The absent intellectual war against Islamist cutthroats

The aerial war waged by the United States and its Western and Arab allies against the cutthroats of the so-called “Islamic State” (formerly known as the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” – ISIS – or the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” – ISIL) is a mere tactic in a war without a strategy.

That is the message of a recent article, “Bombs do not kill ideas”, by Arab affairs analyst Magdi Abdelhadi.

As American efforts to build a broad coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria appear to have made some headway, the question who will defeat the ideology of ISIS and other similar groups gains in urgency. No doubt in any one’s mind that the F22s or drones will kill the terrorists of ISIS as they did once in Afghanistan, and continue to do in Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia. But unless the doctrine that produces the likes of ISIS is challenged and undermined, it won’t be long before the Middle East is shaken again by another terrorist takeover in Yemen or Libya or other parts of the troubled region.

No one seems to have any idea how to stem the tide. Military force will put the menace at bay for a few years, but will not eradicate the Islamist ideology…

The crux of the matter is, as Abdelhadi points out, “the doctrine that produces the likes of ISIS”. But it is such a taboo subject among the politically correct Western intelligentsia that no one dares to tackle it head on.

Indeed, the fact that it has become a no-go area for politicians, journalist and academics is a triumph of the Islamists. As Abdelhadi says:

There are many ways in which religion can inform politics and provide a moral compass for society. But Islamism collapses the difference between the sacred and the profane, because that is the only way it can survive and dominate, by subsuming everything under the black or green banner of al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brothers.

So, what to do?

The answer, with which we wholeheartedly agree, is not one that is likely to yield results in our lifetime. In Abdelhadi’s words:

The antidote will have to start by deconstructing the founding myths of Islamism as defined by the founder of the Muslim Brothers, Hasan al-Banna. Foremost among these are: Islam (or any other religion for that matter) has an answer to all human questions; Muslims can only prosper under the rule of Sharia; and that Muslims once lived in a utopia that can be resurrected if only they can be herded again under the leadership of the one-party state of the faithful.

But any attempt to debunk the Islamist myths, Abdelhadi continues, “will inevitably run into conflict with the official institutions who subscribe to the same set of myths. The only difference between them and Islamists is that they don’t pursue the ‘lost utopia’ in a belligerent or subversive way.”

Consequnetly, “[o]nly a head-on intellectual confrontation with such ideas that have become deeply entrenched in Muslim majority societies [will] defeat an ideology that continues to cause so much bloodshed and mayhem.”

Although this intellectual effort has already begun in a number of countries, it is still by and large an individual affair and has not yet assumed a wide or deep enough scale to make a difference.

Abdelhadi rightly says that for such a movement to take on the vicious ideology of Islamism and expose its lies, it would  have to turn into something much bigger.

However, for that to happen first there would have to be freedom of expression and a free media, neither of which are on the horizon in the countries that are most ripe for the Islamist cancer.

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