Editor’s Note: Anouar Majid’s critique of ISIS is also a critique of many in the Islamic world who are too quiet about the crimes being done in the name of Islam. For that reason, we at Tikkun have to consider his views, just as we ask the Jewish world to consider our views about many in the Jewish world who are too quiet about the Israeli use of violence in Gaza. What worries us is the degree to which Majid may be willing to abandon Islam entirely, something we are not willing to do in regard to Judaism.
When the world awoke to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, some wondered why no one had taken the previous destruction of the 6th-century Buddha statutes in Bamiyan, Afghanistan seriously. Those attacks should have warranted a massive airstrike on the Taliban government and its supporters. Blowing up a part of our history in such a cavalier fashion amounted to a crime against humanity, but enlightened people shrugged their shoulders, chalked up such behavior to backward Muslim extremists and moved on. They should have known better. Who knows? Immediate military intervention could have spared us many years of strife and sorrow.
The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now known only as the Islamic State, did the same a couple of weeks ago when they detonated the tomb of the biblical and Qur’anic prophet Jonah in Mosul. It was one of their many attacks of pre- or non-Islamic monuments and even people. For the caliphate-crazed Wahhabi-inspired fanatics who trampled on the heritage of a city that was more than 6,000 years old when Islam was born, such monuments, as well as Christians or any group of people who are not like them, are desecrations that that have to be violently uprooted. It should, therefore, come as no surprise at all that ISIS is now waging a genocidal war against the Yazidis, a people whose religion has remained an enigma for centuries. Like many Muslims, ISIS considers the Yazidis as ungodly and must, therefore, be eliminated.
Such violence comes on top of a Sunni dirty war against the Shia, Sufis, and secular Muslims, but what is striking about the whole situation is that the so-called “moderate Muslims,” who don’t hesitate to protest against many injustices, remain deafeningly silent about the atrocities inflicted on minorities in their midst. They may be eloquently loud when they perceive threats to their interests, but I have never seen them exhibit the slightest concern for the tragedy of others. In some cases, they simply remain blissfully unaware or conveniently indifferent.
I do not mean to suggest that Muslims are the only ones engaged in such wanton violations of human dignity because Jews, Christians, Hindus, and others have all shown murderous inclinations to wipe out diversity in the name of some God-given purity. But what is singular about Muslims these days is they produce no discernible dissenting voices, like, say, the editor and people of Tikkun. Most Arabs and Muslims love Noam Chomsky for his courageous stance against his own nation’s actions in the world. Fine. But where is the Muslim or Arab Chomsky? When a Westerner criticizes aspects of Arab and Islamic culture (even if out of genuine love for those cultures), he or she is instantly branded with the epithet of “Orientalist,” a single word that blends Western cultural arrogance and imperialism.
This time, the United States returned to Iraq to push back ISIS and hopefully avert another 9/11 scenario. But it’s still morally disturbing for any thinking and caring person to just sit on the sidelines and watch or make a private comment when the lives of a whole people are threatened with annihilation. We must stop and defeat ISIS now and launch a merciless attack on the ideology that inspires their brutal ways. For unless the views of ISIS are countered forcefully and unapologetically, the organization will return under a different name to cause similar or more mayhem.
To pre-empt such a grim future, we need to understand that the kind of Islam that ISIS espouses is a danger to human civilization and must be resisted on all fronts and by all people until it has no place to hide. I say this because, in my opinion, the horrors of ISIS are a matter of degree only, for their sin is one of attempting to execute the dreams of distant lords safe in their luxurious abodes. They are the contractors for a harsh Sunni theology. They are the builders of projects that are doomed to fail in our imperfect world and sure, therefore, to engender endless pain. I bet many moderate Muslims watch ISIS with bemused interest, for, at some level, they know they share more spiritually with Muslim extremists than they do with any other religious group.
This is why Islam, with its vast corpus and many contradictions, must be reinterpreted in order to provide meaning to people living in the here-and-now. Most importantly, well-meaning Muslims need to have a new approach to their faith if they want, in the words of the American Declaration of Independence, to appeal to a “decent respect for the opinions of mankind.” They need to be serious interlocutors, not endless complainers about the wrongs (real or imaginary) done to them.
Anouar Majid is the author of five critically acclaimed books on Islam and the West and the novel Si Yussef. He edits the online publication TingisMagazine.com, whose mission is to enlarge the debate on Islam and its history. He also maintains the blog Tingitana.com.