What does Sam Harris think of ISIS?

The dangers of nonviolent Islamism

Elham Manea was born in Egypt to a Yemeni diplomat and has traveled widely with her family. But moving from Morocco to Yemen when Elham was a young girl stands out from it. She compares it to a journey through time: leaving a free and modern life in favor of a place where women are veiled and public life is gendered. She was told that art, music, poetry and philosophy were forbidden, and that her new, true family of "sisters" and "brothers" were other Muslims who believed all of these.

She was taught to "hate," especially Jews, and that it was right to deceive unbelievers. When she was told that a husband is God to his wife, that she must sacrifice her blood relatives for the benefit of other true believers, she refrained. Since then she has distanced herself more and more. In The Perils of NonViolent Islamism, her fourth book in English, the author, political scientist at the University of Zurich, activist and advisor warns the West. In Manea's view, “nonviolent Islamism” is the basic building block that leads to violent jihad. And our misinterpretation of this reality can lead to real harm.

If we continue to “cancel” politically incorrect ideas and speeches, continue to “denigrate dissent” and “insist on the infinite guilt of the West”, then, writes Russell A. Berman in the foreword to this work, “we should expect the The real consequences of this ideology will soon become clearer and harsher. ”Manea believes that the suppression of dissent can easily turn into repressive practices. “Cancel culture” could actually be our “Islamism”.

"The global challenge of the 21st century"

The insidious nature of nonviolent Islamism is one of Manea's most important considerations. People in the West were hopelessly gullible in their choice of "smiling, patient", Saudi-funded representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists as their experts on Islam and Muslims.

"You cannot fight an ideology and fundamentalism by working with the very groups that promote that ideology," she writes. In addition, Western cultural relativism and the teachings of “multiculturalism” serve us and freedom-loving Muslims very, very badly.

This struggle, she writes, is "the global challenge of the 21st century". Both hard and soft Islamism must "be challenged and confronted ... we must dismantle the structures and the system that spread this ideology and its radicalized form of Islam." This means that we are making significant changes in Islamic schools, mosques , Youth groups and camps; we need to retrain paid imams who work in the prison system.

“We don't just have to fight criminal organizations like ISIS and al-Qaeda. We also have to deal with the non-violent form of Islamism: the ideology and its fundamentalist reading of Islam ... security measures ... alone are pointless. They don't solve the problem. You do not act against its roots or its structure. "

Manea insists that Western governments "must fight these as you fight your own fundamentalists, fascists and racist groups."

Based on the managing director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, Steve Emerson, Manea describes throughout the book how the Muslim Brotherhood is structured and organized around the world to indoctrinate new generations with a “radicalized Islam” or hate ideology, the type of ideology that leads to the financing and practice of violent jihad ; to gender segregation; closed communities especially in the west; covering up women, child marriage, disbelief, especially hatred of Jews, and so on. She calls for the funds to be withdrawn from all these groups. “Stop including them in the discourse. Educate them to be responsible. "

Fight Islamism, support Muslims

Manea understands and criticizes how Islamists operate in the West. What begins as "reasonable inquiries for religious accommodation" soon has the following consequences:

“Muslim pupils and students have to get halal food in the cafeteria. You need a prayer room in the school. They want to be able to leave class during daytime prayer times and on Fridays. They organize ritual washing of feet in the washrooms. For swimming lessons, the sexes must be separated and girls must wear burkini. School trips are frowned upon or reduced ... to just one to ensure girls attendance. The lessons should also be gender segregated. Muslim students are not allowed to play with non-Muslim students in the school yard and vice versa. "

Your third important point of view is that the Muslims themselves are at the forefront of this fight against “Islamist” fascism. The violence and warfare of Muslims against Muslims results in a far higher number of deaths than that of Muslims against infidels. Muslims blow up Muslim civilians, including women, children and the elderly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and other Muslim-majority countries.

Muslims are the first victims - and they are also the bravest dissidents who cannot understand why the West, already living in greater freedom, does not support the heroic Muslim struggles against totalitarian fundamentalism in Muslim-majority countries.

Muslim scholars blame fundamentalism for jihad

For example, the 2017 marches by Muslim imams against terrorism in Cologne, Germany and Paris each attracted only 100 people. Muslims Manea spoke to said they saw their jobs and even their lives threatened if they participated.

It gives examples of people who paid the price to question fundamentalist interpretations of the Koran. Sheikh Mohammad Abdulla Nasr, a religious scholar at the Egyptian Al-Azhar Academy, "spent five years in prison for challenging the common sense behind observance of the Sunnah ... which was written two hundred years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed." Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhatir, a Mauritanian blogger, was originally facing execution and spent five years in prison for "blasphemy" for questioning the Koranic basis for slavery, a practice that remains legal in Mauritania. Only an international campaign may have prevented his execution.

Black African slaves are still held captive by ethnic Arab Muslims in Mauritania, Sudan, Libya and Algeria, and by Boko Haram in Nigeria. ISIS enslaved Yazidi girls and women and held slave auctions when they controlled areas in Iraq.

Ironically, Manea said, Muslim scholars blame Islamist texts and fundamentalist Muslim indoctrination and practices for jihad, while the West scourges and blames itself for the colonialism and white racism that are said to have led to violent jihad. Such people fail to understand that Muslim leaders in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia also practice these practices and practice both religious and gender segregation.

Memories of a far more tolerant Muslim society

Manea is now adding her voice to those of us, like Ibn Warraq, Bat Ye'or, Zeyno Baran and Douglas Murray, who have questioned Islamism for years only to be ignored or defamed as “racist Islamophobes”.

Most of these voices are either apostate, converts, secular Muslims, or they are Jews or Christians. Although Manea willingly quotes the atheists Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, what makes her special is that, like Zuhdi Jasser and my dear friend Seyran Ates, she is not secular. It holds on to the possibility that Islam as a religion can and must be reformed. In their view, the way to do this is to follow the “peaceful” Mecca verses of the Qur'an and reinterpret or ignore the “warlike” Medina verses.

Manea personally remembers a far more tolerant Muslim society in Morocco, Egypt and Yemen, where women were not veiled or demarcated. She writes about a diversity among Muslims, both in their lifetime and in times gone by, that she misses and longs to see again.

Manea complements the debate with current examples of how and why certain European governments have wooed “the Muslim (Islamist) vote”: In the 1960s, Belgium's king needed cheap oil and in return allowed the Saudi Arabia-funded building of mosques and education of imams. Sweden's Social Democrats lost elections and their way back to power relied on a Muslim electorate, especially immigrants, in exchange for the protection of a segregated life - and in the name of "multicultural progress".

Manea, who has written about women and Sharia law, clarifies her position on Islamic veiling. Before, she did not know how to reconcile religious freedom with bans on the headscarf. Now she is absolutely convinced that the veil is the sign and symbol of "political Islam". How to stop indoctrinated girls from wearing the hijab or niqab is an open question. The fact that America's “Women's March” romanticized the veil as a form of resistance to racism was particularly disheartening to Manea - and me, too.

Reform is necessary

In 2007 I attended the Secular Islam Summit in St. Petersburg, Florida. It was organized by Austin Dacey and Ibn Warraq; I had the honor of chairing the first panel discussion with participant Tawfik Hamid, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The final declaration of the summit rejects Sharia courts, speaks out against punishments for blasphemy or apostasy, wants an end to female genital mutilation, honor killing and child marriage and provides for public discussions without coercion or intimidation. Among other things, it states:

“We insist on the separation of religion and state and on observance of universal human rights.

We find traditions of freedom, rationality and tolerance in the rich history of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values ​​do not belong to either the West or the East; they are the common moral inheritance of humanity.

We do not see colonialism, racism or so-called "Islamophobia" in subjecting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation if they disregard human rights or common sense. "

Based on her book, Manea seems to agree with this statement. Perhaps it is time for someone like her to call another meeting and make a new declaration to be signed by Muslims who want a religious reformation of Islam; Muslims who believe that this can and must be done. And that this can only happen from within, by the Muslims themselves, who want a spiritual life, who do not want to break completely with what they value in religion, but who love fundamentalism, totalitarianism, the hatred of unbelievers want to denounce Muslim delusions of superiority, Islamic racism, misogyny and so on.

Pick up hateful Medinan suras

The secular Ayaan Hirsi Ali designated The Perils of NonViolent Islamism as "the book that had to be written about political Islam ... (and) a rousing wake-up call for policymakers about what is really at stake in this conflict." In 2015, Hirsi Ali called for an Islamic " Reformation ”. She wanted to abolish Sharia law and completely "reject and abolish" certain commandments. Hirsi Ali accepted the fact that most Muslims will not leave Islam completely and that women's rights, minority rights and the separation of religion and state can only be achieved through one religious Reformation can come about.

Manea suggests that the more peaceful, less hateful Meccan suras be used for such a reformation; the later, more hostile and hateful Medinan suras themselves must be canceled or reinterpreted.

I asked my good friend and colleague Ibn Warraq what he thought of dividing the Koran in half and only keeping the "peaceful" Meccan suras, as Manea suggests. "I do not accept the Islamic version of events and I cannot take this proposal seriously," he said. "There is no such thing as 'the Meccan versus the Medinan suras'."

I am a religious Jew, albeit a very imperfect one. I wouldn't want to completely part with a religious life, either socially or ritually, but more importantly, intellectually. I would like to see people like Ibn Warraq and Hirsi Ali work with Manea to fight what Manea rightly called "the greatest struggle of the 21st century".

Manea has written a moving and compelling book. It's also a bold and informative work that deserves a serious readership.

“The Perils of NonViolent Islamism” by Elham Manea, 2021, Candor / New York: Telos Press Publishing. Can be ordered here.

This review first appeared on The Investigative Project on Terrorism.


Phyllis Chesler is Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Women's Studies at the City University of New York (CUNY) and author of 20 books, below Women and Madness(1972) and A Family Conspiracy: Honor Killings. (2018). She is a Senior IPT Fellow, as well as a Fellow at MEF and ISGAP.

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