Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘Islamic terrorism’

A brief guide to the ideological roots of Islamic terrorism

Posted by sanityinjection on August 21, 2017

It is hard for most Westerners to understand how Islamic terrorism fits into the spectrum of Muslim theology. We are told, accurately, that terrorist fasadis like ISIS and al-Qaeda represent a fringe extremist view that most Muslims disavow. But where does this view come from, and what has caused it to become more popular and prominent over the last few decades?

First, let’s recall that most of the Muslim world is divided between the two major dominations, Sunni and Shi’a. (There are other minority sects that don’t fall into either category, but their influence on politics is minimal.) The Shi’ites are fewer in number and their political power is mostly restricted to Iraq and Iran. Most Muslim countries, both in the Middle East and elsewhere, are predominantly Sunni.

Within Sunni Islam, there is also quite a bit of variation in views on both religious and political matters. The particular strain of thought that today’s terrorist groups generally arise from is called Salafism, and it began as a reform movement over two centuries ago. Salafism is essentially a form of Islamic fundamentalism, which holds that the oldest forms of Islam practiced by Muhammad and his immediate successors are the most pure, and any modifications that have occurred within Islam since that time are errors that should be corrected.

It should be noted that there is nothing inherent in Salafism that requires political involvement or necessarily endorses violence. The first Salafists were mostly concerned with stamping out what they saw as idolatrous veneration of Islamic saints and places of worship. (ISIS’ habit of destroying historic monuments is an extreme manifestation of this viewpoint.) There are many Salafis who advocate staying out of politics, and many politically activist Salafis who do not condone violence. But this is the larger ideological context that most violent Sunni groups fit into.

Salafism as a political force first came into its own in Arabia, when the founder of a sect called Wahhabism made an alliance with the tribe of ibn Saud. The Wahhabis agreed to support the Saudis politically, and the Saudis agreed to promote Wahhabism as the correct form of Islam. The Saudis kept that bargain, and when they became masters of most of Arabia after World War I, including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, and subsequently became rich from Arabia’s oil, they began to have a major influence on the Islamic world. Saudi oil money paid for mosques, Islamic schools and charities, all of which dutifully spread the Wahhabi version of Salafism. Conservative even among the fundamentalist world of Salafism, Wahhabism is responsible for the many cultural restrictions on dress, music, and women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, and the fact that slavery wasn’t abolished there until the 1960s. The terrorist groups’ adoption of these cultural restrictions can be traced directly to the Saudi-funded schools and mosques where they were educated.

However, the real shift occurred with the victory of Islamic groups over the Soviets in Afghanistan in 1989. This effort was heavily backed by Saudi money and many of the jihadis who fought there espoused Wahhabi beliefs. The lesson was that violent jihad against the enemies of Islam was not only appropriate, but could be successful. The prestige of Wahhabism, previously viewed among the Muslim world as more of an Arabian oddity, increased dramatically.

A final group that must be mentioned is the Muslim Brotherhood. Based in Egypt, the Brotherhood is an international coalition of political Islamists, generally Sunnis but not tied to any particular orientation, instead stressing the need for Muslim unity. The Muslim Brotherhood is devoted to the goal of establishing Islamic government and sharia law, by democratic means if possible. However, they have at times engaged in violence. (The US continues to debate whether to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, as Russia and Saudi Arabia have done; many experts argue this would be neither accurate nor helpful.) The Muslim Brotherhood has specifically disavowed any support for ISIS or al-Qaeda, but it was a Brotherhood leader, Sayyid Qutb, whose anti-secular, anti-Semitic, anti-democratic writings influenced the founders of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Saudi Arabia was once a supporter of the Brotherhood, but they fell out as a result of the Gulf War and now are confirmed enemies. However, both the Saudis and the Brotherhood now find themselves unhappily dealing with the fallout of these terrorist groups they helped to inspire. (Ironically, within the past year the Saudi monarchy has been moving to liberalize Wahhabi cultural restrictions, both to improve the country’s image and to try to curb the power of Wahhabi clerics and reduce potential support for jihadi groups within the Kingdom.)

To sum up: Today’s terrorist groups were birthed in the 1990s amid a soup of Saudi-financed Wahhabi fundamentalism and Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Islamist politics, and inspired by the success of violent jihad in Afghanistan.

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We have met the enemy, and this is them.

Posted by sanityinjection on August 3, 2009

Americans are tired of war and military intervention in foreign countries. Some no doubt cast their vote for President in 2008 in part with that frustration in mind. And the weariness is understandable. No one can be blase about young American soldiers coming home in body bags.

It’s understandable, then to question why we are fighting. After all, it’s been almost a decade now since America was attacked by terrorists. Is the threat really still that serious?

It’s important to remember the nature of the foe we are facing. Unlike Americans, the terrorists do not weary of the struggle, because they do not have Xboxes and swimming pools and American Idol to go back to. They are not concerned with whether their goals can be practically achieved, because to them dying in the course of struggle is preferable to not struggling at all.

With this in mind I offer this article on Boko Haram, a homegrown Nigerian al Qaeda that unleashed five days of terror on a northern province of that country until federal authorities intervened. Boko Haram means “Western education is sinful,” and this is a brief glimpse at their program for mankind:

“He was taken from his house by Boko Haram. They stabbed him and he was losing blood…They insisted he was to convert to a Muslim. He refused, so on that basis they killed him.”

This philosophy at least has the virtue of simplicity.  Groups like Boko Haram do not spend much time and energy agonizing over ethics or human rights, or arguing about when violence is justified the way we do. In fact, they must enjoy quite a serenity after being brainwashed: the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, if you will.

Let’s recall that Nigeria is not a Middle Eastern country, and indeed is predominantly Muslim. This action had nothing to do with Israel or the Palestinians or US troops being in the Middle East. This was very simply a case of religious fanatics trying to violently impose their beliefs on fellow Muslims and non-Muslims alike in their own country. But it is in no way different from the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Lashkar in Pakistan, or any of the assorted Islamic terrorist groups. Let the point be underscored: These people cannot be appeased. They cannot be bought off. They cannot be reasoned with, they cannot be negotiated with. America’s abandonment of its international responsibilities and national security interests would not pacify the Boko Harams of the world. On the contrary, it would embolden them and spur them on to greater violence, knowing that the one consistent champion of peace and freedom in the world is out of the fight.

So if you wonder why we must send our troops overseas to fight in strange lands, here is my answer: So that it will not be your father getting the knife in the side of the stomach.

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Terrorists are fasadis, not jihadis

Posted by sanityinjection on February 18, 2009

I learned an interesting tidbit today from a New York Times op-ed by Thomas Friedman on the lack of support for terrorism among Muslims in India. Friedman quotes an Indian Muslim journalist, M.J. Akbar:

“Terrorism has no place in Islamic doctrine. The Koranic term for the killing of innocents is ‘fasad.’ Terrorists are fasadis, not jihadis. In a beautiful verse, the Koran says that the killing of an innocent is akin to slaying the whole community.”

This is in line with comments I’ve seen previously from moderate Muslims who argue that the main meaning of “jihad” is the spiritual struggle to live according to the will of Allah rather than a physical one against infidels.

Therefore, I’ve decided that Sanity Injection will henceforth refer to Islamic terrorists as fasadis rather than jihadis. Not to be politically correct, or to avoid offending Muslims, but because I suspect that al-Qaeda types would consider it a gross insult. It’s fitting to slap these monsters in the face with a term from the book they claim to revere. And “the killing of innocents” is about as good a definition of terrorism as anything.

So fasadis it shall be. You learn something new every day.

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Foreign Affairs Quote of the Week

Posted by sanityinjection on January 7, 2009

South Asia watchers will recall that Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, the local equivalent of the CIA, has often been accused of supporting the Taliban and Islamic terrorists such as those responsible for the attack in Mumbai, India.

In an interview with the German magazine Der Speigel, the chief of the ISI, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shujaa, did not mince words. Discussing the possibility of war with nuclear neighbor India, he said:

“We may be crazy in Pakistan, but not completely out of our minds. We know full well that terror is our enemy, not India.”

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Muslims who reject terror and religious hatred

Posted by sanityinjection on December 15, 2008

Two weeks ago I posted about the responsibility of Muslim communities to speak out against jihadism and terrorism and combat them within their ranks. I pointed out that Islamic terrorism will only die when would-be jihadis face derision, scorn, and ostracism from the Muslim community and find no financial support for their efforts.

I was originally going to post this as a comment on that blog entry, but it really deserves its own. The City Journal, a New York City conservative(!) quarterly, has a terrific piece out about the fledgling European nation of Kosovo. The overwhelming majority of Kosovars are nominal Muslims, but they are fiercely pro-American and have no sympathy for terrorists:

Some observers, especially in Serbia, have blamed the violence in 1999 and 2004 on Islamist jihadists. Those who live and work in Kosovo, and who are charged with keeping the peace, dismiss the allegation. “We’ve been here for so long and not seen any evidence of it that we’ve reached the assumption that it is not a viable threat,” says Zachary Gore, a U.S. Army sergeant stationed in eastern Kosovo…Religion in Kosovo is a private matter, not a public one.

There is, however, a small group of radicals inside Kosovo who would like to transform moderate Balkan Islam into the much sterner Wahhabi variety practiced in Saudi Arabia. Several well-funded Saudis and other Gulf Arabs moved to Kosovo after the 1999 war to rebuild destroyed mosques and to impose Wahhabism on the decadent locals. Most ethnic Albanians across the political and religious spectrum in Kosovo resent these intrusions, partly because ornate Ottoman-style mosques destroyed by the Serbian military are being replaced with severe Wahhabi-style monstrosities, but also because hardly any Albanians seek guidance from the backward and authoritarian Arab world. “We don’t call them Wahhabis here,” a well-connected Albanian woman tells me. “We call them Binladensa, the people of bin Laden.” In Kosovo, that isn’t a compliment.

“We never had them before,” a young Albanian journalist says. “We hear these rumors that they are paying people”—to visit mosques and cover their hair, that is. I can’t confirm the rumor, but it’s widely believed, and I heard it from almost a dozen people. If true, it means that even the tiny minority who are willing to adopt the outward trappings of conservative Islam will do so only if they’re paid. If false, the fact that so many believe it reveals a broad contempt for rigid Arabic Islam and a belief that Albanian culture will not bend naturally to it. “You should see how the general public receives these people,” says a Kosovo human rights official. “They certainly are not liked. I don’t think they will succeed.”

Wahhabis are encountering resistance from Kosovo’s religious community as well as from its atheists and agnostics. “We are working very hard to stop these kinds of movements,” says Hamiti. “These kinds of movements are dangerous for all nations, for the faiths, for all religions. The traditional Islam that has been cultivated in these areas is the best guarantee for the future. If we allow foreigners to come here and to push us to war with their ideas, then the situation will be out of our control.”

Tellingly, Kosovo’s only Islamist party got just 1.7 percent of the vote in the last election. Not even during the 1999 war, when ethnic Albanians were desperate for help, were Islamists welcome in Kosovo. Contrast this with Bosnia, which did accept help from mujahideen: after the European community imposed an arms embargo on all warring sides in Yugoslavia, leaving the barely armed Bosnians to twist in the wind, about 1,000 veterans of the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan streamed into the country. “In Kosovo,” Berisha says, “they came to support us and we rejected them. . . . This is not jihad. We are not fighting for religion here. We are fighting for our freedom, for ourselves, and for our families.”


If that isn’t amazing enough, Kosovo’s Muslims are strong supporters of Israel. They identify with Israelis as people surrounded by enemies. And they proudly point to the record of Albania, their ethnic mother country, during the Holocaust:  Jews in Albania had a 100% survival rate, as both Christian and Muslim Albanians refused to surrender them to the Nazis. In fact, the Jewish population of Albania actually tripled during the war as Jews found a unique refuge there.

Some will object that Kosovars aren’t really Muslims at all, being so Westernized and secularized, much as most Israelis are. But the point is that it is up to them to choose their path, and they have chosen a path of religious tolerance and rejection of extremism. So, too, have the majority of Muslims in Western countries, but they need to be as firm in inculcating these values into their communities as the Kosovars have.

Please take some time to read the full article here:

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It is time for the world’s Muslims to take a stand

Posted by sanityinjection on December 3, 2008

I have many differences with Thomas Friedman, but I couldn’t agree more with his latest column in the New York Times regarding the reaction, or lack thereof, in the Muslim world to the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India:

Muslims around the world insist that it is not fair to lump them all in with terrorists when most are peaceful, law-abiding people. But if they wonder why they continue to be viewed with suspicion, it is because of the widespread half-heartedness among the Muslim community to combat terrorism and extremism from within.

To be sure, there are Muslim imams and other leaders who have spoken out against terrorism and condemned violence. What’s missing, though, is a coordinated effort within the Muslim Umma to stop the jihadis before they get started. In other words, Islamic terrorists don’t just spring up out of nowhere. They are nurtured by extremists preachers and madrassa schools, who fundraise and recruit in mainstream Muslim communities. Here’s a very small-scale example from a recent Muslim riot in Egypt against a Coptic Christian church:

“Muslims bought a parking lot across the street and started building a mosque — one of about five within a few blocks. It was from these mosques that the angry crowd rallied when word spread that the Copts were at prayer.” (

I am sure there were plenty of peaceful Muslims at those mosques who did not attack the church. But how many of them made any attempt to dissuade their co-religionists from doing so? Islamic terrorism will only come to an end when those who fund, advocate, and perpetrate violence and hatred are publicly shunned by other Muslims.

This is no different than the responsibility of Israelis to condemn and discourage violent acts committed against Palestinians by fanatical Jewish settlers, or of Hindu political parties to condemn and discourage religious violence against Christians in India. If you don’t want to be blamed for something you’re not responsible for, all you have to do is speak out. Silence is tantamount to acceptance.

Let me use a different metaphor to illustrate the point. Let’s say a politician, any politician, we’ll use Barack Obama for name recognition, claims that he has my support, when in fact I do not support him. Of course he is wrong to make such a statement, but if I keep quiet and do not challenge that statement, it’s only reasonable that people will assume that I do in fact support him. Only if I speak up will anyone know that I do not endorse him.

Similarly, while it is wrong for the Islamic terrorists to claim that they are acting on behalf of true Islam, only by speaking out forcefully against them can Muslims show this to be untrue. One is reminded of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous lament, that it was through the silent acceptance of the majority that a fanatical minority (the Nazis) was allowed to become so powerful that eventually even the majority was no longer safe from them. The numerous Muslims who have been killed by terrorist attacks are a sad verification of this truth.

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The “Blame America” crowd is at it again

Posted by sanityinjection on December 1, 2008

This time, they’re telling us all about how the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, are in fact the fault of America. You see, the reason Muslim fanatics commit these acts is because we, the US, have failed in our solemn duty to educate them all, give them all jobs, and combat their totally irrational propaganda about us.

Fortunately, Dorothy Rabinowitz has a piece up in the WSJ exposing this nonsense, and bemoaning the fact that it’s become so commonplace that we are no longer surprised by it:

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National security primer: The 4 nations that threaten the US

Posted by sanityinjection on October 6, 2008

Back in 2000, George Bush famously coined the phrase “Axis of Evil” in reference to three nations he felt were a malevolent presence on the world stage: Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. While the phrase itself was criticized as simplistic and naive, Bush was doing publicly something that every President should at least do privately: Identifying the major threats to the security of the United States of America.

I thought it might be helpful to do a brief review of what those threats are today in 2008, and will continue to be in 2009 for the next President. I am defining “threat” as a danger to American lives, so I am setting aside for now factors such as industrial espionage and other attacks on our economy – these may well be extremely dangerous to the long-term prospertiy of our country, but are unlikely to cost lives in the near future.

Based on current and expected conditions, I see four major threats to the United States currently in the international arena. In order from greatest to least, they are:

1. AL QAEDA – Nothing is of greater concern than those here in America (mostly on the Left, it must be said) who dismiss Al Qaeda as no longer being able to pose a serious danger to the US. The fact that we have been able to avoid additional attacks on the American homeland since 9/11 has more to do with a lot of hard work by the intelligence community and the military than by lack of capacity or effort on the part of Al Qaeda. There is no reason to believe that the organization is not capable of launching another attack of the same scale as 9/11, although hopefully our ability to deter it is now greater.

More importantly, Al Qaeda is number one on the list because of all international actors, it is the only one actively seeking to kill and harm Americans as we speak. To the extent that the US has a Great Enemy in the world, Al Qaeda is it, and it has nothing to do with our policy on the Israeli-Palestinian question as the isolationists would have us believe. It’s based on the simple fact that Al Qaeda recgonizes America as the chief obstacle to its goal of a worldwide Islamic state. If they can find the means to harm us, they will do so without hesitation. Therefore, it stands to reason that eliminating Al Qaeda as an entity should be our number one foreign policy objective – and that is going to necessitate much greater political and military involvement in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other Muslim countries such as Somalia and Indonesia.

2. NORTH KOREA – This may come as a surprise to some, but North Korea was made a member of the “Axis of Evil” for good reason. North Korea’s military, by itself, has only a limited ability to attack America. It has a huge army but is unable to project that power beyond the Korean peninsula, and its missile technology, while advancing, is no match for North American defense systems.

Rather, the biggest danger of North Korea is their ability and willingness to share nuclear technology with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. North Korea is a country on the verge of collapse, and that makes them dangerous and unpredictable. Handing over technology to terrorists is unlikely to be a policy of the North Korean government, which would stand to gain little for such an arrangement. What North Korea needs most is food, and Al Qaeda cannot give them that. However, should the leadership of the country go into flux, or should there be a loss of central control over military and scientific apparatus, it is easy to imagine some unscrupulous individual selling nuclear technology for personal enrichment.

I think the Bush Administration has taken the right tack with North Korea so far. A military approach would, if anything, increase the danger – even a huge victory for the US might create the kind of chaos and instability that is to be feared. Unfortunately, the North Koreans have weaseled out of living up to every agreement they have signed, when it comes down to verification. The Bush Administration’s strategy has been to try to work with China to put pressure on the North Koreans. Hopefully, Kim Jong Il will be succeeded by a capable leader with a more pragmatic stance toward working with the West.

3. PAKISTAN – This one may also come as a surprise to some. Pakistan has never been formally hostile to the US, and its government is a nominal US ally. However, the US is not viewed so positively by a large swath of the Pakistani people. Pakistan is currently harboring the leadership of Al Qaeda, and the tribespeople of the northwest provinces as well as significant segments of the Pakistani security apparatus are supporting them. Further, Pakistan has never had what I would call a stable government. It has had a long series of military coups, and the federal government’s control over the various regions is not nearly what it should be. Pakistan is a confirmed nuclear power, and there is a very real danger of nuclear technology falling into the wrong hands – we have seen this already to a degree with Abdul Qadeer Khan. Finally, Pakistan’s continual tensions with nuclear neighbor India raise the spectre of a possible nuclear conflict the like of which has never been seen.

The current government of Pakistan has every reason to want to work cooperatively with the United States. However, the pro-Taliban, pro-Al Qaeda elements of the ISI security organization must be eliminated in order for such cooperation to succeed. The US should also step up non-military assistance of all kinds to Pakistan. The more schools and hospitals that are built with American money, the more incentive the Pakistani people themselves will have to side with us against the terrorists.

4. IRAN – There are three reasons Iran is lower on the list than the other three. The first is that despite their rhetoric to the contrary, the US is not Iran’s primary enemy – Israel is. Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology is dangerous, but it is primarily aimed at Israel, as is its support of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. The Iranian people, by and large, do not hate Americans. The second reason is that Iran actually has a very stable government with civilian control of the military and a functional if warped  democracy. Although they are always testing us to see what they can get away with, they are unlikely to do anything rash. The third reason is that Iran has no more interest in seeing a Sunni Islamist caliphate of the type envisioned by Al Qaeda than we do.

Militarily, Iran is not in a position to threaten the domestic US. Nevertheless, the prospect of Iran as a conduit for nuclear technology to terrorist groups is very real. The collapse of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq has left a power vacuum in the Gulf that Iran is eager to fill. And any significant conflagration in the Middle East involving Israel would be disastrous for the US. Unfortunately, nuclear negotiations with Iran have been fruitless, as Iran is happy to stall for time and evade sanctions with the help of Russia and China. We should continue a carrot-and-stick approach, but we need to find better carrots and more effective sticks. Nor should we rule out direct US-Iran diplomacy if an opportunity presents itself. We must insist that Iran abandon the pursuit of nuclear weapons and the support of terrorism in exchange for normalization of relations with the US, free trade and assistance with civilian nuclear technology, with safeguards. A prolonged war with Iran is not to be desired, although surgical strikes by the US and/or Israel against Iranian nuclear facilities cannot be ruled out.

Notably absent from the top four are Russia and China. Although these great nuclear powers have the ability to harm America, they have little incentive to do so. Russia does not have an economy capable of sustaining a war with the US, especially as the oil bubble is now bursting. Their geopolitical interests lie mainly around their own borders and have a lot to do with ensuring access to markets for their oil and natural gas. I would probably put them 5th on the list simply due to their nuclear arsenal, but Russia’s leadership is not insane enough to provoke a nuclear conflict with the US – nor are they interested in spreading nuclear technology and thus further diluting their own military advantages. Russia has its own problem with Islamic nationalism and has no sympathy whatsoever for Al Qaeda. As for China, there is no evidence that China has expansionist aims beyond reunification with Taiwan. There is no question that they are trying to increase their share of the world’s economic power, but that will have to come before any military adventurism. Although they do not always see eye to eye with the US on international issues such as Iran, they have shown no interest in proliferating nuclear technology. Like Russia, China has a Muslim minority problem in its western provinces and is not interested in supporting Islamic nationalism. China would be 6th on the list, only because of the possibility of being drawn into military conflict with the US if there is an escalation in Taiwan, which at the moment seems unlikely.

Whether Obama or McCain is elected President, the new Commander-In-Chief will have to focus primarily on these entities in constructing his foreign policy. Of course, there are other important areas too – relations with Canada and Mexico, free trade agreements with allies such as Colombia, and the eternal quest for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. But the primary goal of our foreign policy should always be to protect the lives and liberty of Americans here at home, and that can’t be done without a realistic assessment of the threats we face.

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