A CRITICAL BOOK REVIEW
Katharine C. Gorka & Patrick Sookhdeo (eds.). Fighting the Ideological War: Winning Strategies from Communism to Islamism.
McLean: Isaac Publishing 2012, 240 pp; ISBN: 978-0985310905; $15.
Reviewed by Zubair Qamar
(© Zubair Qamar, August 2013)
(NOTE: The longer 100+ page version of the Review in PDF format can be read at:
CRITICAL REVIEW_FIGHTING THE IDEOLOGICAL WAR_Zubair Qamar)
This is a condensed review of Fighting the Ideological War: Winning Strategies from Communism to Islamism, edited by Katharine C. Gorka and Patrick Sookhdeo, with contributions from the editors and authors Stephen Ulph, John H. Moore, John Lenczowski, Robert R. Reilly, Thomas Joscelyn, and Sebastian L. Gorka. This condensed review is to enable readers to begin examining the views of the book’s editors and authors without being burdened with a longer review that is close to completion and can be read here. The longer review is to be considered a draft in progress. To ensure that readers gain maximally from this condensed review, I have hyperlinked related articles that I have written in this blog, as well as other articles that may be of interest. This is an analytical contribution that responds to distorted understandings of militants and Islamophobes and distinguishes traditional Sunni Islam from the the so-called “Islam” of terrorists. It is important to know the differences to enable a more informed and efficient response to counter them and to strengthen the security of peaceful people around the world.
Katharine Gorka, the Westminster Institute, and Isaac Publishing
Katharine C. Gorka, an editor of the book, leads the Westminster Institute in Virginia. She is described as the “Executive Director” of Westminster Institute on the book’s back cover and Westminster Institute website,[] which was established fairly recently in March, 2009. The Westminster Institute website states that Katharine Gorka “received her M.Sc. in Economics from the London School of Economics (’87).” Gorka has “traveled extensively throughout Central and Eastern Europe conducting research on the post-communist transition and working for a number of organizations on democracy assistance projects in the region […].” Ms. Gorka also “co-founded with her husband, Dr. Sebastian Gorka, the Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security (ITDIS), which focused on issues of economic reform and the problems associated with former communists and secret police in post-communist democracies.” She lived in Hungary for twelve years, returned to the US in 2008, and, as head of the Westminster Institute, is “responsible for helping to define the threat to liberty posed by Islamic terrorism and subversion in the United States.”[] Gorka is also an “Executive Director” of Barnabas Aid.[]
In addition to Sookhdeo and both Gorkas (Katharine Gorka and Sebastian Gorka), all of the other authors are listed in the events page of the Institute.[] Examples of other past events[] listed in the Institute’s website include:
- The [Organisation of Islamic Cooperation] and the Islamist Agenda, by Stephen Coughlin,
- The West is Best: A Muslim Apostate’s Defense of Liberal Democracy, with Ibn Warraq, and
- Lord Or Many Gods? Can the God of the Bible and the God of the Koran be the Same?, with The Rt. Rev. Julian Dobbs, Convocation of Anglicans in North America
Discussing the above presenters in brief, Stephen Coughlin was allegedly removed from his post at the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2008 due to his anti-Islam views. The lesson from Coughlin’s presentation by an attendee was that “Islam is out to take over the world and there is no such thing as a loyal American Muslim.”[] Coughlin’s extreme anti-Islam views were noted by Spencer Ackerman. Ibn Warraq is a well-known anti-Islam polemicist criticized by many scholars and writers, including Fred Donner, Asma Afsaruddin, and Alfons Teipen for his lack of scholarship. Retired Reverend Julian Dobbs is an Anglican preacher who served as an “Executive Director” of Barnabas Aid “where he developed awareness of persecuted Christians and the challenges of a resurgent Islam.”[] It is interesting to note that the examples of events noted in the book (pg. 239, 240) do not list the above events. It appears that the Editors have attempted to conceal the anti-Islam and religious involvement of Westminster Institute in the book. Sookhdeo’s biography in the book also did not mention his ardent religious endeavors, in spite of his heavy involvement in Christian missionary activities, as will be explained below.
The book is published by Isaac Publishing. The addresses of the Westminster Institute, Isaac Publishing, and Barnabas Aid are all located on the same street in McLean, Virginia.[] Isaac Publishing mainly publishes books critical of Islam and in favor of Christianity. The authors listed on the site – which seems to require updating – are Patrick Sookhdeo, Rosemary Sookhdeo (Patrick Sookhdeo’s wife), and Yusufu Taraki. Rosemary Sookhdeo is described as being “involved in pastoral/church planting ministry in the East End of London for 23 years” and “was responsible for training and coordinating the church planting and Muslim ministry and leading the outreach missions.” Yusufu Tarkai is described as “a Professor of Theology and Social Ethics at the Jos ECWA Theological Seminary (JETS) and Director of the Centre for the Study of Religion, Church and Society (CRCS),” and other Christian affiliations.[] Patrick Sookhdeo’s religious credentials and affiliations are noted below in his biography. Before elaborating on Sookhdeo, it is important to note that authors view that battle against terrorism through a Cold War lens.
Battling Islamism Through a Cold War Lens?
Most authors in the book directly state or allude to the “ideological” battle between the United States and Soviet Union. Sookhdeo says, “[T]he reality is that Islamism has replaced communism as the most significant ideological opponent of the Western liberal order” (p.16). Sookhdeo acknowledges that, to him, communism was “the most significant ideological opponent” until Islamism came. Ulph compares twentieth century “totalitarian ideologies,” including Communism, with Islamism. A parallel he sees, for example, between such totalitarian systems and the ideology of Islamism is “the promotion of a single, supreme ideology as a universal explanation and filter, through which all phenomena are interpreted and processed” (p.54). Moore says, “The ideological battles of the Cold War may shed light on our present day conflict” with Islamists (p.79). Lenczowski says, “Ideological warfare was an essential part of Soviet foreign policy….In the international arena, this took the form of a ‘struggle between the two social systems’ – socialism and capitalism – and a consequent struggle between two worldviews […] (p.105).” Lenczowski, however, discusses more than just ideology as a cause of Soviet collapse (p.141-147), while still emphasizing the battle of ideas. Sebastian Gorka says, “[W]e have forgotten most of the lessons of the last ideological war we fought – the Cold War – including some of the cardinal rules of effective information and psychological operations” (p.186). The authors attribute the US “victory” over the Soviet Union mainly to the “victory” of US ideology over Soviet ideology.
The Cold War: Exaggerating Ideology?
The authors appear to predominantly embrace one of many views without informing readers that the ideological dimension and role of superpowers in the Cold War, and its attribution to a US victory, is an issue of scholarly and diplomatic debate. Their pro-Reaganite leanings, taken to mythical proportions, gloss over the multifarious views of Soviet ideology and its role and use in the Cold War. Best-selling author, James Mann, describes this simplistic understanding: “Among Mr. Reagan’s most devoted followers, an entire mythology has developed. Theirs is what might be called the triumphal school of interpretation: the president spoke, the Soviets quaked, the wall came down.”[] These authors have constructed their own understanding of history and its application to current threats, which explains why they have a “preference for using a particular and self-serving configuration of cold war history to inform its arguments about the ‘present danger.’”[] The authors, typical of self-perceived Cold War warriors, “focus almost exclusively on the contours of American leadership – particularly its rhetorical intonations – giving little sense of the social, cultural and political nuances of the broader cold war era.” Their approach to Cold War history is “reductive and dramatic,” they “seek to portray a moral universe cleaved between the forces of light and dark,” and their “nostalgia for the cold war is messianic rather than despairing.”[] This mindset and approach of the authors permeate the entire book, which appears to support the perceived struggle of a noble ideology against an evil ideology.
The issues to others, however, are more complex and transcend ideology. For example, Mark Kramer, Director of the Cold War Studies Program at Harvard University and a Senior Fellow of Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, says,
“Was the Cold War a contest of two ideologies – liberal democracy and Marxism-Leninism – or was it driven mainly by considerations of power and material interests? No definitive answer to this question has yet emerged. Indeed, deep divisions remain among Western analysts about the precise role of ideology in the making of the Cold War”[] (italics added).
Some scholars, like the late Kenneth Waltz who was a senior researcher at Columbia University and described by Leslie H. Gelb, emeritus president of the Council on Foreign Relations, as one of the five “giants” in the discipline of international relations, believed that conflicting ideologies had “little to no relevance” and that “rhetoric” was used to mask real intentions and interests. Rather, “structural features” or the “unequal distribution of capabilities” and “anarchic nature of the international system” were key.[] Lou Cannon who has written five books on President Reagan portrays Reagan’s policies as “more pragmatic than ideological” and “not particularly driven by conservative dogma.” [] Realists with a “neoclassical persuasion” generally agree on structural aspects but emphasize “domestic level factors,” including “perceptions of external threats and relative power” to explain the behavior of superpowers. Other scholars, like historian John Gaddis, believe that structural factors in the absence of “clashing ideologies” would not have allowed the US-Soviet rivalry to continue. Similar to the authors of the book, these scholars believe it was a “contest of ideas” in which ideological considerations took precedence over “balance of power” concerns between superpowers. This view, Kramer says, representing “simple binary opposition,” limits attempts to comprehend “historical complexity.”[]
Because the authors’ confident views of the role of ideology in the Cold War is only one, sanitized view in a spectrum of interpretations as discussed earlier, this brings into question how close or far this view corresponds with reality. If the authors’ understanding of Cold War ideological conflict is exaggerated, then any claimed “lessons” they derive from this understanding may be of questionable value. Carrying the analogy to combating Islamists may then also lead to an exaggeration of Islamist ideology over other critical factors. Indeed, the final review confirms the exaggeration by authors of the role of ideology in Islamism.
Notwithstanding the lengthy discussions by authors of US-Soviet policy, there were hardly any specific, actionable lessons proposed to combat Islamists beyond vague mantras to oppose Islamist ideology just as Soviet ideology was opposed. This renders the analogy irrelevant and impractical to the battle against Islamists. Removing the specific chapters and sections on the Cold War from the book would have made the resulting critique against Islamism and its ideology more relevant, even if the critique is beset with its own set of problems, as will be explained in the final review.
Patrick Sookhdeo: A Biography
Patrick Sookhdeo, an editor and contributor to the book, is described as a “leading expert on jihadist ideology and radical Islam” in the book. Sookhdeo “received his PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London” (p.237). The book notes that currently Sookhdeo is “Visiting Professor at the Defence Academy of the UK, Adjunct Professor at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, Guest Lecturer at the NATO school, Oberammergau, Germany, and lecturer at ARRC Germany on Islam and Islamic terrorism” (p.237), and has been involved in other related roles.[]
Though curiously unstated in the book, Sookhdeo is described as an “ordained priest in the Church of England,”[] International Director of the Christian charity group, Barnabas Aid, which sends “financial support to projects which help Christians where they suffer discrimination, oppression and persecution as a consequence of their faith,”[] specifically “under Islam,”[] and, according to author Sebastian L. Gorka (husband of Katharine C. Gorka), is the “founder of Westminster Institute” (p.193).
Sookhdeo has authored several books,[] including Global Jihad, which was reviewed by author and freelance journalist, Ben White [], and published on the fulcrum website by a “network of evangelical Anglicans, seeking to renew the centre of the evangelical tradition and the centre of Anglicanism” and “acting as a point of balance within the Church of England.” Two recent books by Sookhdeo are Islam in Our Midst: The Challenge to Our Christian Heritage (2011), and Is the Muslim Isa the Biblical Jesus? (2012). Sookhdeo in his personal website says he spent some time studying “theology at London Bible College.” After marrying one of his students, they “intended to go to South Asia as missionaries, but their hopes were dashed when they found that no mission society would accept either racially-mixed marriages or national (i.e. non-white) Christians as missionaries.”
In 1970, Sookhdeo was “invited to work for the British Evangelical Alliance,” and was also appointed as the “secretary of one of the first race relations bodies in the British Church.” The book, “All One in Christ,” was authored by Sookhdeo and published in 1974. In 1975, the author and his wife, “started a ministry to British inner cities” and in the 1970s and 1980s “taught in various theological institutions including, in the UK, Oak Hill Theological College, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and Ridley Hall, Cambridge, as well as others overseas.” Sookhdeo’s website states his “main involvement was to train clergy and missionaries in culture and religion.”
Sookhdeo is affiliated with the International Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity that aims “to study contemporary Islamic movements and their impact on Christian minorities.” Sookhdeo was a guest speaker at the 2007 Counterjihad Conference in Brussels[] that also hosted Bat Ye’or and Andrew Bostom, well known for their anti-Islam polemics. Pamela Geller, another anti-Islam activist, described Sookhdeo’s presentation as the “most compelling presentation”[] and also interviewed Sookhdeo.[] Geller is on record for saying that Israel should “nuke” Tehran, Mecca, and Medina, and is described as a defender of the Serbian mass-murderer Radovan Karadzic.
Sookhdeo was also “quoted approvingly four times in the 1,500-page ‘manifesto’ of the Norwegian killer Anders Breivik,” []. Breivik is the right-wing militant who bombed government buildings and massacred 77 people in Norway in 2011. Moreover, Sookhdeo contributed a section to a book edited by Robert Spencer, another well-known anti-Islam author [] who, with Pamela Geller, was banned from entering the UK in June 2013, and was criticized by Karen Armstrong, Carl Ernst, Robert Dreyfuss, and other well-known writers and scholars. Sookhdeo is also controversial among leaders of the Church of England. Alex Murashko in an October 2011 article of the Christian Post said a
“complaint…filed by a lay leader from the Church of England…challenged whether Barnabas Aid should be allowed to keep its charitable status when engaged in allegedly ‘divisive’ activity, according to a statement from Barnabas. The accusation included the charge that the material passed out by the group could incite racial hatred.”
Barnabas Aid, however, was exonerated by the United Kingdom’s Charity Commission.[] In stark contrast to peaceful Christians, this has not stopped Sookhdeo from continuing his controversial and divisive activities. Most of Sookhdeo’s life can be described as ‘religious’ though unrepresentative of most of the world’s Christians. His role in advising security and government personnel came later and is superseded by his ‘religious’ involvement.
What is Known About the Editors and Authors
From the biographies and background of the authors, and their institutional affiliations, it is known that the authors have lived during and/or have largely been involved in US efforts related to the Cold War. Several authors served as political officials during the Cold War under President Reagan, all can be described as ‘conservative’ or ‘neoconservative,’ and most authors are sufficiently religious to express themselves religiously in their writings and religious positions. Several of the authors have associated with individuals openly critical of Islam, have worked with some of them, contributed to sections in the same books, participated in the same conferences, and, in at least one case (Patrick Sookhdeo), has been quoted by a Norwegian terrorist in his ‘Manifesto.’ While the Westminster Institute is outwardly described as an independent institute that examines the threat of extremism, it appears to substantially be a pro-Christian organization that primarily aims its attention at extremism that targets only Christians. Focus on, for example, the effects of “Islamic extremism” against Hindus and Jews, or the extremism of minority radical groups in Christianity and other religions is absent. The full review will highlight more details of the authors to substantiate this understanding.
Who is the “Enemy” to Patrick Sookhdeo and Other Authors?
Sookhdeo recognizes two basic types of Islamists as the enemy:
(1) “Radical Islamists,” like al-Qa’eda, and
(2) “Gradualist Islamists,” (p.23) like the Muslim Brotherhood that temporarily use non-violent means to attain power through elections and other non-violent means, but are nevertheless allegedly supportive of violent insurgencies when they feel it is appropriate.
To Sookhdeo, both groups are “jihadists” in their differing forms because they collectively exert a “global jihad” to assumingly establish an Islamic caliphate that would subject populations to Shari’ah (Islamic Law). Sookhdeo says that the “border between mainline, gradualist Islamists and the violent radicals is thus not clear-cut and defined, but flexible and permeable in both directions.” He continues, “While there is agreement on ultimate goals, there is constant argument over how best to achieve those goals.” In spite of differences in means of achieving goals, “they do not differ on matters of core religious doctrine and ultimate goals.” Both, therefore, can be seen as “manifestations of single collective ideology, whose aim is the establishment of the global Islamic State, the Caliphate” (p.24).
While the above views are stated explicitly by Sookhdeo and the Gorkas (Sebastian and Katharine), Lenczowski and Moore are less clear about the “enemy” in the book since they focus primarily on the Cold War. However, as stated in the biographies section from other sources, John Lenczowski is concerned about the “growth of Islamic communities in Europe that threaten to erase the distinctiveness of individual European cultures,” as well as Islamists, domestically and abroad. Therefore, Lenczowski also sees Islamists as the enemy, and likely does not hold most mainstream Muslims in high regard. John Moore says, “The conflict with radical Islam is fundamentally a conflict of ideologies – the set of beliefs that underlie Western civilization on one side” and “the interpretation of Muslim beliefs that Islamists preach on the other” (p.79). Therefore, Islamists or those who follow “radical Islam” are the enemies to Moore.
Thomas Joscelyn is critical of Islamists but seems to understand the nuances among various Islamist groups, and appears to believe that violent Islamists are a greater threat. However, Josceyln is “Senior Fellow and Executive Director” of the “Center for Law and Counterterrorism at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies” (FDD) — a neoconservative think tank and lobbying organization where author Sebastian Gorka also works. Eli Clifton in July 2011 said the “FDD has a 10-year history of engaging in alarmist rhetoric and fear mongering,” including airing ads “conflating Osama bin Laden, Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein,” and also helping to “promote the ‘Bush doctrine’ which led to the invasion of Iraq.” Moreover, “In recent years, FDD has become one of the…premiere DC organizations promoting more aggressive actions against Iran.” FDD’s Board of Advisers include Richard Perle, former Chair of the Defense Policy Board and well-known neoconservative, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer (quoted by Sebastian Gorka, p.191), and Gary Bauer, President of the neoconservative non-profit, American Values, and Executive Board member of Christians United For Israel. Stephen M. Walt, American Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, said the FDD is a “fertile source of fear-mongering Islamophobia.”
While Stephen Ulph clearly opposes Islamists and their movements, he is less explicit about his thoughts of Muslims and Islam. However, he does not take issue with the comparison of Islam (not Islamism) with political totalitarianism in his chapter by certain individuals, including Bertrand Russell, Carl Jung, and Karl Barth (pp.45,46). This silence by Ulph may be a sign of precaution by him, though he is content with associating with other authors who are openly critical of Islam.
While openly against Islamists, Robert Reilly is also critical of Muslims and Islam, in general, and blames Islam for the perceived predicament of intellectual stagnancy in the Muslim world today that, he claims, paved the way for extremists like Osama bin Laden. Reilly harbors racist, anti-Islamic, and superior undertones when, in The Closing of the Muslim Mind, he says,
“The Middle East is poor because of a dysfunctional culture based upon a deformed theology […]” (p.198).
Overall, the authors are clearer about who they believe is the enemy – mainly Islamists – while, excluding Sookhdeo, they are less clear about which Muslims, if any, they support. As discussed, a number of authors are critical of mainstream Muslims and see them as accomplices to Islamists, while others are silent, but are likely critical of at least some aspects of mainstream Islam.
Are the Islamists the only enemies in Sookhdeo’s view?
The Majority of Classical Sunni Muslims as Accomplices to “Islamists”
Commenting on the 9/11 Commission Report, Sookhdeo and Co-editor Katharine.C. Gorka say,
“The report also states, ‘Most Muslims prefer a peaceful and inclusive vision of their faith, not the violent sectarianism of Bin Laden.’ Is that based on researched and documented fact, or on wishful thinking?” (pg. 5, italics added).
Without explaining how this realization was reached, Sookhdeo and Katharine Gorka insinuate that most Muslims may be supporters of the violent sectarianism of Bin Laden. This insinuation against “most Muslims” is confirmed in other statements of theirs. For example, Sookhdeo says,
“Most Muslims still accept the traditional doctrine of abrogation that justifies the radical interpretation of the Qur’an” (p.38).
The matter of abrogation will be discussed below. For now, note that Sookhdeo makes this claim without providing any evidence.
Sookhdeo’s view of classical (or traditional) Islam – followed by the Muslim majority – is explicitly stated by him in the book’s first chapter, “The West, Islam, and the Counter-Ideological War” (pp.15-44). Sookhdeo says Islamists “view Islam as a political ideology and are linked to mainline, traditional Islam[…]” (p.16) and radical Islamist movements are “grounded in the authority of religious texts” (p.17). Sookhdeo says that “Islamism…adopted the expansionist drive of early Islam” (p.19), and “Islamism utilizes a strand of radicalism and violence inherent in much of traditional Muslim theology and history” (p.20). He asserts that “Islamists and Islamist terrorists are authentically Islamic […]” (p.21), and “Islamists have revived the classical doctrine of jihad as a main plank of their ideology” (p.21).
Sookhdeo is saying that Islamists, including terrorists, follow classical Islam, or the Islam espoused by the Sunni majority who follow one of the four classical Sunni schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki, Hanbali). Sookhdeo naively conflates peaceful Muslims and terrorists and impugns the majority of Muslims who follow “traditional Islam” as being silent accomplices or, at least, having dubious or untrustworthy allegiances with both types of Islamists. Sookhdeo has therefore linked violent Islamists (terrorists), non-violent Islamists, and the Muslim majority as promoters, directly or indirectly, willingly or unwillingly, of extremism, including terrorism. While the majority of Muslims are described as supporters of terrorism by Sookhdeo, he nevertheless claims to support a group of Muslims he describes as “Progressive Reformers.”
Sookhdeo in his article, “The Myth of Moderate Islam,” says,
“While many individual Muslims choose to live their personal lives only by the (now abrogated) peaceable verses of the Qur’an, it is vain to deny the pro-war and pro-terrorism doctrines within their religion. Could it be that the young men who committed suicide were neither on the fringes of Muslim society in Britain, nor following an eccentric and extremist interpretation of their faith, but rather that they came from the very core of the Muslim community motivated by a mainstream interpretation of Islam?”
Sookhdeo’s anti-Muslim bigotry is clear. However, scholar Vincenzo Oliveti — author of Terror’s Source: The Ideology of Wahhabi-Salafism and Its Consequences — takes issue with Sookhdeo’s negative characterization of Muslims and Islam.
Sookhdeo Claims to Support the “Progressive Reformers”
The only Muslims Sookhdeo claims to support is a minority who Sookhdeo describes as “Progressive Reformers” (p.39):
“Progressive reformers aim to liberalize Islamic teaching on jihad, shari’a and the relationship of religion and state. They reject a literal interpretation of the Islamic sources, especially the subjects of jihad, the Caliphate and non-Muslims They weaken the authority of the Hadith, and interpret violent passages in the Qur’an and Hadith as normative only in their immediate historical contexts and therefore not applicable today. They view Muhammad as a fallible human who sinned in the violent episodes of his life, and they reject the classical view that his example is to be emulated in every detail by Muslims in every age. They spiritualize the Islamic teaching on jihad, seeing it as a moral battle against personal sin, and they explicitly deny the validity of military and violent aspects of jihad for today” (p.38).
While Sookhdeo lists examples of “Progressive Reformers” who he claims to support, he nevertheless misrepresents at least a few of them as will be illustrated below. Before illustrating Sookhdeo’s misrepresentations, is it correct to conclude that Sookhdeo is advocating a war against Islam?
Is Sookhdeo Waging a War on Islam?
Sookhdeo claims that it is “important to clarify that this is not a ‘war on Islam[…]” (p.17), or “Clearly extreme caution should be exercised in order not to give the impression that the West is at war with Islam” (p.29). In view of Sookhdeo’s views above, he means it is not a war against the interpretation of Islam that he believes is the one to support – a minority of “Progressive Reformers.” This means that Sookhdeo’s war is on Muslims worldwide who follow classical Sunni Islam. He oddly conflates Islamists who do not represent the classical Sunni majority in the same group. Sookhdeo’s more explicit statement – “terrorism derives from classical Islam” (p.40) – leaves no uncertainty about his view of Islam, as well as of the majority of Muslims who follow classical Islam. But how true is Sookhdeo’s claim that he supports “Progressive Reformers?”
Sookhdeo Misrepresents “Progressive Reformers” While Claiming to Support Them
Never mind that Sookhdeo gives the wrong year of a terrorism incident in the book: Sookhdeo says that the young Nigerian, Umar Abdulmutallab, “attempted to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit in December 2010” (p.27). Actually, the terrorism attempt was made in December 2009, not 2010, as Sookhdeo alleges. When examining the “Progressive Reformers” listed by Sookhdeo (p.39), he misrepresents at least some of them. For example, Sookhdeo misrepresents Khaled Abou El Fadl, Asghar Ali Engineer, and Farish Noor.
Misrepresentation #1: Sookhdeo Misrepresents Khaled Abou El Fadl
Contrary to Sookhdeo, Khaled Abou El Fadl in his commentary, “Terrorism Is at Odds With Islamic Tradition”, does not believe that classical Islamic tradition teaches or promotes terrorism. El Fadl, says,
“Ignoring for the time being that Muslims themselves often have been victims of terrorism, I am sure that there are a number of Muslims who do believe that terrorism, at some level, is justified. It is worth noting, however, that, at a minimum, this belief is at odds with Islamic law. The Islamic juristic tradition, which is similar to the Jewish rabbinical tradition, has exhibited unmitigated hostility toward terror as a means of political resistance.”[]
It is curious why Sookhdeo, who has a completely opposite view from Abou El Fadl’s on classical Islam and terrorism, claims to support Abou El Fadl.
Misrepresentation #2: Sookhdeo Misrepresents Asghar Ali Engineer
While Sookhdeo claims that the understanding of Islam by terrorists like Osama bin Laden is rooted in classical Islamic tradition, Ali Engineer, in his article, “The Jihad Most Needed,” defines jihad as “to strive for anything good, including striving for peace and the welfare of humanity”, and says,
“For the likes of Osama bin Laden jihad means a very different thing. They use it for retaliation against the US, and have given rise to what is the totally unacceptable phenomenon of terrorism.”
Ali Engineer further explains Osama bin Laden’s distorted understanding of jihad:
“It is neither an acceptable approach in the contemporary world nor does he belong to the political or the ruling class. No head of an Islamic state has approved of what bin Laden does, nor has any army of a Muslim country invaded a non-Muslim country at his behest. Bin Laden is neither the head of a country nor does he have the backing of any Muslim state`s army. His misguided jihad has neither scriptural nor political backing (or that of the ulema)” (italics added).[]
While Sookhdeo roots “Islamic” terrorism in classical Islamic tradition, Ali Engineer states that Osama bin Laden’s actions do not have Qur’anic scriptural support.
Misrepresentation #3: Sookhdeo Misrepresents Farish Noor
Farish Noor is also listed by Sookhdeo as a “Progressive Reformer,” but Noor’s view of jihad is quite different from Sookhdeo’s. Noor says,
“Muslims…cannot engage in acts of terror and indiscriminate violence where civilians are targeted. (In fact, numerous Muslim leaders like the early Caliphs even warned their troops not to burn the fields of their enemies or kill their livestock). A proper Jihad for the sake of self-defence was therefore a complicated and highly regulated matter – and the rulers had to consult the jurists as well as their own populations before such an enterprise was undertaken.”[]
Noor is clear that Muslims “cannot engage in acts of terror and indiscriminate violence” and such discretion was followed by “numerous Muslim leaders like the early Caliphs.” Sookhdeo, however, claims that “terrorism derives from classical Islam” (p.40).
The above demonstrates that not all “Progressive Reformers” support Sookhdeo’s views of Islam as Sookhdeo incorrectly portrays in the book. Therefore, the views of the other listed “Progressive Reformers” by Sookhdeo should be investigated further before assuming that they represent Sookhdeo’s views. It seems that Sookhdeo will not find many supporters among “Progressive Reformers” – the “best hope,” (p.41) as he says, to counter Islamic radicalism. Unfortunately “Progressive Reformers” are not the only ones Sookhdeo misrepresents.
Sookhdeo Misrepresents Olivier Roy
Sookhdeo, claiming to cite from Olivier Roy’s book, Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah (London: Hurst & Co. 2004), says,
“As Olivier Roy argues, the traditional concepts of the umma, the sovereignty of Islam in the state, and the supremacy of shari’a as revived by Islamists have become a major driving force in contemporary Islam, both in Muslim states and among Muslim minorities elsewhere” (p.27).
Sookhdeo misrepresents Roy who actually said,
“And as I tried to show in Globalized Islam (2004), what is perceived in the West as a return to a traditional and nostalgic Islam is, on the contrary, a profound alteration of traditional Islam, which is now giving way to a more open and diverse religious field.”[]
In addition, In the first page of the Preface of the book, Roy says,
“Globalised Islam refers to the way in which the relationship of Muslims to Islam is reshaped by globalisation, westernisation and the impact of living as a minority. The issue is not the theological content of the Islamic religion, but the way believers refer to this corpus to adapt and explain their behaviors in a context where religion has lost its social authority”[] (italics added).
Contrary to Sookhdeo’s portrayal of contemporary currents as reflections of Sunni tradition, including “the supremacy of shari’a as revived by Islamists,” Roy says these expressions are “a profound alteration of traditional Islam,” and, in his book, says, “The issue is not the theological content of the Islamic religion […].” Sookhdeo says the opposite of what Roy discusses in the same book.
Sookhdeo Misrepresents Bernard Lewis
While using statements of Bernard Lewis in an attempt to support his view that classical Islam promotes violence, including terrorism, Sookhdeo conceals Bernard Lewis’s authentic positions. Commenting on terrorism and the 9/11 attacks, Lewis says,
“What the classical jurists of Islam never remotely considered is the kind of unprovoked, unannounced mass slaughter of uninvolved civil populations that we saw in New York two weeks ago. For this there is no precedent and no authority in Islam. Indeed it is difficult to find precedents even in the rich annals of human wickedness” (italics included by reviewer).[]
In another article, Lewis comments on suicide bombing:
“Well, a lot of what is being done is certainly a perversion of Islam, simply in the light of their own texts. Take, for example, the suicide bomber. Now, the classical Islamic legal and religious texts are quite clear on the subject of suicide….Even if a man or a woman had lived a life of unremitting virtue, by committing suicide they forfeit paradise and go straight to hell, where, according to the sacred texts, the eternal punishment of the suicide consists of the eternal repetition of the act of suicide. So, if you poison yourself, an eternity of bellyache; if you strangle yourself, an eternity of strangling; and presumably for these people, an eternity of exploding fragments.”
“We ask, well, why do they do it? How does it happen? This is a very recent development.”[]
Contrary to Sookhdeo’s misrepresentation, Lewis is clear in his view that terrorism, including suicide bombing, is not rooted in classical Sunni tradition. Sookhdeo’s method is similar to al-Qa’eda’s: Just as al-Qa’eda cherry-picks from Islamic sources and tradition to support its non-traditional, militant views, Sookhdeo cherry-picks from scholars selectively and misrepresents them to support his anti-Islam views.
Muslims Today and “Abrogation” of Peaceful Qur’anic Verses
“Most Muslims still accept the traditional doctrine of abrogation that justifies the radical interpretation of the Qur’an” (p.38).
However, Sookhdeo provides no evidence to substantiate this claim, especially when most Muslims in the world today are peaceful and know little more than the basics of religion. The Islamic discipline of abrogation – `Ilm al-nasikh wa al-mansukh, or the Islamic discipline of abrogating and the abrogated – was understood differently by Sunni scholars.
Scholar and author Ahmed Al-Dawoody says, “Muslims disagree over the very existence of abrogation in the Qur’an”[] and “Scholars give considerably different numbers for the occurrences of abrogation in the Qur’an, ranging from 5 to 21, 66, 213, 214, 247, and even 500.”[] Famous Qur’an exegetes are noted to have rejected abrogation of peaceful verses by violent ones. The following are two examples:
Commenting on the Qur’anic verse,
“God does not forbid you, concerning those who have not fought you because of your religion or driven you from your homes that you treat them kindly and justly. God loves those who are just” (60:8),
contemporary Sunni scholar, Zaid Shakir, says, “Imam Qurtubi” – the famous classical Sunni exegete of the Qur’an – “mentions, while explaining this verse, that most of the exegetes consider it to be still operative and reject the idea, posited by some, that it is abrogated.” Shakir further says that “Imam Tabari, the Dean of Sunni exegetes, is much more emphatic than Qurtubi in his rejection of the idea that this verse is abrogated. He states, after mentioning the various interpretations of the verse in question, ‘The most accurate opinion concerning this issue is that of one who says, the people addressed by the verse, “God does not forbid you, concerning those who have not fought you because of your religion…” are members of all ways of life and all religions, that you are kind to them, join relations with them and treat them justly. This is because God, Mighty and Majestic, makes a general statement that includes anyone who fits this description. He does not designate some people to the exclusion of others. The claim that the verse is abrogated is meaningless’”[] (italics added).
Another example, as explained by Shakir, is the following verse:
“If they [your enemies] incline towards peace then you should likewise incline and place your trust in God. Surely, He hears and knows all.” (8:61)
“This verse is particularly important because it undermines the arguments of those who claim there is no Islamic basis for peaceful relations between Muslims and other communities at a strategic level.”
“Again, the vast majority of exegetes consider this latter verse to be operative. Imam Qurtubi, after mentioning the arguments of those who say that this verse is abrogated, engages in a lengthy discussion of his opinion that it is not. Amongst the reasons he gives as the basis for accepting or initiating a treaty of peace with other communities is that it secures benefit for the Muslims. He also mentions an opinion from Imam Malik that the period of any treaty of peace can be indefinite” (italics added).[]
Imams Qurtubi and al-Tabari are luminaries in the field of Sunni exegesis of the Qur’an. It is odd why Sookhdeo failed to mention such scholars and examples in the book, especially when most Muslims today, as explained in recent polls, are peaceful and mirror their understanding over the understanding of scholars who called for abrogation of such verses. Moreover, classical Sunni scholars who called for abrogation of peaceful verses did not condone terrorism, but understood the verses to support combative jihad with its many conditions and limitations in a legitimate war between armies.
Does Islam Teach and Condone Terrorism?
“[T]raditionalists…are not prepared to tackle the deeper theological legitimacy that terrorism derives from classical Islam” (p.40).
Does Islam provide “theological legitimacy” for terrorism? Citing a scripture to “justify” any action does not necessarily mean the scripture supports the claimed action. Sookhdeo oddly seem to believe otherwise and ignores the views of scholars who contradict him. Fred Halliday, the late Irish academic, said, “It is nonsense to seek the causes, as distinct from legitimation, of violence in the texts or traditions of any religion.”[] Similarly, Graham E. Fuller, author of A World Without Islam, former analyst and operations officer at the CIA, and former RAND political scientist, said, “[T]o examine the vehicle – in this case, Islam – for flaws and problems, as if it were itself somehow the source of the resistance problem, is to utterly miss the point.”[]
When Olivier Roy, the scholar Sookhdeo misrepresented, was asked if the Boston attacks, and other such attacks, were a product of the global spread of Islam, he replied,
“The main motivation is not religious. Most of the guys, they were normal, they were not especially religious…. It is not the process of Islamicization, through going to mosque, through studying the Koran.” Far from being part of the Muslim mainstream, the terrorists “are disconnected…from the Muslim community.”[]
What does the Qur’an say? If one accepts the most basic and commonly understood definition of terrorism to mean the threat or killing of innocent civilians to make a political point, then there is no verse in the Qur’an that supports or agrees with this definition. People who selectively use “violent” verses to wage terrorism are discarding the rich corpus of tradition that explains them in the context of a legitimate war with its limits and conditions, and extracting from scripture to justify what they already believe to be true. In this manner, any meaning can be extracted from the Qur’an, whether the Qur’an teaches it or not. This does not make the scripture at fault, but the person who imaginatively claims to derive support for terrorism from a scripture that does not teach it. Sookhdeo is guilty of agreeing with the distorted interpretations of the Qur’an by militants he claims to speak against. Vincenzo Oliveti rightly says,
“Significantly enough, like extremist interpreters of Islam, Sookhdeo misrepresents Qur’anic verses by citing them out of context.”
Classical Sunni Islam opposes terrorism in all of its forms and combative jihad and terrorism are not synonymous. Contrary to Sookhdeo’s claims, terrorists know very little about Islam.
Al-Qa’eda Recruits Know Little About Islam
Are terrorists knowledgeable and devoted followers of classical Islam? Sunni scholar and author, Abdal-Hakim Murad, says,
“[N]either bin Laden nor his principal associate, Ayman al-Zawahiri, are graduates of Islamic universities or seminaries,” so “their proclamations ignore 14 centuries of Muslim scholarship […].”[]
Explaining Current Myths about Al-Qaeda Recruits, Colonel John M. Matt Venhaus in a 2010 US Institute of Peace Report and study, in which 2,032 foreign fighters were interviewed and/or their personal histories were examined, noted the third myth that “[A]l-Qaeda recruits do not become terrorists because they are Muslim.” Contrary to Sookhdeo, terrorists “actually have an inadequate understanding of their own religion, which makes them vulnerable to misinterpretations of the religious doctrines.” Moreover, Venhaus continues, “In general, they do not come from strong religious backgrounds,” and, “Almost universally, they either had an incomplete religious education or were raised in a household where the faith was routinely practiced but was not a dominating force.” Also, “Their teachers and religious leaders valued memorization of key phrases over rigorous analysis of the texts,” and “They were not exposed to the over 1,400 years of Quranic commentary and scholarship, nor were they invited to question their instructors on finer points.” Venhaus concludes by saying, “History is replete with examples of religious arguments being used to justify the violent redress of grievances. Regardless of the primary religion involved, small groups play up selected passages of religious texts into guiding principles to manipulate the uninformed and justify violent behavior. The same was true in these cases.”
David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, concluded from a study of 188 cases of Muslim Americans connected to terrorism that none had a “traditional, intensive religious training” in their upbringing and that they “adopted fundamentalist views as they radicalized.”[]
A 2008 study of Muslims by Britain’s MI5 concluded,
“Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. Many lack religious literacy and could actually be regarded as religious novices. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes. MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalization” (italics added).[]
Instead of blaming the roots of terrorism on Islam, the “sophisticated analysis, based on hundreds of case studies by the security service, says there is no single pathway to violent extremism” (italics added by reviewer).[]
Terrorism expert, Jessica Stern, says,
“Interestingly, terrorists who claim to be motivated by religious ideology are often ignorant about Islam. Our hosts in Riyadh told us the vast majority of ‘beneﬁciaries,’ as its administrators call participants, did not have much formal education or proper religious instruction and had only a limited and incomplete understanding of Islam.”[]
Contrary to Sookhdeo’s claim, ignorance – not proper knowledge – of Sunni religious tradition, appears to be a hallmark of terrorists. Sookhdeo’s assumptions of a supposed Islam-terrorism connection is an oversimplification of a more complex matter.
Moreover, Sookhdeo completely ignores the lives of well-known terrorists who demonstrated irreligious behavior. For example, when terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was in the Philippines, “he was a frequent visitor to Manila’s red light district, including its karaoke bars and mirrored go-go clubs, where he introduced himself to women as a wealthy businessman from Qatar.”[] Muhammad Atta, the “leader of the September 11 terrorists and four other hijackers made several trips to Las Vegas over the summer to hold meetings, gamble and be entertained by topless dancers.”[] Pornography was also reportedly found in Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abottabad,[] and also by security forces in Taliban hideouts in Pakistan.[] Militants also embedded coded material in child pornography according to Scotland Yard.[] Nidal Malik Hassan is reported to have had a lap-dance at a strip joint just six days before the Fort Hood massacre.[] How does Sookhdeo reconcile such un-Islamic behavior by terrorists with his claim that terrorist actions are rooted in the religion of Islam?
The “Verse of the Sword”
It is interesting to note the verses of the Qur’an most cited or quoted by extremists. A July 2012 study that examined the most frequently cited or quoted verses in the Qur’an from over 2,000 extremist texts from 1998 to 2011 in the Center for Strategic Communication’s database found that the “analysis revealed only 3 citations of the ‘Verse of the Sword’” – verse 9:5 – “among the over 2,000 coded extremist texts reviewed […].” The authors further say,
“The most frequently cited Qur’anic verses identified in this study suggest that Islamist extremists favor content that falls within three core thematic categories: exhortations (e.g. 12:21, 63:8, 3:102), battle imperatives (9:14, 4:75, 22:39), and affirmations of faith (e.g. 8:17, 4:104, 3:139). These thematic categories correspond with our observation regarding the surprising verse selection from Surat at-Tawbah. Extremists do not favor the “Verse of the Sword,” which encourages all-out war against unbelievers. Instead they appear to invoke specific verses of the Qur’an that support a promise of deliverance”[] (italics added).
The authors of the study conclude that the Verse of ‘the Sword’ “is nearly absent from extremist rhetoric” and
“Members of the target audience, the contested populations of the Muslim world, realize that extremists are not really preaching world conquest. Continued claims to the contrary, by both official and unofficial sources, only play into a ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative that benefits the extremist cause. These claims also undermine the credibility of Western voices, because the audience knows that extremist arguments are really about victimage and deliverance.”
Sookhdeo, the Gorkas, and other authors who spread fear of a world conquest by Islam are not strengthening but undermining counter-terrorism efforts by playing into the terrorist narrative.
Robert Crane, appointed US Ambassador by President Reagan to the United Arab Emirates in 1981, made the distinction well when he said, “There is no such thing as Islamic terrorism, but there have always been Muslim terrorists.”[] The distinction is important, which Sookhdeo needs to be cognizant of.
Division of the World into Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Kufr/Dar al-Harb
Though unstated in the book, Sookhdeo in his website says,
“A basic precept of classical Islamic teaching divides the world into two kinds of territory, Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb. Dar al-Islam or “the house of Islam” consists of those areas under Muslim control. The rest of the world, which is under infidel (non-Muslim) control, is significantly known as Dar al-Harb, “the house of war.” This name is given to infidel-controlled areas because Muslims are obliged to subdue Dar al-Harb and turn it into Dar al-Islam.”[]
It is important to discuss this matter because authors have a bipolar, Muslim-versus-non-Muslim understanding of Islam, and portray Islam in this manner.
Sunni scholar Zaid Shakir explains this simplistic understanding. “[T]he often-cited division of the world into Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb fits well with attempts to explain the inevitability of a clash between Islam and the West.” “However,” he says, “it does not really give us an idea of the nuances and complexities of those terms, nor the diverse ways in which Muslim thinkers, over an extended period of time, defined and actually applied them.” Shakir then provides examples of the various views of classical Sunni scholars. For example, “Abu Yusuf and Muhammad b. al-Hasan ash-Shaybani, the two companions of Imam Abu Hanifah “viewed a land governed by the laws of the nonbelievers as constituting a land of disbelief, even if populated by Muslims.” However, “Imam ash-Shafi’i viewed a land populated by nonbelievers who are not at war with the Muslims as not constituting Dar al-Harb.” Shakir then says, “Therefore, according to these definitions, most of today’s Muslim countries, which are governed by secular law codes, are not Dar al-Islam.”
Regarding most non-Muslim countries today that have peaceful relations with the Muslim world, they are not considered Dar al-Harb. Sookhdeo omits this from his understanding. Shakir says, “To reinforce this point, let us ask…‘[w]ould Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, two conservative nations that waged war against the Muslim nation of Iraq be considered Dar al-Islam or Dar al-Harb?’ Such questions reveal nuances that clearly weigh against the simplistic arguments being advanced by a growing wave of anti-Islamic polemicists and pundits and their Muslim ideological equivalents.”[]
Moreover, Imam Shawkani believed that land not ruled by Muslims can still be called Dar al-Islam provided that Muslims can practice their faith safely.[] Al-Dawoody also says, “Present-day non-Muslim countries would…be classified as dar al-Islam according to Abu Hanifah’s definition […].”[] Abu Hanifah’s ijtihad, or understanding of the Islamic sources, is followed by most Muslims today. There are also many other divisions that the authors neglect to mention. For example, Dar al-Sulh, Dar al-`Ahd, Dar al-Muwada’ah (house of peace, house of covenant, house of reconciliation)[]
Of `Abd al-Rahman al-Haj, Al-Dawoody explains his view that “classical jurists coined thirty-four conceptual divisions related the word dar, including dar al-muhajirin, dar al-hijrah, dar al-baghy, dar al-da’wah, dar al-dhimmah, dar al-riddah, dar al-shirk, and dar al-`Arab.”[] Al-Dawoody concludes, “It is…unfortunate that all these juridical political concepts are ignored, so that the Islamic worldview is oversimplified as one of perpetual war between Muslims and so-called infidels.”[] Sookhdeo and others who hold this simplistic understanding are guilty of omitting the details of Sunni jurisprudence and misleading readers.
In addition, most Muslims today do not divide the world into two polar opposites. Khaled Abou El Fadl, a “Progressive Reformer” who Sookhdeo deceptively claims to support (p.39), says,
“Many…books written by non-Muslim scholars in the West perpetuate the myth that Islamic law invariably dictates that the world should be divided into two abodes forever locked into conflict. Often the same books falsely assume that most Muslims today adhere to the same bipolar view of the world. This, of course, is not an accurate description of Islamic legal doctrine; moreover, it does not accurately describe the beliefs of the overwhelming majority of Muslims today.”[]
Examples of Errors by Other Authors
Sebastian Gorka’s Misrepresentation of Pakistani General S.K. Malik
Sebastian Gorka, an author of one of the chapters, says,
“If you read only one person to understand the enemy, read S.K. Malik’s book, The Quranic Concept of Power” (p.200).
Curiously, Gorka makes this recommendation in spite of the fact that Malik was an army man, and not a religious scholar. While also recognizing that General Zia ul-Haq wrote the forward of the book, and that the book is clearly a work of political propaganda used to rally the Muslims and Afghan combatants to fight against the Soviets, Gorka nevertheless imagines (without evidence) that Malik’s interpretations of the Qur’an and Sunnah are “a theological strategy of war for Islam.”
Gorka is unable to differentiate theology and Islam from a political propaganda piece relevant to a specific conflict. Seeing Malik as a legitimate interpreter of the Qur’an and Sunnah to explain war is like using a Crusader’s interpretation of the Bible on waging war on Muslims and other ‘infidel’ Christians.
Gorka’s non-sequitur is even more glaring. Gorka says that because Malik believed that “the best weapon in war is terror,” Malik, as well Zia ul-Haq, who endorsed the book,
“thus told the world back in 1979 that 9/11 is the kind of attack one should execute if you want to win a war” (p.201).
It is strange that Gorka concludes that two individuals who lived and died prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks endorsed the attacks. While Malik is not a religious scholar, his own words clearly state that he meant instilling “terror” in the enemy in times of war. Terror in war is different from terrorism perpetrated by al-Qa’eda against civilians. Yet, Gorka seems to believe they are synonymous, and curiously agrees with the 9/11 militants he claims to condemn by describing their terrorism as terror in war. Illogical extrapolations do not help, but misinform and confuse, and embolden the extremists whom government and military professionals are trying hard to defeat.
Robert Reilly and a Public Diplomacy and Communications Institution and Strategy
A public diplomacy and communications institution and strategy that represents Reilly’s views would be ineffective due to his understanding that morality – and not policy – is the chief concern in the Arab region that would cause positive change as illustrated in recent polls (to be discussed in the full review). While neglecting the bigger concern, little success should be expected in changing hearts and minds in the Arab region. Furthermore, such a strategy would be further undermined by Reilly’s bigoted remarks, as already stated above, “The Middle East is poor because of a dysfunctional culture based upon a deformed theology […].”[]
Reilly also says that “Al-Azhar,” – the famous religious university in Egypt – is an “intellectual backwater retarding Muslims’ ability to enter the modern world […]” (p.154). He also takes issue with John Brennan’s description of jihad as “holy struggle,” and says, “Conceding legitimacy to your enemy in a war of ideas is not a good move” (p.160). Reilly is to be reminded that because most Muslims define jihad as a “holy struggle,” defining the acts of the “enemy” as jihad, as Reilly does, undermines the Arab-Muslim majority while legitimizing the minority of extremists who claim to represent genuine Islam. What is needed is a counter-narrative that distinguishes acts of terrorism from the classical Sunni view of jihad. Reilly’s – and the other authors’ – pejorative words and condescending views about Islam and Arab culture would result in a communications catastrophe, would embolden the extremists, and worsen relations between the United States and the wider Muslim world.
Stephen Ulph Misrepresents Ahmad ibn Hanbal
In explaining the literalist understanding of the Qur’an and hadith by radicals where speculation and metaphor have no place, Ulph says, “Radicals of all stamps seek authority to this priority in the person of Ibn Hanbal who championed the cause of the Text with his claim that
“whoever involves themselves in any theological rhetoric is not to be counted amongst the Ahl us-Sunnah, even if by that he arrives at the Sunnah, until he abandons debating and surrenders to the texts” (p.66).
This is an inaccurate understanding of the literalist approach of radicals, and an incorrect representation of Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, the mujtahid founder of the Hanbali school of Sunni jurisprudence. Not being involved in “theological rhetoric” does not translate to accepting the text literally as Ulph erroneously understands. Ironically, this is the same incorrect understanding of Ibn Hanbal’s words that Wahhabis and other Salafis have. Ibn Hanbal spoke on theology – or creed (`aqida) – the correct understanding of the attributes of God as stated in the Qur’an and Sunnah. Ibn Hanbal said that God’s attributes should be accepted without attributing meaning to them, metaphorically or literally. Contemporary Sunni scholar, Nuh Keller, explains:
“The real (‘aqida) of Imam Ahmad was very simple, and consisted, in the main, of accepting the words of the mutashabihat or ‘unapparent meanings’ of the Qur’an and hadith as they have come without saying how they are meant.”[]
“It should be appreciated how far this position is from understanding the mutashabihat or ‘unapparent in meaning,’ scriptural expressions about Allah as though they were meant literally (‘ala al-dhahir).”[]
Ibn Hanbal’s understanding of Islamic creed is described as the Athari school of creed in Sunni Islam, and is followed by most Hanbalis. The Athari approach, grounded in Sunni tradition, should be differentiated from and not be conflated with the neo-Athari understanding of creed that demonstrated and still demonstrates, the “tendency…towards excessive literalism in beliefs and even towards anthropomorphism (affirmation of human attributes to Allah).”[] Wahhabis and Salafis follow a neo-Athari understanding of creed that cannot be called Hanbali.
This example illustrates the importance of counter-terrorism analysts and commentators to learn classical Sunni creed and differentiate it from the understanding of creed by minority groups who claim the “Sunni” mantle. Serious mistakes like Ulph’s could unintentionally demonize non-radical Muslims, mainly of the Hanbali school, and compromise mainstream Sunni arguments against extremists.
Katharine Gorka’s and Sookhdeo’s Dubious Approach and Logic on Intelligence and National Security Reports
Sookhdeo and Katharine Gorka in the Introduction illustrate dubious logic in their analysis of national security documents. They say, “The 9/11 Commission Report, released in July 2004, used the word Islam 322 times, Muslim 145 times, jihad 126 times, and jihadist 32 times,” while the “National Intelligence Strategy of the United States, issued in August 2009, used the term Islam 0 times, Muslim 0 times, jihad 0 times.” They say the same of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Analytical Lexicon, which “makes no reference to Islam, Muslims, or jihad” (p.5).
However, is the number of times a word is stated in a strategy or relevant report necessarily a function of the effectiveness and usefulness of that strategy or report? Also, does the absence of words in such reports necessarily indicate poor quality of the meaning, strategy, or approach the document conveys? Absolutely not to both questions.
When the June 2011 National Strategy for Counterterrorism did state Islam several times, Sookhdeo and Gorka still took issue with the Strategy and said it “states that the preeminent security threat to the United States is ‘al-Qa’ida and its affiliates and adherents,’ not Islamism, radical Islam, or global jihad” (pp.5,6). Actually, al-Qa’eda and its “affiliates and adherents” do represent violent “Islamism,” “radical Islam,” and “global jihad,” as they understand it. It appears that Sookhdeo and Gorka are desperately trying to malign Islam in every manner possible.
John Leczowski’s Anti-Poor and Racist Language
While John Lenczowski’s arguments will be discussed more in the full review, it is important to note what Lenczowski lists as examples of what he believes make civilization “fragile.” Among the examples he notes are “the traditional poor – with its unique and seemingly intractable pathologies” and the “growth of Islamic communities in Europe that threaten to erase the distinctiveness of individual European cultures” (italics added). These, along with other examples he lists, like the rise of “Nazism,” “Communism,” and “Islamic fanaticism,” as well as “welfare states in the West” and “two world wars” were, or are, parts of the “problem” according to Lenczowski.[]
This review focused mainly on Patrick Sookhdeo’s views in the book with some examples of issues by other authors. Contrary to what the editors and authors claim, they do not understand the enemy, conflate peaceful Muslims with violent Islamists, and provide a simplistic view that terrorism is rooted in Islam. The final review will discuss recent polls in the Arab and Muslim world and compare the results with the views of the editors and authors to illustrate their misrepresentation of the Muslim majority. It will be clear, if it is not clear already, that the authors’ views fuel animosity and terrorism and contribute to worsening the security of the American people, the United States, and the world.
[] The Westminster Institute and Isaac Publishing are located at 6729 Curran St McLean, Virginia, 22101
[] David Hoogland Noon, “Cold War Revival: Neoconservatives and Historical Memory in the War on Terror,” American Studies 48(3) (Fall 2007).77.
[] Interview from Atlas Shrugs: Geller, Pamela. Interview with Patrick Sookhdeo, Global Jihad: Interview with Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, October 18, 2007, accessed May 23, 2013, http://europenews.dk/en/node/4780
[] Spencer, Robert. The myth of Islamic tolerance: how Islamic law treats non-Muslims. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005. Sookhdeo’s contributed a section to the book titled, “Christians in the Muslim World.”
[] Olivier, Roy. Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. p.ix.
[] Bernard, Lewis, “Jihad vs. Crusade: A historian’s guide to the new war,” Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2001.
[] A. Al-Dawoody, op. cit., p.52.
[] Halliday, Fred. Two Hours That Shook the World: September 11, 2001: Causes and Consequences. London: Saqi, 2002. p. 78.
[] G. Fuller, op. cit.,p.270
[] Rohan, Gunaratna, “Womaniser, Joker, Scuba Diver: The Other Face of al-Qaida’s No 3,” The Guardian, March 2, 2003, accessed May 21, 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/mar/03/alqaida.terrorism1
[] A. Al-Dawoody, op. cit.,p.93.
[] Khaled Abou El Fadl. The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2005. pp. 230-231.
[] Robert R. Reilly. The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis. Wilmington, Del.: ISI Books, 2010. p.198.