My bit part in The Way of The Strangers

Those who follow me on Twitter might be aware that I make a brief appearance in Graeme Wood’s new book, The Way of The Stangers – Encounters With The Islamic State. The final four pages of the chapter entitled “A Dream Deferred” to be precise (pages 208 to 212 in the current UK edition). I haven’t included images of the pages due to copyright considerations but assert my right to quote excerpts on a ‘fair use/dealing’ basis. As a bit part player in this piece of theatre I wouldn’t want to overplay my importance with too much superfluous commentary yet having read it I felt compelled to offer a few words of clarification.

So here goes…

“As an organization, Hizb al Tahrir has officially opposed the Baghdadi caliphate, even as certain figures at the fringes of Hizb al Tahrir (followers of Choudary, Omar Bakri, and others) have hijrah to join it.”

Omar Bakri left Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) at the end of 1995 i.e. 21 years ago. He then formed his own group, Al Muhajiroon which for a while kept the core ideology and opinions of Hizb ut-Tahrir, up until 2002 when Bakri suddenly adopted the Salafi aqeeda (having previously been a staunch Ash’ari) and started to shift towards Salafi-Jihadism. Those of us who were familiar with Omar knew he was – despite his erudition – a media whore, an attribute that his successor would inherit. Since 2005 he has been based in Lebanon and despite Islamic State having a presence a mere 1.5 hour drive away has never made any attempt to migrate to its territory. Anjem, to my knowledge, was never with Hizb ut-Tahrir but rather joined Al Muhajiroon shortly after it was formed. To talk of such individuals as being “at the fringes of Hizb al Tahrir” and their cohorts of “having made hijrah” is wholly disingenuous. HT has clearly and unequivocally distanced itself from the Islamic State’s “Caliphate” – that is its official and unofficial line. Nobody who is a member of the group or at its fringes would even consider migrating to its (shrinking) territory.

“He gave his name (I am not making this up) as ‘Da Masked Avenger’.”

Well my Twitter user id has always been Da Masked Avenger, ever since I set up my account. It was meant to be humorous. Sue me if you don’t like it. I simply didn’t want to give my name so offered my user id in lieu.

“He hated apostates and Muslims who gave comfort to apostates.”

I have written about apostasy here and here. As I make clear in those articles my attitude towards apostates is largely indifference. I really do not waste my life hating people foolish enough to abandon Islam. Furthermore the attitude of an (enlightened) Islamic state towards apostates, as with crimes such as homosexuality and adultery, would be “don’t ask, don’t tell”. If they don’t make a fuss about it, the state won’t either. All of this I explained to Graeme during our meeting.

“He said Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch parliamentarian…was ‘risible’ and suggested her murder might not be a bad thing.”

While I do not actually recall discussing her I’m happy to put my (pseudo) name to the first of the two assertions – she certainly is risible. She is NOT, however, a Dutch parliamentarian. When it emerged that she had claimed asylum in the Netherlands on false pretences (she had fabricated significant parts of her life story) she resigned and relocated to the US (where I think she touts herself as some sort of academic on the subject of Islam?).  You can read the details of her deceitful behaviour here. I’d say that’s pretty risible but everyone is free to form their own judgement.

As for the assertion that I suggested her murder might not be a bad thing then that is a complete falsehood. I have NEVER suggested such a thing and believe it would be wholly counterproductive in any event. Whilst I despise her for the simple fact that she spares no opportunity to spew vitriol against Islam and the Muslim community I simultaneously applaud her for her honesty in at least admitting that she is an ex-Muslim (more on that later) and have said so here : “As much as I detest apostates like Ayan Ali Hirsi her stance with respect to Islam is considerably more coherent and logical than the stance of people like Irshad Manji, Maajid Nawaz…”

“When Malala Yusufzai, who as a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl was shot in the face by the Taliban and later won the Nobel Peace Prize, came out with a movie critical of conservative Islam, he tweeted that he would ‘rather be raped by a rutting rhino’ than go see it”

Sure, we are all guilty of using intemperate language on occassions – some more often than others. As I am neither a politician nor an ecclesiastic I don’t feel the need for undue restraint in my discourse so yes I did say that in reference to the movie (whatever it’s called). However, by juxtaposing that statement with the fact that Ms Yousafzai had been shot as a 15 year old schoolgirl gives the impression (intentionally I’m sure) that I am a heartless fanatic who either approves of, or at least sympathises with, such thuggery. In the years since her shooting (i.e. in the time between getting shot and my use of such language) Ms Yousafzai has effectively become the poster girl for a liberal, feminist movement which views conservative Islamic values and mores with barely concealed contempt. In her native Pakistan she is widely detested by millions of all backgrounds (not just the usual ‘Islamist/Jihadist fanatics’) because she has permitted herself to become the proverbial ‘useful idiot’ for elements keen to perpetuate Western political hegemony over the Muslim world, of which cultural hegemony is a key facet. The contrast in the treatment afforded Ms Yousafzai on her visit to Capitol Hill and that meted out to Nabila Rehman, a survivor of a US drone strike that incinerated her grandmother and injured her siblings, is why people have little time for Ms Yousafzai’s movies. You can read more on the Nabila Rehman case here.

“He refused to tell me his real name, though he claimed ‘[British] security services know’ his indentity anyway.”

Yes I didn’t want to reveal my real name – get over it. Graeme reached out to me asking to meet me, not vice versa. He offered to conduct communications via PGP encrypted e-mails if I preferred that. I declined for the simple reason that there was no need. Not being involved in terrorist activities I didn’t see any need to utilise such encryption. My point about British security services was merely a way of saying that using PGP is a waste of time if they really want to know who you are. As someone who writes on topics related to political Islam and who openly espouses “extremist” views I’m sure somebody somewhere has already made a small note of my (real) name in their book. If not then MI5 really need replacing with a more competent body.

“The Avenger wouldn’t say whether he was a member of Hizb al Tahrir.”

Actually I did. I said clearly that I wasn’t. I said I was still in touch with some HT members and would ask them if they would meet with Graeme. And I did. They refused. Anyone who follows my blog can see that I am not a member of HT as I said so here : “My exposure to the teachings of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) instilled in me an impetus to investigate these aspects of Islam in more detail which I did both during a period of association (although I was never a member) with the party and then subsequently outside of it.”

“Choudary, he said, deserves extra ridicule and censure, because he’s smart enough to know better yet leads dozens of others into sin.”

I think Graeme’s own evaluation of Anjem on page 195 (UK edition) articulates my views (and those of pretty much every British Muslim outside of the tiny ‘ALM’ network) on the man perfectly. I didn’t say he led people into sin, merely into committing terrorism offences and consequently jail.

“He’s not a fool…Because of his intelligence, he gets less intelligent people to follow him. And that is why I hate him so much.”

I deny I ever said I hate him. I have a thorough dislike for him, I admit. And yes, just like his mentor, Omar Bakri, he revels in his following of dunderheads. People who he knows he can incite and who have not the acuity  of mind to avoid prosecution. I hope he takes the time in prison to reflect on the devastation he has wreaked on so many lives and all for what? To keep him in the media spotlight. Though I disagree with many of their ideas and methodology I found his two chief lieutenants, Abu Baraa (who I have met and had an extended one-to-one lunch with) and Abu Rumaysah (only ever interacted with on Twitter) far more sincere and lacking Anjem’s smug air of conceit.

“He objected to Muslims – from Dhahiris on down – who view scripture in narrowly literal or legal terms. ‘They think of Islam as a code of laws, a set of dos and don’t.”

The Dhahiri school of jurisprudence died out around seven centuries ago. Its rejection of qiyas and its insistence upon unwavering literalism resulted in it formulating patently absurd legal rulings. The fact that two of the Islamic State’s most notable Western proselytes espouse such beliefs and are regarded as shuyookh by many of their followers, pretty much sums up the malaise at the heart of the organisation.

As for my criticism of a reductionist approach to Islam then it is something that any scholar of worth will echo – including Yasir Qadi. My notes that I sent Graeme (he incorporated the first set into his Atlantic follow up piece as a justpaste.it link) echo some of the same criticisms offered by Qadi. For all the details see my blog post here.

“This shaped his views on slavery. ‘Islam permitted slavery,’ the Avenger said, matter-of-factly. ‘There is no ayah [Koranic verse] or hadith that bans it. But Islam does not command the taking of slaves.”

It is permitted to sign treaties agreeing to forbid the seizure of slaves by warring parties. No scholar would dissent from such a position and it is within the remit of the Caliph. I make my position on slavery clear here (suspect part of this dialogue was rewritten to fit around my blog post).

“Equally anathema, though, to the Avenger is the effort of ‘modernists’ to take these mitigating considerations too far and pretend that Islam commands nothing at all – no hadd, no bay’a, no subjugation of Jews and Christians.”

I am pretty sure I never once mentioned subjugating anyone. The choice of language often betrays much about the motive of the writer. In linguistics it is termed the ‘perlocutionary effect’ and refers to the state of mind induced in the reader. For example when American media outlets and politicians refer to the illegal invasion, occupation and mass slaughter of Iraqis they will use words such as “liberation” because it induces a positive mental effect upon the reader. After all we Americans are gifting them with something better than their current retrograde existence and who in their right mind could possibly reject the Hamburgers, Drink, Drugs & Rock’n’Roll ideal?

In a similar vein us ‘fanatical Islamists’ offer liberation to everybody (not just Jews and Christians). We likewise believe our way of life is superior; superior to the liberalism and capitalism of the West (http://kairoscenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Poverty-Fact-Sheet-Feb-2015-final.pdf & https://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/nov/13/us-wealth-inequality-top-01-worth-as-much-as-the-bottom-90). For sure you can dismiss us as the modern day incarnations of those 19th century Communists railing from the sidelines at the advance of industrialisation but remember that whereas Communism failed from within so that nobody seriously wants to revive it today, the same is not true of the Islamic state. It was destroyed by direct military intervention (admittedly helped by a degree of internal rot that should long before have been cleaned out) and millions today yearn for its return. The untrammeled greed and voloptuary psyche that secular-capitalism inculcates in a society and the miasma resulting thereof now threatens the social fabric of Western nations. With the advance of social media the failings of this system are becoming ever more apparent and to an ever increasing mass of their citizens.

Interestingly enough the Arabic word ‘Tahrir’ in ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ means ‘liberation’. So in summary we offer ‘liberation’ not ‘subjugation’.

“Both Hirsi Ali and Nawaz identify as Muslims but link arms with non-Muslims to call for reform…”

Sorry but that is simply factually incorrect. Ayaan most certainly does NOT indentify as a Muslim. On the contrary she makes a big point of being an ex-Muslim, an apostate, an infidel. She has talked candidly of the need to ‘defeat Islam’ making clear she was referring to ‘Islam’ and not ‘radical Islam’. She would prefer that Muslims follow her lead and explicitly renounce Islam but given that this isn’t likely to occur on a mass scale she will settle instead for us adopting the ridiculous Maajid Nawaz paradigm of renouncing virtually every creedal requirement of Islamic orthodoxy whilst self-identifying as ‘Muslim’ for its cultural resonances (I guess that means having Eid lunch twice a year?). The only substantive difference between the two individuals is that the former has the honesty to declare her apostasy while the latter doesn’t (he just heaps encomium on the views of apostates, ‘as a Muslim’, and attends their conferences as a guest of honour). You can read my views on Maajid Nawaz here. And yes his elder brother is a good friend of mine.

Regarding the question of whether Islam can be reformed I wrote an extended piece on the subject citing references from the classical ulema (scholars) here.

“Salafis and ‘modernists’ he said, formed a dialectic of ignorance that left groups like Hizb al Tahris abandoned in the middle.”

The extreme takfiri lunatic fringe of Salafism, yes.

“‘You hang out with interesting people,’ he told me. I thought he meant supporters of the Islamic State, but he went on to say he was referring to far more sinister company, such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Council on Foreign Relations, two think tanks where I had recently lectured.”

Dress up in oriental attire, chant some weird incantations and slaughter one man (albeit on camera and in a purposefully gruesome manner) and you’re a confirmed nut job. Don a $2000 suit and write a lucid essay on the merits of a foreign policy that will consign millions to a life of penury or to their deaths and hey presto you’re a “respected thinker and lecturer”. Overt savagery is infinitely less sinister than the insidious barbarism of these think tanks.

“He repeated the point, but this time as a threat.’If they don’t let us choose our own government, things will only get worse,’ he said.”

I’m sorry but I don’t threaten people. It’s not my style. I also happen not to be in a position where I can issue credible threats. I was merely stating my honest and frank assessment of the political reality and there simply was no threat involved, neither explicit nor implicit. The US no longer has the wherewithal to dominate the Middle East and is rapidly losing control of it to competing interests. In a dispassionate evaluation of the situation I would suggest that my solution presents the ‘lesser of two evils’.

“Expansion is a part of Islam, and eventually we will subjugate you. But can you not see that to let us rule ourselves is at least better than having groups like [the Islamic State]?”

Again I never mentioned subjugation but yes I did say that at some point in the future (I believe I gave 50 years as the likely marker) conflict would likely arise but seeing as both sides would be nuclear armed it would in all probability be limited in scope as opposed to the type of apocalyptic engagement sought by Islamic State. In all likelihood there would be some form of Cold War stand off but with better opportunities for trade and a greater level of intellectual engagement. Rather than purusing a policy that has resulted in the implosion of the Middle East and left Saudi Arabia in a precipitous state, heigtening the risk thereby to the West’s oil supply, why not permit the establishment of a Caliphate and strike economic deals with it? As I told Graeme, we would have no issue conducting fair trade with the US – send your tankers over, fill up, pay, and get lost. Thankfully it seems my point of view is slowly beggining to gain some traction: Islamic Exceptionalism by Shadi Hamid & The Ottoman Caliphs – The Economist

“‘Could you ever imagine giving bay’a to Baghdadi?” I asked. At what point would he accept the Caliphate of Ignorance? He thought for a while. Like Nakata, he was torn between a utopian dream to come and a dystopian nightmare already under way.”

I’ll answer the first point in my final comment below. I have no illusions about the Islamic state to come. Utopia is for the next world, not this. Since I picked up history books and read about the glaring failures of previous Caliphates and having seen first hand the mentality of the Muslim masses I can safely assert that creating a utopian Islamic state is about as likely as…well something not remotely likely. I simply hope for a state established upon the principle that our life is a testimony to the glory of the One true God and that our conduct during it must reflect that – to the best of our ability.

“‘They say it has to be big,'”, Musa [a well known Australian supporter of the Islamic State] told me, incredulous. “Well how big? Five times the current size? They’re just making things up.” The excuse the Avenger gave me sounded distressingly arbitrary in that context. ‘It still isn’t a state,” he said. “Too small, too disorganized”

‘But what if it kept growing and took Baghdad, Damascus, or Amman?’ He thought longer. ‘Then I would have to reconsider,” he said” [Regarding the conditions to be considered a valid Caliphate]

We never had this discussion during our meeting in August 2015. Graeme didn’t ever pose such a question to me. Instead it has been lifted from my own blog posts and inserted into our dialogue – and as emanating from him. The cheek of it. 🙂

As evidence I adduce my blog post of November 2014:

https://maskedavenger1.wordpress.com/2014/11/26/on-the-caliphate-question-pt2/

“This subject [whether IS’ proto-polity constitutes a state] is not a matter of scholarly interpretation but rather a case of analysing the extant military and political realities – as best as one can from 2500 miles away. Of course such realities are constantly in a state of flux and should the dynamics change then my evaluation would necessarily require revisiting. I’ve previously stated that should IS achieve a credible air defence capability or even a rudimentary air force this would clearly significantly alter the equation. If Baghdad were to fall or should the current rump Shi’ite Iraqi state or perhaps Turkey extend IS recognition – be that even de facto rather than de jure – and normalise trade and infrastructure ties then this would clearly also materially alter the ground reality. In such scenarios IS’ claim to the Caliphate would suddenly assume an altogether different magnitude. Until such a time, however, my position is that such a claim remains a vain pretension, reflecting aspiration rather than the reality.”

As to Musa’s alleged incredulity then it’s more than a simple question of territorial circumference. I discuss my reasons for rejecting IS’ claim in a separate blog post: https://maskedavenger1.wordpress.com/2016/05/12/is-islamic-state-actually-a-state/

Summary

Unfortunately I don’t have time to review Graeme’s book (I am taking an indefinite hiatus from writing and Tweeting due to personal circumstances) but in the two and a half years since the declaration of the Baghdadi caliphate it has become apparent that there is nothing much to understand about it from an ideological point of view. It does NOT represent a coherent cogent reading of Islamic scripture any more than the modernists’ tendentious recension does – though I’m happy to be disabused of my view should they extend me an invitation to pay them a visit.

‘To conclude it’s my opinion that Islamic State will prove a brief stretch on the inexorable highway that leads to the final destination of a Caliphate upon the model of the Prophethood. Grotesque as many in the West may find it, it behoves them to appreciate that Islamic State is the manifestation of the long standing desire of the peoples of the Middle East to assert a political independence and identity that has been repeatedly denied them. The apodictic truth, however much sneering it might provoke in right-wing circles, is that the disastrous self-defeating policies of the West, both created IS and are now corralling people, some reluctantly, into its camp. Regarding the current campaign against IS then I believe Brooking’s Institute fellow, Shadi Hamid cuts to the heart of the matter when he asks: “You can kill an organisation but can you kill an idea deeply rooted in a society?” The answer, as posterity will record, in the case of Islam & the Caliphate is a resounding, “no”.’ [Caliphate Question Pt 2]

The questions most Western readers want answered is: “What would life in an Islamic Caliphate actually look like? What would it mean for us?” I invite them to look beyond the Baghdadi organisation for those answers.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Lenna says:

    Salaam,

    Great piece. His the author replied to this?

    1. Wasalaam. Not that I know. He’s made one comment on Twitter.

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