Shouldn’t this be a slamdunk?

By Sean Aqui | Related entries in In The News, The War On Terrorism

So Al-Zarqawi has released a video in which he attacks the United States and all of his other enemies. And who are they?

“Any government that will be established in Iraq today, whoever is in it, whether they are the rejecters (Shiite Muslims) or the secular Zionist Kurds or the agents who are Sunnis in name, it will be a puppet government that will owe its allegiance to the (Western) crusaders,” he said in the videotape. He likened the new government to “a poisonous dagger in the heart of the Islamic nation.”

Let’s see. He hates Shiites, Kurds, Zionists, “false” Sunnis, nonMuslims, anyone associated with the Iraqi government, and democracy. By my reckoning that includes about 99% of the world’s population and probably 80% of Muslims.

Why is that? Nir Rosen wrote an excellent explanation in the New York Times Magazine back in February. Here are the most relevant parts.

Zarqawi belongs to a tiny “purist” sect of Islam, Salafism, that is violently intolerant of insufficiently “pure” Muslims as well as nonbelievers.

Salafism emphasizes the rootlessness of faith. It despises local saints and mystical practices (like those of Sufism) and any other departures from the most rigid Sunnism. It despises Shiites. It commonly despises all other sects or practices that Salafis might consider ”bida,” or ”innovation.” Given this intense preoccupation with purity, Salafis are constantly trying to identify and expel the impure. This is called ”takfir,” often translated as ”excommunication”: an old, disused term that has found new life in Salafism, which permits, even encourages, the killing of Muslims whom Salafis have expelled through takfir. Perhaps the most ferocious embodiment of takfiri Salafism today is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Some of their attitudes are embodied in a book:

‘The Creed of Abraham” is the most important single source of teachings for Jordanian Salafist jihadis. In it [the author, a man named Maqdisi] speaks of infidels and tyrants, using the expansive definitions favored by Salafis. ”Tyrants,” on my reading of the book, could include idols made from stone, the sun, the moon, trees. They could also include graves, a reference to the Sufi and Shiite practice of visiting the graves of saints and imams. And ”tyrants” could also include the laws made by men. It was the duty of the faithful to expose the infidelity of all these forms of worship and idolatry and manifest their hatred of them.

According to Maqdisi, democracy is a heretical religion and constitutes the rejection of Allah, monotheism and Islam. (He mounted a full-scale attack in his book ”Democracy Is a Religion.”) Democracy is an innovation, placing something above the word of God and ignoring the laws of Islam. It places the people (or the tyrant) above Islam, but in the Salafist view only God can make laws. Maqdisi held that the regimes that ruled Muslims were un-Islamic. Therefore, Muslims did not owe them obedience and should fight them to establish a true Islamic state.

Fun people.

I quote all this to lead up to a question: Why are we in danger of losing the “war of ideas” to this guy? He’s like a human version of Ebola: So exclusionary and deadly that while outbreaks are horrible, he ought to burn himself out before he spreads too far.

You can’t say it’s about Islam, because he considers most Muslims to be the enemy as well. His beliefs are so radical and unpalatable that there’s no way he could ever muster meaningful popular support, as evidenced by the fact that Salafists are a tiny, tiny sect of Sunni Islam.

Maybe it’s that most people don’t know his beliefs, and so project on to him whatever they want to see: a brave jihadi standing up to the American serpent, say. Maybe it’s that they hear the rhetoric but dismiss much of it as heat and light.

Or maybe it’s because we have made so many missteps — the invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, calling the fight against terror a “Crusade”, failing to provide decent security in Iraq — that he doesn’t seem so bad by comparison. Sort of the way Hamas won the election in Palestine: Not because of their hard anti-Israel line, but because of their lack of corruption and ability to provide basic services.

Given al-Zarqawi’s extremism, we should have won the “war of ideas” long ago simply by publicizing what he actually says and believes. Hell, we should have bought him a gigantic megaphone so that everyone could hear his ideas firsthand. The fact that we think we’re in danger of losing the “war of ideas” to a schmoe like him speaks volumes about how badly we have handled things, notably by failing to match words to deeds. Say what you will about Zarqawi, but he’s demonstrated over and over again that he really means what he says. We might consider borrowing that page from his playbook.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 26th, 2006 and is filed under In The News, The War On Terrorism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

25 Responses to “Shouldn’t this be a slamdunk?”

  1. Meredith Says:

    I have one idea why Salafis are not called out as they should be. I saw a documentary on Islam in western Europe a few months ago. The main point of it was to show how widespread Islam has become there because it’s easy for people to move about from country to country, and therefore, many Muslims are “setting up shop” there.

    One feature of the documentary, however, were stories about Muslim Salafis, most of whom have been and continue to be involved in terrorist activities in Europe. The show explained how there are many mosques set up all over the place by “regular” Muslims, but in almost all of them, Salafis are also accepted there, and they worship alongside all the rest of them. There was an interview of some members of one particular mosque, and everyone was really nonchalant about the fact that the Salafis engage in terrorist activities and potentially make their religion look bad. One “regular” Muslim commented that his friend, a Salafi, believes in killing, torturing and bombing the infidels, and he said that although he doesn’t engage in that type of thing, they can still hang out and pray together.

    I guess my point is that if this is representative of the Muslim community as a whole, it’s not really surprising that this stuff continues to occur with fewer eyebrows raised than we would like to see.

  2. Monica Says:

    Meredith –

    I agree with everything you wrote. Islam has to fix itself and I haven’t seen anything that makes me believe it will. Not sure where we go from here, really.

  3. scott Says:

    I’m trying to draw a parallel here. I read that approximately 70% of FOX viewers believe Saddam was involved in 9/11 and that we found WMD in Iraq. I would guess that whatever passes for ‘fair and balanced’ journalism in Iraq, or the greater Middle East leads people to believe whatever Al-Zarqawi says.

  4. Jimmy the Dhimmi Says:

    It doesn’t matter if Salafis are a “tiny, tiny sect of Islam” as long as the larger Muslim population as a whole subscribes to some or most of Zarquawi’s beliefs. Salafism isn’t the beginning and end of Islamic terrorism. The entire Shia’t sect is maniacal and apocalyptic but they revere saints and sometimes depict Mohammad in artwork.

    The “war on terror” is not merely an attempt to change the hearts and minds of a few “salafis.” Not by a long shot.

  5. reader_iam Says:

    Or maybe it’s because we have made so many missteps � the invasion of Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, calling the fight against terror a “Crusade�, failing to provide decent security in Iraq � that he doesn’t seem so bad by comparison. Sort of the way Hamas won the election in Palestine: Not because of their hard anti-Israel line, but because of their lack of corruption and ability to provide basic services.

    Or maybe it’s because far preceding recent years there has been a reflexive instinct to see the West/U.S. as automatically the more-bad guy, thus giving whatever thug, zealot or megalomaniac more of the benefit of the doubt.

    I’ll agree that Hamas won the election Palestine because its opponents were corrupt in providing basic services, which Hamas members had been providing ad hoc. That does NOT translate in a “lack of corruption” on the part of Hamas–unless you don’t count being terrorists a corruption.

    Which, call me whatever you want, I sure as hell do.

  6. Michael Reynolds Says:

    I haven’t heard of anyone — here in the US, in Europe, Asia, or for that matter among ordinary Iraqis — who thinks this guy has an attractive “platform.” We’re not losing a war of ideas, certainly not to him. We’re failing to maintain order and provide security and maintain the strategic initiative against an insurgency. And the Iraqis are failing to come up with a solid government. It’s got just about nothing to do with Zarqawi.

  7. Pooh Says:

    Or maybe it’s because far preceding recent years there has been a reflexive instinct to see the West/U.S. as automatically the more-bad guy, thus giving whatever thug, zealot or megalomaniac more of the benefit of the doubt.

    By whom?

    The answer to ‘who is worse?’ is immatererial as long as the conversation even has traction. Sean’s examples are a perfect illustration of the things that even allow a comparison to take place. One might say that the facts are best presented as we are ‘better than X’ as opposed to the half-emptyish ‘not-as-bad-as’, but the fact that relativism is even involved, that we cannot be accurately and overwhelming be described as ‘good’ is the root problem.

    Beheadings and car bombs are clearly worse than a spot of torture, but you have to think about it for a second, don’t you? Now imagine that you were less inclined to think favorably of us.

  8. Joshua Says:

    A few months ago TigerHawk had a few posts arguing to the effect that al-Zarqawi cares less about winning the hearts and minds of the Muslim masses than about appealing to a specific demographic, namely fighting-age Muslim men and teenage boys (i.e. the jihadi recruitment pool). Apparently he figures that if he can win over just this one demographic, that will be more than enough to seize power in not just Iraq but the entire Middle East.

    As for the rest of the Muslim masses, evidently he figures that if you can’t make them like you enough to fight alongside you, the next best thing is to make them fear you enough not to dare stand against you.

  9. Tom Strong Says:

    reader iam

    Or maybe it’s because far preceding recent years there has been a reflexive instinct to see the West/U.S. as automatically the more-bad guy, thus giving whatever thug, zealot or megalomaniac more of the benefit of the doubt.

    Sure. But from what did that “reflective instinct” arise, if not from the U.S.’s longstanding realpolitik in the region? Our torture and detainment policies are right in line with that realpolitik of the past, and not with the larger, more inspiring vision of spreading democracy and all that.

    This is where leftists and rightists on the war meet, clunk into each other, and keep on walking. Leftists like myself don’t usually want to concede that our current policies, as bad as they sometimes are, actually are an improvement – and more importantly, an opportunity – compared to what we’ve done in the past. Rightists see that, but at the same time they want to pretend that past never happened.

  10. Pooh Says:

    Leftists like myself don’t usually want to concede that our current policies, as bad as they sometimes are, actually are an improvement – and more importantly, an opportunity – compared to what we’ve done in the past.

    I think part of why we (or at least I) don’t want to concede the point is the question of whether our actual policies really are any different. I don’t doubt that many sincerely believe them to be, but I remain skeptical, with plenty of evidence on my side, I think.

  11. Tom Strong Says:


    Sure. But that’s why I tried to emphasize “opportunity” a bit. In my view, one of the good things to come out of the Iraq brouhaha is that it gave democracy promotion a rhetorical lift (if not necessarily an actual lift). A candidate who can tap into that without reeking of hypocrisy may be able to get some good accomplished in this world.

    The key is going to shift that promotion of democracy (which, as we are seeing, can result in a population voting for a religious tyranny) towards promotion of civil and human rights. That’s not a hard shift to accomplish.

  12. Hey Says:

    You’re ignoring the 1 key element that promotes Salafism, Qttubism, and Wahabbism: Gulf money. The Saudis, Kuwaitis, UAE, Qataris, and Bahrainis improve the legitimacy of their rule by buying off extremists at home, promoting extremism abroad, paying for much of the Islamic instruction and construction around the world, and supplying preachers abroad, especially in the West.

    Beyond the money used to legitimise authoritarian regimes, their position on the Arabian peninsula, and especially the Saudi role as home to the “Two Holy Places”, gives them extra credibility in their claims to Islamic purity.

    You need to stop with your ethnocentric conceit that only the West can cause anything and that the “wogs” can’t spontaneously generate their own motives and movements. Salafists and Wahabists have been endemic to Arabia for generations. The combination of modern technology, authoritarian governments, and oodles of money is pretty much guaranteed to spread the ideology. Irrespective of any action on the part of the West or the US, we would be facing a similar problem, as the oil would have been developed under whatever hegemon and the governments would be atrocious under any prospective leftist version of what history ought to have been.

    The only way that we could have prevented the spread of Salafism would have been to reinforce British control of its colonies. The greatest crime of the West since WWII has been decolonisation, with competent, responsible (if unrepresentative) governments replaced by failed or failing states and vicious autocracies. Current policies are the only way to improve the situation, by reinstating direct hegemony and mandating responsible, representative constitutional democracies that will not be allowed to fail.

  13. flaime Says:

    Or maybe it’s because years of oppression at the US supported hands of their own governments will make middle eastern muslims believe anything, no matter how insane.

  14. Jimmy the Dhimmi Says:

    Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the infidel wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and become Muslims and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (Koran 9:5)

    If ye go not forth [and fight], He will afflict you with a painful doom, and will choose instead of you a folk other than you. (Koran 9:39)

  15. Lewis Says:

    I’d say Zarqawi isn’t even worried about fighting a war of ideas. He must know that we are perfectly capable of losing that war all by ourselves. That should be perfectly obvious to anyone who has paid any attention to mainstream American news media since about 1968.

    What I see is is an almost complete lack of any reporting of anything even remotely positive in Iraq. This reflects the great hangover of the 60′s and 70′s – it’s only cool to constantly find fault and criticize everything about our government and country. It’s as bad having to listen to those old Rolling Stones and Led Zepplin songs for the 100,000th time. Can’t we ever finally grow up and get past all that worn out stuff? Or does that represent the zenith of our society and it’s only downhill now? I certainly hope not.

    I understand how the guy in the movie Groundhog Day felt. Just hoping to wake up one morning and it’s finally a new day.

  16. Pooh Says:

    Yes Jimmi, that’s a good point. If your position is that we need to kill them all, just come out and say it, so that we can be clear.

    Because there are no fire and brimstone parts of the Bible. I mean aside from the parts actually about fire and brimstone.

  17. Jimmy the Dhimmi Says:

    Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islamic theology. Why? because Muslims are poor, brown people. Only rich, white or Jewish people can be bad guys, right Pooh?

    Man DOES live on bread alone, and when poor people act violently, it is only out of frustration because they are not distributed enough bread by the capitalist Jews that hoarde it. Am I right? If we stop “oppressing” poor, brown people, they will naturally abandon their “opiate of the masses” and become proper, secular liberals like yourself, correct?

    I agree with you. The gospels of Jesus are just like the Koran and Hadiths. Didn’t Jesus lead an army to ethnically cleanse the land of Jews just as Mohammad did? I seem to recall that story about how Jesus ordered his army to behead 800 Jewish men because of a rumor that they betrayed his trust. Also, evangelical Christians are more dangerous than evangelical Muslims. I would rather have my child’s hand cut off for stealing candy, or have her clitorus removed, or have her married off at the age of nine, than to have her be taught abstinence only sex-ed in school.

    Look at how all those Jews in Israel throw stones at women guilty of adultery, just as it says in the Torah. All of the laws of leviticus are enforced in Israel, just as the Koranic laws were enforced by the Taliban.

    When all 4 schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence, and all 7 grand Ayatollas of the Shia’t proclaim that the Koran is the immutable, uninterpretable devine monologue spoken to Mohammad vocally in Arabic, they are all lying right? All religions are similarly peaceful and misunderstood, including the Branch-Davidians and the Imperial Shinto cult of WWII japan.

    Nothing to see here, move along…

  18. Pooh Says:

    So yes or no, we need to kill them all? That’s a pretty lengthy non-answer, in addition to putting scores of words in my mouth. Do I get to get called an anti-semite now? (and a self-hating one at that!)

  19. Jimmy the Dhimmi Says:

    Draw a line in the sand. Then invite all Muslims who believe in tolerance and pluralism, who follow the good bits about the koran and ignore or interpret the bad stuff, and vow to uphold universal human rights,ect… to stand on one side.

    To the other side, direct all the fascist, fundamentalist, terrorist supporters and suicide bombers; those who preach jihad and wish to ressurect the caliphate impose shari’a law on all of us, the Zarquawis, Bin ladens, Amedinajads, Ibrahim Hoopers, and their militias, ect…

    Then begin to drop bombs.

  20. Callimachus Says:

    No point in inviting the decent Muslims to stand up with us until we can make a reasonable demonstration to them that we can protect them and their families if they do so, for more than one American electoral cycle. They’ve got the same Darwinian past that the rest of us do. They didn’t survive by betting on the wrong horses. An incompetent occupation of Iraq won’t cut it. Nor will a fetish for timetables of withdrawal.

  21. Pooh Says:

    See Cal, that’s why I find your desire to leave Bush out of the discussion in the War or no War post so frustrating. You acknowledge on some level the problem he creates, yet want us to ignore him when it comes to thinking about realistic solutions to those as well as the bigger issues.

  22. Callimachus Says:

    He belongs in the equation when dealing with the problems of the last five years and the prospects for the next three or more.

    But there is a level at which people who are so focused in all their passions on That Man in the White House have to see past Bush and look into the eyes of Bin Laden and his type, and realize that the prooblem between us and them was there before 2000 and will be there after 2008 and what are you going to think about it and what are you going to do about it?

    Hating Bush is just so much easier and more comfortable, isn’t it?

  23. Pooh Says:

    Fair enough, but at the same time, to paraphrase But there is a level at which people who are so focused in all their passions on That Man in the Democratic Leadership have to see past Howard Dean and look into the eyes of Bin Laden and his type…

    It’s a two way street here. For everybody to play nice everybody has to play nice.

  24. keeper of jimmie the dhimmi Says:

    How about reformimg Judaism?

    This is what the Talmud, the holiest book of Judaism, says about Christians.

    The Talmud recommends persecution of Christians. Christians are heretics (Abodah Zarah 16b), apostates (Shabbethai 116). Christians may be legally thrown into a pit to die (AZ, 26b). Christians deserve death for observing the Sabbath (even though they observe the Noahide laws) (Sanh. 58b) and studying the Old Testament (Sanh. 59a). Christianity is an unforgivable sin, seducing Jews to idolatry (AZ 17a). The testimony of a Christian is unworthy to be admitted to a Jewish court (Shulshan Aruk, Hoshen Mishpat 34,31). Jews are forbidden to return a lost article to a Christian (HM 266,2). Matthew, Luke, Nicodemus, and Thaddeus were executed as heretics ( Jewish Encyclopedia, “Jesus,” page 171). Jews should rejoice, dress in white, and eat, drink, and be merry at the death of a Christian. They should hate a Christian with utmost hatred and consider him an enemy (Semahot ch. 2, p. 35).

  25. keeper of jimmie the dhimmi Says:

    Just do a google search of “Judaism Talmud Christian” and you’ll know what the Talmud says about Christians.

    Do your serach on Rabbai Ben-Chaim, Schneerson etc. and you’ll know what message of hatred that they preach. They hate all non-Jews.

    So why are we not reformng Judaism. After all, If the Israeli people believd that Christians and muslims have the same rights as Jews, there would never be a Palestinian problem — or Iraq problem or Iran problem

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