Bare-bones Jihad: Three Remarks on Islamic Terrorism

1-There are at least two good reasons to disqualify jihad – including “the Islamic resistance” – from being a freedom fight (against colonialism/Zionism):

(a) in recent history jihad has been an instrument of these very forces; and

(b) Islam is in essence a religion of conquest.

Global wars were waged by early Muslims, not against them, with little or no regard for the spiritual dimension of the faith or even the nominal dictates of Sharia. To avoid giving them equal rights, for example, Al Hajjaj massacred non-Muslim subjects once they declared their conversion to Islam.

2-Neither difficult living conditions/lack of education nor political oppression can account for jihad.

Jihadis often hail from the upper echelons of society and receive the best (western) education. Jihadis have shown the same propensity for violence, intellectual unreason and ethical duplicity regardless of their social/political position.

Islamists and jihadi-sympathisers have enjoyed the patronage of oil-rich Wahhabis or their western allies not because of their being better representatives of their peoples or nations than military-based or dictatorial regimes but because of their conservatism, sectarianism and a-nationalism. They have adopted the pose of the victim even while in power.

3- While the provincial fifty percent can be induced to “vote for Islam”, no version of Sharia is compatible with the values of modern republican democracy, which have their basis in the Enlightenment and secularism.

In a Muslim-majority country more or less economically dependent on non-constitutional Wahhabi monarchies, to suggest that any political project based on Islam can be integrated into a pluralistic system where power is circulated is to lie through your teeth.

The true purpose of such propaganda is blackmail: “include” the moderates and they will spare you the wrath of the radicals.

In reality the distinction that the Quran makes in the context of political conflict is not between moderates and radicals but between hypocrites who will not fight in the way of Allah and believers who will (Surat at-Tawbah, 167).

Members of the bin Laden family vacation in Sweden in 1971. Source: nytimes.com
Members of the bin Laden family vacation in Sweden in 1971. Source: nytimes.com

Backgammon in the Ruins of an Old Palace of Saddam Hussein’s: Bezav Mahmod and the Image of Kurdistan

Once, long ago, my mother fled a genocide (the Al Anfal campaign). She fled on foot over massive Kurdish mountains carrying me on her back and my little brother in her stomach.

My grandparents, Kurdish villagers/farmers, were faced with brutal oppression. They were forced into the Kurdish struggle, taking up arms to resist the annihilation of their identity. For 50 years they lived with war and the struggle of the Kurds. My grandfather Selman Mahmod Bamernî became a peshmerga at an early age. He was involved in many bloody battles and lost many comrades in the process. He was seriously injured twice, and twice placed in Iraqi prisons. He was often separated from his family, once for over five years, so long that, when he came back, his youngest children did not recognize their own father. He has devoted his life to the Kurdish struggle. A humble person with honor, compassion and an absolutely wonderful sense of humor. He has made many laugh heartily in his day.

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Angelus Novus: A Letter from Hilary Plum

Dear Youssef,

A few days after you proposed that I write you this letter, a man was killed, his execution public enough that despite the five thousand miles between us we both could look on. This man, a journalist, had once been captured in Libya, then released, then was captured anew in Syria in 2012, this captivity ending in death. He was American, from New England as I am, he and I earned the same degree from the same university, enough years between us that I did not know him, though we each or both passed years among the low mountains and rising rents of Western Massachusetts, the grave of Emily Dickinson (called back, May 15, 1886) that even if one never bothers to walk behind the hair salon and the Nigerian restaurant to visit it serves as heart, destination of a pilgrimage one imagines.

The video his killers posted online may or may not in fact include the moment of his beheading, but confirms beyond doubt its occurrence. Here, we call the group who killed James Foley ISIS: the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria; or Iraq and al-Sham; or simply—months pass and the name grows more ambitious—the Islamic State. We’re told that the caliphate they envision stretches from the coast of Syria to Iraq’s eastern border. I had thought that Foley was taken from an internet café, but an article I just glanced at says something about a car being stopped, how men with Kalashnikovs forced him out of the car. If I were to tell the story in a novel, he would be in an internet café, sending as though it were nothing the story of one land and its wars to another, to a land whose replies are silent until the missile drops out of the sky.

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All those theres: Sargon Boulus’s Iraq

4 September 2011: Baghdad via San Francisco, for Youssef Rakha, makes more sense than Baghdad

Thanks to a flighty wi-fi connection at the riad where I stayed that time in Marrakesh, I heard Sargon Boulus (1944-2007) reading his poems for the first time. Sargon had died recently in Berlin – this was the closest I would get to meeting him – and, lapping up. the canned sound, I marvelled at his unusual career. He was an Iraqi who spent more or less all of his adult life outside Iraq, a Beatnik with roots in Kirkuk, an Assyrian who reinvented classical Arabic. He translated both Mahmoud Darwish and Howl.

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In Sargon’s time and place there is an overbearing story of nation building, of (spurious) Arab-Muslim identity and of (mercenary) Struggle – against colonialism, against Israel, against capital – and that story left him completely out. More probably, he chose to stand apart from it, as he did from a literary scene that celebrated it more often than it did anything else. Is this what makes him the most important Arab poet for me?

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Open Letter to Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei

First posted on 19 June 2012

Dear Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei:

Happy 70th and thank you! Truly, thank you: for refusing to be part of this travesty of presidential elections, for rejecting any form of putsch or “revolutionary justice”, for insisting on a sound constitution and political pluralism, for understanding democracy at a time when those fighting military dictatorship have completely missed the point. I’m sure you feel sufficiently vindicated and at peace to enjoy your birthday; and you must realize by now how many Egyptians respect you…

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On Fiction and the Caliphate

Towards the end of 2009, I completed my first novel, whose theme is contemporary Muslim identity in Egypt and, by fantastical extension, the vision of a possible khilafa or caliphate. I was searching for both an alternative to nationhood and a positive perspective on religious identity as a form of civilisation compatible with the post-Enlightenment world. The closest historical equivalent I could come up with, aside from Muhammad Ali Pasha’s abortive attempt at Ottoman-style Arab empire (which never claimed to be a caliphate as such), was the original model, starting from the reign of Sultan-Caliph Mahmoud II in 1808. I was searching for Islam as a post-, not pre-nationalist political identity, and the caliphate as an alternative to the postcolonial republic, with Mahmoud and his sons’ heterodox approach to the Sublime State and their pan-Ottoman modernising efforts forming the basis of that conception. Such modernism seemed utterly unlike the racist, missionary madness of European empire. It was, alas, too little too late.

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Something wrong with the wires

Revolution gives way to security breakdown. The people vote for the Sheikh. The Israeli Embassy is ringed with protesters, but so—eventually—is its Saudi counterpart. False prophets take over Tahrir Square. Thousands die; millions grow beards. Previously unseen gods of the sect bless the public sphere with fatal ministrations. The traffic is worse and worse. Petrol shortages give way to mortal combat, but not before a president is elected do arbitrary power cuts set in, apparently for the good of Islam. It turns out the General has been in league with the Brother all along. The Dissident preaches self-hatred. Then, electricity allowing, the people gather before the television to see how 18 months of turmoil may have affected the content and style of the sine qua non of their yearly month of devotion: the serial drama. Somehow, in spite of the economic slump, social uncertainty and political depravity, the makers of programmes have been busier than ever. “Revolutionaries” are still in jail, incarcerated murderers of the “Islamic” stripe are being set free by presidential decree—but it is all about thugs and Israel.

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