Bombs away: anger about UK attacks on Syria

The UK bombing Syria will – according to significant senior military figures – have no strategic effect on ISIS. But the effects on civilians will be devastating: these will be yet more bombs on a country already being bombed and attacked, in particular by Bashar al-Assad, who has killed many times more people than ISIS.

Of course, the key issue here is that Assad has killed Syrians in Syria and our politicians care little about them, as evidenced by the shameful treatment of those fleeing his barrel bombs and trying to come to safety in Europe.  ISIS on the other hand, has not only killed Syrians, but killed Europeans in Europe.  Hilary Benn – supposedly a Labour politician (and I shouldn’t judge him by his father, but…!) – argued yesterday that ISIS are fascists who must be resisted, therefore a ‘fair share’ of the bombing (says David Cameron) should fall on our shoulders, even though the consequences – more dead civilians and more refugees – will by and large be prevented from coming here (according to Theresa May and most of the Westminster parliament).  This is decision-making without responsibility for Conservative, pro-attack Labour and other politicians:

Meanwhile, we can expect to hear of yet more deaths – though that will be disguised by weasel words such as ‘collateral damage’ or ‘targeted killings’ or ‘surgical strikes’ or ‘tragic accidents’ etc. – and there will be yet more parents robbed of children, children whose parents are killed, lovers whose partners are dead, friends who are left alone in the world.

I try hard not to be a vindictive person, but at a deep level my gut reaction, especially after all the catastrophic involvement of the British is conflicts over the years is to feel utter revulsion for all those who voted for these air strikes: I want their nights to be broken by visions of children orphaned by their bombs, by parents crying over the corpses of their dead children, by haunts of wailing lovers, by houses, schools, mosques, churches and hospitals destroyed.

This will, of course, become a constructive anger at the betrayal of values most of us hold dear, and I think that things will change as a result:

In broad terms, I think/hope that the situation in this country is now quite different to 2003, and that this reckless action is the undoing of Cameron and his warmongering allies in his own party, as well as in other parties.  The maps here demonstrate this transformation.


This is the list of MPs who voted to attack Syria, courtesy of the Guardian, are as follows (1, 2):

Conservative MPs – 313
Nigel Adams (Selby & Ainsty), Adam Afriyie (Windsor), Peter Aldous (Waveney), Lucy Allan (Telford), Heidi Allen (Cambridgeshire South), Sir David Amess (Southend West), Stuart Andrew (Pudsey), Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne), Edward Argar (Charnwood), Victoria Atkins (Louth & Horncastle), Richard Bacon (Norfolk South), Steven Baker (Wycombe), Harriett Baldwin (Worcestershire West), Stephen Barclay (Cambridgeshire North East), Guto Bebb (Aberconwy), Henry Bellingham (Norfolk North West), Richard Benyon (Newbury), Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley), Jake Berry (Rossendale & Darwen), James Berry (Kingston & Surbiton), Andrew Bingham (High Peak), Bob Blackman (Harrow East), Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West & Abingdon), Crispin Blunt (Reigate), Nick Boles (Grantham & Stamford), Peter Bone (Wellingborough), Victoria Borwick (Kensington), Peter Bottomley (Worthing West), Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands), Graham Brady (Altrincham & Sale West), Julian Brazier (Canterbury), Andrew Bridgen (Leicestershire North West), Steve Brine (Winchester), James Brokenshire (Old Bexley & Sidcup), Fiona Bruce (Congleton), Robert Buckland (Swindon South), Conor Burns (Bournemouth West), Simon Burns (Chelmsford), David Burrowes (Enfield Southgate), Alistair Burt (Bedfordshire North East), Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan), David Cameron (Witney), Neil Carmichael (Stroud), James Cartlidge (Suffolk South), Bill Cash (Stone), Maria Caulfield (Lewes), Alex Chalk (Cheltenham), Rehman Chishti (Gillingham & Rainham), Jo Churchill (Bury St Edmunds), Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells), James Cleverly (Braintree), Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswolds, The), Therese Coffey (Suffolk Coastal), Damian Collins (Folkestone & Hythe), Oliver Colvile (Plymouth Sutton & Devonport), Alberto Costa (Leicestershire South), Geoffrey Cox (Devon West & Torridge), Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire), Tracey Crouch (Chatham & Aylesford), Byron Davies (Gower), Chris Davies (Brecon & Radnorshire), David Davies (Monmouth), Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire), James Davies (Vale of Clwyd), Mims Davies (Eastleigh), Philip Davies (Shipley), Caroline Dinenage (Gosport), Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon), Michelle Donelan (Chippenham), Nadine Dorries (Bedfordshire Mid), Stephen Double (St Austell & Newquay), Oliver Dowden (Hertsmere), Richard Drax (Dorset South), Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South), James Duddridge (Rochford & Southend East), Alan Duncan (Rutland & Melton), Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford & Woodford Green), Philip Dunne (Ludlow), Michael Ellis (Northampton North), Jane Ellison (Battersea), Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East), Charlie Elphicke (Dover), George Eustice (Camborne & Redruth), Graham Evans (Weaver Vale), Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley), David Evennett (Bexleyheath & Crayford), Michael Fabricant (Lichfield), Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks), Suella Fernandes (Fareham), Mark Field (Cities of London & Westminster), Kevin Foster (Torbay), Dr Liam Fox (Somerset North), Mark Francois (Rayleigh & Wickford), Lucy Frazer (Cambridgeshire South East), George Freeman (Norfolk Mid), Mike Freer (Finchley & Golders Green), Richard Fuller (Bedford), Marcus Fysh (Yeovil), Roger Gale (Thanet North), Edward Garnier (Harborough), Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest), David Gauke (Hertfordshire South West), Nus Ghani (Wealden), Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis & Littlehampton), Cheryl Gillan (Chesham & Amersham), John Glen (Salisbury), Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park), Robert Goodwill (Scarborough & Whitby), Michael Gove (Surrey Heath), Richard Graham (Gloucester), Helen Grant (Maidstone & The Weald), James Gray (Wiltshire North), Chris Grayling (Epsom & Ewell), Chris Green (Bolton West), Damian Green (Ashford), Justine Greening (Putney), Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield), Andrew Griffiths (Burton), Ben Gummer (Ipswich), Sam Gyimah (Surrey East), Robert Halfon (Harlow), Luke Hall (Thornbury & Yate), Philip Hammond (Runnymede & Weybridge), Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon), Matthew Hancock (Suffolk West), Greg Hands (Chelsea & Fulham), Mark Harper (Forest of Dean), Richard Harrington (Watford), Rebecca Harris (Castle Point), Simon Hart (Carmarthen West & Pembrokeshire South), Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden), John Hayes (South Holland & The Deepings), Sir Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire North East), James Heappey (Wells), Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry), Peter Heaton-Jones (Devon North), Nick Herbert (Arundel & South Downs), Damian Hinds (Hampshire East), Simon Hoare (Dorset North), George Hollingbery (Meon Valley), Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk & Malton), Kris Hopkins (Keighley), Gerald Howarth (Aldershot), John Howell (Henley), Ben Howlett (Bath), Nigel Huddleston (Worcestershire Mid), Jeremy Hunt (Surrey South West), Nick Hurd (Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner), Stewart Jackson (Peterborough), Margot James (Stourbridge), Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove), Ranil Jayawardena (Hampshire North East), Bernard Jenkin (Harwich & Essex North), Andrea Jenkyns (Morley & Outwood), Robert Jenrick (Newark), Boris Johnson (Uxbridge & Ruislip South), Gareth Johnson (Dartford), Joseph Johnson (Orpington), Andrew Jones (Harrogate & Knaresborough), David Jones (Clwyd West), Marcus Jones (Nuneaton), Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury & Atcham), Seema Kennedy (South Ribble), Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown), Greg Knight (Yorkshire East), Julian Knight (Solihull), Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne), Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North), Pauline Latham (Derbyshire Mid), Andrea Leadsom (Northamptonshire South), Phillip Lee (Bracknell), Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford), Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West), Oliver Letwin (Dorset West), Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth), Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater & Somerset West), David Lidington (Aylesbury), Peter Lilley (Hitchin & Harpenden), Jack Lopresti (Filton & Bradley Stoke), Jonathan Lord (Woking), Tim Loughton (Worthing East & Shoreham), Karen Lumley (Redditch), Jason McCartney (Colne Valley), Karl McCartney (Lincoln), Craig Mackinlay (Thanet South), David Mackintosh (Northampton South), Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire Dales), Anne Main (St Albans), Alan Mak (Havant), Kit Malthouse (Hampshire North West), Scott Mann (Cornwall North), Tania Mathias (Twickenham), Theresa May (Maidenhead), Paul Maynard (Blackpool North & Cleveleys), Mark Menzies (Fylde), Johnny Mercer (Plymouth Moor View), Huw Merriman (Bexhill & Battle), Stephen Metcalfe (Basildon South & Thurrock East), Maria Miller (Basingstoke), Amanda Milling (Cannock Chase), Nigel Mills (Amber Valley), Anne Milton (Guildford), Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield), Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North), Nicky Morgan (Loughborough), Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot), David Morris (Morecambe & Lunesdale), James Morris (Halesowen & Rowley Regis), Wendy Morton (Aldridge-Brownhills), David Mowat (Warrington South), David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale), Sheryll Murray (Cornwall South East), Dr Andrew Murrison (Wiltshire South West), Bob Neill (Bromley & Chislehurst), Sarah Newton (Truro & Falmouth), Caroline Nokes (Romsey & Southampton North), Jesse Norman (Hereford & Herefordshire South), David Nuttall (Bury North), Matthew Offord (Hendon), Guy Opperman (Hexham), George Osborne (Tatton), Neil Parish (Tiverton & Honiton), Priti Patel (Witham), Owen Paterson (Shropshire North), Mark Pawsey (Rugby), Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead), John Penrose (Weston-Super-Mare), Andrew Percy (Brigg & Goole), Claire Perry (Devizes), Stephen Phillips (Sleaford & North Hykeham), Chris Philp (Croydon South), Eric Pickles (Brentwood & Ongar), Christopher Pincher (Tamworth), Daniel Poulter (Suffolk Central & Ipswich North), Rebecca Pow (Taunton Deane), Victoria Prentis (Banbury), Mark Prisk (Hertford & Stortford), Mark Pritchard (Wrekin, The), Tom Pursglove (Corby), Jeremy Quin (Horsham), Will Quince (Colchester), Dominic Raab (Esher & Walton), Jacob Rees-Mogg (Somerset North East), Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury), Mary Robinson (Cheadle), Andrew Rosindell (Romford), Amber Rudd (Hastings & Rye), David Rutley (Macclesfield), Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury), Paul Scully (Sutton & Cheam), Andrew Selous (Bedfordshire South West), Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield), Alok Sharma (Reading West), Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet & Rothwell), Keith Simpson (Broadland), Chris Skidmore (Kingswood), Chloe Smith (Norwich North), Henry Smith (Crawley), Julian Smith (Skipton & Ripon), Royston Smith (Southampton Itchen), Nicholas Soames (Sussex Mid), Amanda Solloway (Derby North), Anna Soubry (Broxtowe), Caroline Spelman (Meriden), Mark Spencer (Sherwood), Andrew Stephenson (Pendle), John Stevenson (Carlisle), Bob Stewart (Beckenham), Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South), Rory Stewart (Penrith & The Border), Gary Streeter (Devon South West), Mel Stride (Devon Central), Graham Stuart (Beverley & Holderness), Julian Sturdy (York Outer), Rishi Sunak (Richmond (Yorks)), Desmond Swayne (New Forest West), Hugo Swire (Devon East), Robert Syms (Poole), Derek Thomas (St Ives), Maggie Throup (Erewash), Edward Timpson (Crewe & Nantwich), Kelly Tolhurst (Rochester & Strood), Justin Tomlinson (Swindon North), Michael Tomlinson (Dorset Mid & Poole North), Craig Tracey (Warwickshire North), David Tredinnick (Bosworth), Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed), Elizabeth Truss (Norfolk South West), Thomas Tugendhat (Tonbridge & Malling), Ed Vaizey (Wantage), Shailesh Vara (Cambridgeshire North West), Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet), Charles Walker (Broxbourne), Robin Walker (Worcester), Ben Wallace (Wyre & Preston North), David Warburton (Somerton & Frome), Matt Warman (Boston & Skegness), Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch & Upminster), James Wharton (Stockton South), Helen Whately (Faversham & Kent Mid), Heather Wheeler (Derbyshire South), Chris White (Warwick & Leamington), Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley), John Whittingdale (Maldon), Bill Wiggin (Herefordshire North), Craig Williams (Cardiff North), Gavin Williamson (Staffordshire South), Rob Wilson (Reading East), Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes), Mike Wood (Dudley South), William Wragg (Hazel Grove), Jeremy Wright (Kenilworth & Southam) and Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon).

The two tellers for the ayes were also Tories: Gavin Barwell (Croydon Central) and Jackie Doyle Price (Thurrock).

Labour MPs – 66
Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East), Ian Austin (Dudley North), Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich West), Kevin Barron (Rother Valley), Margaret Beckett (Derby South), Hilary Benn (Leeds Central), Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree), Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South & Cleveland East), Ben Bradshaw (Exeter), Chris Bryant (Rhondda), Alan Campbell (Tynemouth), Jenny Chapman (Darlington), Vernon Coaker (Gedling), Ann Coffey (Stockport), Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford), Neil Coyle (Bermondsey & Old Southwark), Mary Creagh (Wakefield), Stella Creasy (Walthamstow), Simon Danczuk (Rochdale), Wayne David (Caerphilly), Gloria De Piero (Ashfield), Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South & Penarth), Jim Dowd (Lewisham West & Penge), Michael Dugher (Barnsley East), Angela Eagle (Wallasey), Maria Eagle (Garston & Halewood), Louise Ellman (Liverpool Riverside), Frank Field (Birkenhead), Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar & Limehouse), Colleen Fletcher (Coventry North East), Caroline Flint (Don Valley), Harriet Harman (Camberwell & Peckham), Margaret Hodge (Barking), George Howarth (Knowsley), Tristram Hunt (Stoke-on-Trent Central), Dan Jarvis (Barnsley Central), Alan Johnson (Hull West & Hessle), Graham Jones (Hyndburn), Helen Jones (Warrington North), Kevan Jones (Durham North), Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South), Liz Kendall (Leicester West), Dr Peter Kyle (Hove), Chris Leslie (Nottingham East), Holly Lynch (Halifax), Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham & Morden), Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East), Conor McGinn (St Helens North), Alison McGovern (Wirral South), Bridget Phillipson (Houghton & Sunderland South), Jamie Reed (Copeland), Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East), Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West), Joan Ryan (Enfield North), Lucy Powell (Manchester Central), Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North), Angela Smith (Penistone & Stocksbridge), John Spellar (Warley), Gisela Stuart (Birmingham Edgbaston), Gareth Thomas (Harrow West), Anna Turley (Redcar), Chuka Umunna (Streatham), Keith Vaz (Leicester East), Tom Watson (West Bromwich East), Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) and John Woodcock (Barrow & Furness).

Liberal Democrat MPs – 6
Six Liberal Democrats voted in favour: Tom Brake (Carshalton & Wallington), Alistair Carmichael (Orkney & Shetland), Nick Clegg (Sheffield Hallam), Tim Farron (Westmorland & Lonsdale), Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) and John Pugh (Southport).

DUP MPs – 8
There were eight Democratic Unionist Party ayes: Gregory Campbell (Londonderry East), Nigel Dodds (Belfast North), Jeffrey Donaldson (Lagan Valley), Ian Paisley (Antrim North), Gavin Robinson (Belfast East), Jim Shannon (Strangford), David Simpson (Upper Bann) and Sammy Wilson (Antrim East).

Others voting for airstrikes
The two UUP MPs voted for airstrikes: Tom Elliott (Fermanagh & South Tyrone), Danny Kinahan (Antrim South).

Also in the aye lobby were Ukip MP Douglas Carswell (Clacton) and independent Sylvia Hermon (Down North).


Understanding Islamic State? A conversation with David Pratt

David Pratt is a journalist I rate very highly.  He is the foreign editor for The Herald and Sunday Herald newspapers, and reports with engagement and passion on conflict and humanitarian issues around the world.  He recently wrote a very good column about Palmyra, and I tweeted a link to it with a comment that he then picked up on, and a conversation developed.  I thought it might be interesting to post it here, with a further comment.  Pratt’s original article is here: Caring about people and art is one and the same thing, and I warmly recommend it.

Here’s my tweet, and the ensuing conversation can be read below it (may need a separate tab/window to see it in full; I’ve also created an image of the conversation below; the IS article I linked to is one I wrote for the Critical Religion Association):

Pratt explains that:

Now however, Palmyra’s colonnades, sculptures, friezes and temples stand threatened by the hammers, bulldozers and barbarism of the terrorist army that is Islamic State (IS).

Since this news broke no end of writers have made the case that something has to be done to save Palmyra from IS. But others too have raised the thorny question of whether saving priceless antiquity is as important as saving people?

Quite rightly these same observers also ask why it is that the world is suddenly sitting up and taking notice of Syria’s plight because of Palmyra, while calls for intervention on a purely humanitarian basis have for years been few and far between.

He goes on to find himself surprised to agree with Boris Johnson:

I have never been known to agree with Boris Johnson on anything, but he was correct when he wrote this week that what we are witnessing in Syria and Iraq today isn’t a clash of civilisations, but a ‘struggle between civilisation and nihilism’. Muslims and non-Muslims alike find the scarcely believable cruelty and barbarism of IS an abomination. The treasures of Palmyra like all art, is part of our common human heritage.

The problem that I had with this was the oppositional nature of ‘civilisation and nihilism’ – that kind of binary rarely helps further meaningful understanding (not a surprise when it comes from someone like Johnson…!).  The two authors I mentioned in my tweets are worth reading on this (Gilbert Achcar – and a search will also reveal related shorter pieces/videos – and Timothy Fitzgerald), but there are many more.  In fact, I was surprised that Pratt (although noting that Twitter isn’t an ideal space for discussions such as these), appeared to dismiss thinking about how we might understand IS beyond such binaries, and this is really what I want to comment on here:

How, for example, does a view such as this help us understand anything about IS?

I think, if we want to have any chance of defeating it, we must try to understand what IS is about, what it seeks to do, and why it is winning, as Shadi Hamid argues (it’s worth reading his other tweets/links on this too: intro, 1, 2, 4, 5):

It is not the case that IS is uniquely strong, as Martin Chulov reports in quoting an officer from Ramadi:

“They are not winning because they are powerful. They are winning because we are weak. I’m not sure about Syria, but I think it’s the same there.”

However, we do need to understand why they are as strong as they are.  There is an urgency to this, as reports of horrific brutality emerge day after day, but that does not negate the importance of thinking about it – quite the contrary.  Not understanding its origins, aims, objectives and so on means we are simply flailing around, raining missiles down from a great height with little effect (beyond adding to the horrific carnage on the ground), as the BBC’s Frank Gardner has written.

We must ask the right questions if we want meaningful answers, as I sought to argue in the Critical Religion blog, and making simplistic statements such as Pratt’s ‘IS is not a religion its a terrorist organisation’ does not help us understand IS, nor does it help defeat it/them.  Terror is a tactic, and whilst it can be used in constructing certain elements of an identity (which I presume is what Pratt was arguing here), we need to think harder about what we are combating and why, including what kind of ‘after’ we are wanting to achieve.  IS does, clearly, appeal to some, and so at the very least we have to ask what will replace IS if ‘we’ do succeed in overcoming it.

Of course, it’s not clear to me exactly what the ‘after’ will be – and I don’t think it is to anyone else either! – and whilst at this stage it is hard to see how there cannot be a military element to the present situation, there also has to be much more than that.  A military response is only ever a tool in a wider set of approaches, and thoughtlessly engaging the military is relatively easy in this context, but doesn’t necessarily help in the longer term.  If we don’t bother asking the hard questions and simply portray IS as ‘a terrorist organisation’ (as if that even meant anything in this context!), then we should not be surprised that we have no answers to what these other approaches should be.  That is why, for example, Christoph Reuter‘s work on the background to IS is so important: it shows, amongst other things, that the roots of IS lie in the aftermath of the US/UK-led 2003 invasion of Iraq.  That was an occasion when George W Bush and Tony Blair (in)famously gave very little thought to the ‘after’ – we should not be making the same mistake again.

Conversation with David Pratt - click to make it bigger

Conversation with David Pratt – click to make it bigger

What does ISIS want? Rethinking difficult questions

On Monday I published a more detailed critique of Graham Wood’s article on ISIS (having previously written briefly about it here, though that posting was primarily referring to other people’s critiques of the article). My new blog posting stems from an engagement with the ideas behind ‘Critical Religion’ and the ways in which we use certain kinds of language.

Happy reading!

The Critical Religion Association

Graham Wood recently published a widely-read article entitled “What ISIS really wants and how to stop it” and has received much praise for his insights. His article is not without its problems, however, and I highlighted some critiques in a short posting on my personal blog.

I want to engage a little more with some of the questions that are being asked by Wood and others, starting with a key pattern of discourse that I see repeatedly. A recent interview by Sky News’ Kay Burley with Cerie Bullivant of Cage UK exemplifies this:

Burley is not known for her nuanced and sensitive reporting. However, asking Bullivant whether he condemned the beheadings ascribed to Londoner Mohammed Emwazi in the way she did is simply a more boorish form of a demand to take responsibility for others’ crimes that is often made of Muslims but not others, as numerous commentators have repeatedly pointed out ever since the 2001 attacks…

View original post 902 more words

Why Graham Wood’s ISIS article needs correcting

Graeme Wood's lead essay

Graeme Wood’s lead essay

A fair number of people I know have posted and re-posted the article by Graeme Wood in The Atlantic in various social media contexts, as well as in academic circles.  Wood does several things rather well: significant interviews, connecting with scholars of some repute, and trying to offer a broader analysis.

I have not done this, but I had nonetheless wondered about whether to write something about his article, because whilst there was much to praise in it, there was too much about it that reduced the analysis to too simplistic a level for my liking, in part because I think Wood presumes a religion/secular binary as normative that I don’t think exists other than as an ideological tool (some of my online writing on this topic is available here).

My hesitation (procrastination?) was not in vain: it meant that in the meantime, a series of other more prominent and well-qualified authors have written on this topic, and I no longer feel the need to do so!

Given the coverage that Wood’s article received, I thought it might be useful, however, to collate some of the English language pieces that have come out in response to it, and I’ve added a couple more that are not directly arguing against Wood’s perspective, but nonetheless offer valuable correctives.  If you read the original article when it came out, do read at least the first of these to appreciate why Wood’s perspective is problematic.  If you have not yet read Wood’s original article, I would encourage you to do so.  And those of you who know me well might be surprised at my citing Zakaria and Fuller, but I’m always happy to offer surprises…!

If I know it, I include the author’s Twitter name in case you want to follow them for more comment.

28.2.15: New article by Juan Cole added at the bottom of this posting.

H.A. Hellyer: This stupidity needs to end: Why the Atlantic & NY Post are clueless about Islam

There will be those that will insist that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam or religion in general — that ISIS is primarily a social and political phenomenon, bereft of ideology entirely, or simply using Islam as a superficial justification. Counterterrorism studies indicate that for very many people in the broader radical Islamist universe, non-ideological factors certainly play magnificently important roles. At the same time, it is also the case that for radical Islamists, an ideological component not only exists, but is crucial in understanding their world views. In some shape or form, for ISIS supporters, religion certainly plays a role. But what religion, precisely?

The easy answer is to say “Islam” – but it is also a rather lazy answer. There are around 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. The vast, overwhelming majority of them, needless to say, are not members of ISIS — and, in fact, Muslims actually make up the majority of ISIS’s victims, its most active enemies on the battlefield, and its most prominent detractors.

Hellyer is on Twitter at @hahellyer

Murtaza Hussain: The Atlantic Ignores Muslim Intellectuals, Defines “True Islam” As ISIS

Wood is right in pointing out that there are people in the world today — including those carrying black banners in places like Raqqa and Mosul — who take religion very seriously.

But just as a failure to recognize this fact may represent the bias of a Western observer, there is also a glaring bias in dismissing or ignoring the great mass of established and recognized religious scholars of Islam in the Muslim world whose theological conclusions are starkly at odds with the radical revisionism of Islamic State. 

Indeed, there are actually people alive in our modern world who have spent their entire lives studying and practicing Islam in conjunction with philosophy, history and linguistics, and who also take seriously the idea of being “very Islamic.” They also happen to represent an established tradition of mainstream religious scholarship which millenarian groups like ISIS have made it their stated mission to eradicate.

Hussain is on Twitter at @mazmhussain.

Ramzy Baroud: ‘Islamic State’ mystery: The anti-history of a historic phenomenon

While violence and war radicalise people, the size and nature of the IS phenomenon doesn’t seem consistent with its rational historical context.

Even the sectarianism argument rarely addresses the point. IS victims come from every class, religion, ethnicity, gender and political group. Most of their victims are in fact Sunni Muslim. If one follows the blood trail of their actions, one can rarely spot definable commonalities, or a unified rationale, aside from the fact that it is all “barbaric” behaviour bent on instilling fear.

The easily defensible “barbarians,” “savages” and “psychopaths” theories are last resorts for those who cannot find a plausible explanation for this kind of behaviour.

Some find IS’s behaviour as a handy opportunity to bash Islam, to the puzzlement of most Muslims, who know full well that setting people ablaze goes against every value that Islam stands for. Even al-Qaeda rejected IS, because of its brutal behaviour, which itself is telling.

Baroud is on Twitter at @RamzyBaroud.

Mohamed Ghilan: ISIS and the academic veil for Islamophobia

Although Wood does make a number of cogent points about ISIS, he does make the all-too-common mistake of equivocating between the Islamic source texts, i.e., the Quran and Prophetic Hadith literature, and the Islamic legal texts, which are the products of scholarship that can at times grossly misrepresent the objectives presented in the original sources.

Moreover, he falls for what he accuses the majority of Muslims of: selective reading of the tradition. This has caused a great deal of confusion for many who try to put ISIS within a framework that places the group in a familiar category. Furthermore, Wood’s article and others like it can aptly be described as Islamophobic.

Fareed Zakaria: The limits of the ‘Islamic’ label

Wood’s essay reminds me of some of the breathless tracts during the Cold War that pointed out that the communists really, really believed in communism. Of course many Islamic State leaders believe their ideology. The real questions: Why has this ideology sprung up at this moment, and why is it attractive to a group — in fact, a tiny group — of Muslim men? Wood describes the Islamic State as having “revived traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years.” Exactly: The Islamic State has rediscovered — even reinvented — a version of Islam for its own purposes today.

Wood notes that the group’s followers are “authentic throwbacks to early Islam” — that is, Islam as it was practiced in the desert 1,400 years ago. Surely the most salient point is not that medieval Islam contains medieval practices such as slavery (which figures prominently in the Bible as well) but why this version of Islam has found adherents today.

Zakaria is on Twitter at @FareedZakaria.

Graham Fuller: Interpreting Islam to Muslims

We cannot blithely continue—as nearly all these US PR campaigns still do—to identify such shortcomings of the Muslim world as the sole source of the problem. From any objective perspective, western and especially American policies (wars, interventions) have contributed hugely to the current unprecedented state of anarchy, violence, chaos, dislocation, war, rage and radicalization. When our PR campaigns artfully point the finger back at Muslim societies, and offer American interpretations of “true Islam” (i.e., not anti-American Islam), we persuade few and anger many in the region.

Washington needs to begin to regain its credibility by examining and acknowledging—at least to itself—its own role in fomenting the exceptional violence of this last decade. (If there is to be a “long war” against terrorism in the region, as some neo-conservatives predict, it may in reality be the decade or more required for the US to change its image via concrete actions. More specifically, ending the actions that have been so incendiary in the region. First and foremost, begin with the removal of US boots on the grounds in Muslim lands. That’s the indispensable prerequisite before we get on to more complex issues.


28.2.2015: I’ve now seen this by Juan Cole, and couldn’t let it go by without adding it to this list – perhaps the clearest statement of all from a renowned scholar that addresses the flaws in Wood’s article.  It is also very close to the way of thinking of the Critical Religion Association of which I am an active member.

Juan Cole: How ‘Islamic’ Is the Islamic State?

Wolfowitz is arguing that Islam has an “essence” that “has something to do with what we’re fighting.” Essentialism when applied to human groups is always an error and always a form of bigotry. Zionists bombed the King David Hotel in British Mandate Palestine in 1948, killing dozens of civilians and some British intelligence officials. If a British official had responded then by arguing that “everyone knows that Judaism has something to do with what we’re fighting,” it would be fairly clear what that official thought about Jews in general. As for Iraq and Islam, there was no Al Qaeda or ISIL in Iraq in 2002, when Wolfowitz conspired to fight an illegal war on Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands, maimed millions, created millions of widows and orphans, and displaced at least 4 million of Iraq’s then 25 million people, making them homeless. As late as 2012, in a poll conducted by my colleague Mark Tessler at the University of Michigan and several collaborators, 75 percent of Sunni Iraqis said that religion and state should be separate (personal communication). The social maelstrom visited on Iraqis by Wolfowitz’s sociopathy produced radical movements like Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and ISIL, to which even secular Sunni Iraqis have turned out of desperation. Wolfowitz had no business in Iraq. His actions were illegal. Now this war criminal is blaming “Islam” for “what we’re fighting.”

Cole is on Twitter at @jricole.