My journey to understand Islamic extremism in a maze of ideological battles

My journey to understand Islamic extremism in a maze of ideological battles January 13, 2015

A few months ago I wrote a blog called, My evolving views on Islam, terrorism, and the Middle East in which I discussed how my views on Islam had shifted over time from “blame religion” to “blame politics” but I never fully jumped over to the Glenn Greenwald and Reza Aslan camp of letting Islam off the hook. Though many accused me of doing just that.

Photo: Voyou Desoeuvre
Photo: Voyou Desoeuvre

I invite you to read the original post linked above, and below is partly that same piece but now modified even further to reflect the ever evolving views I carry and what goes into my arguments against Islam and the politics that make the whole situation so volatile.

Some of what is printed below is word for word what was said last time while some has changed.


Islam is guilty of many things; the religion has given rise to and brought justification to honor killings, female genital mutilation, the systematic oppression of women’s rights and sharia law.

The religion has been used as justification for many horrendous actions around the globe. Some can argue this is “not true Islam” however I don’t fall for the no-true-Scotsman fallacy.

The religion and its texts justify many of the actions we see, or at least can be so easily interpreted to do so.

I also don’t think the argument that “that’s not my Islam” or saying extremists are only lying and using Islam as a tool is not a justifiable argument either.

I think moderate Muslims would be better served to accept that these extremists are using their holy books as justification and speak out against it and be a different face of Islam instead of simply condemning the actions and pretending the fundamentalist view of their religion cannot be used to justify many of these atrocities. Criticize your holy book and stop being afraid to say the authors are wrong or that not all the teaching apply to the modern world we are living in.

We hold Christianity to this standard. We point out Christian abortion bombers and recognize they are religiously motivated to do these actions, even when moderates try to claim they are not “true” Christians, we hold them accountable.

Does faith justify extremist actions?

I do believe Richard Dawkins is correct when he says that moderate believers give justification to the extremists when they rely on faith as an epistemology:

“Once you teach people that that’s a legitimate reason for believing something then you as it were give a license to the extremists who say, ‘My belief is that I’m supposed to be a suicide bomber or I’m supposed to blow up buildings — it’s my faith and you can’t question that.’”

The first problem to tackle isn’t religion per-say, it is faith and our (atheists, secularists, free thinkers, etc.) mission should not be to eradicate religion but to eradicate faith based thinking.

We have to address how people think and what they accept as true and false. If you can hide behind faith unquestioned, then others must be granted the same benefit and that line of thinking has dangerous consequences.

American and European imperialism

America is not innocent in all of this; Europe is not innocent in all of this. However, their wrongs don’t make terrorism right (not that anyone to be taken seriously thinks this way), but that also doesn’t mean Islam gets off the hook here. Even if we poke the bear time and time again, how the bear responds is worth discussion.

Yes, the continued occupations of Middle Eastern countries, drone bombings that kill wedding parties, etcetera are great motivators to push impressionable people into extremism. I can imagine that if I were forced to live under such conditions, I would want to take some form of action against the oppressors.

The kind of action one takes however matters. Yes, some join secular militant groups to overthrow their current regimes which they feel may be in bed with the occupying force, and some choose religious groups to do the same, or to go right after the occupying force itself.

Islam, and really most religions, offer a “solution” to people. Obviously not all religions offer a violent solution, and not all of those within Islam are lead to violence, but some groups have been able to use Islam, its holy books and teachings to promote the use of violence and self sacrifice for “the greater good” and they can do so while offering an eternal reward.

These people feel desperate and these religious groups are experts at preying on them. Religion has been used as a great tool to manipulate and control people for centuries, and this is really no different. Yet the very fact that the religious texts offer this sort of interpretation means it is an ideology worth addressing and not simply ignoring, even if it turns out it’s being wrongfully exploited.

Whatever group someone joins, if they use violence and especially violence against civilian targets (i.e. they are not active military organizations fighting other military organizations, a totally different topic I would love to address here, but for sake of staying on topic I will not) we must condemn and hold the ideologies attached responsible.

I have said in previous posts I am a socialist, I am very open about my political ideology and I consider myself a Marxist, however in some countries Marxist groups popup who do terrible things, even bombings like we see from the same Islamic groups I am discussing here.

I am unable to simply say “that is not my Marxism” and walk away hands clean. I have to address why their actions are wrong and condemn them, I can even point to specific references from Marx that would very much condemn such actions. But just like holy books, things are often up for interpretation. As a Marxist, I feel a duty to condemn and eliminate such groups and actions.

At the same time, I also need to look at what forces are driving these Marxist groups to take such actions, what is the government doing to them and others that drove them to this level of violence? It is possible the government could in theory be innocent and you just have extremists who want their own control, or you have a government that is oppressing, killing, imprisoning, its civilians or allowing an outside force to do so. This does not condone the violence of the groups, but offers me a chance to look for better, peaceful solutions to problems and encourage groups to use those methods instead of resorting to senseless violence.

This is why many people and myself look to Muslims to condemn and help solve Islamic extremism. We know as westerners and many of us non-Muslims we cannot fix Islam and we cannot bomb the problem away.

We need Islamic reformers to thrive and help build their platform, but at the same time, we need moderate Muslims, who are by far the majority to stop playing the “not my Islam” game and instead jump into action.

I cannot say right now exactly what that action should look like, but we need voices from the inside who can help reform a religion that appears to be in turmoil, just as the moderates are saying “this is not my Islam” the extremists are telling us that they are true Muslims carrying out the duties of their prophet.

We demand Catholics take action to end the sexual abuse running rampant in the Catholic Church and no one bats and eye, but we ask that Muslims take action against extremists using their religion to condone violence and we are labeled “Islamophobes.” It’s time to put the double standard to an end.

This does mean we have to hold our own governments responsible for their part. I want America get these bases out of these countries and to stop funding endless wars. I want our drone program to stop, or at least be totally reformed in a way that does not put innocent lives at risk.

If these countries are to play a role in ending this violence, it is going to start by ending our endless meddling the Middle Eastern affairs. Countries lose a moral authority to condone senseless acts of violence while at the same time committing senseless acts of violence.

New Atheism

But I also know doing one and not the other will not solve these issues, I also know I am only looking at two problems and there are many more, but these are two major factors.

Another being the bigotry and hatred towards Muslims and immigrants from MENA as we have been seeing in Europe (and around the globe). This comes from right-wing fascists, but sadly the neo-liberals and Islamic apologists want you to think this is coming from “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.

The very second an Islamic militant group strikes, instead of condemning the action, many neo-liberal sites look right to Dawkins and Harris and wait to attack the first thing they say.

And then these same sites run to apologists like Reza Aslan who will bend over backwards to blame everything but Islam for the tragedies. The militants can scream “we are doing this in the name of Islam” and these folks will say, “This has nothing to do with Islam whatsoever.”

I have in the past been critical of both Dawkins and Harris and statements they have made about Islam, and though sometimes I may not totally care for the wording of their statements, I have taken a great deal of time to revisit their work, re-watch videos and re-familiarize myself with their positions.

After doing so, I can safely say that for one to place any blame on either, or any new atheist, or antitheism is purely ignorant. It is only a self-serving position to further ones own ideological viewpoint and is based in no statements of fact whatsoever.

It really just seems like lampooning either author or just attacking atheists in general has become something of a revenue generator.

Though I don’t assume either will ever read this piece, I would like to digress for one second and apologize to both Dawkins and Harris if I have ever implied that they carry any such blame for such atrocities carried out by religious fanatics.

In a previous post, I suggested we abandon the term “new atheist” as it was a label given to vocal atheists as something of an insult, and the media has loved to attack anyone under the moniker, but today, I think we need to own the label. We are vocal and we are unafraid and unashamed of our position and our belief that religion causes a great deal of harm. I am not going to let the faux-left make me feel bad for being vocal and for opposing religion.

Is there a solution?

Sure, I don’t have a simple one though, if I had the solution I would not be writing here but most likely working for the US government, but what I do know is that we cannot solve a problem by the same means that created them.

The United States cannot be and will not be the solution to the Middle East instability. As Jeffery D. Sachs at Columbia University notes:

“The US cannot stop the spiral of violence in the Middle East. The damage in Libya, Gaza, Syria, and Iraq demands that a political solution be found within the region, not imposed from the outside.”

“The countries of the Middle East have a common interest in starving hyper-violent groups like the Islamic State of arms, money, and media attention. They also share an interest in keeping oil flowing to world markets – and in capturing the bulk of the revenues.”

Sachs points out these measures will not immediately end all violence in the region, there are countless issues that will keep the violence raging in one way shape or form, but that a hands off approach from outside forces will offer better hope of long term peace because the countries involved have a vested interest in ending the fighting.

So let’s stop pretending the answer to ending violence in the Middle East and Islamic terrorism is simply ending Islam. It’s not and to be honest, we all know it’s not.

Ending bad and oppressive foreign policy, ending what seems like a never-ending occupation of countries that do not want us in the first place, then working with Muslim reformers and motivating moderates to get involved. That is the path towards peace. Islamic extremism, at least to the extent we see it now will flame out when the oxygen it needs to survive is cut off.

From there we can address many issues that revolve around Sharia law, and countries using extreme interpretations of Islam to justify the horrors we see happening in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, to name only two. Thought crimes and blasphemy that result in death and severe torture are not the fault of outside governments, and are rooted in the governments and leaders views on religion and power.

There is a long road left ahead of us, but on the other side there is hope for a more peaceful world, that involves people of all faiths or no faith at all, but to get there, we must first be honest about our own ideologies, be them Christian, Islamic, capitalist, socialist, antitheist, you name it. If we cannot be honest, and cannot address the issues inside our own beliefs and ideologies, progress will become stagnant and we allow the most extreme voices to take the lead.


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