The ability of some liberal multiculturalists to ignore the role Islamic fundamentalism plays in a great deal of the world's terror and oppression never ceases to amaze. One of the internet's foremost outlets for the propagation of this ignorance is Salon, which for years has been peculiarly sensitive to critiques of Islam, especially when they come from high-profile atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Bill Maher.
It is therefore no surprise that on Thursday Salon ran a jumbled argument by C.J. Werleman that represents one of the most extravagant attempts to dismiss the religious motives of the Islamic State and other jihadist groups as not really being that significant a factor in their actions.
Not only is this view false, it's patently dangerous.
Werleman's first mistake is lumping in "the roots of ISIS, Middle Eastern conflict and Islamic terrorism" all together. Though these may overlap, he then clumsily tries to advance a unified theory for all three phenomena. The theory? The West is responsible, particularly the U.S.
After asserting that Dawkins, Harris, and Maher speak "in the language 11th-century Christian crusaders," and after misidentifying the late Christopher Hitchens as a "neo-liberal," Werleman gives a history lesson about Western intervention in the Middle East before writing:
"If atheists like Harris, Dawkins, Maher and company were truly rationally minded they’d dispense with the knee-jerk infantile emotionalism and anti-Islam rhetoric that serves only the interests of our military industrial complex and our addiction to cheap Middle Eastern oil.
"If a 'caliphate' has been established, it’s an American caliphate in the Middle East. With a total of 44 U.S. military bases in the Middle East and the Central Asia, some of which are the size of small cities, we have the Muslim world completely surrounded."
If the U.S. had a caliphate in the Middle East, it would not have the region "surrounded," but rather it would be occupying the entire area. This is exactly what ISIS is attempting to do. Now, it can most definitely be argued -- and quite plausibly -- that ISIS wouldn't exist had there been no U.S. invasion of Iraq, which brought sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites to the surface. However, the war ISIS is waging in Iraq and Syria has nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy, and everything to do with establishing a caliphate that encompasses the entire Muslim world and beyond. With the exception of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, the victims of ISIS haven't been Americans, and in many cases, the victims have been Shiite Muslims -- a group that the Sunni ISIS and its predecessors have been targeting with violence for a decade.
It's important to note that ISIS isn't a terrorist organization in the sense that Al Qaeda is. Although ISIS certainly terrorizes the people it encounters, it has (at least so far) refrained from carrying out attacks abroad, focusing solely on expanding the territories it controls and converting the conquered to its version of Islam.
Put it this way: Even if the U.S. disappeared today, ISIS would continue to fight on tomorrow because the group isn't motivated by U.S. foreign policy.
As for Al Qaeda, it's a classic terrorist organization and has never attempted to conquer territory and convert the people living in it. Although Osama bin Laden wished to see the establishment of a caliphate, he believed this could only be achieved under certain circumstances, which as far as he was concerned did not exist when he was alive.
It's true that U.S. involvement in the Middle East has stirred a great amount of resentment there, and no doubt it's one reason why Al Qaeda has targeted Americans. Certainly, there's a conversation to be had about American interventions and meddling in the Middle East, but Werleman is intent on pinning the evil deeds of ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other Islamists almost entirely on the U.S.
Then, in a strange digression on the specific tactic of suicide bombings, Werleman quotes academic Riaz Hassan's interpretation of a suicide bombing database (which Werleman erroneously attributes to creators of the database and which Werleman inaccurately calls "a study").
The conclusion is preposterous:
“[T]hough religion can play a vital role in the recruitment and motivation of potential future suicide bombers, their real driving-force is a cocktail of motivations including politics, humiliation, revenge, retaliation and altruism. The configuration of these motivations is related to the specific circumstances of the political conflict behind the rise of suicide attacks in different countries.”
This is pernicious claptrap. If Islam's role in suicide bombings is so minimal as to hardly warrant consideration, where are all the non-Muslim suicide bombers? With the exception of the occasional Tamil suicide bomber during Sri Lanka's now-concluded civil war, a suicide bomber who doesn't believe Muhammad is his prophet is virtually unheard of.
But surely, people of other faiths (or no faith) can claim they have been just as victimized or even more so by U.S. foreign policy. Werleman's logic is that being subjected to years of American-led invasions, bombings, and coups can motivate people to blow themselves up and kill others. Yet if this is the case, why was the U.S. never subjected to an onslaught of suicide bombers from Latin America avenging U.S.-led atrocities in that part of the world for more than a century. If all it takes to produce anti-U.S. suicide bombers is for the U.S. to place its boot on the collective neck of a people, Latin America should have been producing them like coffee beans.
What's missing in Latin America is Islam and the idea of martyrdom. And if anyone truly doubts the religious commitment of jihadists like the 9/11 hijackers, here's an excerpt from ringleader Mohamed Atta's instructions to his fellow killers:
"When the confrontation begins, strike like champions who do not want to go back to this world. Shout, 'Allahu Akbar,' because this strikes fear in the hearts of the non-believers. God said: 'Strike above the neck, and strike at all of their extremities.' Know that the gardens of paradise are waiting for you in all their beauty, and the women of paradise are waiting, calling out, 'Come hither, friend of God.' They have dressed in their most beautiful clothing."
This is what suicide bombing/hijacking is: fundamentalist Muslims martyring themselves to kill infidels so they can enjoy an eternal paradise filled with women.
Incredibly, I've actually seen commenters on this and other sites claim it doesn't matter whether ISIS and other groups are motivated by an Islamist ideology or not. Think about that for a moment. There are actually people who, when faced with this recurring deadly problem, insist that we deliberately not acknowledge its root cause, as if the problem could even begin to be addressed in some other fashion.
Thankfully, most Muslims do not take the Quran's endorsements of martyrdom and violence to heart, and they don't kill those who pray to a different god or believe in a different successor to Muhammad. But some do. And to refuse to acknowledge religion as the primary motivation of those who fly airplanes into buildings to kill thousands of people, saw off other human beings' heads with hunting knives, and blow themselves up in crowded places, is an utter betrayal of intellectual honesty, to say nothing of reality.