An Atheist Muslim’s Perspective on the ‘Root Causes’ of Islamist Jihadism and the Politics of Islamophobia


iju flagAli A. Rizvi, a Pakistani-Canadian writer, physician and musician, has a common-sense article in the Huffington Post today (yikes … did I just put “common sense” and “Huffington Post” in the same sentence!). Anyway, regardless of where it comes from, it is a really good article and is bursting and overflowing with some truly fabulous sound-bites.

First, some might choke upon the concept of “Atheist Muslim”, so we better explain it. The term may indeed sound strange, but is in fact quite common, about 25% of Muslims do not believe the religious stuff at all, but do identify as cultural Muslims, so finding somebody who is openly an “atheist Muslim” should not be a shock. The various festivals are fun, and while Islam is part of their cultural heritage, there is no mandate that they must be religious to be part of a Muslim culture.

OK, on to the article. Mr Rizvi starts out by making a truly very interesting observation. It relates to a conference that took place in Paris to which a representative from the US attempted to negotiate peace with a representative of a group of fanatical Islamic Jihadists who had not only been attacking US interests but had also being kidnapping, and imprisoning Westerners … the negotiations did not go well, the Islamic representative explained in no uncertain terms …

that [their right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.

Now what makes this truly fascinating is that the above are the words of Thomas Jefferson, then the U.S. ambassador to France, reporting to Secretary of State John Jay a conversation he’d had with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, Tripoli’s envoy to London, in 1786. This all pre-dates al Qaeda and the Taliban, before the creation of Israel or the Arab-Israeli conflict, before Khomeini, before Saudi Arabia, before drones, before the US even had a foreign policy … and yet there they are doing exactly the same as they do today. In one stroke it blows all the common excuses out of the water.

Mr Rizvi then goes on to explain by pointing out the rather obvious elephant in the room, regardless of what they might claim, it is their belief that motivates the violence, the common excuses on offer (US policy, drones, etc..) have nothing to do with it at all …

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings and the foiled al Qaeda-backed plot in Toronto, the “anything but jihad” brigade is out in full force again. If the perpetrators of such attacks say they were influenced by politics, nationalism, money, video games or hip-hop, we take their answers at face value. But when they repeatedly and consistently cite their religious beliefs as their central motivation, we back off, stroke our chins and suspect that there has to be something deeper at play, a “root cause.”

People, such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, have openly criticised the irrational beliefs that motivate such violence, and they in turn have been criticised from doing so by some who attempt to defend belief and claim that religious fanaticism has nothing to do with the motivation for such violence. Who better to call “bullshit” on all this than an “Atheist Muslim” …

This phenomenon can be wholly represented by loaded terms like “Islamophobia.” As an atheist Muslim (I’m not a believer, but I love Eid, the feasts of Ramadan and my Muslim family and friends), I could be jailed or executed in my country of birththe country I grew up in and a host of other Muslim countries around the world for writing this very piece. Obviously, this is an unsettling, scary feeling for me. You may describe that fear as a very literal form of “Islamophobia.” But is that the same thing as anti-Muslim bigotry? No.

He goes on to explain that it is not a perversion of belief that is the problem, but rather a true embrace of it, a belief that at its core is essentially bad idea …

extremism in any ideology isn’t a distortion of that ideology. It is an informed, steadfast adherence to its fundamentals, hence the term “fundamentalism.” When you think of a left-wing extremist, do you think of a greedy capitalist? Would you imagine a right-wing extremist to be dedicated to government-funded social welfare programs? The “extremists” and strict followers of the Jain faith, which values the life of every being, including insects, don’t kill more than their average co-religionists. Instead, they avoid eating foods stored overnight so as not to kill even the microorganisms that may have collected in the meantime. In a true religion of peace, the “extremists” would be nonviolent pacifists to an extreme (and perhaps annoying) degree, not the opposite.

Indeed yes, these jihadi fanatics are not misunderstood political freedom fighters, but instead have clearly linked themselves with Islam and truly embraced it.

Mr Rizvi then goes on to expand upon it all in detail, it really is a fantastic article, there are some truly great quotes in there such as …

…the fight against religious ideology isn’t a struggle against human rights but a struggle for them.

…Human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. Books and beliefs don’t and aren’t.

…critical words aren’t an attack on people. They are a challenge to what we consider bad ideas that drive bad behaviour  Saying “smoking is bad” does not translate to “all smokers are bad people.

…Criticizing capitalism does not make you an anti-capitalist “bigot.” Criticizing religious ideology is no different

However, my favourite quote is this one …

bigotry against bigotry isn’t bigotry, and intolerance of intolerance isn’t intolerance

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