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Islamism, Islam and Muslims

Sim

Registered Member
After the horrible deadly terror attacks in France last night, I guess I'd share some interesting information on Islam and Muslims I read the past days with you.

Read a couple of books, including "Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue" by atheist Sam Harris and moderate Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz. It includes many interesting statistics that shed light on the question whether the problem is "Islam", "islamism", just politics and how they're all connected.

I feel such information is helpful to avoid generalizations that blame Muslims in general on one side, but also false defenses such as "they're just radicals, most Muslims are peaceful like any other believers" on the other. So here it goes:

Approximately 25% of Muslims in most majority-Muslim countries are islamists.

Whenever we're dealing with terror attacks, "jihadism" in the name of Islam, we're talking about a political ideology based on Islam, aka islamism. Islamism is not Islam, though they are related, of course. Compare it to German nationalism and Nazism -- they are not the same, but Nazism was heavily based on German nationalism, but added many other ideological points. German nationalism, on the other side, doesn't have to be Nazi at all.

Islamism was created in the 1920s parallel to fascism in Italy and Germany (and indeed, islamists were inspired by these European ideologies). The core goal of islamism is the establishment of a theocratic dictatorship and imposing Muslim law, sharia, on society. Islamism claims the Muslim world is oppressed and under attack by the West, especially America, and Israel/the Jews and they are enemies that must be fought. For some, the end goal is spreading Islam and an islamist political system over the entire planet. Martyrdom on the way of achieving these goals (jihad) is usually part of that, too.

There are many different brands and groups of islamism, yet all share the traits mentioned above. They differ, however, about their means and methods, and about their scope: The "moderate" islamists (relatively speaking) want to achieve their goals by legal means, such as winning elections. Others attempt to infiltrate existing Muslim states to gain power via a putsch or revolution. And the most extreme islamists form militias or armies, that commit terror attacks and suicide bombings. ISIS and Al Qaida belong to this latter group.

Examples for "moderate" islamists are the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It won 25% in free elections and once their candidate Mursi became president, he started to dismantle democracy by realizing an islamist dictatorship, before he was toppled by an army putsch. President Erdogan's party in Turkey is a moderate islamist organization, too; it was long believed they respect democracy, but these days, we see the moment Erdogan had true power, he started dismantling democracy, too.

Maybe you can say islamism is for Muslims what communism used to be for Westeners: An authoritarian political ideology, that claims when you organize state and society according to a certain model, you will get paradise on earth, that found support among a significant minority even in the West before 1990, but not a homogenous movement with just one organization. You had different kind of communist groups, Stalin differed from Lenin and from Trotsky; Mao was different again. Some ran in elections, some attempted revolution. They all shared some basic ideas, but sometimes used different means.



However, the huge majority of Muslims is not islamist: Approx. 60% of Muslims in most ME countries are conservative, yet secular Muslims. They reject and sometimes even heavily oppose islamism, because they feel religion should be kept out of politics. But that does not mean they support democracy or Western values. They want to practize their faith privately and want the government not to interfere, but their interpretation of the faith is extremely conservative. Their views on the role of women, homosexuality, apostasy (leaving Islam) are often anti-liberal. It's within this group that phenomena such as forced marriage, honor killings, female genital mutilation and other such things occur (which of course doesn't mean all of them support these things).

This group of "conservative, yet secular" Muslims were often used as ally by the West against islamists. However, due to their anti-liberal ideas, they're not ideal partners, either. Certainly, they are opposed to open, pluralist democracies Westeners consider crucial, because of their religious conservatism. But the fact they accept secular government and usually oppose jihadism and terrorism, makes them necessary allies.


That leaves approx. 15% of liberal Muslims. They are either liberal in the Western sense on many fields, yet following a moderate or reformist interpretation of Islam, or they don't care much about religion, are de facto atheists and just don't dare to reveal their atheism because of social pressure. This group was the driving force behind many "Arab Spring" movements in various ME countries, and naturally favored by the West.


Of course there is no strict line between the latter two groups, as the degree of piousness and conservatism is variable. It's more a continuum than a clear line between both groups. For example, among the "conservatives", there may even be people who are not very religious, yet very much share conservative social values based on Islam. Likewise, there may be extremely pious religious Muslims among the "liberals", just that the interpretation of Islam they believe in is very moderate.


You find these statistics in the book I mentioned above. Harris said that more or less, these numbers are similar in all Arab countries, with some regional variations. But the general gist is the same.

Now Muslim minorities in Western countries are a different matter again. I didn't read statistics on them so far, but my guess is that the respective groups vary strongly, depending on the Western country you are looking at. This is because there are different kinds of Muslims in different countries; for example, there are mostly North African Arabs in France, but mostly Turks in Germany. In Germany, mostly unskilled workers were invited, while most Muslims who made it to the USA or Canada are highly skilled and educated people. Accordingly, I assume their views vary very much, too.

And then, integration of immigrants was approached in different ways in different Western countries, with different degrees of success. When succesful, you might find many relatively westernized nominal Muslims in a country, when unsuccessful, you might find many Muslims turning to islamism as a means to turn a back to a society they feel has ignored or mistreated them.

Just felt it was interesting information worth sharing with you, given the recent events.
 
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Hilander

Free Spirit
Staff member
V.I.P.
Thanks for taking the time to post this. Does clarify things.

If 25% of Muslims are Islamists then that is concerning. Its enough to start a war, bring down a country. Doesn't sound like the conservative, yet secular Muslims are much better. Neither will mix well with western values and probably shouldn't be accepted as refugees. Doubt either would assimilate well and would probably expect their host country to change for them.

Where do Kurds and Yazidi's fall in on this. I know, think anyway, they are Muslim but the more liberal Muslims? I think the Yazidi's practice a ancient form of the Muslim religion that is combined with Christianity?
 
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Sim

Registered Member
Thanks for taking the time to post this. Does clarify things.

If 25% of Muslims are Islamists then that is concerning. Its enough to start a war, bring down a country. Doesn't sound like the conservative, yet secular Muslims are much better. Neither will mix well with western values and probably shouldn't be accepted as refugees. Doubt either would assimilate well and would probably expect their host country to change for them.

Where do Kurds and Yazidi's fall in on this. I know, think anyway, they are Muslim but the more liberal Muslims? I think the Yazidi's practice a ancient form of the Muslim religion that is combined with Christianity?
I'm just guessing, but I think Kurds and Yazidis have a strong ethnic identity that sets them apart from majority-Arab Muslims, and are often discriminated just because of this ethnic identity. Perhaps they consider themselves "Kurds" and "Yazidis" first, Muslim only second. But I guess they're relatively socially conservative, too, to the most part.
 

Hilander

Free Spirit
Staff member
V.I.P.
I'm just guessing, but I think Kurds and Yazidis have a strong ethnic identity that sets them apart from majority-Arab Muslims, and are often discriminated just because of this ethnic identity. Perhaps they consider themselves "Kurds" and "Yazidis" first, Muslim only second. But I guess they're relatively socially conservative, too, to the most part.
I know the Kurds look at women as equals, at least many do it seems, they even put them in positions of leadership in the community, like a mayor. In Kurdish towns in Turkey they have women and men run the community side by side and they seem more accepting of gays even. Compared to other Muslims they seem so liberal.

I may be wrong I'm just going by what I have read on the internet.
 
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Sim

Registered Member
I know the Kurds look at women as equals, at least many do it seems, they even put them in positions of leadership in the community, like a mayor. In Kurdish towns in Turkey they have women and men run the community side by side and they seem more accepting of gays even. Compared to other Muslims they seem so liberal.

I may be wrong I'm just going by what I have read on the internet.
That's good to hear! Maybe many Kurds have become more "Western" out of spite, because Arab Muslims kept discriminating against them? Maybe a pro-Western course was simple necessity for them, too, because the West was the only force that could protect them against Arab Muslims.

Another factor one shouldn't underestimate that although Islam dominates the culture in Muslim countries, there are still many attitudes alife that are ethnic or national particularities. So the manners and behavior in Iran, for example, differ very much from those in Arab countries, and that's not just because the former are Shia and the latter Sunni.

Technological development plays a role, too. Before the islamists took over Iran in 1979, it was one of the most advanced and educated Muslim countries, and you still feel the effects today. Although few Muslim countries have such a strict, oppressive religious state, only few young people in other Muslim countries think so favorably of the West as in Iran.


Another observation I found interesting is that "religious conservatism" may mean very different things in case of Islam, compared to Christians, on many points. That's because of the different theologies.

For example, extreme Christians are extremly opposed to divorce, because Jesus condemned it. Quran allows divorce for certain reasons, so divorce is not as shunned among conservative Muslims. In Iran, there even is a legal way for casual sex: A couple may go to a cleric to get a temporary "joy marriage", limited to a day or two. As long as they have that document, the "virtue police" leaves them alone, although it would otherwise arrest them and punish them, if caught in the act.

Conservative Muslims have no problem with stem cell research either, because they don't believe the soul enters the fetus with contraception, but a couple of days later.

Even in the islamist regime of Iran, a surprisingly high number of women is in leading positions. As long as they wear the scarf and strictly obey their husband, it's considered okay when they have a job or make a carreer. Though here too, they are mostly to be found in "caring" jobs. Yet woman are disadvantaged in most law contexts compared to men, like they inherit less than males, for example.

I think Indonesia even had a female Muslim President at some point.
 

Powerful

Registered Member
The problem with this is that it's misleading. The American allies in the region are the hardline Sunni Islamists and the US has been destabilising/toppling the secular governments of the region using mercenaries gathered from its allies.
 
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Hilander

Free Spirit
Staff member
V.I.P.
The problem with this is that it's misleading. The American allies in the region are the hardline Sunni Islamists and the US has been destabilising/toppling the secular governments of the region using mercenaries gathered from its allies.
I agree our allies do seem to be the hardliners except for the Kurds. I'm not sure at all we should be supporting any of the rebels in Syria either. Assad isn't a good guy but somehow I doubt the rebels would be any better. Then you have a country destabilized even further making conditions perfect for groups like ISIS.
 

Sim

Registered Member
The problem with this is that it's misleading. The American allies in the region are the hardline Sunni Islamists and the US has been destabilising/toppling the secular governments of the region using mercenaries gathered from its allies.
Yes, you're right ... it was misleading when I wrote "conservative, yet secular" Muslims are allies of the West against the islamists.

The situation is more complex, and depending on the respective conflict at hand, America decides in any given situation who "the lesser evil" is, or whom to support against whom.

So America helped build up islamist terror groups in Afghanistan, as long as the Soviets were there. Once the Soviets were gone, these islamists turned against America.

Often, America supported and made contracts with secular dictatorships -- like Saddam's Iraq before 1989, because they were supposed to fight against islamist Iran.

The general rule seems to be "we'll support anybody, as long as they play by our rules politically".

The Saudis, America's best ally, is hardcore conservative, its government formally attacks islamism. Yet the same government often tolerates islamism inside its country, and supports islamists abroad when they serve their political purposes.

That approach by America was not always smart, because no matter what America would do, someone in the Muslim World had good reason to be angry. Liberals had reason to be angry, because America supported dictatorships that oppressed liberals. Both islamists and secular authoritarians had reason to be angry, because depending on the situation, America supported the other. When America then topples one of those by force, they have reason to be angry because of the death toll.

In America's defense, there were simply never liberal organizations or governments available for America to work with. America had more or less no choice but working what they were given.
 

Sim

Registered Member
I agree our allies do seem to be the hardliners except for the Kurds. I'm not sure at all we should be supporting any of the rebels in Syria either. Assad isn't a good guy but somehow I doubt the rebels would be any better. Then you have a country destabilized even further making conditions perfect for groups like ISIS.
That's a core problem. Do you prefer freedom, or stability? When it's the latter, you turn the back on the liberals you'd love to play a role ideally. When it's the former, you may risk destabilizing the region resulting in just more bloodshed and chaos on the long run.
 

Sim

Registered Member
So far, especially before the Arab Spring, America/the West supported secular dictatorships, such as Mubarak in Egypt or the regime in Algeria, to some extent even cooperated with Iraq's Saddam (until 1989) or Libya's Ghaddafi (once he gave up terrorism). These authoritarian regimes were mostly based on support by "conservative, yet secular" Muslims. They respected the private conservative religion of the majority, but asked for political loyalty in return.

Both the islamists and liberals were angry on the West because of that support for these regimes.

When the Arab Spring started, it were liberal Muslims and islamists challenging these secular dictatorships. That's why the West was hopeful at first: If successful, liberal Muslims might manage to establish free regimes.

But this Arab Spring quickly failed in most places, simply because the liberals were not numerous enough. Once the power of the secular dictators was damaged by the liberal protests, the islamists took advantage of the situation and became the "lucky third party".

It were liberals that forced Mubarak in Egypt out of power, resulting in free elections -- but islamists won the election.

After the liberals had toppled Ghaddafi in Libya, it sank into chaos after islamist sectarians started filling the vacuum.

And the war still goes on in Syria: In the west of the country, secular dictator Assad still holds power, first challenged by a liberal opposition. But these liberals have mostly been marginalized by IS's islamism, which now controls the east of the country. The liberals have no chance, being attacked from two sides, so many have become refugees.
 
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