Islamic extremists: religion or culture?

November 3, 2014 • 10:48 am

The video below, narrated by Clarissa Ward, appeared on “60 Minutes” last night—the only t.v. show I watch besides the national news. Ward highlights the jihadist movement in Britain, concentrating on Anjem Choudary, a radical Muslim preacher in London.  It’s distressing how much trouble these people can stir up in the West, and how far removed they are from notions of common decency.

Do watch it; it’s only 13 minutes long but plenty scary.

The piece raises a number of questions: is it okay for someone living in a democracy to try to overthrow that democracy in favor of sharia law ? (I say that free speech dictates that the guy can say whatever he wants short of calling for violence, which he comes perilously close to doing.) How much of a role does religion (as opposed to Western colonialism) play in such views? Choudary mentions Western invasion of Muslim countries twice, but I’d bet that if the U.S. and U.K. completely withdrew from the Middle East, the jihad would continue. Worse, part of that “western violence” is simply the recent bombing of ISIS to save the innocent people they’re threatening, and so we’re supposed to stop that, too, or ISIS will continue their depredations and beheadings. What they want, in fact, is to continue their depredations without any thread from the West!

Watch this and see if you don’t think that Islam is a serious thread to the Enlightenment values embodied in Western democracy.  It’s ironic that Choudary is free to say this kind of stuff in the UK, but would be prohibited to say anything pro-democratic or anti-Islam in places like Pakistan and Iran.

He’s an odious character, and has many supporters in Britain, but Ward does a great job of holding his feet to the fire.

Over at 60 Minutes Overtime, Ward talks about interviewing Choudary and discusses her strategy for interviewing extremists. There’s both an interview and an essay.  Ward, a newbie on “60 Minutes,” shows a lot of promise as a bulldog against evasive Muslims.

Finally, here’s more malevolence from ISIS—a frightening video of ISIS fighters brokering captive Yazidi girls as sex slaves.

Some notes on the video from

One man comes forward purporting to have a slave girl for sale. The two begin to negotiate, with the buyer offering three to five “banknotes” (each believed to be about $100) for the girl.

The potential buyer says the price will differ depending on the color of the girl’s eyes and quips that he will have to check her teeth before sealing the deal.

“If she doesn’t have teeth, why would I want her?” he says.

IS fighters kidnapped thousands of Yazidi women and girls in August as they swept through the Sinjar mountains where the small Yazidi community has lived for thousands of years. Girls and women were systematically separated from their families and forced into marriage and conversion to Islam, according to a Human Rights Watch report (HRW). Eyewitnesses report seeing girls being bought and sold by the fighters.

The Islamic State has bragged about reviving slavery and claim they are empowered to enslave Yazidis, whom they consider devil worshippers. Yazidis are a Kurdish minority, which practices a religion linked to Zoroastrianism and influenced by Sufi Islam.

“After capture, the Yazidi women and children were then divided according to the sharia amongst the fighters of the Islamic State who participated in the Sinjar operations,” IS wrote in their propaganda magazine Dabiq.

Over 120 prominent Muslim scholars signed an open letter to the IS leadership, denouncing them and their flawed interpretation of the Koran and Sharia law in September.

In truth, I can’t say that ISIS is palpably better than the Nazi regime of Germany.

h/t: Michael, Malgorzata


62 thoughts on “Islamic extremists: religion or culture?

  1. I can only say that during the time of the rise of Stalin, there were Americans and Brits who defended him and apologized for him. Some recanted, and some never did.

    The same can be said for nearly any brutal dictator that ever lived.

    From Wikipedia:

    In the American edition of his book, Ponchaud responded to Chomsky.

    “He [Chomsky] wrote me a letter on October 19, 1977 in which he drew my attention to the way it [Year Zero] was being misused by antirevolutionary propagandists. He has made it my duty to ‘stem the flood of lies’ about Cambodia — particularly, according to him, those propagated by Anthony Paul and John Barron in Murder of a Gentle Land.”[13]

      1. The connection is that numbnuts like those who make excuses for the predations of Islamic fundamentalists (e.g. Glenn Greenwald) are much like Chomsky who made excuses for Pol Pot when he was committing mass murder in Cambodia.

        1. This is repeated slander on Chomsky, who has been fighting these allegations for *years*. As far as I can tell, what *actually* happened is that he rightly predicted that the power vacuum would make the Khmer Rouge worse, and also that the reason there *was* a PV was because the Americans bombed the country to the ground.

  2. I am currently halfway through Maajid Nawaz’s “Radical,” so this topic has been very much on my mind recently. He seems to claim that most of the recruitment and instruction by Islamist groups tends to focus on political issues, as the religious base is mostly assumed. One of the most angering parts is where he talks about his group Hizb ut-Tahrir functioning at universities in the UK. He speaks quite openly about using charges of racism and Islamophobia against the administration and other student groups as a way to evade criticism and obfuscate their real goals. Ben Affleck should really give it a read sometime.

        1. The question posed is whether ISIS is primarily religious or primarily political. I would argue that far worse movements have existed that were entirely political.

          I would also argue that the support for Islam is also entirely political. I have trouble understanding what the political motive is, but it seems to be there.

          The KKK was nominally Christian, but no one called their enemies Christophobic. So what is the underlying motive for calling opposition to militant Islam, Islamophobia?

      1. If it’s not perceived as a major threat to the west then of course the Cambodian genocide isn’t going to to be, and never will have been, as big an issue,

  3. The God of the Old Testament commanded Moses and his troops to do exactly this sort of thing, so presumably if God is telling ISIS to do this, William Lane Craig would fine these actions perfectly acceptable, desirable even.

    1. that question has been posed to craig. his response is that the god of islam is a false god. so obeying any perceived commands would not be acceptable or justifiable.

    2. Yes, those Old Testament passages are were what came to my mind as I watched this horrible video. The video puts a human face on those passages. As I read about the Muslim justifications for it (the women were devil worshipers, etc) I also remembered the justifications for the OT horrors given by educated, western Christians in my debates with them on BioLogos and Hump of the Camel. They were just like those Muslim justifications, silly technicalities that completely ignored the personhood of the victims. “Kill their families but take the virgins for yourself…” Can you imagine an educated westerner justifying this? But many do, every time the subject comes up in the blogs I comment on.

      1. Some day, someone will make a movie about Moses that is true to the Old Testament. And it will be denounced as blasphemous.

  4. I saw the show. It was a repetition of what we always see. It uses the right of free speech against us when our own reporters often are afraid to speak up at our greatest media. They sY we are invasive on their sacred soil but do not feel necessary to soil our countries. When we accumulate true evidence of them crossing the line of our laws and culture, we are too passive where the damage they creat should be dealt with by charging them and taking away all privileges of citizenship and treating this as a act of war on their part. We have a bunch of losers in Washington and need to replace all of them.

    Uncle Dan

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. It’s not Washington’s fault. Washington just mirrors whatever is trendy. Why is this trendy? Why are Hollywood actors defending the indefensible? And getting away with it.

      A right winger would say that anything that opposes the United States foreign policy is promoted as a good thing by trendmakers.

      I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but I don’t understand it.

        1. Maybe poster children, but who are their admirers? I don’t get it. Why are violent men admired by people who claim to be nonviolent?

          And why are the admirers admired?

    2. “They s[a]Y we are invasive on their sacred soil but do not feel necessary to soil our countries”.
      Just so. To me, democracy and enlightenment values, are in some sense sacred. What justifies threatening violence to overthrow our way of life? Is it just because the west is involved in Muslim counties? But we were all but out of Iraq when civil war threatened. I think there is evidence in such warped logic for religious mania at the rout of all this.

      1. What justifies threatening violence to overthrow our way of life?

        My theory is that working free democracies are often viewed as existential threats by dictators and theocrats, even if we never raise a hand against them. The dictator/theocrat often tries to convince his people that his moral/autocratic restrictions are absolutely necessary for the country’s survival; that society will collapse without his secret police/government control/virtue and vice police/if women are allowed to drive. Our societies show such claims to be wrong. Thus, our mere presence poses a threat to his rule, and to the sorts of rules he wants his society to obey. We are the example that proves them wrong, and they hate us for it.

  5. re “Ward, a newbie on ’60 Minutes,’ shows a lot of promise as a bulldog against evasive Muslims.”

    I, too, saw this segment last evening and was thoroughly impressed with Ms Ward’s d*ggedness to this man / against his bloviation and blather back at her.

    Hers reminded me of FFRF’S Ms A L Gaylor’s ( whose birthday was yesterday, btw) ability to forthrightly smite Fox News’ Sean Hannity over freedom from religion.


  6. is it okay for someone living in a democracy to try to overthrow that democracy in favor of sharia law ? (I say that free speech dictates that the guy can say whatever he wants short of calling for violence, which he comes perilously close to doing.)

    I agree with you.
    In a sense, every single person in a democracy is trying to alter the rules by which their government functions. We do that by voting for our legislators, expecting them to change the law in the way they’ve promised us they will do so. We can even vote for legislators who will change the constitution, though that is a much more difficult process. Choudray also wants to change the law. In horrible and theocratic ways, yes, but we can’t eliminate islamits’ right to advocate for changes to the law without endangering our own right to do the same.

    1. Pure Democracy would allow 51% of citizens to vote the other 49% into slavery. Democracy needs to be constrained by a foundation of human rights and principles which cannot be trampled by majority vote. To a considerable degree the USA has such a foundation. The same cannot be said in countries where the citizens may impose a theocratic government that violates all the freedoms the western world has worked so hard to secure (yet one couldn’t say it wasn’t a “democracy”). The principles underlying a democracy are crucial, a fact often overlooked in our fondness for democracy.

      1. I agree with the concept of constraints, but thou shalt not advocate for a change in law is not a principle of Democracy that needs protecting from Choudray.

        Note also that our constraints are not unchangeable, they just require a supermajority. It would be hypocritical in the extreme if we were to proudly point at our amendments and how we’ve used them to improve the country for the better…and then jail someone for voicing the notion that the constitution should be changed.

        1. You are perilously close to arguing that the Holocaust was OK, because hey, the Nazis were voted in democratically and then simply used this majority to change the rules. Just following the processes like you say they should.

          Nobody is claiming “thou shalt not advocate for a change in law” unconditionally but surely it makes sense to qualify this with “basic human rights are non-negotiable”.

          1. Don’t be ridiculous, I am arguing no such thing. Murder is wrong and I would continue to view it as wrong and fight against it even if some political party or group makes it legal. I oppose stand your ground laws, for instance.

            Where you and I differ is that you seem to think that advocates for such policies should not be allowed to advocate for them in speech. I disagree with that, I think such a view is dictatorial and repressive. I also think such a view is dangerous to our freedom because the next party to come along could use your rule to decide advocacy of some other cause is illegal.

            I think I can illustrate the foolishness of your position with a simple variant of the childrens ‘cut the cake’ game. Instead of you slice and I pick the first piece, in this version you will decide what sort of control government can exercise over advocacy for political changes, without reference to the content of the views that can be regulated. Then, I will play the government and decide which views I will use your controls on. And lest I be accused of ambush, I will tell you point blank that I’m going to choose to exercise any controls you give me on advocacy for liberal views and policies.

            Does thinking through such an exercise show you the foolishness and problems of such prior restraint speech controls?

            1. The problem with your argument is that in practice, there is no or only a marginal distinction between “advocating in speech” and “acting out”. Such policies – introducing Sharia – amount to introducing the death penalty for several crimes. Where do you draw the line which “offences” deserve capital punishment and when is this state-sanctioned murder?
              Also, your distinction means that so long as a political party is not in power, they can hold ridiculous (murderous ) policies – protected by your freedom of speech – but then exactly when a party gains power, they are suddenly prevented from acting on these policies. Good luck enforcing that; in fact you see all across the middle and near east that that is precisely how it doesn’t work.

  7. My suspicion is that in the UK he is allowed to spout this dangerous nonsense simply because he is the light to which other idiots are drawn and it makes it easier for the UK Gov to track them.

    1. I would say that this a fortunate consequence for the UK authorities dealing with terrorism, rather than policy. Freedom of speech can work against you as well as for, classic catch 22?

  8. Europe in general is in very bad shape regarding their large populations of Muslims. I think many of them have cut way back on allowing immigration but a lot of damage has been done.

    With newer Terrorism Laws they should be throwing more of these folks into jail and encouraging immigration to other countries when possible.

    If someone really believes this religion is the only one then they should jump at the chance to take a one way plane ride to join in.

    1. “Europe in general is in very bad shape regarding their large populations of Muslims. I think many of them have cut way back on allowing immigration but a lot of damage has been done.”

      Well not really. I’d often like Muslim communities to be more liberal but your comment is verging on bigotry in my opinion.

    2. What an absurd exaggeration. France has one of Europe’s largest Muslim populations and it barely makes it to 10% of the total.
      The real problem is right wing fanatics buy the propaganda that the brown people are taking over. They’re not. Yes, there are problems. Yes, integration is complex- but no, we’re not at risk of shariah law interfering with the Cannes festival.

    1. Those are funny. He looks good in those pictures; he looks old now. He needs to get out of religion and start exercising; it will help keep his mind clean and body young.

    2. Those pictures do nothing to disabuse me of my theory that most Western-born Islamists are wastrels who came to their religion and politics during a mid- or quarter-life crisis. (For another example, see the BBC documentary My Brother The Islamist)

      If only young Anjem had bought a motorcycle instead.

  9. My personal bias is that religion (Islam) comes first, and their immoral culture naturally follows. If we could eliminate religion from the world, most (certainly not all) immoral behavior would disappear overnight.

    1. Really? I’ve always seen religion as more of a tool. It’s the “you’ve just received a 50 million inheritance from the daughter of the Nigerian president” of the pre-email days.

  10. I thought Clarissa Ward did a pretty good job.

    I love that she introduced the segment in an elegant, short(ish) bright red dress! A subtle “in your face”, that we in the west don’t even notice!

    1. Perfectly true.

      I did note that and wondered at seeing Ms Ward inside it — and it and she in it looked lovely — at the time of their sitting down across from each other, what all folks on set must have been thinking may happen words’ – / exchange – wise.


  11. Anjem Choudary continues to display the hypocrisy typical of the hyper-religious. He takes advantage of his ability in a free country to advocate for that freedom to be taken away. My opinion is that although intelligent, he’s a loser, and is looking for a way to be as important as he thinks he should be. He is highly regarded within the extremist community he had a big part in creating, like an evangelical preacher. He sees himself, imo, as Britain’s al-Baghdadi (the leader of DAESH/ISIL/ISIS/IS). He imagines himself leading the country when Sharia is instituted I think.

    He is dangerous because young men look up to him. He gives them a way to focus their anger that makes bad behaviour good – it’s all OK when you’re doing it for Allah. There are groups working within the Muslim community to counter his influence. They find they have to get to these kids very early or Choudary’s influence has done too much damage – the idea of killing and dying for Allah is hard to replace with something that feels as satisfying to them. Choudary knows which buttons to push.

    He blocked me on Twitter a couple of years ago.

  12. The goal of ISIS as I recall is to establish a Caliphate. It’s good to be the calif, not bad to be the clerics and the army and miserable to be anybody else.

    We have that here in Texas. It’s called “city government.”

  13. Choudary talks about “verbal jihad”, but he is such a rhetorical coward. He refuses to tell us what he would say to a young man who wanted to go to Syria to fight because he hasn’t been in that situation yet.

    First of all, bullshit. There’s no way this man has never talked to a disciple who wants to join the global jihad that he waxes rhapsodic over. According to the Torygraph, as many as 1500 UK Muslims have done so in the last 3 years. Does he really expect us to believe that none of them have said anything to him?

    And even if he somehow hasn’t, he ought to be prepared to do so, and this is his chance to share that message with all the young Muslims who might want his opinion, as well as an opportunity to educate the rest of us. Why is he so shy? He’s not running for office, so why won’t he answer a hypothetical? Does he really think Muhammad would be proud of his lame excuses?

  14. I don’t find this to be scary, though I find his ideology to be horrendous.

    Here is why (as an American): I find the KKK and the Neo-Nazis to be immoral, noxious people. But their power is all but negligible hence they are more or less a nuisance.

    Same for these clowns: what they offer is so unattractive that they’ll never grow in significant numbers, at least in the US. Who wants to be like that, aside from a statistically small group of people?

  15. I was disturbed by this pompous excuse for a human, the Islamic program in his head was nothing unusual and we should not be surprised by it.
    But I have to tell you, the ol’ amygdala went into over drive. I commend Clarissa Ward for showing constraint and not poking this ‘limited life form’ in the eyes.
    As for world domination, that is for Austin Power to decide you numb nut, come back when you and your mini me’s have something useful to say.

    Religion has once again shown it has no mercy and it’s contempt for women under these thugs.
    To be treated, traded and bartered like a commodity is the height of chauvinist arrogance.

  16. Over 120 prominent Muslim scholars signed an open letter to the IS leadership, denouncing them and their flawed interpretation of the Koran and Sharia law in September.

    I’d be interested in seeing how the clerics explain this flawed interpretation. I have a feeling its something along the lines of ..

    “While the Koran which is the infallible word of God does say clearly and explicitly that Islamic fighters can take woman and girls as sex slaves we’ve decided that it doesn’t say that”

  17. Watch this and see if you don’t think that Islam is a serious thread to the Enlightenment values embodied in Western democracy.

    That depends on the number of followers you think Choudary has. You call it ‘many’, but his demonstrations typically have a couple of dozen people – 100 would be huge for him. I don’t think that’s a ‘serious’ threat, just as a far right march with similar numbers aren’t a serious threat to Enlightenment/democratic values. They each end up with a few who kill (eg the Ottawa killing, or Eric Klein killing the PA state trooper). To say Choduary shows Islam is a serious threat is like saying Klein shows the Tea Party is a serious threat.

  18. How do we get the media to look further back in history ? Maybe Clarissa Ward could have asked what he could tell of the history behind the star and crescent emblem? I think it is quite funny. The star has been imagined as Venus and the crescent as a phase of the moon. However they have drawn a distorted/fictional crescent which extends past the poles.(The crescent on the flag of Singapore is closest to real life) It would have been a miracle if the Coran had said the star was Venus and the crescent was showing a moment of its phases. Neither the Coran nor the Babble manage this miracle even though Mohammad is claimed to have flown to the seven heavens on his trusty Buraq and Jesus also is said to have flown up past the clouds. They both failed to advise on how to make lenses. Perhaps they were both short sighted and needed glasses but didn’t know how to make them ?

    In medieval Islamic cosmology due to the scientific dominance of the Ptolemaic the Muslim astronomers accepted unanimously the geocentric model. The ideas in the Almagest allowed for predictions of the motion of planets so maybe reinforced their mistaken view that the geocentric model was correct.

    Using a telescope in 1610, Galileo was able to observe Venus going through a full set of phases, something prohibited by the Ptolemaic system (which would never allow Venus to be fully lit from the perspective of the Earth, as this would require it to be on the far side of the sun, which is impossible if its orbit is, as the Ptolemaic system requires, between the Earth and the sun ). This observation essentially ruled out the Ptolemaic system, and was compatible only with the Copernican system

    See Wikipedia: Geocentrism and Islamic astronomy

    Also from Wikipedia:

    During the 1950s to 1960s, the symbol was re-interpreted as a symbol of Islam or the Muslim community.

    It has been associated with the Moabites (14th or early 13th – 6th century BC), as the symbol or symbols appear on what are thought to be Moabite name seals. Crescents appearing together with a star or stars are a common feature of Sumerian iconography, the crescent usually being associated with the moon god Sin (Nanna to the Sumerians) and the star (often identified as Venus) with Ishtar (Inanna to the Sumerians). However, in this context, there is a third element often seen, that being the sun disk of Shamash.

    The star and crescent was also the emblem of Mithradates VI Eupator. “His royal emblem, an eight rayed star and the crescent moon, represented the dynasty’s patron gods, Zeus, Stratios, or Ahuramazda, and Men Pharmacou, a Persian form of the native moon goddess.” Other scholars have suggested that the star and crescent are more directly related to the cult of the god Mithra. Ustinova associates the star and crescent motif attested in a number of finds in the Bosporan Kingdom (which date from the 5th century BC to the 1st century AD) with the cult of Mithras, and indicates the star and the crescent together constituted the emblem of Pontus and its kings, asserting that it was introduced to the Bosporus by Mithradates and his successors, where it is attested on coins, locally produced jewelry and other objects. She suggests that this emblem indicates “the possibility of an earlier association of the Pontic dynasty with the cult of mounted Mithra. Mithra in fact must have been one of the most venerated gods of the Pontic Kingdom, since its rulers bore the theomorphic name of Mithradates […] although direct evidence for this cult is rather meager.”

Leave a Reply