The Islamist Psychosis


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The Islamist Psychosis
copyright©Anne Baring

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming

Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains

Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air...
T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland

We love death as you love life – jihadist saying

The Shadow Aspect of Religions

All religions have a very dark shadow of which they are largely unconscious. From time to time this shadow breaks through the thin veneer of civilization, as Christianity's shadow broke through it in the Crusades and the Inquisition and, more recently, in the context of the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. The shadow is characterised by a ruthless will to power over others, imposing that will by force and in the case of a religious complex, invoking God or Allah to ratify and condone that will. The ego becomes inflated by the archaic predatory patterns of behaviour that are deeply embedded in the unconscious and identified with an archetypal pattern which takes possession of it. The psyche loses the priceless attainment of containing these archaic instincts and archetypal patterns with the ability to reflect and to exercise moral insight, restraint and compassion – a relatively recent and still fragile attainment of human consciousness. There is so little understanding of the psyche that this state of possession, whether or not driven by a religious complex, is not generally recognized and named as a psychosis. The men who are gripped by it have no awareness of what has happened to them. Those psychopathic individuals who propagate hatred, cruelty and the elimination of other human beings and indoctrinate others with their beliefs bring great evil into being — evil they name as good. They are unconsciously transformed into human predators.

We have seen this happen in the last century on European soil with the rise of Naziism and its abhorrent aim of eliminating the Jews. It only needs one psychopathic leader to ignite the fire of hatred in thousands and even millions, to lead to the implementation of a policy of genocide and barbarous acts of cruelty. The Islamist desire to eliminate Christians and Jews from the face of the planet and to establish a world-wide theocracy where Islam is the only religion permitted to exist is no different from the Nazi aim of establishing a purified Arian master-race and eliminating the Jews.

In a therapeutic situation, an eruption of the primordial instincts from the depths of the unconscious in the form of a violent attack taking place in an individual's dream can signify that some element of their nature has been excluded and is demanding attention in this extreme, even murderous way, asking to be included in the totality of the psyche. Sometimes, in a further sequence of dreams it may be challenged and overcome so it can no longer threaten the balance of the psyche. Often it reflects an aspect of the individual that has been deeply traumatized in childhood and has been cut off from access to the conscious mind because all memory of the trauma or injury has been repressed. Its return represents a threat to the security of the ego and therefore appears as a terrorist or murderer in the dream. Extrapolated to the level of the external collective, we may ask whether the jihadists are suffering from a deep trauma and a state of dissociation since their death-wish and quest for martyrdom as well as their decision to sacrifice the lives of others in the most brutal way possible may signify precisely this. In a word, they have a traumatized heart. We may ask, "What trauma was historically inflicted on the Muslim psyche that is asking for recognition and healing? And how could that traumatized heart be healed?"

It is perhaps important to know that people who have been traumatized in a collective context by catastrophic loss and grief as a result of conflicts or war or, in a personal context by physical violence and/or emotional abuse inflicted on them as children may be attracted to causes and ideologies which justify and even celebrate violence as a means to an end. Their capacity for love and altruism will be projected onto their cause or ideology and their unconscious rage and hatred (arising from the trauma) will be projected onto the perceived enemy(ies) of their cause. Nothing activates the instinctive defences of the older brain and disturbs the nervous system more than fear and grief as well as the deeply repressed anger arising from trauma. Trauma, grief, terror and emotional abandonment in childhood can transfix the victim or witness of violence in a state of perpetual fear and anxiety at the unconscious limbic level throughout his life. He may seek to exorcise this by inflicting terror and trauma on others. This trauma may be recently experienced or it may be a unconscious collective memory of a catastrophe experienced in the distant past such as, in the case of the Islamists, the memory of the brutal expulsion of the Muslims from Spain in the fifteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

Many of the core members of Isil (IS, Daesh) now trying to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq have experienced the brutality and devastation inflicted on Iraq by the invasion of 2003 and its disastrous aftermath (see below). Many may have lost their parents and siblings or seen them killed before their eyes. Their primary motivation for what they and their families suffered will be vengeance and the desire to establish a powerful Sunni state that can never again be threatened by the armies of the West. The terrorists who have recently perpetrated the atrocity in Paris (13/11/15) were brought up in the areas of cities in France and Belgium that are virtual ghettoes, where the environment is hideous and soul-destroying, where there are few jobs to be had for young men and women and where radical imams or the internet can easily indoctrinate them into following the ideology that promotes the idea of a powerful Islamic caliphate and justifies mass slaughter as a method of achieving it.

The Sunni-Shia Split

Quite apart from trauma that individuals may have experienced in the recent wars that have ravaged the Middle East, perhaps losing their parents, siblings or close relatives, as well as their homes and livelihoods, it is an utter tragedy that the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam have never been reconciled and that they have been locked in enmity and hatred ever since the seventh century and the assassination at Khufa in 661 of Ali, the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law who had been chosen as the fourth caliph. Not long after this, Husayn, the son of Ali and Fatima and Muhammad's grandson, was killed in the battle of Karbala in 680 as he was leading his army against the opposing Umayyad army. This is the murder that is commemorated by the Shia each year at the shrine at Karbala. These two branches of Islam worship the same deity, yet for centuries, have slaughtered each other without guilt or compassion. The hatred and enmity between them has never been resolved. The present catastrophic situation in the Middle East where so many millions of lives and livelihoods have been virtually destroyed, if not actually eliminated, owes much to the existence of this long-standing fault-line in Islam. The hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees currently fleeing the turmoil in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan and seeking sanctuary in Europe bear witness to the failure of the religious leaders of the two most powerful Islamic States (Iran and Saudi-Arabia) to heal this grievous wound.

The execution (announced January 2nd) of Sheikh Nimr-al-Nimr, a leading Shi'ite cleric living in Saudi-Arabia, will enormously exacerbate the enmity between them and has already led to furious protests in Iran (the burning of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran) and elsewhere. The Sheikh was arrested in 2012 ostensibly for instigating anti-government rallies calling for equal rights for the Shia population. His nephew, now aged 20, was arrested at the same time and is still, with four other young men, in prison awaiting execution. The ruthless barbarity of this response to legitimate protest is beyond belief.

What is being shown to the world in these closing stages of the patriarchal era, are the extremes to which men will go when they cannot relinquish the allegiance to religious beliefs and tribal alliances that are tied into very archaic instincts. This psychosis is an example of the unbalanced and exaggerated inflation of the masculine ego when there is no relationship with the feminine. Empathy and compassion are totally absent. What remains is a ruthless will to power. There is no concept of individuals and nations experiencing the karmic results of their actions. There is no insight into the fact that what you inflict on others you also inflict on yourself because you are not separate from the whole. There is no realization that it is better to help your brother than to destroy him, for in destroying him you ultimately destroy yourself. In 4,000 years of war, a catastrophe of this nature illustrates that we have apparently made little moral progress when it comes to tribal conflicts. The overall needs of the planet and the growing threat offered by climate change are completely ignored.

What a different scenario might have unfolded if the founders of Isil (IS, Daesh), instead of cutting a swathe of terror and bloodshed through Iraq and Syria, had called for the reform of Islam and dialogue between its two estranged groups — bringing to an end their centuries' long enmity, and had been the first Islamic state to invite women to participate in its councils. Although seemingly a preposterous idea, this would truly have been something extraordinary: the creation of a united Islamic community where all – Sunni and Shia – could flourish and none suffer persecution at the hands of the other.

During the millennia of the patriarchal era, a tremendous problem has been troubling the waters of the soul. It is this: in a civilization which has been structured by religions which split nature from spirit and by a male image of God presiding over religions and institutions created entirely by men and a polarizing mythology which glorifies power, conquest and the mastery of nature, how can the long-silenced voice of the Feminine be heard? How can a different, more complete concept of deity develop — one which embraces the Feminine and the realm of nature and would never condone, let alone encourage blood sacrifice? Centuries of conflict between nations, religions and ethnic groups have brought us to the present time when we must find a way of understanding what has happened and of transcending these archaic patterns of behaviour or risk destroying ourselves as a species.

Throughout this era, woman's voice has been silenced. We can only imagine her grief and despair through the centuries of slaughter, when she lost her husband and sons in endless wars, her daughters to rape and slavery; when no-one listened to her impotent grief and rage that the life she had given birth to and loved and cherished should be so casually destroyed by men armed with the weapons of war. As part of awakening to the Feminine, it is surely time for women of every nation, religion and ethnic group to say: "Enough is enough! There must be an end to this interminable slaughter, rape and suffering."  

The Dream of a Sunni Caliphate

These deeper psychological considerations need to be borne in mind as we watch the shadow aspect of Islam erupting in the barbaric ideology of so-called Islamic State (variously named IS, ISIS, Isil or Daesh) that has taken root in Iraq and has now gained control of a large area of territory in northern and western Iraq and northeastern Syria. It has attracted thousands of young men and some young women from Muslim communities all over the world who want to belong to a Sunni Islamic caliphate. This caliphate is envisaged to have no borders and to extend from northern Iraq and Syria to the coast of Africa as far as Tunisia, ultimately including within it Jordan, Lebanon, Sinai, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, the Arabian Peninsula and Yemen. It holds to the interpretation of the Fundamentalist Sunni Branch of Islam known as Salafism or Wahhabism that prevails in Saudi Arabia and in certain Gulf States as well as parts of Africa (Boko Haram), Pakistan and Afghanistan (Taliban) and other Sunni Muslim communities world-wide where this belief system has taken root.

IS or Isil, like the Wahhabist religious leaders in Saudi Arabia, regards the Shia and Sufi Muslims as heretics and believes it has a divinely ordained mission to eliminate them. Saudi preachers have for decades been putting out messages on YouTube, satellite TV and Twitter, calling for the elimination of the Shia. (1) At least 80% of Muslims worldwide are Sunni; 10-20% are Shia. There are only 4 Muslim countries out of 57 which have a Shia majority, among them Iran, Iraq and, more recently, Lebanon. Not surprisingly, Shia communities feel increasingly under threat. (1) Also encoded in this extremist ideology is the prophecy of the 'End Times' when a final apocalyptic battle between Christianity and Islam is anticipated to take place, leading in the Muslim version of this battle, to the establishment of a world-wide Islamic State and the return of the Mahdi and, in the Christian version, to the Second Coming of Christ.

It would appear that the Saudi religious leaders as well as the Jihadists who have identified themselves with so-called Islamic State are suffering from what psychotherapists recognize as a state of 'mythic inflation' where the moral values usually associated with civilization are jettisoned in favour of the drive to achieve and maintain absolute territorial and religious power. The followers of IS indoctrinate their followers with the belief that the establishment of a theocratic caliphate is supported by Allah and that absolute allegiance to the caliphate is enjoined on all believers who follow this extreme interpretation of Islam. They aim to establish Shari'ah Law throughout the caliphate. They do not hesitate to use barbaric means to achieve their ends. They are not afraid of dying which they welcome and extol as martyrdom and a ticket to heaven. They do not hesitate to murder, rape and enslave those, such as the Yazidis, who belong to a different religious orientation. They believe they will be welcomed in heaven, no matter how depraved their actions. Their aim is to establish a world-wide theocracy, creating Salafist communities in every country that can eventually merge with each other to form an Islamic world empire. Loyalty to their tribal group and their specific ideology overrides any moral values that might influence or restrain their behaviour towards those whom they have designated their enemies and believe they are entitled to eliminate or enslave. According to certain passages in the Koran, the rape of "unbelievers" is justified, even if they are under age. One raped girl, 12 years old, said that "her rapist told her that according to Islam, he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God." (from an article in The Times, August 18th, 2015).

This utterly amoral ideology, constitutes a psychosis. The same kind of psychosis existed in Nazi Germany, in the Soviet Union under Stalin, in Maoist China in the era of the Red Guards and Purges, and under the regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia. North Korea ca be included in this list. All the leaders of these regimes were and are masters in the art of dehumanising or demonising one part of the population and manipulating fear and paranoia through acts of horrifying cruelty.When tens of thousands, even millions of people are attracted to an ideology or forced through fear to follow psychopathic leaders, there is a collective psychosis. Humanity is still so morally unconscious that this pathology is neither recognized nor rejected by those who are attracted to follow these ideologies and these leaders.

Understanding the extremist ideology of IS or Daesh and the beliefs that give rise to it is difficult for the western, largely secular mind which has, with huge sacrifice of life, struggled to overcome the tyrannies and barbarities of previous centuries that culminated in two terrible World Wars on European soil, and is appalled by the resurgence of extremist beliefs and practices which it has struggled for centuries to outgrow and rightly regards as abhorrent. As Professor Khaled Abou El Fadl explains in his article cited below, The Refusal of Happiness: When Submission to God becomes Stereotypical Islamicity:

"Modern puritanical Islam is rooted in the teachings of Wahhabism, a fanatical and highly intolerant movement that originated in the deserts of Najd, an area that is now part of Saudi Arabia. The movement, founded by Muhammad bin 'Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1792), was uncompromisingly radical, conservative and militant, especially towards fellow Muslims. The movement considered the Ottomans and their Muslim supporters, as well as Sufi orders, Shi'i sects, and proponents of rationalist orientations within Islam, to be heretical apostates who must repent or be put to death. The movement meted out the same treatment to Muslims who did not follow the strict code of practice adhered to by the Wahhabis.

"Relying on its very narrow understanding of orthodoxy, Wahhabism espoused a deep distrust of human subjectivity, creativity and intellectualism, and it banned philosophy, music, dance, romantic poetry and practically all forms of artistic expression. But what started as a marginal movement limited to the hardened desert Arabs of Najd was supported by enormous reserves of oil money and protected by Western powers eager to secure favourable oil concessions, and it eventually spread throughout the Muslim world." (2)

Children who are indoctrinated in such rigid beliefs, made to learn authorised texts by heart in an environment of fear, deprived of access to music, poetry, art, theatre, dance or any form of creative expression, are effectively brain-washed and cannot reach their full human potential. They grow up emotional cripples — their instincts, including their sexual instincts, rigidly repressed. The creative imagination collapses because there is no supportive environment that would provide enough security to permit the expression of individual thoughts and feelings. This imprints a trauma pattern transmitted from generation to generation that allows no alternative to violence. If, in addition, men are taught to look down on women as inferior to them, they will be unable to respect the feminine aspect of their own nature and this will therefore remain atrophied and unable to contribute to their developing into balanced individuals. When this repression takes place in an environment where boys are segregated from girls and are taught to regard them as a kind of sub-species in constant need of vigilance and control by men, they are likely to manifest this distortion of their nature in belligerent attitudes to others which reflect the cruelty and repression, often accompanied by fear of corporal punishment, that was once meted out to them.

The deeply imprinted idea that the world-to-come is more important than this world, has led to the jihadist belief that death is to be sought as a goal and that suicide bombers are hastening their entry into heaven, ignoring the amorality of the terrifying deaths they have inflicted on innumerable men, women and children. The words: "We love death as you love life" offer a complete inversion of the natural desire to cherish the life we have been given by our parents. (During the terrible five centuries of the Inquisition in Europe, which was founded by St. Dominic in the thirteenth century after the Albigensian Crusade, a similar psychosis was triggered in the Catholic Church which consigned many thousands of 'heretics' to the flames). (3)

Since their hearts have never flowered in response to beauty and the appreciation of art, they will not hesitate to destroy the artistic and cultural artefacts revered for centuries by others – such as the wonderful sculptures of the Buddha at Bamiyan or the priceless antiquities and shrines of Syria and Iraq, including the carefully preserved remains of the ancient city of Nimrud and Palmyra or the Great Mosque in Mosul (2017). They regard the destruction of these sites and destroying other cultures and even their own as a religious duty since they believe they are eradicating idolatry and apostasy. (Christians in the fourth to sixth centuries AD, equally deranged and possessed by the same religious complex, brought similar destruction to the wonderful Pagan temples and statues in the name of their god). Now Islamic State (IS) has destroyed a part of Palmyra, removing and selling some of its ancient sculptures. They have even murdered with atrocious barbarism, Khaled al Assad, the 81-year-old revered archaeologist and Keeper of the Antiquities there. There seem to be no depths to which these depraved men will not sink in the service of their ideology.

Espousing the extreme Wahhabist ideology described above, IS (Daesh) has instituted a brutal regime which is murdering helpless people like the Kurdish Yazidis as well as any Shia Muslims or Kurds it can lay hands on with the utmost barbarity, offering them the choice between converting to its brand of Islam or being decapitated, crucified or executed by firing squad. The captive Yazidi women have become virtual slaves: raped, used and abused as these men see fit. Their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers have been taken away to an unknown fate, probably executed. (It has just emerged, November 2015, that the older Yazidi women, the mothers and grandmothers, were murdered and buried in mass graves). Via the internet, IS is grooming naive young women in the West to become wives for its warriors, using a well-worn route into Syria from Turkey. Seeing their role as giving birth to future Sunni warriors, they have no inkling that their fate will be to become virtual house-bound servants and that they will lose control of their lives and may not escape their chosen fate except through death. They are utterly ignorant of the fact that the repressive Wahhabist attitude to women is identical to that which existed two and a half thousand years ago in Babylonia and Assyria, including the insistance that they should be completely veiled and accompanied by a male family member when leaving the house. (4)

The Genesis of a Collective Psychosis

It is easy to demonize the group that is promoting this agenda, but we should also be aware of the shadow aspect of the West's continual political interference in the Middle East which has made things infinitely worse in this tormented region. Patrick Cockburn writes in his recently re-published book (2015), The Rise of Islamic State, "The four wars fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria over the past twelve years have all involved overt or covert foreign intervention in deeply divided countries. In each case, the involvement of the West exacerbated existing differences and pushed hostile parties towards civil war. In each country, all or part of the opposition has been hard-core Jihadi fighters... Despite apparent military successes, in none of these cases have the local opposition and their backers succeeded in consolidating power or establishing stable states." (5)

Further, he writes, "For America, Britain and the Western powers, the rise of ISIS and the caliphate is the ultimate disaster. Whatever they intended by their invasion of Iraq and their efforts to unseat Assad in Syria since 2011, it was not to see the creation of a jihadi state spanning northern Iraq and Syria, run by a movement a hundred times bigger and much better organized than the al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden. The war on terror for which civil liberties were curtailed and hundreds of billions of dollars spent has failed miserably." The reason it failed was "because it did not target the jihadi movement as a whole and, above all, was not aimed at Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the two countries that fostered jihadism as a creed and a movement." (my italics)

By aligning itself with the repressive regime of Saudi Arabia, which has been largely responsible for promoting the rise of Islamic State (IS) as well as al-Qaeda, the West has unwittingly contributed to the disintegration of Iraq and Syria. What motive was there for the West to align itself with the royal family of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States unless it was to keep open a lucrative market for the sale of arms, retain access to the oil-rich Arab States and counter the prospect of Shia Iran as a nuclear power? Now, with the meteoric rise of IS, financed by Saudi Arabia and with many jihadists coming from there, the situation has changed. With the fall of Mosul to IS (June 2014), the West and Saudi Arabia have suddenly woken up to the encroaching threat they have engendered and encouraged. Which is the greater threat: Shia Iran (released July 2015 from the economic burden of sanctions) or Sunni Saudi-Arabia whence it originated? Only time will give an answer.

The distinguished historian Michael Burleigh, in an article in The Times 4/8/15 entitled: Saudi Arabia, not Iran, is our greatest threat, writes: "We are told frequently about the need to tackle the sort of extremism that breeds Islamist terrorism. A good place to start would be Saudi Arabia's global campaign of political-religious subversion through its funding of extremist schools, or madrassas, around the Middle East, north Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sadly, our dependence of the kingdom's largesse in awarding contracts to British defence companies suggests that we will continue to turn a blind eye to this most dangerous "ally"."

While Wahhabism has been widely and deliberately disseminated by Saudi Arabia, the invasion of Iraq by the West (in itself an example of mythic inflation) triggered furious anger in the Muslim world, precipitated (through mismanagement) the collapse of law and order in Baghdad and exacerbated the latent enmity between the Shia and Sunni elements of the population. But the rise of this latent psychosis was also driven by the policies of Nouri-al-Maliki, the former prime minister of Iraq, whose Shia-led government deliberately excluded the Sunni population from a proportionate share of power. In that Sunni population were men who had once served under Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime and who had been peremptorily sacked by the American regime that imposed itself on Baghdad in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. These men, experienced in warfare and government, presented a threat to al-Maliki. He also enraged the Sunni tribesmen whose alliance had recently helped to defeat al-Qaeda. Any attempt by the Sunni communities of Iraq to protest against this state of affairs was ruthlessly and brutally repressed by the government, with the execution or incarceration of thousands of protesters, often without trial and assisted by the feared and brutal Shia militia. These actions contributed to rising paranoia in both communities with the result that Iraq has been torn by sectarian strife with atrocities and murders committed by militias and individuals on both sides. (PBS programme 12th December 2014: The Rise of ISIS).

The remnants of the hardened group of al-Qaeda had withdrawn into the desert. Among them was Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who was to emerge as the leader, first of al-Qaeda and then of IS. (It occurs to me that these men may have seen their father, parents and even their wider family killed or murdered in the conflicts that took place on Iraqi soil, from the time of the first Iraq War through to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and that this could perhaps explain their virulent hatred of the West). Al-Baghdadi himself spent five years (2005-9) as a prisoner of the Americans. (see Cockburn 2015, The Rise of Islamic State).

The Sunni minority in Iraq, persecuted and marginalized, and unable to counteract the growing power of the Shia, felt it had no alternative but to turn to IS for help and support as this new group developed into a formidable fighting force. As IS acquired more territory, releasing the Sunnis who had been imprisoned, it began to grow in strength and wealth, gaining control of oil wells and bank deposits in the towns and cities it secured. In June 2014, with a force of only 800 men, it took Mosul, a city of 1.8 million, without resistance. The Iraqi army, riddled with corruption at the higher levels of command, melted before its advance, leaving behind it the valuable military equipment that the Americans had bestowed on the Iraqi government before they left. Behind the current IS advance into Syria as well as its advance in Iraq is the military skill and experience of the Baathists who once served Sadaam Hussein as well as the military hardware that fortuitously fell into their hands.

The persecution of Christians and Jews as well as the slaughter of thousands of Shia Muslims in Iraq and Syria (including the 1700 helpless cadets captured and summarily executed when they tried to flee the IS capture of Mosul), constitutes a regression to the mentality of the seventh century when Islam conquered huge stretches of territory, offering the choice between conversion and death by the sword to the peoples it subjugated. The 135,000 Jewish community in Iraq which has lived there for millennia, has been forced to flee, leaving only a tiny handful still there. In 2003 there were more than one million Iraqi Christians. Now they are down to about 250,000 and are harried and persecuted: their churches bombed; their priests murdered. Their houses in Mosul have now been daubed with an 'N' (for Nasarene) – as in Nazi Germany the houses of Jews were daubed – marking them out for execution unless they convert or pay an enormous tax. But this persecution is not only to be found in Iraq. Christians are being persecuted by radical Muslims in 36 countries including Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

How has Islam — once so culturally advanced, tolerant and magnificently civilized as it was in the eighth and ninth centuries during the Abbasid caliphate — fallen to such depths that the drive for power has possessed these young men and women to the point where they have lost all moral awareness and the right to call themselves human? How can they watch beheadings, executions, crucifixions and burnings without any empathy with the victims, or an instinctive revulsion at what they are witnessing and even told to participate in? How can they (as well as Shia Muslims) treat the precious life of a human being with such utter contempt? How can they rape and enslave the helpless women and children who have fallen into their power without any feeling of guilt or remorse? And what of the mothers of all the young men who have been murdered and the women who have been raped? Do they accept this terrible suffering as the will of Allah?

This is how a collective psychosis gathers strength and momentum under a leader who exhibits the psychopathic tendencies of a man intent on achieving immense power and who is the self-appointed caliph of Islamic State. It shows how fragile is the veneer of civilization and how easily impressionable and idealistic young men (and some women) can be indoctrinated into following such a leader, just as they were indoctrinated into following Hitler in the rise of Naziism in Germany or Mao in China.

The Need for the Reform of Islam

It is perfectly obvious that this perverted ideology cannot be written off as having nothing to do with Islam any more than the Inquisition and the Crusades could be written off as having nothing to do with Christianity. It is a myth to say that Islam is a religion of peace. There is a great deal in the Koran which advocates and condones violence and too much recent history which details that violence, whether it is reflected in the murderous behaviour of the Shia militias which have led to so many deaths in Iraq and Syria or is illustrated by a recent book on the bloody history of Baghdad. (6)

The propensity for violence is built into the Muslim psyche in the same way as it is built into the Christian, Jewish or secular one. Every human being carries the propensity to act as a predator because we all carry that pattern of behaviour in our archaic limbic brain. Terror, as well as a powerful religious complex driving territorial expansion, can trigger it into taking over the more conscious and rational part of our nature. President Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sisi of Egypt drew attention to this psychosis, calling for the reform of Islam. In an address given on December 28th, 2014 to Egypt’s assembled religious leaders at Al-Azar University in Cairo, he said that extremism was linked to "bad interpretations" of the Koran and that it was unthinkable that 1.6 billion Muslims would want to secure the death of the other 7 billion people in the world. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, in her book (March 2015) "Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now" also calls for the reform of Islam.

But this reform requires confronting the powerful influence of Saudi Arabian Wahhabism or Salafism which now exists in almost every Muslim community worldwide and which is leading to a rising tide of violence, not only against Christians and Jews, but against Shia and Sufi Muslims as well. The shocking beheading of Egyptian workers in Libya and the increasing power of IS in that dysfunctional country is an advance warning of this tide of violence spreading to Europe, facilitated by the huge number of immigrants pouring into that area. The latest atrocity in Tunisia and the downing of a Russian airliner are but another example of this clandestine network.

It also means that the West has to look at its own unrecognised shadow and how it has consistently nourished the development of this psychosis, firstly, by invading Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) and secondly, by allying itself with Saudi Arabia and continuing to sell huge quantities of arms to that regime. With the Agreement with Iran just signed in Geneva (July 14th 2015), a new chapter has opened in America's relationship with the Middle East. It remains to be seen which of these two powerful states – Saudi-Arabia or Iran – will constitute the greatest danger.


The crisis in Syria had its origin in an uprising against the oppressive Alawite regime of Bashar al-Assad. But it rapidly became tied in to the struggle of the Sunni majority against the minority (Shia) Alawites and this in turn became tied in to the Sunni-Shia conflict in the wider region as a whole. On top of this was the Russian and Iranian involvement in sending military hardware to assist the Syrian government.

For five years we have watched the ongoing psychosis there destroying ever more lives and the unbearable suffering of women, children and the aged trying to stay alive in the freezing cold of winter or the searing heat of summer in the refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, and the Kurds and other citizens of Syria fleeing for their lives. The incessant bombing of eastern Aleppo and the suffering of its civilians is on our television screens every night. We may wonder why we humans still believe it is acceptable to slaughter and torture people for control of territory or the extension of power over the lives of others. And for what: for the miserable triumph of one tribal group over another, one tribal belief system over another?

The details below are taken from an article in The Times of December 10th, 2014 and a programme on Channel 4 television the same evening which told the story of an English surgeon – David Nott – who has worked in Aleppo, trying to save the lives of people whose limbs have been shattered or blown off by the barrel bombs dropped by the Assad regime. He says that it is the children who have suffered most from this appalling war (70% of all casualties in Aleppo are children). It is clear that in many if not most cases, the children wounded by the lacerating effects of barrel bombs are better off dead than alive. Often several children from one family are carried to the operating theatre with arms, legs and heads blown off with only a torso left, suffering in uncomprehending agony or slipping into the inertia of death. In his words, "These children die a terrible, terrible death. That's what it's like every single day. Children coming in covered in dust and blood. Blown up. No arms, no legs or heads." Watching David Nott and other Syrian surgeons trying to save the lives and treat the horrific wounds of these children was an immense privilege as well as an unbearable anguish that children should have to endure such suffering. Can such acts of war ever be forgiven?

The Assad government in Syria, backed by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, has reduced the cities and towns it has attacked to virtual rubble. 450,000 people, mainly civilians, have died so far in this war. An unknown number have lost their livelihoods as well as their homes. Aleppo, the largest and most ancient city in Syria, lies in ruins. It once had many hospitals and over 4,000 doctors. Only a handful of doctors now remain. The rest have been killed or have fled the country. Syrian doctors save lives and therefore, in a war, become targets for execution. In David Nott's few weeks there, five medical staff were killed. Two-thirds of Syria's hospitals have been damaged or destroyed by bombs and mortar fire even though directing an attack at a hospital constitutes a war-crime. Half the Syrian population of 10 million has now fled its borders. Millions of refugee children have no access to education, health care or adequate food and shelter. The whole infra-structure of society has collapsed.

Syrians who fear that their loved ones have been murdered in the prisons and detention centres of the Assad regime can now identify them with the help of a website. Some bodies show signs of terror as their death approached. Others have had their eyes gouged out. Brought out at huge personal risk by a defector who was a forensic police inspector, photos of about 11,000 detainees out of a total of some 55,000 images, are now visible on

Where is the voice of women in this black hole of misery? The ruined cities, the terrible suffering of millions of innocent civilians and the destroyed lives of so many maimed and traumatized children cries out for reconciliation, forgiveness and an end to fratricidal strife. Otherwise the pattern will be repeated when a new generation finds a target for its hatred and its grief. (see for the voice of women in Syria)

There is nobility in the midst of this carnage. There is now a Syrian Civil Defence known as the 'White Helmets' that has 2,221 volunteer rescue workers operating across Syria in 82 teams. They have a single aim: to save life. Since their formation in late 2013 the White Helmets have rescued 12,521 people from under the rubble. The volunteers – who risk their own lives to help anyone in need, regardless of religion or politics – come from all walks of life: bakers, engineers, tailors, salesmen, traders, accountants and a dentist. There are both men and women who work in separate groups because, incredibly, men are not allowed to rescue women. They are trained as search and rescue workers, fire fighters and medics. Some are as young as 18.                           

The True Voice of Islam
There was a wise Imam, the late Dr. Zaki Badawi, Principal of the Muslim College, London and former Chief Imam of the London Mosque. After 9/11 he gave a statement to The Times that was published on September 19th, 2001. I have kept it carefully all these years and re-publish it here:

"The atrocity of September 11th is a violation of Islamic law and ethics. Neither the people who were killed or injured, nor the properties that were destroyed, qualified as legitimate targets in any system of law, especially Islamic law... In his farewell sermon the Prophet Muhammad, addressing the thousands of pilgrims at the foot of the Mount of Mercy, said: “God has made inviolable for you each other’s blood and each other’s property until you meet your Lord.” He was reminding them of the Koranic decree that to destroy the life of one individual amounts to destroying the entire human race. (Sura 5, verse 32). The Koran emphasises that those who disturb the peace of society and spread fear and disorder deserve the severest punishment that can be imposed (Sura 5, verse 33).

"The Koran is replete with many such statements aimed at rescuing humanity from the abyss of tribalism, racism and tribal hatred. Islam enjoins us to have a vision of humanity as a single tribe, each one of its members to be accorded worth and dignity. The unity of the human race so central to Islamic perception is a reflection of the creed that there is no God but the One God.

"The world at large, including the Muslim world, is in danger of sinking deeper into tribalism with all the savagery which we witness in so many parts of the globe. The modern world, having downgraded spiritual values and put in their place materialism and hedonistic interests, is creating a culture without clear and reasonably stable rules of conduct. Individuals as well as societies have their inner peace troubled and have thus given way to aggression against the other… No society is immune from violence. The worst type of which is that which dons the garb of religion... The spectre of 'The Clash of Civilisations'…should be erased from our minds…We stand together to stamp out terror, establish peace, justice and dignity for every human being."

His words might be called the true yet inaudible voice of Islam.

1. Patrick Cockburn (Verso 1995) The Rise of Islamic State
2. Khaled Abou El Fadl: The Refusal of Happiness: When Submission to God becomes Stereotypical Islamicity
3. see article Esclarmonde de Foix, Cathar Queen on my website
4. Gerda Lerner (OUP 1986) The Creation of Patriarchy
5. Patrick Cockburn (Verso 1995) The Rise of Islamic State
6. Justin Marozzi, (Penguin 2015) Baghdad, City of Peace, City of Blood

Khaled Abou El Fadl is the Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law and Chair of the Islamic Studies Interdepartmental Program at UCLA. His magnum opus, Reasoning with God: Reclaiming Shari'ah in the Modern Age has recently been published.

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