I grew up 20 minutes down the road from the school (madrassa in Arabic) that gave birth to the Taliban.
I remember sneaking into a few classes. What I heard there about Hindus, for example, seemed wrong even for our young, impressionable minds. By age 10 I knew what jihad was and thought it was something that happened only in Kashmir. In any case at this madrassa in a suburb of my small Indian town of Deoband’s Dar-ul-Uloom (literally, “School of Knowledge”) I picked up some classical Arabic and a few Surah (chapters) and Ayah (verses) from the Quran. A couple of them stuck.
One was Chapter 109, Surah Kafirun (“The Unbelievers” or “The Disbelievers”):
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Say: Oh you who turn away
I do not worship what you worship,
nor do you worship what I worship.
And I will not worship what you worship,
Nor will you worship what I worship.
Your way is yours, and my way is mine.
This represented the Quran of comity I would come to love as an adult. But the same Quran, also contained this, Ayah 33 of al-Ma’aidah, the 5th Surah.
The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;
How could one book be so schizophrenic, I used to think. I moved to Bill Clinton’s America in 2000 with the intention to stay. A year later, the Wahhabi Islam I would spend decades exposing through my work struck my new hometown, changing history forever into a before and after narrative. It forced me to “come out” as a Muslim. It also allegedly forced a 21st century “Islamic reformation” that none in the West have power to disseminate to the vast majority of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims.
Fear is the strongest of emotions. Cersei Lannister of Game of Thrones and Donald Trump of the United States and Daesh of Syria and Iraq know it. Rather well. And they use it. And then the cable pundits return to opine to dwindling audiences—negligible ones in Muslim nations.
This is what no one is saying: Muslims in the West need to stand up and take some responsibility. Yes, our Quran is being invoked for massacres. Yes, our religion has an enormous problem with violence. No, Islam is not a religion of peace. Like its predecessor monotheisms, it has enormous amounts of innocent human blood on its hands. And yes, like the Old and New Testaments, the Quran comes with a good sampling of bloody gore.
We need to stop talking in platitudes and statistics that simplify. We need to stop playing victims. Yes, there is Islamophobia and it’s as awful as the rest of the Trumpian fear-mongering. But there is a reason for that Islamophobia. Fight it we must—and not with pithy sound bites invoking semantics and peace to defend our religion and its book.
Sayfullo Saipov of the Lower Manhattan attack identified himself as one of Daesh’s own. As have way too many other lone rangers. Thing is, Daesh is not strong enough to match the al Qaeda of 2001, and therefore “they” are overjoyed when each of these savage, bloodthirsty, sometimes suicidal psychopaths pledge allegiance to them. Each atrocity is more free publicity in the service of a false mythology.
In reality, Daesh “soldiers” have no Quran-study time. They hangout at a McDonald’s drive-through of Islam, where they pick and choose—an affront to Islam’s 14 centuries of learning. I was not surprised when I read reports that copies of Islam for Dummies was found in possessions belonging to the bombers in Paris and Brussels. For the ignorant, unemployed, semi-literate “radicals” of this imaginary caliphate, books such as these help cram in basics like, “How do Muslims pray?” Perhaps the “soldiers” misread it as “prey.”
The Dummies people say that “Islam for Dummies helps you build bridges of understanding between you and your neighbors in the global village.” Destroying rather than building bridges is what Daesh clearly prefer. And their “global village” would be the delusory caliphate.
Their “emir,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head honcho of horror, notably said:
Islam was never a religion of peace. Islam is the religion of fighting. No one should believe that the war that we are waging is the war of the Islamic State. It is the war of all Muslims, but the Islamic State is spearheading it. It is the war of Muslims against infidels. Muslims, go to war everywhere. It is the duty of every Muslim.
So any lone ranger can claim allegiance to Daesh, with the group only learning about the new carnage done in its name via the media. Unlike in Europe, Daesh recruitment in fortress America protected by the Atlantic has in numbers seemed sparse at best. Every sane person knows Islam is being invoked to kill innocents.
I used to joke with friends that the U.K. is now Englandistan. But the time for jokes is over. A Wahhabi extremist like Anjem Choudary wants Sharia in the U.K., where he was born and raised. He openly praises Daesh. America has its own (not as famous) version in Maryland-based “Imam” Suleiman Anwar Bengharsa, who came here from Libya as a 10-year-old boy.
Men like these are the products of post-colonial mass migrations, where their poor parents or grandparents fled to the countries that had once ruled them. In Europe, they got passports but little else besides decades of state-sanctioned disenfranchisement. Naked and systemic racism Western Europe meant the children of immigrants went to schools, never colleges, and then grew up with no access to jobs. The glass ceiling in Europe is much lower than in the U.K., where the mega-city of London elected a Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan. We still need to figure out our own Muslim glass ceiling. But the England that elected Khan also has extremist South Asian Muslim voices like Choudary.
Majority atheism was Europe’s primary religion for decades. But ironically, that same Europe created a few young Muslims ready to blow themselves up in the name of Daesh. Many never got to meet Baghdadi or even leave Europe. Like Trump, Baghdadi needs no recruiters.
They are savvy users of the social web. Each issue of Daesh’s two magazines, Rumiyah and Dabiq, is sleeker than the previous one, and every HD beheading uploaded on YouTube grows their mythology as we learn how these barbarians are masters at using the social web, and graphic design, cinematography, typesetting, video editing, and photography tools.
Rumiyah recently said, “Mow the infidel down like grass.” The Islam supremacist logic of Daesh remains as the videos, too, got sleeker. A particular one of two Turkish “soldiers” being burnt to death stuck with me. This was cinematic. There were clearly multiple cameras and cinematic concepts like cutaways and pull-focus used. The jittery, low-res shakiness of handheld phone shots was gone. The very latest in directorial skill and technology was being deployed.
As Muslims it is our duty not to allow this mythology any more space to grow. We cannot sit back, crying “peace.” Silence cannot be an option. Yes, only an infinitesimal number of Muslims seem bloodthirsty. But we cannot ignore that it is blood that group wants.
That group is more than happy to be linked to any terrorist attack. Not being a state actor, its members behave like the famous hacktivist collective that no government has yet been able to defeat.
Daesh is the Anonymous of Islam.