The Battle Against Islamism is Personal

I can’t think of a better example of the complex internal struggle within nearly every Muslim community and family than that represented by the San Bernardino shooter and his family.

While one brother, Navy veteran Syed Raheel Farook, was awarded numerous medals of service (including the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal), the other, Syed Rizwan Farook, became a Jihadist married to a woman who pledged allegiance to ISIS.

My own journey away from religion was due in part to witnessing the radicalization of a close childhood friend, a friend who I had previously viewed as a mirror image of myself. The allure of jihadism drew in some of my extended family as well, and I have friends with family members convicted of terrorism-related offenses. I know of ex-Muslims in Bangladesh who are being targeted by Islamic extremists—and others whose family members were involved and convicted for those same murders.

Sadly, these stories aren’t exceptional or rare.

This ideological war is not one between the East and the West, even though many on the Islamist right and the Western right would like to frame it that way. Instead, it is a struggle for the soul of our people and our communities, be they Pakistani, Saudi, Bangladeshi, Somali, or otherwise. It is being fought between siblings, parents and their children, in homes, mosques and yes, even schools.

The school that may have radicalized the shooter’s wife has branches in the US from which there are also ex-Muslim graduates and former instructors who are recovering from the aftermath of religious indoctrination. Still worse, there are closeted ex-Muslims who have been forced to send their children to those same schools due to social pressure from family and community.

To be clear, this struggle is between those who believe that humanity can advance morally, between those who believe that all humanity is equal and deserving of equal rights and those who insist on religious supremacy, those who believe in free speech for all and those who insist on speech codes and blasphemy laws, those who have a secular vision and those who look to theocracies with longing, and between those wanting to educate and inspire us to a better future and those who insist on dragging the rest of the world to their deranged fantasies of a glorious past.

Just as there are those on the East that line up on both sides of this war, there are those in the West that similarly choose opposing sides. Far too many on the left, like the Goldsmiths Feminists Society, Goldsmiths LGBTQ+ Society, and the Yale Humanists do not understand the depth of this struggle and in their utter naiveté are essentializing those from the East, presuming religious expression as our “authentic identity,” and in effect picking the side of those yearning for the seventh century.

When picking sides we must be clear-eyed about the motivations and values driving this struggle. We have to acknowledge, once and for all, that commending Raheel’s choices in life and condemning Rizwan’s is not Islamophobic. We have to make clear that supporting the countless Muslim reformers who risk and lay down their lives to oppose the Islamist Right is not bigotry—there are values we will not tolerate, and ideals we must oppose.

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  • Adolf Verloc

    Thanks for sharing this message. I salute you as a brave and humane man.

  • charles3000

    There are many facets to this issue. His description of the personal strifes must be accepted but generally, those who ignore the fact and effect of the US military invasion and occupation of Iraq, the outlawing of the Baathist party in Iraq, setting up of a puppet government there that discriminated against the Sunnis and favored US control of the oil resources, have their heads in the sand and are ignoring reality.

    • Anthony Glaser

      There should be discussions about global injustices and unethical foreign policies in order to bring us ever closer to the asymptotic goal of a just and fair world. Two questions about the connection between this and terrorism: 1) Should we re-evaluate foreign policies in reaction to terrorism, thus appearing to confirm its effectiveness as a tool for change? 2) Why are the terrorists attacking night-clubs and cartoonists, which ostensibly have nothing to do with foreign policy?

      • charles3000

        Answering #1: Yes we should. Put very simply, terrorism has changed our foreign policy and it will change it more. Anyone looking seriously now at what is happening in the mideast is aware that the US has lost the hegemony it had held since the Brits lost it post WWII. And it will not be restored by bombs nor with “boots on the ground”. It is time for pragmatic realism with very significant changes in our foreign policy. Answering #2: 9/11 was a classic terrorist attack sending a very strong political message about US economic and military activities in the mideast. The failed attack on the capital would have shown the blame to be on the US government. Al Queda was disrupted, changing terrorist attacks from well planned and organized attacks such as 9/11 to the kind you describe. And another predictable thing happened. Al Quida was replaced by a more violent, more brutal and more ambitious group, ISIL. We should be looking at how the French solved their terrorist problem with the Algerians years ago to understand what is needed now to extract ourselves from the chaos that has been created in the mideast by short sighted foreign policy decisions made over the past 25 or 30 years.

        • Randy Elble

          Unlike Algeria, this is not a nationalist struggle, it is ideological. US policy fanned the flames (OK, poured gas on them is more like it) but did not start the fire. It has been burning since Arab nationalism emerged after WWI and removed the mosque from the seat of power. Our complete withdrawal from the Middle East including support for all regimes there would still not remove us as a target. France had done little to deserve the Paris attacks. It was mostly a target of convenience.

          • charles3000

            I see ISIS/ISIL as being very nationalistic, the “patriot” revolt against the US puppet regime in Iraq. My understanding of the genesis of the group is that it was created by the Baathists that Bush outlawed for his “democratic” elections there plus many officers from Saddam’s army. That gave them a core of both political and military savey.

          • iconoclast73

            ISIS is not nationalistic – they want to erase borders they see as set up by the kuffar british. It is their view to have a religious caliphate (dar al islam) and then to essentially be at war with (dar hrab) – the house of war. if they were political, they would have made compromises and not attacked so many groups all at the same time. But this is an example not of pragmatism but blind faith in a 7th century religion closed to moderation. (luckily at least 80% of muslims disapprove of the ISIS approach)

          • charles3000

            What political action would you recommend after your country has been invaded, occupied and a puppet government installed by a foreign power?

          • iconoclast73

            well, in Summer of 1945, the Japanese and German people endured us trying to build schools and hospitals, they accepted democracy and celebrated peacefully when it was safe for us to leave. Unlike the Soviets, when we occupy countries, we tried our best to leave a functioning democracy behind. That being said, I think all of us resent the US supporting dictators. Again, I was wrong to believe Bush could leave a functioning democracy running in Iraq. I now realize that some people are not against oppression only against being oppressed. I’m sorry to find out the horrible dictator Saddam may not have been as bad is genocidal islamists. So I suppose we agree we should advocate human rights without going in and forcing it in person?

          • charles3000

            WWII was very different from the Iraq invasion. We were attacked by Japan and Germany and we won the war against them. After they were defeated we did not alter their governments nor force a puppet government on them. We helped them to recover as you point out. We, however, did the invading of Iraq and were much less tolerant for the population than we had been to our adversaries in Japan and Germany.

        • Sukhamaya Bain

          How does this answer Anthony’s question #2?

          Let me ask two more questions. 1) How is US foreign policy responsible for what the ISIS terrorists/hate-criminals have been doing to the Yazidi people of Syria? 2) How is US foreign policy responsible for Pakistani Muslim mobs burning the homes of a whole Christian community just because an 11 years old girl of that community was accused of burning a page of the Koran?

          Now let me suggest that Western foreign policies are lame excuses for real hatred that comes from no other source than the fanatic Islamic brainwash.

          • charles3000

            I see ISIS’s actions as an attempt to emulate US actions of killing and destruction. But they fail miserably; they cannot match the killing and destructive power of the US military. I can’t deny there is significant anger with religious and ideological overtones and that is expected. The fact that US foreign policy is the root of the mideast chaos and unrest has been no secret for many years. The Baathist party was organized to oust the US from the mideast. The man in the street Arab has been angered for years by the way the US has corrupted the governments in the region and prolonged the solution to the Palestine refugee issue. Trying to disconnect the chaos and ISIS from US foreign policy is like trying to raise fish without water.

          • Sukhamaya Bain

            So, you really think that what ISIS has done to the Yazidis is like emulating US actions of killing and destruction!! I do not know your mind; so, I cannot ask you, “are you out of your mind?” But knock, knock, the USA has not summarily executed/persecuted any civilian population (except via the now non-existent slavery that was pretty normal at a time in most places in the world, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WW2, and against the Native Americans mostly before the formation of the USA). Please stop comparing an imperfect but great nation (the USA) with the barbarians. The reality of the matter is that even today Muslims get more human rights and dignity in the USA than in most Muslim-majority countries.

            As for the Middle-Eastern problem, that part of the world has been a hotbed of hatred for religious and sectarian differences over quite a few thousand years. The West certainly has been trying, often unsuccessfully, to take advantage of the inter-people hatred there; but it certainly did not give birth to the real cause of hatred there, religious stupidity and fanaticism.

          • charles3000

            I do not condone the violence in the mideast or anywhere else. I only look at the facts and the numbers. I would suggest you try looking through their eyes at the world and see what you see.

          • Sukhamaya Bain

            Sorry, I could not look through their brain (both eye and brain need to work to see); because my mind is not filled with religious nonsense and hatred. I could have had more sympathy for them if I did not know about what their kind has been doing to weak and nonviolent people, including many Muslims, in many parts of the world.

          • charles3000

            You might start by thinking of airplanes flying over your country and dropping bombs, multiple bombs on you every day.

          • Sukhamaya Bain

            Let me repeat, “I could not look through their brain (both eye and brain need to work to see); because my mind is not filled with religious nonsense and hatred.”

            But I would give you the next paragraph, and expect you to talk about the Yazidis of Syria, the Christians of Pakistan and the Buddhists of Bangladesh that I mentioned in my posts on this article here. You could also talk about what the Coptic Christians of Egypt got from the most recent democratic government there (the one that was forced out by the current military dictators). If you do not address these in a reasonable manner, this would be my last message to you, irrespective of what you write.

            I was born in East Bengal in a Hindu village in the 1950s. As a part of the statewide atrocities, the Pakistani military burned at least 10 Hindu villages (of at least 20,000 people) in that area in 1971 over a period of two days, and killed anyone that they could find. One of my best elementary school teaches and two of my elderly aunts were shot dead by the Pakistani brutes. Those victims were absolutely innocent and poor people with no hatred against any kind of people. They were killed and their homes (including my birth home) were burned just because they were Hindus. (Muslims that were for the freedom of Bangladesh were targeted, but Hindus were targeted indiscriminately.) I still vividly remember how my father had to carry my grandmother on his shoulder like a baby and walk through deep muddy roads over tens of miles to reach India along with his family for shelter. Discrimination, hatred and atrocities against non-Muslims by Muslims that operate with impunity are an ongoing serious problem in that land. (Now the country is called Bangladesh.) In spite of these, I do not hate Muslims, I want Muslims to live and let other kinds of people live on Earth in peace. I do not support bombing Iraq or Syria, but I want the secular and humanist leaders and intellectuals of the world to make sure that their humanity is not abused, and ultimately defeated, by people whose minds are filled with religious nonsense, injustice, hatred and violence.

          • charles3000

            We have just one difference. You make this assumption: “…by people whose minds are filled with religious nonsense, injustice, hatred and violence…” while I see people motivated to reclaim their country from invaders and corporations that control their resources. I do not see religion playing any meaningful role.

          • iconoclast73

            I have studied the jihads against hindus. Most of Pakistan was hindu and around 1000 years ago, jihadhists slaughtered most of the Buddhists in what is now Afghanistan and most hindus and other religious minorities in what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh. Some estimates of slaughtered hindus go well into the 10’s of millions of centuries of ruthless jihads. In the last few hundred years, main stream hinduism has not done genocide against Christians, Jains, Baha’i, or Buddhists.

          • Sukhamaya Bain

            The reality of the world is that our ancestors of all kinds (Hindu, Muslim, Black, White, etc.) on an average were more barbarian than our generation. So, I am willing to forgive and forget a lot of the past. But when I see people insist on maintaining their belief in stupidity, injustice, hatred and atrocities, it bothers me too much. A fact in the world today is that on an average Muslims are the champions in that regard; and it is too much of a shame that too many leaders that claim to be secular and humanist play the game of political correctness with it.

          • iconoclast73

            Charles, none of us condone all the actions of the US – especially in the middle east. Bush’s hope to build a functioning democracy with full human rights in Iraq proved most idealistic and only lowered our standing in the world. But as Sukhamaya says below – much of the killing – especially by groups like ISIS has little to do with the rest. By the Yazidis own history, they have survived ruthless periods of genocide long before the USA was founded. As an atheist, I ask you to fully grasp a hardline version of Islam that just is orders of magnitude worse than what you have likely been frustrated by in Christianity. The prophet of the tens of thousands who have joined terrorist groups worldwide, waged many battles, took slaves, and approved of killing of those who insulted him or left his faith. ISIS would be doing their “purification” (mostly killing others of different islamic sects) if we were gone. – so please call for the US to do better in the world, but understand great evil will continue to be done independent of what we do.

          • charles3000

            Re Iraq: We know the WMD story was a lie and we know the “build democracy” excuse was a lie also because the major political party in Iraq was blocked from participation in the elections by Bush. Iraq was a secular nation where all lived together with no Al Queda or jihadists before the invasion by Bush who wanted to prevent Russian, Chinese and French oil companies from taking over the oil fields since they had contracts from Iraq to do that. The problem in that region is obvious; it has been caused by the US attempt to maintain hegemony and control the world oil market through military force. Trying to blame the chaos there on Islam does not hold any water. That story is as lame as the WMDs and “building democracy” lies used by Bush.

        • Anthony Glaser

          So you don’t mind if there is a clear message that terrorism is an effective tool to achieve political goals. All ransoms should be paid to hostage takers as well, I suppose. After all, they need the money.

          • charles3000

            Terrorism is a political tool. Like all other political tools it can be effective or it may fail.

          • Anthony Glaser

            That is why it is rational for the people being terrorized to ensure that it is perceived as always being a failure, at least when it comes to them. A clear message must be sent: this will not work with us.

          • charles3000

            I believe history shows that to be a futile approach. The response is to make the political statements louder and more frequent. The fact is that terrorism is the political act of final resort. There is no place else for the terrorist agents to go. They must continue on the same path and only scream louder.

          • Anthony Glaser

            Even if you’re right that history shows ignoring terrorism just leads to more terrorism (which you’ve merely asserted without evidence or argument), there will always be groups of disillusioned young men looking for a path to glory for a righteous cause who will be thrilled that terrorism is an empowering strategy when it comes to your society. So giving in to terrorism also leads to more terrorism.

          • charles3000

            We don’t do it very well but you really need to differentiate between terrorism and criminal acts. They are different, very different. The young men you refer to would be committing criminal acts in my judgement, not true acts of terrorism. Being very precise about definitions, the recent event in California was a criminal act, not terrorism. It had no political message which is a necessary ingredient of a terrorist act.

          • Anthony Glaser

            Well I don’t think that’s going to convince these starry-eyed, delusional “criminals” that just because you gave in to the terrorists doesn’t mean you’ll give in to them.

          • charles3000

            That is a difference too. For a terror strike, there is something to “give in to” because of the message of the strike. With the criminal act there is no message and therefore nothing to “give in to.”

          • Anthony Glaser

            You are moving the goal-post, but it doesn’t matter. My point all along has been that if you give into violent demands you invite more violent demands. It’s not really that complicated.

          • charles3000

            My point, and I believe it to be very legitimate, is that there is a clear difference between a terrorist attack and violent demands or criminal acts. Terrorist acts carry a political message.

          • iconoclast73

            to those terrorists, politics is a subset of religion. Their brand of religion supercedes politics. They believe man does not have the right to create laws – only the laws given by their prophet are acceptable. They believe democracy to set laws and leaders (something the civilized world doesn’t second guess) goes against allah – and people so blaspheming need to die. It is hard for people like us who deeply believe in fundamental human rights to wrap our heads around such backwardness.

        • Bob

          What would your foreign policy decisions have been had you been in charge?
          Talk is cheap.

          • charles3000

            Simple. Help the people there and stop hurting them.

          • iconoclast73

            An example of helping in Islamic controlled areas: Bill Gates quest to eradicate polio would be near over by now were it not for taliban types that have killed near 100 people whose crime is trying to stop the disease. Sure, it is easier to see the close evil in civilized muslim countries – but for the most part, free societies are trying to stop suffering and a maniacal strain of one religion is responsible for a growing share of repression in the world. The free world did a good job of stopping nazism, japanese fascism and communism – The effort to stop this generations most fascist ideology seems a little more . . . complex

          • charles3000

            If the aid workers had gone and the military had not then perhaps no one would have been killed and many people would have been helped.

          • iconoclast73

            I think you are probably too nice of a human being to predict how barbaric people would act in different scenarios. To the “blame America first” crowd, I point out that the many girls schools burned down by religionists would be done if we had built the schools or if moderates over there had built them. Countries like afghanistan and pakistan have like over 80% approval for the killing of apostates. That’s a level of hate hard for our tolerant minds to grasp. In America the religionists that offend me the most – Westboro Baptist – well, they are non-violent.

  • Sukhamaya Bain

    I like the title of the article as well as its content.

    Let me add that the personal aspects for Muslims as well as for other religious people need to include the vital questions like the following: a) Why I believe in the religion that I think I belong to? b) Are my religious belief and identity based upon anything better than my birth, as opposed to any rationale for the existence of anything like God or of the particular God I believe in? c) Is there any logical basis to think that the one God concept is right and the many Gods concept is wrong?

    The problem really is that for various reasons most people even among the moderates do not make themselves ex-Muslims, ex-Christians, ex-Hindus, etc. A big problem particularly among the moderates of the Muslim kind is that they want to believe in the Islamic religious books too much. Even the terrorism-fighters among them falsely blame the terrorists for misinterpreting their holy books, or interpreting the so-called holy verses out of context, as opposed to just rejecting the religious verses of injustice and hatred outright. In other words, even the moderates give the real bad words legitimacy. That is why it is not surprising that terrorists and religious hate-criminals do also come out of the so-called moderate environments.

  • johndowdle

    First of all, thank you for a most insightful article.
    I am not sure we as yet have a full understanding as to what happened in San Bernadino.
    Why were there so many weapons, bombs and huge amounts of ammunition stored in their home?
    Is it not the case that something at the office party may have triggered the shooting spree by this couple when they presumably had a much larger atrocity planned for a later time and date?
    I think those who point to external factors do have a point but one that goes all the way back to the way in which Europeans displaced the Amer-Indian indigenous peoples in North America.
    This undoubted fact explains why the US consistently shields the zionists in place like the United Nations whenever the dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians is brought up.
    Add to this colonialist policy the imperialist policies of the US around the world and it is not too hard to understand why there is so much direct hatred and resentment at the US on a global basis, all of which feeds into the sense of being wronged being shared by many people in the Middle East.
    There is also truth in the assertion Islam is based on a form of utter hatred and worship of a death cult.
    The combination of these two factors – claimed “victimhood” on the one hand and cultish extremism on the other – combine to form a highly toxic and dangerous basis for a modern day death cult.
    This is why all humanists and secularists must combine together to oppose and end this death cult.

    • Sukhamaya Bain

      Indeed, humanists and secularists must be the real no-nonsense opposition to religious hatred. There should be no such thing as ‘anti-Muslim bigotry’ or ‘Islamophobia’ in the humanist vocabulary. The reality is that the followers of Islam (the Muslims) are at the forefront of committing hate-crimes and acts of injustice that are part of their religion. These crimes and acts of injustice, in many parts of the world, are committed more often than not against weak and nonviolent non-Muslims. For example, San Bernardino is a big news now; but how many of you in this forum know that 50 Buddhist homes and 12 Buddhist temples were burned in 2012 by Muslim mobs in Bangladesh just because one Buddhist youth’s Facebook page was tagged by someone with a picture of the Koran with a shoe on it?

      Other kinds of religious fanatics may have agenda of promoting their religions over Islam. But humanists are against all religious hatred and injustice – and it is only natural that Islam and the Muslims would be the worst targets of the humanists; not because of a problem with the humanists, but because of what Islam and the Muslims are.

  • Bob

    There are many similarities in all fundamentalist religions. One constant that I have found is self-loathing which a follower must have in varying degrees in order to accept the idea that morality depends on religion. Humanists believe that people are perfectly capable of living decent lives that embrace justice and empathy. People who are convinced that they are the slaves of a book or a “revelation”, who are convinced that their lives are ruled by god or gods are certain that people are not capable of acting on their own without dire consequences. If I am at war with religion, it is not specifically Islam or Christianity, or any other particular faith and it is certainly not a shooting war. It is a war of words and deeds. We are (I hope) coming to a point in human culture where we will slough off religion, move from a multi-million year infancy and begin, at last, to become an intelligent life form.

    • iconoclast73

      the thing not shared with all fundamentalist groups (but in abundance in one of them) are genocide, honor killings, child brides, beheadings, sex slaves, and FGM. I think older atheists are still stuck on a near religion being their biggest foe – I hope younger atheists are better able to see the whole world before picking the biggest threat

  • charles3000

    No, I was not happy with the foreign policy changes made by 9/11. 9/11 drove a wedge between the US and Arabia relations and threatened US control of oil production causing the invasion of Iraq to replace the loss in Arabia. The attack was effective and signaled the oncoming end of US hegemony in the mideast.

  • Kevin Mickelson

    I am a Deist but believe that morality is an action of man, and defined by man, not God. I reveal my creator in action, nothing more. My creator has no religion. I acknowledge my human frailty on a daily basis, and reach out best I can. In as much as our daily actions reveal our nature, we are what we do. I only have one vote, none of which can truly represent my views on foreign policy, taxation etc. Therefore if I cast my vote, I am in some way, responsible for my countries actions. Having said that, I choose to live in the USA. I would prefer the world have just one citizenship and open borders. Internet access and censorship, deny people the right to free thinking. Governments that don’t allow freedom of speech and access to same, are part of the problem, not the solution. If you take offense at my free speech, who is at fault? I for listening or you for speaking? It is not possible to be morally free of such judgements. However, how much offense I take IS my responsibility. If your offense is perceived as great, you take from me. This is what is happening on radicalized campuses.

    My world of influence is small, but taken together we can be clear about such convictions. Playing the blame game is neither useful nor productive. We all create our own reality, short of math and hard core physics.

  • abigskyguy

    Really like the #2 question. I really never gave that much thought. My quess would be that attacking place like Charlie Hebdo (sp?) satisfies both political and religious motivations. My guess is that the attack on the concert hall has something to do with the name of the band playing.

    • Anthony Glaser

      My guess is that the extremists who commit these terrorist acts think they have a God given right to kill people for showing too much skin or drinking alcohol. And by the way, they also think they have a God given right to buy and sell sex slaves. Go figure.

  • Chuck Wilson

    I am impressed that someone is telling it ‘like it is.’ Folks seem to be totally ignorant of religious history. Anytime, a religion controlled societies terrible things happened. One only has to read the OT to see how the Jews murdered whole local civilizations, Jericho, etc. saying their ‘lord’ commanded the action. Catholics when they controlled Europe and a good part of the Middle-East and the Americas, The Inquisition, Slaughtered Arabs in Jerusalem, Subjection and Inquisition in the Americas.

    Only societal pressure finally subdued Judaism and Christianity. Fortunately enlightened humans in Europe and the Americas created democratic governments that refused to allow such inhuman behavior. People began to realize that religion must be kept out of politics and Constitutions rule.

    The problem now is not immigrants but a religion that demands they be Muslims first and citizens at best second. Democracies presume citizens will not let their religion usurp the rights of their fellow citizens.

    Muslims insist on overloading the population with numerous children and logically they will eventually be able to elect Muslim Representatives, that’s democracy. The problem is when they finally become a majority, their religion will demand they institute such things as Suria Law, etc. Look around the world and see this happening. According to reports it’s already a fact in England.

    I have great empathy for the immigrants and when muslims, exhibit they will become citizens first and Muslims second, I will be the first to embrace the culture.

  • cgosling

    Religious people, including extremists, are religious because they were born that way and were influenced by their parents and community. Radicalism comes later caused by frustration with the failure of the birth religion and impatience with the promised future yet unrealized. Frustrated Islamists have two main choices, just give up and tend your sheep or join a terrorist group. I’m not sure what I would do in their position. Other partially educated terrorists are gullible fundamentalists with little inkling of science. Fundamentalists simply believe what they are told. How sad!