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Friday, December 4th 2015


Isis and its Expansion, part 4

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Tuckered out, as usual :)

The Latest Attack

Yet another terrorist attack, this one on our soil in San Bernadino, CA, and apparently carried out by a lovely husband-and-wife team—their names are Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, but I’ll just call them Mr. and Mrs. Killer—who first made sure that their baby was safe before embarking on their rampage. What a beautiful role model for progressive parenting in the twenty-first century! At this point it appears to be clear that they acted on behalf of ISIS. Their target was the state agency that had been the source of Mr. Killer’s bi-weekly paycheck; among its tasks was to provide help to families with special-needs children. And the time of their attack was, of all things, a “holiday celebration”—you know, as in peace on earth and good will to all.

Mr. Killer did not make it to the office party; I imagine that his fellow employees reasoned that, since he was a Muslim, he did not celebrate Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanza. Little did they know that he would show up late, accompanied by his wife, and that together they would create a veritable apocalypse. One gets the impression from the reports that the Killers simply fired round after round into the assembled folks, not aiming at any particular person, just making sure that they would leave as many casualties as they could before departing

Prayer in San Bernadino
People praying on an adjacent golf course.
Picture hosted by CNN

It took the FBI a while to decide whether to classify this event as an act of terror, which may have struck you as a bit irrational with more than a dozen people dead. But there often are significant reasons not to make that decision on the spur of the moment. In this instance, since this was Mr. Killer’s place of work, he might just have had a grievance against his employer, which, he felt, could only be rectified by means of a mass shooting of his colleagues. In that case, he and Mrs. Killer would still be homicidal maniacs, but not terrorists. In this particular occurrence, since the couple was killed, the immediate consequences of the label are not as visible as if they had been taken into custody. Just keep in mind the fact that terrorists are considered enemy combatants who receive neither Miranda rights nor habeas corpus nor pro bono legal representation from some hot shot lawyer who wants to make a name for himself by defending the indefensible. Moreover, the follow-up is going to be very different now since it has been established that ISIS was behind the event, and that it wasn’t just the case that Mr. Killer was angry because he had a private grievance against his employers.

A Suggestion on Our Response

I would hope that it is impossible for anyone who hears or reads of this incident not to feel a great amount of anger. Let me underscore once again that Islamic acts of terrorism should be considered acts of war. In 2001, some people were upset with President Bush for using the language of war with regard to 9/11. However, that particular matter had already been settled by Osama bin Laden himself in 1994 (a long time before 9/11/2001) when he declared a fatwa that all true Muslims should kill as many Americans as possible in the context of an ongoing war. He described the US as the head of a large association of anti-Islamic nations, and he asserted that eliminating the head would cause the body to fall apart as a result. Keep that image in mind when you hear about people in the sands of the Sahara, who may never have had contact with any Americans, declaim how much they hate America in general and each American in particular.

Still, I pray that, as we respond to these world events, we will keep from becoming like our enemies. I confess that at times I have allowed myself to dehumanize them in my rhetoric, but doing so is not good because it can turn a travesty into a caricature. The people we are looking at are neither sub-humans, nor beasts, nor demons, nor “monsters thinly disguised as humans,” as I put it recently. If they were beasts, demons, monsters, or other sub-humans, it would presumably be in their nature to commit atrocities. But terrorists (and there’s no need to limit ourselves to Islamic ones) are human beings, and by their actions they show that they are evil human beings, surpassing others in their capacity to do evil even among our fallen race. If we say that they cannot help but go around killing other people because they are Muslims, we are not only stating something that’s as untrue as it is mindless, but we are also implicitly excusing their actions. After all, people shouldn’t be held responsible for something that they are programmed to do. It is the fact that they are human and that they violate their humanity in the most despicable manner that makes them such evil persons. The gravity and the moral decrepitude that we see exhibited here is so devastating because these are human beings, like you and me in many aspects, but with a putrid, rotten, decadent sense of right and wrong.

Now, having had this attack occur on US soil makes it all the more urgent that we get a grip on what has transpired in far-away Nigeria. ­­­Eventually the connection will become evident.

Uthman dan Fodio: A Historical Precedent

Uthman dan FodioIslam came to Nigeria more than 1,000 years ago and settled in various areas, particularly in the north where it makes contact with the Sahara desert. As is true with any religion in any region, over time the actual faithfulness of the governments and of the people to Islam varied greatly. There were times and places of great commitment, and there were also times and places where Islam was practiced quite superficially. As a result, from time to time there were reformers who attempted to purify Islam, and sometimes doing so would take the form of a jihad, a “holy war.”

A very prominent reformer and amazingly prolific writer was a man named Uthman dan Fodio (1754-1817; be aware of different transliterations of his given name) who lived in Northern Nigeria. After his message of calling for greater obedience to the Qur'an was rejected, he became the leader of a jihad that ended up in establishing a caliphate in the region of Sokoto. At that time it bordered on the Sultanate of Bornu, another strongly Muslim state. The caliphate of Sokoto lasted from about 1815 to 1904, when it was abolished by Great Britain in the process of turning Nigeria into one of its colonies. Actually, to be more accurate, they allowed the caliph to continue in a role as spiritual leader, but stripped him of political authority. By that time Uthman dan Fodio had become a hero for many Nigerian Muslims for bringing about this allegedly true Muslim state almost a hundred years earlier.

Sokoto Caliphate

Furthermore, in the eyes of many Muslims in Nigeria, dan Fodio’s jihad and the resulting Islamic state represent the ideal that should be repeated and re-attained in Nigeria. They state accurately that the British had clipped their wings, and they exhort each other to work towards the goal of turning all of Nigeria into a Muslim state as exemplified historically in Sokoto.

Religious Governance: It's Not Easy

Before continuing this brief narrative, I need to make a point concerning the difficulty of setting up a religious state. There's a perennial issue surrounding any attempt to establish a country under the umbrella of a particular religion. Exactly how will one implement such a plan? One can make rules, but can one bring about devotion and piety by force? The Old Testament gives us a good case study. God’s Law was the foundational document for the Hebrew people, and it included many dimensions, all of them obligatory: criminal law, civil law, laws on worship and sacrifices, laws on ritual purity, and so on. A person not only needed to be righteous and considerate, but also to meet the strict requirements connected with the worship of Yahweh, which specified when, where, and how to do so. And yet God’s own people strayed from him time and again. [Please allow me at this point to skip the opportunity for stacking and to forego a digression on the topic of the United States as a “Christian nation.”]

Islam is in a different position than some other religions because one of its underlying concepts is the mandate to establish an Islamic state, as I tried to show in my last entry. Consequently, it has a clearer set of requirements as to what would constitute an acceptable government. --- Please keep in mind that pure Qutbism, as exemplified perhaps by Osama bin Laden, aims for the immediate abolition of all governments, so what I'm writing here applies to al-Qaeda only with some with some qualifications. --- First of all, the government must be constituted by Muslims. Cooperative jizya-paying Jews and Christians are allowed to reside in the state and practice their religion insofar as it does not interfere with the supremacy of Islam in any significant way. So far so good, but where do we go from there? Presumably one could mandate prayers and pilgrimages, allow only halal (“permitted”) food to be eaten, and proceed to spell out a specific list of what else is halal and what is haram (“forbidden”). Or, one could simplify the process and decree in one fell sweep that the country, state, or region shall be governed by shari’a—Islamic jurisprudence.

Government by Shari'a

Please note that I said “jurisprudence,” i.e. the process by which legal cases are addressed and settled. It is not a set of crimes and their appropriate punishments per se. Some American Christians are haunted by the specter of shari’a laws being imposed on this country due to an increase of the Muslim population, not a likely scenario. Still, frequently such expressions of unease are accompanied by examples, such as adulterous women being stoned, or thieves having their hands cut off. But that’s not how shari’a works. By itself it is a method, not a book of laws. Those examples, as alienating as they are to us, are supposed to be outcomes of judicial deliberation, not overarching rules. In fact, some of the most frightful instances, e.g. the scenario in which an innocent girl was raped and subsequently executed by her brother, are not the product of shari’a at all, but miscarriages of justice that should never emerge when shari’a is practiced conscientiously. Shari’a is a rather complicated matter, and it is not surprising that there are four Sunni schools of law, which I have outlined as a part of my site on “Groups of Islam.” There’s no point in my repeating what I wrote there, but, please, read that particular page or get the information from some other source before you say anything else about shari’a. And, I might mention that fatwas issued without a preceding trial by such Muslim luminaries as the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran or Usama bin Laden are as contrary to shari’a as a sentence being handed down without trial in our legal system would be. Shari’a can be a problem for non-Muslims, but evil people who will perpetrate injustice will not be constrained by any system, and they are the real problem. I think they would be just as evil under British-style common law, Roman/Napoleonic law, or African elder/ancestor-based traditional law as under shari'a. 

When the British left Nigeria around 1960, the newly founded federation faced decades of instability, and, sad to say, the right balance has still not been found. Democracies and dictatorships have come and gone, and corruption has been commonplace. We’ve already mentioned the strife between Muslims and Christians as well as the agitation between different groups of Islam, particularly between the conservative Sunnis and other groups. By the last decade of the twentieth century, finally a consensus seemed to have emerged among Nigerian Muslims, namely to unite in bringing about the one item that could theoretically engender a truly Islamic society: Muslim states should be governed on the basis of shari’a. I don’t need to point out that Christians and other non-Muslim residing in these states were quite unhappy with the idea. In some cases there may have been attempts at a dual-track systems whereby Christians were judged by a civil magistrate and Muslims by a Khadi, utilizing shari’a. David Cook published a map of those northern states in Nigeria that helps us visualize the apparent (but only apparent) solidarity of the Muslim population of northern Nigeria in agreeing to shari’a jurisprudence.  

David Cook Nigeria

It didn’t work. Among the reasons that Cook adduces for this failure, two stand out: 1) Nigerian states do not have their own police forces. All police units report directly to the federal government, and the federal government was not interested in enforcing shari’a, especially since some of its conclusions were at odds with federal laws. So, the absence of any power to uphold shari’a in those states that tried to apply it pretty much guaranteed its failure. 2) The Sunnis of northern Nigeria adhere to the Malaki school of shari’a, and this school, the second most conservative of the four, does, indeed, prescribe stoning for adulteresses. Several cases in which women were prosecuted under that category received international attention, and, in light of the pressure from outside of the Nigerian states concerned, the fatwas could not be implemented. Of course, once one aspect of the law showed itself weak enough to be overturned, there was no good reason to expect the others to be any stronger.

Cook summarized in 2011:

With the failure of essentially any possibility of enforcing the adultery laws, and the very obvious failure of  most northern Nigerian states to enforce bans on alcohol and other non-shari’a activities, 10 years after the initial implementation of shari'a it is clear that no ideal Muslim society has resulted (Cook, “Boko Haram Prognosis,” 2011, p. 8).

And he added the ominous words:

Most probably the frustration felt by the Muslims as a result of that fact has led to the rise of Boko Haram, first in Maidiguri (the capital of Borno) and then throughout the Northeast.

You may never have heard of Boko Haram before, but they, too, have made the United States one of their targets of destruction. And here’s the thing we’ll pick up on next time: They have some powerful friends. 

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