I apologise in advance to overseas readers (outside Australia) who can’t view this, but this interview on ABC’s Lateline current affairs programme on Thursday (8 Oct) was a standout. Emma Alberici, a well respected television journalist and previous foreign correspondent with ABC’s European bureau, interviews, or attempts to interview, Wassim Doureihi, member of Hizb ut-Tahir; an organisation which has been banned in many countries, but not Australia or the UK. This link gives a good summary of that interview, but it’s also ABC, so maybe unavailable outside Oz.
A lecture was held by the group’s Arabic spokesperson, Ismail Al-Wahwah, at Lakemba, Sydney last night, which, according to the SMH and Guardian (links), was not much different in rhetoric to Doureihi’s diatribe a few days earlier. Basically, they claim the current situation in Iraq is a direct consequence of America’s, and its allies’, involvement in that conflict, as well as earlier conflicts involving Muslims. And that, apparently, justifies everything that IS does. Though Doureihi never actually condones IS, he went to extraordinary lengths to avoid discussing their actions and/or strategy when talking to Alberici, which frustrated her enormously.
There are a couple of issues I wish to address: firstly, the sheer distortion in Dourheihi’s argument that doesn’t match the evidence; and secondly, the possible motivation behind people’s desire to join this ‘fight’ and how they manage to justify its atrocities.
Doureihi repeatedly asserted that the current conflict in Iraq is all about foreign occupation. But there is no foreign occupation in Iraq at present – the current Western forces have been invited by the Iraqi democratically elected government (as Alberici pointed out) – and IS arose in Syria, where there is no Western intervention at all, and moved into Iraq before the West got involved. Besides, IS are not attacking a foreign occupation in Iraq (the Westerners they behead are not military personnel); they are attacking people who have lived there for generations, mainly Kurds and Yazidi. In fact, they are committing genocide against these people, which has nothing to do with any foreign occupation.
One can argue about the wisdom of the West’s intervention in Iraq under Bush, especially considering the legerdemain of the so-called WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) that never existed, and its woefully poor execution under Cheney and Rumsfeld. But you have to draw a very long bow to argue that IS have entered Iraq to right the wrongs of that misadventure, when they kill all males who won’t convert to Islam and sell all their women into slavery.
A few years back, I read The Islamist by Ed Hussain, who was radicalised in Great Britain, as a student, before becoming disillusioned and returning to a more moderate position on Islam. It’s an insightful book in that it distinguishes between the religion of Islam as practiced by many Muslims living in secular societies and the political ideology of extremists who want to reshape the world into a totalitarian Islamic state. Hussain believed, at the time, the entire world would inevitably become a ‘Caliphate’, not least because it was ‘God’s Will’. What turned Hussain around was when a student was stabbed to death by a member of his own group. Hussain suddenly realised he wanted no part of an organisation that saw killing non-adherents as part of its creed.
When IS first declared itself a caliphate, an Australian academic (I can’t recall his name or his department) made the observation, in regard to Muslims in Indonesia, that just the idea of a caliphate would have enormous appeal that many would find hard to resist. In other words, many see this as some sort of Islamic nirvana, a new ‘world order’, where all wrongs will be made right and all peoples will be made to see and understand God’s wisdom and be guided by it through Sharia law. Naturally, this is anathema to anyone living in a Western democratic secular society, and is seen as turning back the clock centuries, before the Enlightenment and before the European renaissance and before modern scientific relevations, not to mention undoing generations of women’s independence of men, whether sexually, financially or educationally.
And this is the nexus of this conflict: it’s a collision of ideas and ideals that has no compromise. IS and its ilk, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Boko Haram in Africa, are fighting against the 21st Century. They know as well as we do, that there is no place for them, politically, in the world’s global future, and they can only rail against this by killing anyone who does not agree with their vision, and committing all women to marital slavery.
Finally, there is a comment by an Australian Islamist fighting in Syria, who believes that IS’s tactics of beheading journalists and aid workers is justified because their deaths are insignificant compared to the hundreds of innocent people (including children) killed by Western sponsored air raids. If these deaths can ‘blackmail’ America and its allies into not killing innocents then it is worth it, according to him.
David Kilcullen, an Australian expert on Afghanistan and a former adviser to Condoleezza Rice during the Bush administration, is one of the few who argued against drone strikes in Pakistan because they would ‘recruit’ jihadists. The abovementioned apologist for IS would suggest that such a belief was justified.
However, IS don’t just behead Westerners; it’s one of their psychological tactics against anyone who doesn’t convert to their specific brand of Islam. It’s meant to horrify and terrorise all their enemies, whoever they might be, and it succeeds.
Contrary to popular belief and popular crime thrillers, most people who perform evil acts, as perceived by most societies, don’t believe that what they are doing is evil and can always find a way to justify it. No where is this more acute than when the perpetrators believe that they have ‘God on their side’.