Two weeks ago, on September 11th, The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece entitled “The War on Terror Shifts to ‘Brainistan’.” Written by Tawfik Hamid, an Egyptian medical doctor now living in the USA as an American citizen, the article claims that the war on Islamic terror continues because we have been treating only symptoms rather than underlying causes.
Hamid knows something about the subject, revealing that as a young man in Egypt he was enthralled with the radical Islam of the Muslim Brotherhood and quickly joined the Jamaat Islamiyya movement founded by another medical doctor, Ayman Zawahiri, who of course later became the number 2 man of al-Qaeda under Osama bin Laden, and then its leader after bin Laden’s assassination. Within a few years, Hamid became disillusioned with the movement and began to speak out against what he now calls “the violent perversion of my faith.”
Based on his first-hand experience, Hamid asserts that the West is woefully ignorant of the Muslim militant mindset and so has failed completely to create and implement “…effective techniques to detect the jihadists and terrorists lurking among us.”
Likewise, we have failed to help Muslims eliminate the theological roots in their source materials out of which have grown the modern-day practices of jihadism. Hamid offers some suggestions as to how to get us on the right track.
Unfortunately, though what Hamid proposes looks impressive on paper, the devil is in the details, and once we look more deeply into his proposals we find them short on praxis and heavy on idealism.
For example, his first suggestion to make our country safe from terrorist attacks is: “Create and implement an impenetrable vetting process to detect terrorists….” Who could disagree with this? But the key word is “impenetrable”, and as Hamid himself notes, Muslim radicals embrace the practice of “taqiyya”, the use of lies and subterfuge for the protection and advancement of Islam in the world. Jihadists, he says, “…are as dedicated to lying as they are to dying.” While there is no doubt our immigrant vetting process needs stronger and more effective screening techniques, making it impenetrable is a pipedream. The bigger problem in this arena is not an effective process, but the will by our administration to employ it resolutely. The fear of being labelled “Islamophobic” squelches the smallest effort at detecting potential terrorists and forbidding them access to our shores. Until as a society we deal with the “Islamophobia” canard, even an “impenetrable vetting process” will prove useless since fearmongering will prevent its robust implementation.
Hamid’s second prescription is: “Initiate an education program for refugees to counter the root causes of Islamic radicalism, such as absolutism, judgmentalism and literalism.” He proposes utilizing various techniques of cognitive psychology supplant fundamental Muslim concepts and replace them with more moderate Western understandings. In essence, Hamid wants to “deprogram” Muslims from their orthodox beliefs so they are less likely to take the Qur’an, Hadiths and sunna so seriously. The Qur’an, however, is built upon a worldview of absolutism, judgmentalism and literalism. After all, Muslims are breastfed on the belief that the words of the Qur’an are the literal words of Allah – if this is no longer believed, then Islam’s raison d’etre comes into grave question, and Muhammad’s role as the perfect transmitter of Allah’s words is hates, and therefore for what the true Muslim is to love or hate. Worst of all human traits from Allah’s point of view is disbelief in him and his prophet. The Arabic root word in the Qur’an behind this concept of unbelief is kafara, from which the word kafir (disbeliever/infidel) and its plural kuffar derive. Kafara appears 525 times in fourteen derived forms throughout the Qur’an, a book slightly smaller than the New Testament. Such prominent usage underscores the judgment that those who refuse to believe in Islam are doomed to face the wrath of Allah and his followers. Indeed, Sura 98.6 declares, “Indeed, they who disbelieved [kafaru] among the People of the Scripture [Jews and Christians] and the polytheists will be in the fire of Hell, abiding eternally therein. Those are the worst of creatures.” The judgmentalism of the Qur’an against all who reject the message of Muhammad is impossible to erase from the hearts of those who enshrine it as the perfect and sublime words of Allah, impervious to change.
Perhaps Hamid’s reeducation idea would work with those Muslims less committed to the teachings of Islam. But for the fully-committed, hardened-in-their-faith radicals, such efforts prove fruitless, and indeed sometimes lead to even further radicalization. Back in 2004, the Saudi government began terrorist reeducation efforts, and in 2007 established the much-ballyhooed Mohammed bin Nayef Center for Counseling and Care (wryly labeled “the Betty Ford Center for Terrorists”), the kingdom’s vaunted extremist rehabilitation center. After years of efforts the government publicly acknowledges a 20% recidivism rate among “graduates”. Others, such as US intelligence agencies, put the failure rate much higher. In September 2014, for example, when Saudi police rounded up 88 suspected al-Qaeda operatives in the Kingdom, they discovered that 59 of them had completed their “rehabilitation” work at the bin Nayef center and been released back into society. Two months later, after an attack on Shi’ites in the village of al-Dalwah, authorities rounded up 77 members of the terrorist cell group behind the attack and discovered that 47 of them were alumni of the Saudi rehab center. The Obama administration, as well, released numerous Guantanamo terrorist detainees, after being reassured by countries willing to receive them that they would not return to battle, only to discover subsequently that such was not the case. Most recently, we saw that four of the five Afghan terrorists released to secure the freedom of US Army deserter Bowe Bergdahl have been chosen for senior positions in the new Taliban government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
This is not to say that all reeducation efforts are necessarily doomed to failure, only that they are not the panacea some wish to claim.
Hamid’s third recommendation is: “Support efforts already under way in the Middle East to fight radicalism.” This piggy-backs on the reeducation recommendation above, though expands that to include what religious moderates and secularists are doing through social media and internet sites to neuter mainstream Islamic teachings and make them harmless to non-believers. Though these efforts attract the attention of those who know little of the history of Islamic practice and theology, others who are much more familiar with the Qur’an and the life of Muhammad will not be persuaded by unorthodox approaches to sweeping reinterpretations of the message of Islam.
Lastly, Tawfik Hamid calls for a strategic plan to defeat radical Islam by “cutting out the religious underpinning of jihad,” (what he calls “Brainistan”), something I believe to be utterly impossible without neutering Islam into a completely different religion. Since a core tenet of Islam is that the Qur’an is inviolable and cannot be changed, the idea of excising the many commands to violence and subjugation will fall on deaf ears among Muslims, or even worse (as Hamid himself knows) will lead to Muslims considering him a heretic worthy of death. The Arabic root term (jahada) for the noun jihad occurs 41 times in the Qur’an, in five derived forms. Four times it appears as mujahideen (those who engage in jihad) and in each of these cases it refers to armed conflict against infidels (see 4.95 and 47.31). Though jihad itself has the generic meaning of “striving, effort”, when it is paired with the prepositional phrase fi sabil allah (“in the way of Allah”), it invariably refers to military attempts to conquer the enemy. Even more disconcerting is that fact that the concept of jihad is often paired in the Qur’an with the term qatala (“to fight with the intent of killing”). This term is found 170 times in the Muslim scriptures in eight derived forms. Both jahada and qatala appear as commands from Allah – Muhammad and his followers are to wage war and kill the infidel until there is no more opposition anywhere to the supremacy of Islam. Worst of all is the promise Allah makes to the faithful in the form of a bargain – if they will fight in the way of Allah, killing and being killed for his sake, he will guarantee them a place in paradise. This is what fills the minds and hearts of jihadis as they head off to do their mayhem – should they die as martyrs in the process of killing others they will expect their virgin sex dolls and pastoral delights and a cornucopia of comestibles.
In addition to this is the fact that the Hadith traditions and the early biographies of Muhammad are shot through with the celebrated savage exploits of the Arabian prophet and his cronies, which in turn inspired those Islamic jurisprudents who put together Shari’a (the perfect laws of Allah for human society) to include a major section on the subject of jihad. In the Shari’a manual known as Umdat al-Salik (“Reliance of the Traveller”) jihad is straightforwardly defined as “to war against non-Muslims…signifying warfare to establish Islam” and it is enjoined as an obligation for every Muslim.
For Hamid to excise “the underpinning of jihad” from Islam would mean a radical alteration of the “perfect” Qur’an, the rejection of massive amounts of the Hadith traditions as well as of the earliest Muslim biographies of their prophet, and the acknowledgement that the impeccable Shari’a of Allah is in fact flawed and needs to be corrected. In effect, to remove the underpinning of jihad from Islam leads to the destruction of Islam and its claims to be the perfect religion of Allah delivered by his angel flawlessly to his prophet, the excellent example given to mankind for emulation.
But if Tawfik Hamid is able to do this, I say, “More power to him!” Any efforts to neutralize the malignant influence of Islam on the world are more than welcome, and should he be able to bring about the religion’s demise, all the better.
However, in my opinion, “Brainistan” would better be named “Vainistan”, for jihad is inherent to the Islam of Muhammad. Hamid’s dream is a fool’s errand, but then, everyone is entitled to choose his own windmills to tilt at.