.

I utterly reject the ahistorical, propagandistic, simple-minded, unworkable, and foolish concept of a "war against Islamists".

George W. Bush, the Pentagon, and the U.S. military fight wars against armies. That has always been the main job of the latter two in the past and it is not going to change in the immediate future. From time to time, the military also fufills other missions such as quelling riots in American inner cities, delivering food to Tsunami victims, catching nasty guys like Noriega, and other less praiseworthy actions from Kent State to Guantanamo.

Whatever you want to call the current business of the military in Iraq ("trying to shore up an occupation bungled beyond hope by American politicians in order to prepare for cut-and-run" would be my characterization) it is not a war against "terror" or "for democracy" or any such Goebbels-like horse manure, nor is it fighting "a war against Islamists". "Islamists" are are not an army, or a country, or even a coherent organized entity, and their main centers are anyway in places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan where no American troops are being blown up, or at least only very rarely.

I have the same tolerance for G.W. Bush that I had for his predecessors; the main difference is he has screwed up much worse than they did (and they screwed up pretty badly. Read American history for details).

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Nice colloquy. Reminds somehow of John Birch Society tracts I used to run across as a kid in a conservative county. But, I don't have these kinds of discussions with this sort of cartoon-like Moslem and don't anticipate ever having them (although I did have a Moslem room-mate once and he WAS pretty creepy, though he did not sound like Sinbad the Sailor). If you had your way such dialogues might become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I frankly don't see much chance of your numberless, undifferentiated, impractical, fear-driven, non-agenda being adopted in the West. Thank God.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Whatever the ultimate merits of his ultimate argument here (if there is one, it is quite undiscernable from the above series of cheap pot shots), Mr. Simon clearly has reading or attention difficulties. "Obviously" I did NOT say, in my little analogy, that "hornets are not to blame". What I said, or rather implied, is that hornets are not to blame FOR THE STUPIDITY of someone who tries to deal with them IN A STUPID WAY. I hope this clears up any confusion any reader of this overly long digression may have.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

N., I don't think Furnish has very good figures, but they suffice to burst your paranoid bubble. According to what he says here, at least 90% of Moslems are not even "Jihadists", let alone terrorists. Clearly, some other set of factors (probably, most serious historians would doubtless suggest, a great many factors) OTHER than religion are needed to explain Islamic terrorism.

I have nothing against admonishing Moslems to reform the deficiencies in their religion, but you can't encourage reform by repeatedly insisting in a prejudical way that 1.3 billion people are to be continually insulted and defamed because of the horrific sins of a few thousand, who happen to be of the same very broad spiritual faith, WHATEVER the disagreeable beliefs held in common by the 1.3 Bil. and the several thousand. You might as well blame all Jews for the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin or all Catholics for the IRA, or all Americans for Abu Ghraib.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


1. Your mighty XXXX joke was directed at YOUR imagination of a nutty idea that you mistakenly attributed to me. What I actually said, (#65721) was:

"Obviously what the West needs to do is to encourage non-violent, democratic, "moderate" Islamic believers and help them ward off the Jihadies, not lump the two together in one basket".

Somehow you managed to misread this as:

"what the West needs to do is to talk directly to Moslems and beg them to change their ways"

If you did not study reading or arithmetic in primary school, what did you study ?

2. I did not mean to suggest that you had ideas similar to those of the John Birch Society (neither do I incidentally). I was only remarking that your style
of writing in that comment reminded me of one their pet techniques: the caricatured conversation of the well-meaning wimp trying to reason with the diabolical, sly and irredemiably evil enemy. I have seen nothing in your many comments that suggests any real affinity for arch-conservativism or fascism, but the way you talk about Moslems is certainly reminiscent (not always, but all too often) of the way Birchers talked about communists, or Nazis spoke of Jews -as a kind of ironclad or biologically fixed monolith.

3. I am not sure about the dating of your theological references. I thought Mohamed was in the 7th not the 12th century. At any rate, I have no problem agreeing that Islam is quite antiquated in many ways and in need of serious reform, and that such reform could be a contributing factor, possibly even the most important factor, to curbing Islamic terrorism. I just don't buy that 1 billion + Moslems ALL (and because you don't differentiate between them -or probably are not capable of differentiating- in any meaningful or quantitative way, you repeatedly imply ALL) take this however-many centuries old "theology" as "seriously" as you assume they do. And your many posts to that effect don't convince me, because you argue -often without much citation or reference- mainly from polemics and theory, and rarely from historical development, objectively and realistically interpreted.

I furthermore cannot ever imagine a billion Moslems yearning above all else to take on the West in a fight to the death. As you yourself indicated, most of them are not suicidal. I also don't think many in the West want to convert huge numbers of Moslems into suicide terrorists, which is one ultimate likely outcome of repeatedly assuming and asserting that they are all inherently our enemies because they are slaves to a doctrine of Jihad against infidels.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Mr. Shcherban: I don't think your theory covers the whole picture (I am bothered by a similar lack of differentiation as with Mr. Friedman's take), but your perspective comes noticeably closer to a full explanation, and you certainly have a much better grasp of the relevant history and the parts of it which back your formulation.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Your insults are juvenile and a waste of everyone's time, but I will offer a very limited and partial answer to your question about a "workable framework for action" (which is quite unsurprisingly irrelevant to the thread you have barged in on).

There are at least two obvious ways that 9-11 could have averted: (1) Those hijackers were not U.S. residents and could have been stopped from taking flight classes (2) One armed guard per plane could have stopped them enroute (El Al discovered this trick 35 years ago, yet has somehow not gone bankrupt). Of course, next time the bad guys are likely to try something (in Monty Python word's - I hope even a "presentist" like yourself might be familiar with that name) COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. But certainly creating thousands of more recruits for them by our asinine blundering in Iraq (according my non-relative Richard Clarke, who knows far more about these things than Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz, let alone either of us) is clearly NOT a good way to go about preventing the next attack. Of course, we should have gotten rid of Saddam: when it was relatively easy to do so, e.g. in 1985 or 1991. Go back to your "baited breath" now and keep it to yourself please. The odor is not particularly pleasant.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

make that

"could have been averted" instead of "could have averted"


"not U.S. citizens" instead of "not U.S. residents"

in line 1 of my paragraph 2 above

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

We have wandered far from Mahdism, or maybe not all.

1. There are 1.3 billion Muslims according to Furnish here. How do you know that the "someone raised as a Muslim" whom you think you are "seeing the world as" is representative of Muslims generally ?

Seems to me it is much more likely that you will end up (i.e and already have been) basing your "review of their thinking" on some very atypically extroverted, agitated, and verbose Moslems who are anything but representative.

2. How is your ability to read Arabic ? Furnish at least can do that.

3. What have you got against History (trends, agents, contingency, mulitple causes of major events) etc. ?

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Simon, you are really over the top.

First you jump into a thread and trash it, and then you burst in again to another thread to bombastically demand a sweeping save-the-world strategic plan from me and then nitpick when I choose instead to make only a few less sweeping but practical suggestions in reply. What have you got against Hippocrates ? Is he too "pastist" for you, or are you too wrapped in your own rhetorical tap dancing and worship of Al Gore's "invention", to follow an indirect reference ?

I like your Bushism, by the way: how he never stops thinking of new ways to harm America. In fact I like it so much, I'll quote him back to you.
When are you going to stop taking juvenile pot shots here and actually present an original idea of your own ? Just an idea. No grand global strategy required. I will not wait with any sort of breath, but I think it's time for you to "put your cards on the table."

Arnold Shcherban - 8/1/2005

As I repeatedly responded to the comments with analogous
contents, one can hardly find any theory in the history of the world that covered all the instances and intricacies of any complex socio-political phenomenon.
Therefore, the crucial criterion in evaluation of such theories should be whether the theory accounts for the Essense and Major part of those instances and intricacies (and whether there is competing theory out there that meets this criterion closer).
I believe that my theory, if one can call it 'theory',
better fits indicated criterion than any other theory
known to me. In case I'm mistaken making the later conclusion, reference the one that, in your opinion, does.

N. Friedman - 7/31/2005


My comment was not directed at you. And, if you read enough of Omar, you would see that I am correct.

N. Friedman - 7/30/2005


You sound a lot like the Turks in their blind hatred for the Armenians. Your attitude is the attitude of genocide.

Arnold Shcherban - 7/30/2005

Correction: "...against Egypt in" 1956.

E. Simon - 7/29/2005

The point is not to trash anything and _no one_ has a problem with practical suggestions, other than the fact that the MAIN PROBLEM you cite in dealing with Islamic terrorism is that it is the amorphous, unconventional nature of the groups under which it operates. I don't think it is a pot shot to point out that while this is true, it is NOT something to just blame on the administration as if they are intentionally painting it that way only for propoganda and purposes of self-aggrandizement. It has to do with the relative ease with which loosely collectivized, less organized groups can now operate due to realized, historic changes. Why every aspect of the most important organizational behaviors in modern society, such as labor patterns to commerce to political organization, can be profoundly affected by the same revolution in information technology that has brought us GPS systems and real-time transfer of terabytes of information, (among numerous others), while implying that our understanding and analysis of the operations and impact of politically-inclined criminal terrorist organizations shouldn't be affected by this realization, is ludicrous. That this important idea which you touch on, can be evaded by pretending that it is nothing more than a feather in the cap of Bush is where you are irresponsibly letting your politics get in the way of a serious discussion, and YES, you _should_ be called out on it.

I think offers to provide serious input into strategic considerations should be taken most seriously by those who consistently put down every piece of strategic analysis (or something even approximating it) offered in this forum, as has been noticed by at least 2 participants on the threads on this particular board and numerous others previously (including blog-operators and editors hosted by or serving this site).

N. Friedman - 7/29/2005


On point 1, from reading a lot of histories and travel books regarding different parts of the Muslim regions.

On point 2, not brilliant. I have to use a dictionary frequently. As I said, I am an amateur.

On point 3, I like history. My thought experiment is a supplement, not a replacement.

By the way, you said I misquoted you regarding your statement about encouraging Muslims . So that we are clear, I was thinking about your statement: Obviously what the West needs to do is to encourage non-violent, democratic, "moderate" Islamic believers and help them ward off the Jihadies.... http://hnn.us/comments/65721.html (#65721). I do not make things up although I do, like everyone else, make mistakes.

E. Simon - 7/29/2005

Your admission that their actions (whoever, _they_ are, to avoid lumping, let's just say "terrorists" generally) could have been avoided through policy considerations then unplanned for, is an important tactic, you don't even connect it to a strategy. Neither is "don't make angry terrorists angrier by giving them grievances." Incarcerating criminals creates grievances no less hypothetical than the ones you opportunistically attribute to terrorists but not an excuse for desisting from government action against them, or against anything against else which they would protest. As for something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, this is true, and humorously enough a page from your good friend W's book. Except genius that he is not, he at least not so adroitly STILL attempted to spell out the obvious conclusion you neglect to draw.

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful - and so are we," the US president told a high-level meeting of Pentagon officials.

"They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people - and neither do we."

ALl the same, you also made no attempt to even address the nature of how every organized activity - from work, to propogandizing to commerce to plotting to blow up large buildings and government installations - has been changed by information technology. This directly impacts on the neat lines you so obviously implore everyone here to define, as well as the COMPLETELY DIFFERENT tactics you manage to hazily envision, if not in much detail.

Is there a reason why you should find the tenor (or odor) significantly different from that which you employ with Mr. Friedman on a daily basis? Oh, that's right. You don't notice when it comes from you.

N. Friedman - 7/29/2005


I come at the issue differently than you. My idea is to see the world as someone raised as a Muslim might think of the matter. That requires considerable study of Islam and Muslim cultures but it is a rather useful approach - or at least I think it is.

You, by contrast, attempt, so far as I can discern, to review their thinking by translation into our Western, quasi secular world. Your approach may have some advantages. I think mine will better predict what will occur.

And note: I am not speaking literally but figuratively. I have not, am not and will not convert as part of my thought experiment. Which is to say, my approach is that of a thought experiment, at least to some extent. The remainder is to read histories and travel logs of the region, of which I have read quite a number.

I do not employ John Birch approach or anything of the sort, despite what you suggest. You tend to read more into my words than I intend. And, to be a bit blunt, that comes from your disinterest in reading me carefully. But again, do not read more into what I am saying than what I write.

If I misread what you wrote, my apology.

E. Simon - 7/29/2005

Despite not being "an army, or a country, or even a coherent organized entity," I assume you wouldn't dispute that events such as 9/11 show that "'Islamists'" are capable of inflicting the kind of damage to a country comparable in scope to related actions of any army, country or coherent organized entity thus far known. Recent "American history" is also full of fascinating details such as how telecommunications and fiber optics have allowed for the dissemination of so much information that organizational personnel charts and rigidly enforced chains of command are hardly necessary for a loose organization or collective to operate with even greater efficiency or impact, especially when it comes to events so destructive they hardly require a continuity of action. It seems combining some ideology with a bit of technology goes a little further nowadays than was once the case.

I'm aware of the word presentist. Should a penchant for overlooking modern details compel the creation of a label "pastist?"

Look. Discrete definitions and a workable framework for action with historical precedent would be great. That doesn't mean they apply, no matter how hard one tries to find a way. If you do, however, then by all means, offer your historical analogy and its associated, detailed plan of action. Of course, we understand your clear disclaimer that it can't so much as mention Islamic history. We wait with baited breath; I hope your lack of voicing one so far, combined with your biting criticism of every published proposal under the sun, indicates that an ingenious, revelatory plan is in the works. Let us know when you have it ready, please.

Arnold Shcherban - 7/29/2005

You really need, but are not aware of any applications
of my "theory" to real history?
Ok, though I don't believe you are sincere in faulting my point of view, I'll give you a couple, but in a very brief
format, since everyone who claims to be at least a well read observer of the Mid-East history has to know them.

British empire Mid-East and Central Asia semi-colonial affairs in 19th&20th century and its clock-bomb heritage.
Iran, 1953.
UK, France, and Israel against Egypt in 1954.
US wholesale support of Israel from 60s to this day.
US-UK wholesale support of every "right" repressive regime
(examples include but not limited by Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey) the region throughout second half of the 20th century (basically uninterupted up to now).

But, of course, is just trivialities, insignificant
aberrations in the mainstream Western struggle for "democracy and freedom" around the world for the
ahistorical pseudo-historians like you are.
It is Islam and contemporary European leaders (of course,
just those who don't support today's US policies enthusiastically enough) who are in fault.
I don't want anything else to tell you on the subject in question, so let's drop just it.

N. Friedman - 7/29/2005


I was making a joke at what, to me, seems to be a pretty nutty idea you suggested.

My point was that only Muslims can decide what they want their religion to be about. Contribution by non-Muslims are, frankly, more likely to cause problems than to solve them. Consider it this way, I have not heard many Christians willing to take suggestions from Jews about what Christians ought believe about Jesus. Have you?

And, to be perfectly clear, I am not a right winger. I am not a John Bircher. I consider myself rather liberal.

In my view - not quite expert, mind you -, I think that prudence suggests that people who take seriously 12th Century theology are rather dangerous, whether they are Christian, Muslim or Jew. At the moment, it is Muslims who are taking 12th Century theology rather seriously and, given the history of Islam, you can expect that the problems we now face will go on for generations because there is no reason, thus far, for it not to go on for generations.

It is to be noted - as many people who agree with me note -, Islam has yet to conduct a systematic re-think of the traditional view that Jihad fi sabil Allah means bringing Muslim rule and law to the world. While there have been reformers, they, unfortunately, have never really held great sway.

And, more than likely, the process for real reform to occur will be bloody, just like it was with Christianity. To expect otherwise is, I think, to be naive. But even worse, the present consists more of Muslims merely following the path of tradition. They need to persuade themselves to abstain from a central tenet of classical Islam.

Our only contribution could possibly be to defend ourselves, whether by better security or by fighting them or by some other idea. But we are not in a position to tell them what their religion ought to be about.

Is that clear enough for you?

Edward Siegler - 7/29/2005

Scott - It's not "zero tolerance for error on the part of the Bush administration" that drives Peter's remarks, but an outright hatred of it.

Peter - with your penchant for attacking articles for not offering solutions to the problems they describe I thought you'd be interested in one that does present a solution. But the solution in this case coincides with Bush administration policy, so the fact that Hanson shares your hope that terrorism has been created by a wider culture (or series of cultures) and does not represent all of Islam doesn't lead you to find much merit in his argument.

There are some bold black and white distinctions that all historians, and people, must make. Hansen is not afraid to make them, which is proof of his worth as a historian, not a "warning flag".

You're comments reveal an emotional agenda rather than an objective look at the facts in this case.

N. Friedman - 7/29/2005


You make it sound all so easy. You are talking about people changing their views about one of the very central tenets of their religion. You really think you can "encourage" such a thing.

That, to me, is the most naive thing I have ever read!!! You clearly have not had much dealing with people who are devout.

Tell me, what would you say to them?

Something like this, maybe: "Dear XXXX, I, an atheist born in the West in a post Christian society, am here to encourage you to be peaceful. Mohammed said: "[fill in the blank]. Ignore the ulema. Please believe me. I know your religion better than the ulema. I want only to help you."

Here is their reply: "You are a kafr and enemy of Islam. Your words mean nothing to us. Only your actions count."

So, then, maybe you might reply: "Dear XXXX, we have treated you bad in the past. We shall not do it again. And, to make up for our past sins, we shall treat Muslims well from now on. So, now that we are to be peaceful, we ask only that you be peaceful as well."

Here is their reply: "We accept the changes you propose. But, they are insufficient. Allah only permits temporary truces. The injustice is the existence of the dar al-harb. Are you prepared to accept Shari'a and Muslim rule? If not, then we reject your kind offer."

Scott Michael Ryan - 7/29/2005

Two comments here, both related:

1. For someone who claims to understand history you have zero tolerance for error on the part of the Bush administration. Surely, you don't expect this war against the Islamists to be a neat and tidy one without error, do you?

2. Hanson, "writes in bold, broad, black and white terms", because he has the ability to mine decades of the historical record to unearth larger trends. While you criticize him for that you bring up minor episodes such as Lydie (sic) England and Abu Ghraib or a failed prediction from Wolfowitz. You could do that all day and still not come close to refuting his larger points.

N. Friedman - 7/29/2005


One clarification. The die became more or less cast as law no later than the 12th Century - maybe earlier. But, frankly, the periods before that acted according the doctrine, as if it were law, and so did the scholars and mostly everyone else.

Apologists argue that Mohammed's wars must be understood as part of the culture in which Mohammed lived - although, frankly, his wars are of a different order of magnitude than what his wars are compared with - . They then argue that one can not blame Islam for the first 5 hundred years of nearly continous offensive war because everyone made war - hence, all religions are religions of the sword (which, frankly, is not so but it is an interesting thought, as, in fact, a lot of offensive war has been made by all cultures over the ages). They then say that the noted doctrine came into place during the period of intense war with the Europeans (e.g. the Crusades) so such formulation of the doctrine by the ulema should be overlooked as well. Then they argue that after Islamdom was decisively conquered, some peaceful doctrines set in (i.e. in the 19th Century in India) and, for a time, had a wide audience, so it is not fair to look at the millennia of offensive wars that preceded under the banner of Jihad for conquest. Then they say that now, the Jihadists are misreading the traditional view which, according to the apologists, would not have arisen other than due to the context they arose in.

Those who view the matter my way say that Islam was warlike as soon as Mohammed reached Medina and came to have a sufficient fighting force. With the exception of periods when offensive war became impossible, the vast majority view of Muslim scholars and the ulema - during the entire 1400 years of Islam - was that war is mandatory to bring Muslim rule to the world. Such seems to have been Mohammed's view, the view of his early followers and the view of most the religion's scholars for 1400 years. And, moreover, from early on, there are detailed rules of combat, who can be killed, who gets the booty, what to do with those defeated, when fighting should begin, etc., etc.

Hence, if the Jihadists are misreading the doctrine, they have a lot of company since their view is the dominant view during the ages. And, surely, they are, historically speaking, in the mainstream.

N. Friedman - 7/29/2005


What I said, including what you quote me as saying, does not remotely support what you claim I am arguing. I said the doctrine requires the use of violence where necessary to advance the goal. I did not say everyone so believes the doctrine and, moreover, I went out of my way to say that only a percentage of even those who believe in the doctrine are to be regarded as violent. But again, the vast majority believe in the doctrine - which is a different thing from saying that they are all violent - and, moreover, that is why, in fact, there is a serious problem.

Learn to read!!!

Edward Siegler - 7/29/2005

I found this to be a worthwhile read:

Reformation or Civil War?
The jihadists cannot be reasoned with, only defeated.

Remember how shortly after September 11 Mohammed Atta’s lawyer father sounded worried in his cozy apartment? He stammered that his son did not help engineer the deaths of 3,000 Americans. According to him, the videos of the falling towers were doctored. Or maybe the wily Jews did it. Why, in fact, he had only talked to dear Mohammed Junior that very day, September 11. Surely someone other than his son was the killer taped boarding his death plane.

Apparently Mohammed el-Amir was worried of American retaliation — as if a cruise missile might shatter the very window of his upper-middle class Giza apartment on the premise that the father’s hatred had been passed on to the son.

He sings a rather different tune now. Mohammed el-Amir recently boasts that he would like to see more attacks like the July 7 bombings of the London subway.

Indeed, he promised to use any future fees from his interviews to fund more of such terrorist killings of the type that his now admittedly deceased son mastered. Apparently in the years since 9/11, el-Amir has lost his worry about an angry America taking out its wrath on the former Muslim Brotherhood member who sired such a monster like Atta.

Yet one wonders at what he is saying now, after the worst terrorist attack in Egyptian history at the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

Egypt finally is suffering from the same terror and mayhem that its radical sons like the pampered Atta and Dr. Zawahiri unleashed on so many poorer others. The Mubaracracy may not take kindly to Atta’s father endorsing such carnage from his pleasant apartment that is incinerating those other than Jews and Westerners — and threatens to ruin the nation’s entire tourist industry.

The father of Mohammed Atta is emblematic of this crazy war, and we can learn various lessons from his sad saga.

First, for all their braggadocio, the Islamists are cowardly, fickle, and attuned to the current political pulse.

When the West is angry and liable to expel Middle Eastern zealots from its shores, strike dictators and terrorists abroad, and seems unfathomable in its intentions, the Islamists retreat. Thus a shaky al-Amir once assured us after 9/11 that his son was not capable of such mass murder.

But when we seem complacent, they brag of more killing to come. Imagine an American father giving interviews from his apartment in New York, after his son had just blown up a shrine in Mecca, with impunity promising to subsidize further such terrorist attacks. If our government allowed him to rant and rave like that in such advocacy of mass murder, then we would be no better than he.

The other lesson is that the war the Arab autocracies thought was waged against the West by their own zealots has now turned on them. The old calculus of deflecting their failures onto us by entering in an unspoken unholy agreement with the Islamists is coming to an end. George Bush’s “You are either with us or against us” is belatedly arriving to the Middle East’s illegitimate regimes.

And the governments of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other autocracies are in worse shape than we are. At least we are promoting democratic alternatives to their dictatorships, in the hopes that when such strongmen fall, there is another choice besides the jihadists. But the autocrats themselves have nowhere to go. Since they never allowed a loyal democratic opposition, there is only the unsavory choice of either liberalizing while they are in the middle of a bombing war with extremists — or the fate of the shah.

Quite simply, Islam is not in need of a reformation, but of a civil war in the Middle East, since the jihadists cannot be reasoned with, only defeated. Only with their humiliation, will come a climate of tolerance and reform, when berated and beaten-down moderates can come out of the shadows.

The challenge for the Middle East is analogous to our own prior war with Hitler who sought to redefine Western culture along some racial notion of a pure Volk long ago unspoiled by Romanizing civilization. Proving the West was not about race or some notion of an ubermenschen ruling class did not require an “internal dialogue,” much less another religious reformation, but the complete annihilation of Nazism.

So it must be with the latest fad of radical Islamicism. Contrary to popular opinion, there has not been a single standard doctrine of hatred in the Middle East. Radical Islam is just the most recent brand of many successive pathologies, not necessarily any more embraced by a billion people than Hitler’s Nazism was characteristic of the entire West.

In the 1940s the raging -ism in the Middle East was anti-Semitic secular fascism, copycatting Hitler and Mussolini — who seemed by 1942 ascendant and victorious.

Between the 1950s and 1970s Soviet-style atheistic Baathism and tribal Pan-Arabism were deemed the waves of the future and unstoppable.

By the 1980s Islamism was the new antidote for the old bacillus of failure and inadequacy.

Each time an -ism was defeated, it was only to be followed by another — as it always is in the absence of free markets and constitutional government.

Saddam started out as a pro-Soviet Communist puppet, then fancied himself a fascistic dictator and pan-Arabist nationalist, and ended up building mosques, always in search of the most resonant strain of hatred. Arafat was once a left-wing atheistic thug. When the Soviet Union waned, he dropped the boutique socialism, and became a South-American-style caudillo. At the end of his days, he too got religion as the Arab Street turned to fundamentalism and Hamas threatened to eat away his support.

The common theme is not the Koran, but the constant pathology of the Middle East — gender apartheid, polygamy, religious intolerance, tribalism, no freedom, a censored press, an educational system of brainwashing rather than free inquiry — that lends itself to the next cult to explain away failure and blame the West, which always looms as both whore and Madonna to the Arab Street.

Iraq has inadvertently become the battleground of a long overdue reckoning, a bellwether of the future of the Middle East. If the constitutionalists win, then the jihadists will be in retreat and there will be at last a third way between radical Islam and dictatorship.

We must now step up our efforts. At home we should no more tolerate the expression of Islamic fascism on the shores of the West than Churchill would have allowed Hitler Youth to teach Aryan global racial superiority in London while it was under the Blitz.

When the extremists are repatriated to the Middle East, and understand they are never again welcome in Europe and America, millions of others will know the reason why — and decide by their own attitudes to the killers in their midst whether they themselves wish ever again to visit, work, or be educated in the West.

If the terrorists are not isolated and ostracized at home, then any Western government would have to be suicidal to admit any more young males from the Islamic Middle East. Indeed, if the Iranian public or the Saudis, or Egyptian citizenry do not begin creating a climate hostile to radical Islam, then they de facto can only become the enemies of the United States in a war that they can only lose.

To fathom our success abroad, read what the Islamic websites — or Mohammed Atta’s own father — now say about the evil Americans and George Bush, who, they lament, have set Muslim against Muslim in Lebanon, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine. The foreign contagion of democracy and reform, despite the best efforts of both the mullah and the strongman, now infects the Arab Street and it seems to be driving bin Laden and Bashar Assad alike crazy.

Iraqi guardsmen are fighting al Qaedists as Afghans die in firefights with Taliban remnants. Note well that at the loci of American democratizing presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, there are few local Iraqis and Afghans — as there are few Turkish or Indian Muslims — who are eager for global jihad against the West. The killers instead flock from elsewhere to those new nations to stop the experiment before it spreads. Give dictatorial Pakistan or Egypt billions, and we get ever more terrorists; give the Iraqis and Afghans their freedom and their citizens are unlikely to show up in London and Madrid blowing up civilians, but rather busy at home killing jihadists.

In this Mexican standoff, the Islamists, dictators, and democratic reformers are waging a struggle for the hearts and minds of the Middle East. We have had our own similar three-way shootout in the West between fascists, Communists, and liberal republics. Backing Communists to stop fascists or helping autocrats fight Communists were stop-gap, wartime exigencies — never solutions in themselves.

The Middle East does not need a reformation in Islam as much as a war to eradicate a minority of religious fanatics who are empowered through their blackmail of dictatorships — and to do so in a way that leads to constitutional government rather than buttressing a police state. So far governments have chosen appeasement and bribery — if at times some torture when demands for investigations rise — and so time is running out for the entire region.

There are a million Muslims in Israel — the mother of all evils in the radical Islamic mind. Yet very few have turned themselves into global jihadists, and hundreds are not blowing themselves up daily in Tel Aviv, much less in London or New York. Why? Perhaps the twofold knowledge that they have rights in Israel not found in the Arab world that they don’t wish to forfeit, and they are surrounded by people who would not tolerate their terrorism.

For the first time, Afghans and Iraqis have a stake in their own future — and know the United States is at last on the right side of history and intends to stay and win by their side.

So we press on.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His website is victorhanson.com.

N. Friedman - 7/29/2005


The reason, in simple terms, of why the warlike interpretation is dominant is the doctrine of abrogation. According to that doctrine, the Koran is a rolling revelation - that is, Allah's word was revealed in stages.

In the first period of Islam, when Mohammed was in Mecca, he advocated peace. Later, when he moved to Yathrib, now called Medinah after Mohommed's name, fighting became optional. Thereafter, when he became powerful, fighting was deemed mandatory.

By virtue of the doctrine of abrogation, that which is later supercedes, to the extent there is an inconsistency, that which went before. The call to war is made unequivically and, hence, is deemed to completely abrogate the peaceful provisions.

The doctrine of abrogation itself comes from an interpretation of a verse in a sura in the Koran.

The Sufi, you will note, reject the classical version of the doctrine. However, historically, the big dispute in Islam - so far as interpretation of the documents is concerned - came between the traditionalists and the rationalists. After a bloody fight between them, the traditionalists won. During the early years of Islam, there was an extraordinary amount of fighting - which is how Islamic rule came to cover such a large territory within a short period of time. In any event, the traditionalists won and, moreover, the result of the fight was the creation of ulema - doctors of the law - who cast the warlike provision directly into the law and declared it mandatory for the Muslim ummah, collectively speaking, on the basis that such provision abrogated the earlier revelations of peace.

Is that clear enough for you?

N. Friedman - 7/29/2005


Again, you mistate my views. I am rather tired of you doing that.

And, Patrick Sookhdeo is a well known scholar, for what it is worth. He has written widely on the topic at hand.

In any event, what he is saying, which you completely mistate, is that the version of Islam which is dominant is warlike. I have never said that Islam has to be interpretted as warlike. I have said that it normally is.

And the reason I am concerned about the warlike version of Islam is that such is the face which has shown itself through most of history.

But note: Peter, maybe you should read the article more carefully. You clearly did not and you failed to note that the warlike version is the dominant version, particularly now.

N. Friedman - 7/28/2005

To all who disagree with me, read this article:


Note: the subscription is free. And the article is first rate. It will, with a bit of luck, end some of the debate on the issue being discussed.

N. Friedman - 7/28/2005


We went through this before with the Caliphate issue. I showed you that you were wrong. Read the same documents. They also include information on the interest in spreading the dar al-Islam.

As for which Muslims, the doctrine applies to all believers. But, most believers want to live.

You might do a bit of investigation regarding Jihad in the history of Islam. What I write is precisely accurate.

N. Friedman - 7/28/2005


It is Peter who criticizes this cite, not me.

N. Friedman - 7/28/2005


Which comment are you referring to? The one liner immediately above was intended as a joke if that is what you are referring to.

Edward Siegler - 7/28/2005

I agree that this website is interesting, N. If not, why are we all visiting it with such regularity?

Edward Siegler - 7/28/2005

N. - I don't understand your point.

N. Friedman - 7/28/2005


One correction: the Jihadi attacks in London were the work of British Muslims. I said Londoners and that is too narrow and, for the first group of Jihadis, incorrect.

N. Friedman - 7/28/2005


Debate is useful and desirable, so long as it is informed, so to speak. It is, in a way, a learning process to see your views dissected.

So, I do not see your problem.

On the other hand, debate does not mean twisting the views of your "opponent" to views not held. Thus, your accusations against me to views I simply do not hold. That is your problem, not mine and not the problem of most of the other posters.

Regarding the calibre of the historians on this website, one man (or woman's) great historians is considered second rate by others. What does appear on this website are a number of different views, usually fairly well informed, whether or not you or I agree with the author. And, in that regard, this website is rather interesting.

N. Friedman - 7/28/2005


First, Muslims familiar with their religion surely well understand their moral obligation to spread Muslim rule throughout the world and, likely, the vast, vast majority of Muslims believe that such goal is obligatory. That, however, is a different thing from saying that most Muslims advocate or want any part of violence. I have never said that and I do not think it so.

Second, the doctrine does not require all Muslims to participate in violence. It requires all of them to work toward the spread of Muslim rule. Which is to say, people can employ evangelical type efforts called dawa and such, you will note, is rather common. I believe there are very few Muslim who, if they believe in their religion, do not in principle seek to spread the regions of the world where Islam rules. This is because such is - as I have said repeatedly - a central tenet of the religion.

Third, the doctrine makes obligatory, under specified circumstances, the use of violence by the community collectively considered and requires those not actually fighting to be cooperative. Such circumstances include offensive war to spread Muslim rule to regions now ruled by infidel.

Fourth, where an opportunity to spread Islam to an infidel nation presents itself - assuming the potential conquestee nation does not accept Islamic rule after, for example, being invited to do so (and in some schools of Islamic law, there must be an actual written invitation before Jihad can begin), - Jihad is mandatory if there is a reasonable chance of success.

Fifth, no peace treaties are permitted. Hence, the dearth of peace treaties between Muslim countries and others. The most conspicuous exception (and, so far as I know, the first one in the entire history of Islam) was between Israel and Sadat's Egyptian government and, to note, such issue was not well received among Muslims in Egypt (in fact, it was violently opposed and helped lead to his death) or anywhere else in the Muslim regions. In any event, under Islamic law, only truces (called hudna) of limited duration, no longer than 10 years, may be entered into (and, if need be, renewed), but fighting must - and such is obligatory - resume as soon as the Muslim community is sufficiently well armed that it believes it might win the war.

Sixth, one curious thing, I think, about the Jihadi attacks in London is that they were carried out by Londoners. You may recall that a few months before the Jihadi attacks in London, Britain was accused by a prominent Muslim cleric of violating what is called a covenant of security. A covenant of security permits a Muslim to live in an infidel land. When there was a covenant of security in place in Britain, a British Muslim could not participate in a Jihadi attack. Only an outside could. Hence, the fatwa that the covenant of security had been broken (and that, in our terms, means that the British began cracking down on the lunatic clerics) means that a British citizen could participate in Jihad against the British. Coincidence? Not likely since those involved have the common denomonator of being very religious.

Note: I have not said that all Muslims advocate violence. I have discussed a doctrine of faith. That is a different thing. And, beyond all reasonable doubt, the doctrine at issue is the cause for the current Jihad.

N. Friedman - 7/27/2005


There are no doubt some exceptions. :)

N. Friedman - 7/27/2005


A problem with your theory is that it needs to be applicable to some actual examples somewhere in the actual world. Which is to say, someone needs to step forward with some evidence suggesting that the Jihadis are actually responding to some specific injustice or series of injustices. Such proof, in my view, does not exist and is contrary to what the Jihadis themselves claim, which is a small inconvenience for your theory.

And, I might add, if there were really specific grievances, the Jihadis could have left a note - like Luther did or like the Americans did in the Declaration of Independence - in which the specific grievances were stated. That does not mean that violence would not have been involved. Such does mean, however, that you could say that the Jihadis were acting due to certain injustices that they might be remedied.

Turning now to reality, the main "justification" asserted by the Jihadis generally speaking regarding the global Jihad against the Crusaders and Jews - as they call the matter - is that we have troops in Saudi Arabia. And the stated reason for such objection is that such troops are not permissible under Islamic law.

So, while in the abstract one might, if the words of the Jihadis are basically ignored, conclude that Western colonialism or US imperialism might somehow be causally connected to the global Jihad, we have no facts creating that causal link. What we have are facts connecting the Jihad to specific issues that arise under Muslim law and theology. Which is to say, apart from religious objection, US troops in Saudi Arabia ought be for Saudis - if the issue were not religion - no different, causally speaking, from US troops in Germany are to Germans. Clearly, that is not the case and has not had the same reaction - event though many Germans would prefer we remove our troops from Germany.

Now, the Jihadis have also stated repeatedly that they seek to establish a caliphate which rules according to Islamic law. In fact, such appears to be one of the Jihadis main goals. Not to be too contentious but the fact is that the caliphate is, in its nature, a religio/political institution, as the word refers to the successors to Mohammed. Again, we are talking about something specific to Islam.

And, in fact, the reason for having a Caliphate - should facts be important to understanding the matter - is that a Caliph, unlike the man on the street, is well recognized by Sunni Muslims to have the right to declare a Jihad for purposes of conquest. Such differs from the current state of affairs where there is a substantial debate among religious Sunni Muslims whether Jihad, without the caliphate, can be conducted for purposes of expanding the part of the world ruled by Muslims.

One might argue that there would be no reason for a war to restore the Caliphate if the Caliphate still existed. But, it is worth noting that the West actually did not force the Muslims to eliminate the Caliphate. Such was an act of modern Turkey and was a product of Turkish nationalism’s secular turn in the face of the decline and replacement of the Ottoman Empire - as it lost it imperial conquests.

Now, Europe did contribute to the decline of the Ottoman Empire - as did the ongoing dhimmi revolts, some of which were, of course, pushed by Western governments -. But, why that concerns bin Laden - if he were responding to Western bad behavior - is beyond me. The cause of recreating the Caliphate is, in fact, very imperial in nature so it does not tie in very well with there being some just response to oppression. And, in any event, the demise of the Ottoman Empire brought the return of Arab rule in places like Saudi Arabia. Was that a reason to start a global Jihad?

Many Arabs, unlike the Turks who sought to immitate the West, seemed bent from early on in restoring an empire - hence, pan-arabism, Ba'athism and pan-Islamism. In any event, Western imperialism is not the cause for the pan-movements, which seek to unite people of very different ethnic origin under one banner. Such movements have their origins entirely within and can be explained entirely as natural outgrowths of Muslim politics (with Christians championing Arab nationalism where, unlike under the Islamic banner of pan-Islamism, Christians might play an equal role) over the course of more than a millennia. Surely, you cannot blame the West for the path which some in the Muslim regions prefer pushing for imperial rather than ethnic national rule.

In that you do not wish to get into details - at least in the example I mentioned -, you might, nonetheless, assert specific facts showing that specific Jihadi acts relate somehow to colonialism or Western imperialism. I frankly to not think that the "it’s our fault" theory stands up to scrutiny. Which is to say, the hypothesis could, in theory, be true but there are no facts suggesting that the hypothesis is true. What there is, to be clear, is merely post hoc ergo proctor hoc.

Lastly, my theory is not equivalent to blaming the West for doing specific things or pursuing specific policies. I am blaming a specific doctrine held by people in many parts of the world, including in Europe and the Americas. Those who follow that doctrine are have a predilection for violence of the type we are seeing for reasons I have asserted on numerous occasions.

Edward Siegler - 7/27/2005

The prospect of one billion Muslims having any feeling of sympathy for terrorists is simply too depressing a thought for most of us to face. We instead hope with all our might that terrorism is the sole province of a small number of fanatics who do not represent mainstream Islamic thought.

Arnold Shcherban - 7/27/2005

Mr. Friedman

My approach to blame the West for the troubles in the good part of the world is actually very much akin to your blaming Islam for all troubles the West currently experience with Islamic terrorists.
You probably realize that I'm as horrified by the terrorists of all kinds and persuasions, as you are, and
condemn their murderous actions as forcefully as any unbiased man.
However, I cannot close my eyes on the miriad of historical facts and events that drive any, again, unbiased and intelligent person to the conclusion that
many of us made long ago or are making right now:
the Western colonial and later imperialistic powers made
and still making huge "contributions" to the today's state of affairs in Islamic world, and particular its relations with those powers.
It is not to say that other non-Western states are innocent and did not meddle into Muslims's internal business or captured their lands, but their contibution
to the discussed matter is smaller, and right now - practically non-existent.
Moreover, I say that in some aspects your observations about the complex (and I want to emphasize the term 'complex') nature of modern Islamic terrorism are correct and valuable, but unfortunately they don't qualify, as major causes of modern Islamic terrorism.
So far I provided prudent, though sketched rebuff to Mr. Safransky's examples, and he had quite a number of them.
Now, you want me to give detailed explanation of every
occurence of Islamic violence. You, as an inteliigent
man should realize that this is ridiculous on the first place. There is another, technical reason I can't answer your question: I don't know the details and the historical
underlinings of Sudan's events, just the general info and,
besides, not every occurence of any wide-scale and complex politico-social phenomenon can be rigorously explained within the frame of one particular theory.
Therefore, forgive me if I pass on that explanation;
the pass that does not damage my previous argumentation
a bit.

E. Simon - 7/27/2005

I think it's very presentist. "Polite" current political discourse leaves religion as a private matter to the individual because we don't want to spark the kind of religious wars of the past (which I don't think is likely, and even if so for one side, should only encourage the attempt). Epistemological arguments are difficult to tackle for mainstream society and there is exists a distinct and well-founded distrust of religiously-influenced political movements. But Clarke doesn't realize that this is a forum that should best be approached in a non-political manner, and with a mindset that is equipped to not feel threatened by objective epistemological references.

In almost any other forum, however, I would agree with his point of view and largely acquiesce to it.

E. Simon - 7/27/2005

Peter said -

"The relative role of religion generally in world history is a huge subject best left for another forum"

So finally we get more than a half-hearted admission on the role of religion in world history, but with the qualifier of its innappropriateness in this forum. Specifically which forum did you have in mind? And to add to Mr Friedman's examples, how do you envision the course of European history without the conversion of Constantine, the Moorish conquest and the Spanish Inquisition, the crusades, the Protestant Reformation? All former historical footnotes that you might now admit are a bit more "huge" than previously, but still best left to other forums, I take it.

E. Simon - 7/27/2005

Nice obfuscatory diversion with the meaningless "means not ends" drivel. Regardless of how Iraq was carried out, as action A) ("bashing straight into a hornets' nest"), it's being touted in the line in question as a cause for response B) (anything other than one's expectation that they be showered by the hornets with flowers). Don't insult the readers by assuming they have whatever cognitive deficit caused you to believe this is anything other than the point. If you want to make the argument that had we gone into Iraq in a different way, then subsequent terrorist actions couldn't _really_ be tied to it, you would have had to have made that specific argument - not that it changes the overall context of what's being debated, or that you would have realized it.

Any more sloppy insights you'd like to make and evade responsibility for?

Tim Rhea Furnish - 7/27/2005

Sorry. I meant to post "well-said" here!

Tim Rhea Furnish - 7/27/2005

Well said. I truly don't understand why some (mostly on the Left) want to shoot the messenger in this regard.

N. Friedman - 7/27/2005


Again: I am rather admiring of Islam, having spent years studying the religion and culture. I do not blame Islam wholesale other than to the extent I have noted.

Islam is, as I have said, the central motivating factor in the global Jihad. The other factors likely relate primarily to the fact that changes in the world (e.g. the elimination of the USSR), the migration of large numbers of Muslims to the West (particularly to Europe), the Internet, etc.. Such other factors create the opportunity to pursue Jihad and such tends to motivate those who believe in the classical form of the religion.

My assumption - and the poll from Britain (where sympathy is likely, far, far less than in the Muslim regions) is that there is a great deal of sympathy for the Jihadis, and largely on religious, not grievance, grounds by average Muslims as such is consistent with what is taught in schools and in mosques - and on this, there is substantial documentation including disputes (and note, there have been debates in Kuwait about whether to continue to teach Jihad as war in school to small children).

Your view is that there must be some underlying cause. But note: in each of the world's locations where Muslims come into contact with non-Muslims in great numbers, there is a dispute and such dispute employs essentially the same tactics. Coincidence? Maybe since the Tamil Tigers also used the kamakaze bomber. But the number of disputes and the commonality of tactics speaks for itself. It is surely not a coincidence that the noted Islamic doctrines cause dispute, as they have throughout history.

Tim Rhea Furnish - 7/27/2005

Ah, Mr. Clarke. Not only have your strayed far from the point of my article (intentionally?), you now take refuge in ad hominem attacks on Mr. Friedman. Why is it so bloody difficult for folks like yourself to accept that a substantial number (and whether it's 1% or 10% is not all that important--the salient issue is that in real terms the numbers are indeed substantial) of Muslims actually DO adhere to a violent worldview that is spawned, in no small part, by their religious views?

N. Friedman - 7/27/2005


I am not attempting to differentiate the actual Jihadis from others - the exact percentages really be unknown. I am, instead, attempting to find the source of what motivates those involved. I leave the question of who volunteers to die for psychologists and sociologist as I do not think it is a serious historical question.

On the other hand, your statement that "World history is not shaped only, or even mostly, by religion," is simply erroneous. In fact, religion is a major shaper of history - albeit not the only one -. Notwithstanding that point, in the contemporary world, religion has become a minor force, at least as motivation for Western oriented people living in a post religious society - as we do. Historically, - and you find me historians (and not some Marxist kook) who say otherwise -, religion played a substantial role.

In the case of Jews, religion is the reason they remained separate and apart in order to survive during the ages of diaspora. In the case of Christianity, religion was a major factor in the formation of Christian society and the laws and culture that Christianity helped spawn. It was certainly one - but not the only - cause of the Crusades (and not that the word Crusades has a religious connotation and for a reason) and many, many other wars. Religion played a major role in impeding the progress of science. The list goes on and on.

In the case of Muslims, religion played a very substantial role in the creation of the world's most rapid imperial expansion. Again, I do not say that religion is the only force involved. Obviously, there was basic will to power, desire to conquer, booty (for which Islamic law has very explicit rules regarding the splitting up of the loot), empire building, etc., etc.

And no - and I am tired of hearing it from you -, I do not take Islam to be an evil force. I take it to be an imperial force - as in VS Naipaul's position that Islam is a form of imperialism -. But, quite obviously, Islam is many, many other things, some of which are very good. It spawned a brilliant culture and brought meaning to the lives of billions of people. It spawned great art. It helped establish a brilliantly run empire.

To say that religion plays no serious role in shaping world history is, frankly, idiotic.

N. Friedman - 7/27/2005


One. There are likely dozens of times if not thousands of times more of them than we yet know of. So, posted once or twice, I do not see your point.

See this article:


N. Friedman - 7/26/2005


Which Westerners do you blame for the 2 million Christians and animists killed by the Islamists in Sudan?

Arnold Shcherban - 7/26/2005

Mr. Safranski, refuses to see that in all examples he presented that supposed to serve as overwhelming rebuttal
to Sigler's comments: Russians, Indians and Arab and Pakistani Shiites and Kurds and secular Arabs and each other the most prominent element is one or another serious and mostly bloody conflict between
the Muslims and another side, in which the West or pro-Western policies are involved, directly or indirectly.
In Russian case it is Chechnya, before which there was absolutely no Muslim terrorism there.
In Indian case it is contented Kashmir's territory - the UK's colonial heritage.
In Kurd's case it is again their long struggle not particularly against Shiites, but for their economical, cultural and poltical sovereignity/autonomy and not only in Iraq, but first and foremost in Turkey (whose goverments with the silent consent of the West killed
10 times more Kurds than Saddam Hussein, but noone charged them for the same crimes...)
"They" (the Islamic terrorists) do kill also secular Arabs, but not 'cause they just want to kill anyone who does not agree with them ideologically, but as form of resistance, though obviously barbaric and criminal, to, again, the Western occupation or
wholesale support for the despotic, corrupted, and, in their view, unfaithul regimes.

E. Simon - 7/26/2005

Pretty astounding that Clarke would offer this explanation for a post he put up in response to whether or not Iraq was to blame for all terrorist actions in the world. Characteristically circuitous, but just as astounding nonetheless.

Post #65465 clearly asks if Iraq is to blame for all terrorist actions. Clarke circuitously turns it around and immediately (and sarcastically - #65468) responds by asking why terrorist responses to Iraq can't be blamed on the "stupidity" of expecting otherwise positive dividends from it (Iraq). Stirring a hornet's nest leads directly to swarming behavior; otherwise he wouldn't have employed this analogy. He therefore intended to imply a direct line of causation. He's clearly blaming terrorism on Iraq, even if he doesn't understand his confusion between this argument and his hatred for Bush or the invasion.

N. Friedman - 7/26/2005


I would appreciate if you stop misrepresenting my views. Try reading what I have written. My comment is about the connection between religion of Islam and the global Jihad.

Where, in my above comment to which you are presumably responding, have I said that all or most Muslims are part of the current Jihad? I said no such thing there. I do believe, however, that belief in Jihad plays a major role in the upbringing of most people raised in the Islamic faith because Jihad, as a type of war, is rather central to Islam. And that, in a nutshell, must be counted as a major reason why there is a global Jihad today.

I think that the global Jihad is best understood as one might understand the previous great Jihads. And, while there were, no doubt, a mixture of causes for the previous great Jihads - and most Muslims did not participate in them either and, likely, wanted only to live in peace -, Islam was very much a central cause - and likely the main cause.

And the current dispute is, in the main, driven by religion and, in large measure - but not entirely - caused by religion. In fact, Islam is likely the central causal agent. Or, do you have a better explanation based on your deep reading about those who espouse Jihad?

And again: it is what Islam teaches: namely, that Islam is the vanguard of humanity, that Muslims are called upon - and this is a universal requirement - to employ all means, including Jihad by means of offensive war if necessary - to expand the regions of the Earth ruled by Muslims, that no peace treaties are permissible, that the world is divided between regions controlled by Islam (dar al-Islam) and regions controlled by kafir - i.e. infidels - (dar al-harb) and that the kafir in the dar al-harb - referred to as harbis - seek to destroy Islam by an eternal war so that Muslims must wage an eternal war - actual fighting - as well to bring an end to the dar al-harb.

An examination of the rhetoric of the Jihadi movement shows it to employ religious categories and to seek religiously defined goals (e.g. the restoration of the caliphate - i.e. sucessor to Mohammed as leading of the ummah, aka the Muslim people). And, as such, to understand the Jihad - which itself is a term of religion - one has to take seriously the claims made by the Jihadi movements. In fact, such categories best explain what occurs and why it occurs. And it is certainly what those involved claim to be motivating them.

N. Friedman - 7/26/2005



I agree with you that studying Islamic categories is not necessarily a sufficient explanation for what occurred in London or on 9/11, etc. However, it is the necessary starting point because that is the language common to those involved. Or, to put the matter simply, in order to get into the mind of people who function around terms such as: Jihad si sabil Allah, kafir, ahl al Kitâb, Shari'a, dar al-harb, dar al-Islam, harbi, shahhid, shahada, etc., etc., you have to study the theology and history of such people with their understanding, not with a Western overlay.

Your assumption - so far as I can tell - is that religion is the background of some other definable source of conflict. And, I suppose, one might follow Nietzsche and say that the cause is, in the end, will to power. I do not, however, think that is very helpful since, on Nietzsche's theory, will to power operates with everyone and everything.

I suggest to you that the defining - but, of course, not the only - characteristic of the terror against us is religious, grounded not primarily in grievances, not in the sins of the West - real or even imagined - but instead in utopian notions that Muslims believe to be worthy of their lives.

N. Friedman - 7/26/2005


I agree with you that studying Islamic categories is not necessarily a sufficient explanation for what occurred in London or on 9/11, etc. However, it is the necessary starting point because that is the language common to those involved. Or, to put the matter simply, in order to get into the mind of people who function around terms such as: Jihad si sabil Allah, kafir, ahl al Kitâb, Shari'a, dar al-harb, dar al-Islam, harbi, shahhid, shahada, etc., etc.

Your assumption - so far as I can tell - is that religion is the background of some other definable source of conflict. And, I suppose, one might follow Nietzsche and say that the cause is, in the end, will to power. I do not, however, think that is very helpful since, on Nietzsche's theory, will to power operates with everyone and everything.

I suggest to you that the defining - but, of course, not the only - characteristic of the terror against us is religious, grounded not primarily in grievances, not in the sins of the West - real or even imagined - but instead in utopian notions that Muslims believe to be worthy of their lives.

E. Simon - 7/26/2005

Especially when the analogy works. Fantasies? I think you're projecting again. I quote the Clarke-meister:

"If you bash your way straight into a hornets' nest, stupidly expecting the hornets to shower you with flowers, is your stupidity the fault of the hornets ?"

Obviously you're trying to claim that hornets are not to blame, or even to be thought of as a cause of problems. They are naturally, uncontrollably violent. The exterminator, according to you, is botching the job and we all would have been better off had we just left those poor, peaceful insects alone. They weren't bothering anyone. However, peaceful and violent are antonyms. There's an inconsistency in your "thinking," or "fantasizing," or whatever you call it.

E. Simon - 7/26/2005


E. Simon - 7/26/2005


links work better that way ;-)

E. Simon - 7/26/2005

Well, at least in Mr. Clarke's case, it's reflexive fear-mongering, combined with the Incredible Hulk defense.


mark safranski - 7/26/2005

Pakistani jihadis are killing Indians in Kashmir because the U.S. invaded Iraq ? The Russians supported the invasion of Iraq ? In what world ?

At what point does total variance with facts make a dent in reflexive anti-Americanism ?

James L Fox - 7/25/2005

Many of the killings in Iraq could be based on revenge, or "Collateral Damage", as we like to call it, but the deliberate and planned attacks seem to target anyone who is cooperating, and thus supporting the US led occupiers. So, indirectly, it IS all the fault of the US, since we attacked Iraq, not vice versa.

mark safranski - 7/25/2005

"Here's the "alternative" take on terrorism: Terrorism was created by the West - especially the US and Israel."

Which is why Sunni Jihadis are killing Russians, Indians and Arab and Pakistani Shiites, right ? And Kurds. And secular Arabs. And each other. That's all the fault of the U.S. and Israel ?

N. Friedman - 7/25/2005


Right you are. The motivation for Jihad is religion in the Medieval sense of the word. Which is why studying the Jihadis, rather worrying why they hate us, is the first step in dealing with the war started against us.

Jon Robins - 7/25/2005

While categories may not help "prevent" terror attacks, it might aid in pre-empting them. Knowing whether the enemy is a selfless soldier in purusit of a global caliphate or an eager recruit with visions of an imminent apocolypse can really matter.

The former will either win, die, or become disillusioned and quit (see: Communist rebels everywhere, for example). The latter will fight to the death, unless the end times don't come fast enough, or the messianic figure turns out to be another fraud (see most cults, or perhaps Shining Path, which died out as a radical, millenarian Maoist front once its leader was arrested).

Edward Siegler - 7/25/2005

Peter seems to be saying that understanding the terrorists won't necessarily help us prevent terrorist attacks. A fair enough point, but then the article wasn't meant to provide solutions, only history and explanations. The debate over terrorism, or "why do they hate us", is often presented as a dichotomy between "they hate us because of who we are" or "they hate us because of what we do." In other words, they either hate our western liberal values or they hate us for the usual litany of "imperialism", backing Israel, supporting authoritarian states "unjust occupations" or any number of other ever-shifting excuses. I'm afraid the truth is that they hate because of who THEY are. That is, a murderous religious extremism straight out of the dark ages that can't really be understood in our post-enlightenment secular minds is the driving force. Pretending that if we'd only abandon Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel or take any number of other foreign policy actions then terrorism would stop is a misguided view.

N. Friedman - 7/25/2005

Last post corrected as follows:


Professor Furnish has written a perfectly respectable and, in fact, excellent article which extrapolates on the Mahdi phenomena - which is a real phenomena with a real history -. If you wish to study about the role of the Mahdi in Islam, that would be a first step in criticism.

You need to consider that all of the concerns which those of us, who consider Islam as it has presented itself both theoretically (i.e. theologically) and historically, have are really not making things up. Doctrines such as the Jihad doctrine and the Mahdi doctrine have real meanings to Muslims - at least those who are devout and look to Muslim history and Islam to order their lives - and are central to understanding the dispute. They are not overlays of an otherwise contemporary political dispute that might be settled by this or that compromise.

Edward Siegler - 7/25/2005

By all means no - I don't think you're trying to blame the West at all. You're obviously pointing out what many are unwilling or incapable of seeing: that it's not the West's "unjust" policy towards Islamic nations that is causing terrorism but religious extremism. Those who take the blame the West view swallow the terrorists ever-shifting excuses for their actions whole. It's always Israel, "imperialism", the stationing of US troops on Saudi soil, etc. that are to blame - never the views of extremist Islam. I'm sorry I didn't make that clear before.

I thank you for the article. I read it with great interest.

N. Friedman - 7/25/2005


Professor Furnish has written a perfectly respectable and, in fact, excellent article which extrapolates on the Mahdi phenomena - which is a real phenomena with a real history -. If you wish to study about the role of the Mahdi in Islam, that would be a first step in criticism.

You need to consider that all of the concerns which those of us who consider Islam as it has presented itself both theoretically (i.e. theologically) and historically are not making things up. Doctrines such as the Jihad doctrine and the Mahdi doctrine have real meanings to Muslims - at least those who are devout and look to Muslim history and Islam to order their lives - and are central to understanding the dispute. They are not overlays of an otherwise contemporary political dispute that might be settled by this or that compromise.

Tim Rhea Furnish - 7/25/2005

Good point. I discuss al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in my book. With that name he seems to have been trying to exploit in particular Shi`a (rather than Sunni) Mahdist expectations.....especially in that he at one point said the US invaded Iraq precisely because we (somehow) knew the Mahdi was about to appear.

Tim Rhea Furnish - 7/25/2005

Mr. Siegler,
I hope you do not think I am trying to "blame the West." I blame jihadists and Mahdists. And I'd love to see UBL's head on a platter, ASAP.

Tim Rhea Furnish - 7/25/2005

Well, I think it's pretty clear: the latter is eschatological, and the former is not. And if you think that Mahdism is only the province of the "lunatic fringe," well, then, you do not know much Islamic history, my good sir.

Edward Siegler - 7/25/2005

Here's the "alternative" take on terrorism: Terrorism was created by the West - especially the US and Israel. It is a reaction to unjust occupations, such as those in the West Bank and Iraq, Imperialism, economic exploitation, and America's support for repressive governments. If the US would behave in more just manner and end its unqualified support of Israel, play fair in economic matters and stop exploiting the world then terrorism would go away. Take away the justification and you solve the problem. Continue providing justification by invading sovereign countries and riding roughshod over international law and the problem will continue. It's up to us to start doing the right thing if we want to end the "cycle of violence." But Furnish says that religious fanaticism is to blame. Is this a "right-wing" view?

The secular West finds it difficult, if not impossible, to understand that religion can easily motivate people to become terrorists. We belive that we have evolved beyond war and violence and that such activities are beneith us. By understanding these people's greivences we can build a dialogue and reslove our differences peacefully. A religious ideology straight out the dark ages is beyond our comprehension.

The estimate that 1-10% of Muslims are fundamentalists was an interesting one. However I disagree with Furnish's assesment that the Mahdi terrorists will be more destructive than the current crop of fundamentalists. I don't believe that there would be any hesitation on the part of these people to use nuclear weapons and destroy as many Westerners as possible. So let's start dealing more fairly with these people otherwise we'll only experience more "blowback" as "the chickens come home to roost." Yeah, sure.

The question is whether jihad is a cancer in the body of Islam or if it is in fact a vital organ. If the latter is the case we may find ourselves, as many Muslims already believe, at war with Islam. If there is any way to avoid this catastrophe we should try our best to find it.

Jon Robins - 7/25/2005

What about al-Sadr's "Madhi Army" militia? Is it strictly a catchy name that borders on sacrilege for some Muslims, or does al-Sadr have Madhist leanings?