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<Deep Dive> Inside Jihad, by Dr. Tawfik Hamid.

Warning: large political journal, don't read if you're a jingoistic wank who isn't prepared to learn that the West has sometimes done some bad shit, or prone to whataboutism, or a rabid ignoramus on the subject of Islam. Also, you know, if you're just here for the pr0n and don't want to read this sort of crap. You won't hurt my feelings.

I recently read the "Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works; Why It Should Terrify Us; How to Defeat It" by Dr. Tawfik Hamid*, and let's just say I was a little baffled - and more than a little offended at points. A book on the mentality of radical Islamists and world trends related to the spread of Islamic terrorism, it seeks to offer an explanation of the phenomenon as well as tender the almost unthinkable: methods and directions for reforming one of the most notoriously resistant to reform major religions in the world.

While his insights into Salafist doctrine are interesting, as are his suggestions for reformation, Dr. Hamid makes some incredibly bizarre assertions about left-wing positions on the subject that seem - forgive me for saying - at odds with his claimed background, and echo some extremely neo-conservative, pro-establishment, American-centric thinking such that it's no surprise the cover blurb is praise from the late John McCain. I'm not too sure that's a badge of honor.

So I wanted to analyze some of these statements from the perspective of someone more or less on "the left" -- a label Dr. Hamid smears multiple times in a confusing and even alarming manner. Unfortunately, it's a paperback book (remember those?) so I'm going to have a lot of fun transcribing his writing. You can look here to see how many pages I've bookmarked (beneath is one of my university textbooks I was also consulting).

It's also critical to note that Dr. Hamid claims to have been a former member of Jemaa Islamiya in Egypt, a Wahhabi jihadist group. This should furnish him with a certain perspective, or at least would suggest that he would address certain perspectives, but they're utterly ignored in favor of pushing a worldview I'd expect from a Texan Republican. Case in point, I wouldn't expect any Egyptian to gloss over Israel's more depraved actions in the region. In fact, you generally only see this wholesale endorsement of Israel in conservative American circles, and the leading cause for deplatforming speakers at college campuses (oh, you thought it was SJWs?). I won't say any more on this but to confess that I found it bemusing.

First and foremost, I agree entirely with Dr. Hamid and other critics of Islam: to say there are troublesome sections in the Quran and especially among the hadiths is an understatement. I don't talk about it often, because it very rarely needs to be brought up when your focus is primarily on Western nations; this is one of the first smears, or misunderstandings, of left-wing "apologism" for Islam. It's not apologism at all, the fact is that most Western secular activists are concerned with the oversteps of religion in their own country, which means Christianity in most cases. One can detest the more vile aspects of other religions while maintaining focus on the religion that's most likely to try and harm you or your freedom of expression, and acknowledging the more immediate threat doesn't mean you don't understand another threat that, while arguably more repressive, simply isn't a present issue for you. In opposing Christian bigotry and overreach, secularists on the left are also opposing Islamic bigotry and overreach; by insisting that the First Amendment prevents the majority Christians from imposing on others, you're also de-facto preventing the minority of Islamists from doing likewise.**

Furthermore, while Dr. Hamid of course acknowledges the existence of Sufi and secular Muslims, no discussion of the topic is complete without mentioning them, he misses that the reason people oppose "Islamophobia" is because it's ignorant blanket bigotry that doesn't distinguish between a Wahhabi Salafist, a Shia moderate, or an Ahmadi. Indeed, since many prejudgments are made based on skin-tone, clothing, and geographical residence, you're just as likely to see bigots attacking Jordanian Christians for being "evil Muslims."

If there's any "leftist" (again, a word Dr. Hamid misuses frequently in Fox News-esque fashion) foolish enough to not recognise that Islamic doctrines are anti-liberty, anti-women, anti-LGBT, and conducive to present day crimes against humanity then that's a fault of the individual. These people are rare and widely derided, perhaps even dishonest agents, but given far too much prominence by demagogues seeking to smear the anti-war left. The ramblings of centrist, politically correct corporate news like CNN don't reflect the attitudes of anti-war protestors. CNN supported the invasion of Iraq! If it helps, understand that anti-war protestors opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq not because we wanted to cover for radical Islamists, but because of the absolutely certain deaths of Christians, children, moderate or secular Muslims, and the displacement of many more; those people were acceptable collateral - or completely out of sight and mind - to everyone looking to just "get the evil Muslims." In short, nuanced thinking, not "der libruls haff bleedin' harts an' make excuses for turrists!" But more on Iraq later.

Let me reiterate: I have zero love for Islam. Period. I concur that Obama was obviously playing politics when he insisted ISIS "aren't Islamic" (they are). By no sane interpretation am I making excuses or apologies for radical Islam, or even Islam as a whole, and while I think it'd be great if all religions would just disappear, this one is certainly at the top of the list. Moving on.

Throughout the book, Dr. Hamid refers to socio-economic and political factors that most informed commentators claim to be relevant to the spread of Islamist doctrine, not primary causal factors themselves -- obviously, the primary causal factor of ideologically driven terrorism is the ideology itself, but the appeal and reach of an ideology is determined by other factors. Dr. Hamid happily concedes "these are factors" but dismisses them as not worthy of major concern while implying that "the left" focuses on these rather than placing blame where it belongs ("... reticence to call a spade a spade"). However, just as he says "not all poor people resort to terrorism", there's also legitimacy in saying that "not all Muslims are or support terrorists." Therefore, these other factors have to be considered when implementing any strategy intended to defang or diminish radical Islam in the long term.

For example, he dismisses outright the idea that poverty needs to be considered as a causal factor of terrorism because the leaders of many radical Islamic movements are rich, and that not all poor Muslims turn to militancy. Correct, but poverty and lack of education can make belonging to a violent radical group appealing to the people that form the rank-and-file in certain geographical regions.
He acknowledges this, but seems intent on diminishing its importance.
" "Poverty creates a vicious cycle in which jihadists find it easier to recruit." -- p59,60

It does bear repeating the Dr. Hamid's contention is that reforming Islam would be more effective than even addressing poverty, but that's absurd. Why would we completely ignore compounding factors, especially if there's any chance that our actions create or exacerbate them? The reformation of Islam will be an extremely difficult undertaking, a burden for Muslims themselves to shoulder; meanwhile, we're supposed to ignore other issues that we can address ourselves?

Dr. Hamid's dismissals results in a total whitewash - indeed, he touts the benefits of colonialism; apparently, the only way we could've shared our oil-extracting technology with people is through colonialism - of Western responsibility or malfeasance. For example, Dr. Hamid criticises President Jimmy Carter for refusing to grant the Shah a visa and not supporting his restoration to power, or attacking post-revolution Iran for the Tehran hostage crisis. Let's put that in context.

" "When Islamists drove the Shah from the country, Carter then refused to grant him a visa. ... Who would not be wary of depending on America when agreements and governments had been jettisoned so easily, such as President Carter had done with the Shah?" -- Page 127.

He makes these statements with absolutely zero acknowledgment that the Shah was a puppet dictator installed by the USA in a CIA-worked coup intended to forestall the nationalisation of Iranian oil resources, or that the Shah was a vicious authoritarian monster who employed torture and murder against his own people. Dissatisfaction with his pro-American (rather, pro-American corporation) leadership and the bold-faced meddling of the USA spurred the revolution in the first place. While the theocratic state that emerged after this is not better by any means, before US meddling, Iran was a reasonably progressive nation that committed the crime of not submitting to American economic hegemony. One of the first acts of the Shah was to crush labor unions and stamp out - not religious elements as Dr. Hamid claims, though failure to do so obviously led to his downfall - but socialist and communist voices considered anathema to the exploitation of Iran's national resources by the West. Who started the shit-show in Iran by de-stabilizing a democratically elected and popular government? Does this perhaps factor into why Carter was reluctant to launch a full-scale invasion of Iran in response to the hostage crisis?

Rather than acknowledge this, Dr. Hamid repeats the dishonesty that Iran is the foremost sponsor of Islamic terror (when Sunni terror is infinitely more prolific, dangerous, and global, and thus the foremost sponsor of Islamic terror is the US ally, and thus irreproachable, Saudi Arabia), and argues that Obama was foolish to enact the JCPOA, known colloquially as "The Iran Deal", because Iran wouldn't abide by it. Except Iran did abide by it, according to international non-partisan IAEA inspectors; it was the USA that violated it by renewing sanctions and finally trashed it entirely under President Donald J. Trump. What was that about it being hard to trust America if it abrogates deals so easily?

The fact is, radical Islamic nations and even the resultant terrorism they endorse is effectively considered acceptable by the US government compared to, say, economic nationalism or socialism, as radically religious governments are complacent, controllable, and form a powerful barrier to left-wing ideology they consider more troublesome. This is why the US has granted Saudi Arabia, which is simply an ISIS that made it, a multi-billion dollar arms deal just recently. Saudi Arabia, the nation from which the 9/11 attackers hailed, was not on Trump's immigration ban-list. This is why ISIS gets bombed in Iraq, but receives de-facto air-support in Syria. This is why, Dr. Hamid, you don't see the US government taking strong action against Saudi Arabia. It's not an ignorance of the nature of Islam, it's a full acceptance of it as a useful tool, and nobody minds if some disposable poor people get blown to pieces. They don't care that much about it as an ideology. Only preventing the inconvenience of another 9/11 on their home turf.

After all, are you familiar with the Iran-Contra affair, Dr. Hamid? You know, the affair with the "foremost sponsor of terror" to supply weapons to... right wing anti-socialist terrorist kill-squads in South America? Did that not happen? Are you so intent on whitewashing the U.S.A. that we're now pretending it has never sponsored terrorism itself?

Sticking with modern day issues, Dr. Hamid has these two gems towards the end of his book.
"Nearly 20 years ago, the CIA had located Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. President Bill Clinton had the opportunity to dispatch him, but he balked because he feared collateral civilian casualties. Because of that hesitation, bin Laden was able to plan and order the attacks on 9/11, and thousands more innocents perished than would have died in an attempt to take out al-Qaeda's leader." -- p173

"Another unhelpful action: Efforts by certain U.S. politicians to outlaw enhanced interrogation techniques and punish the CIA officers who conducted them have only emboldened Islamic radicals." -- p174

Wow, hold on a moment, what? In these two paragraphs, Dr. Hamid shows a casual disregard for both civilian casualties and human rights. Let's get the torture out of the way first: it's torture, enhanced interrogation is a weaselly term the corporate media followed orders and used to downplay the fact the "good guys" were conducting torture. Now, bearing in mind that it's torture, the CIA's own investigations concluded that torture elicited no useful information, and that many of the people being tortured were not terrorists at all, but rivals to local warlords who handed them over to the USA to dispose of them. In order to avoid emboldening terrorists, we're supposed to torture innocent people and discard our own principles?

Secondly, "collateral damage" is disturbingly downplayed by warlike neoconservatives, and the assertion that Clinton could've killed Osama is presented here in a dishonest fashion. There were four operations planned to kill Osama before he was indicted and thus were illegal, and were unable to go ahead because of lack of support within the government for the attacks -- two of which could've caused massive civilian casualties (one option was a missile strike that would've obliterated Kandahar to the cost of 300 dead men, women and children). At this time, Osama had not attacked Western targets and 9/11 was inconceivable; Clinton's crystal ball was in the shop for repairs, I suppose. Osama came to prominence through US support, but funny how the blame lands on Clinton for not killing 300 civilians to take out one bearded dickhead, and not the previous administrations that funded jihadists in an attempt to drag the Soviet Union into a quagmire. Nor is any blame or malfeasance assigned to the Western politicians and media who responded to 9/11 and its ~4000 deaths by steamrolling two nations in the Middle East and killing approximately a hundred times that and rendering millions destitute.

While they weren't a factor in Clinton's administration, Dr. Hamid also seems a little blase about the drone program, indicating that, if anything, they're ineffective because they're not violent or widespread enough. No mention of the fact that it's literally a global terrorism campaign (if an explosion in Main Street kills 40 people, is it terrorism if it's a car-bomb but not if it's a Hellfire missile?) that kills 90% civilians and has been caught out doing thoroughly disgusting things such the "double-tap": a drone operation that hits a target, then circles around to hit first responders. A warcrime within a warcrime. That word is not used lightly here.

Dr. Hamid's analysis is that these methods not only don't create terrorists by fostering extreme negative sentiment against the West, but that more extensive military measures are required as these are half-hearted and ineffectual. No thought is given in the entire book to the immense cost of such operations in terms of financial capital or impecuniation of social programs at home. Simply put: wow!

During the section on "Western Imperialism", wherein he notably picks on an intellectual that's dead instead of one that'd beat him senseless (such as Chomsky), Dr. Hamid makes a number of bizarre statements. It all begins with "U.S. architects of foreign policy have made plenty of serious errors and miscalculations - as have diplomats from every nation on Earth." That statement alone is hideous whitewashing and deeply naive; when the USA engineered the overthrow of a democratic government in Guatemala and installed a vicious puppet dictator that murdered and tortured liberally, instituting slave labor and crushing unions, all in the name of cheap bananas for their buddies in the United Fruit Company, was that a miscalculation? When it continues to this day to fund 70% of dictators, is that just a mistake? These things aren't mistakes, they're fundamentally wrong actions undertaken with full knowledge that they are wrong and accompanied by propaganda campaigns to befuddle the public.

"Look at the liberation of Kuwait from Saddam Hussein's invasion in the first Gulf War."
Dr. Hamid, are you presenting the war in which the U.S.A. committed numerous war-crimes and didn't bother to clean up its mess, a war which the Bush administration lied the people into supporting by paying someone to pretend they saw babies torn from incubators, as a positive? A thing that Muslims and the third-world in general should revere or thank the US for?

"Going back a bit farther, America financed the Mujahideen resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Why, did he not thank the United States for its support in that war, and why did he not harbor animus towards Russia?"
He did harbor animus towards Russia, but also towards the United States of America. Either this is deliberate dishonesty or Dr. Hamid's determined dismissal of every possible way someone could even interpret the USA as doing something wrong has left him with a massive blindspot. And would you thank someone when you knew you were being used as a tool to stymie their political opponents? Osama knew he wasn't being helped out of the goodness of the CIA's collective heart. This was after the USA sided with Israel and toppled Iran's elected government, for crying out loud.

Also, what's with the one-sided morality? When America supported these groups against the Soviets, and continues to support some truly heinous characters to this day, they knew full well that they were supporting.

"Incidentally, why hasn't the Left admonished Soviet imperialism?"
Dr. Hamid, it would be wise if you refrained from commenting on matters of which you simply have no understanding. This might be the single stupidest neo-con strawman moment in the entire book. The Left, up to and including some Marxist Communists, do criticize Soviet imperialism, but one of the most basic moral precepts is to concern yourself first with your own behavior and things you can change rather than somebody else's. There are so many left-wing critics of the authoritarian Soviets I'm spoiled for choice of examples; you're either falling for or explicitly employing a right-wing jingoistic smear tactic.

"If America truly were an imperial or ruthless power, it would've long ago conquered and obliterated the OPEC nations and taken over their oil. America easily holds the military capability to do so..."
No, they don't. The American establishment learned the hard way that their people were starting to reject rampant military aggression, and long ago realized that it was necessary to secure the manufacturing of consent of the people through intensive media campaigns before enacting military action. Overtly invading the OPEC countries would be expensive in terms of both literal capital and political capital, and simply isn't a worthwhile option when they can hold the leash of the economy instead. When the USA cannot handle occupying just a handful of countries to a limited extent, what sort of insanity makes Dr. Hamid believe it was ever an option for the USA to invade, occupy, and openly exploit these nations in perpetuity? The Eastern bloc nations would attack, resistance movements would be blowing up infrastructure daily, the people at home would be furiously rioting as they're forced into permanent austerity to fuel the incredible cost of such a war. Here, Dr. Hamid shows he doesn't even understand what people mean when they say American Imperialism.

"Instead America has spent billions of dollars to establish democracy in Iraq... Yet to date has reaped no financial rewards..."
Finish the thought, Dr. Hamid. What is the number one most pressing issue in U.S. politics since the Great Recession, causing a massive wave of protests? Income inequality. Who has experienced a debt crisis and stagnant wages while government services collapsed in favor of funding wars? The regular people. Who has seen expanded production and a vast explosion of wealth? Among others, the fossil fuel corporations, PMCs, and the defense-industrial complex, specifically their management. Which groups have powerful lobbies and influence with the media, and a revolving door arrangement with politicians, state officials, the Department of Defense and intelligence agencies? Is it the regular people like the Nurses Union? Is it maybe Exxon Mobil and Raytheon? Did Trump appoint a middle class baker his first Secretary of State or was it an oil tycoon? Why in all your discussion of Iraq did you not mention Halliburton or even Blackwater?

Finish the thought. Cui bono?

At this point, however, Dr. Hamid has already driven his bus off a cliff. Earlier in the book he wrote:

" "I don't doubt that Jane Fonda and her ilk had no intention of facilitating the deaths of civilians. But their demonstrations almost certainly contributed to the loss of more innocent lives than would have occurred otherwise. ... I find it ironic that Leftist demonstrators on the one hand impeded victory in Iraq and at the same time blamed any failures on the administration of George. W. Bush. I am not suggesting that the United States government made no mistakes or wrong decisions regarding the war in Iraq..." -- p 120

My jaw was hanging open when I got to this point. According to Dr. Hamid, anti-war protests caused civilian deaths, and he again iterates that the invasion of Iraq, justified with deliberately falsified evidence like its predecessor, merely involved some mistakes or wrong decisions, instead of being what most people would call an immoral act of aggression with massive civilian casualties and costs. There's so much wrong here I'm not even sure where to begin.

Firstly, the Iraq invasion was not about radical Islam at all. It was well understood except by Department of Defense mouthpieces on Fox News and CNN (it was certainly understood around the world) that Saddam had no connection to Osama and that Saddam was a secular dictator. Thus the protests against the Iraq Invasion were based on the fact that there were absolutely certainly going to be innocent deaths and displacements without the shred of doubt, and that the evidence of "WMDs" was clearly drummed up nonsense. Not to mention the fact that Iraq was submitting to UN & IAEA investigation, had met the deadline to begin disarmament, and had made peace overtures that the US government ignored, and the US media dutifully under-reported. Then came the warcrimes, including the vile actions of Blackwater. The Halliburton scandal. The ongoing costs of a war that has persisted for 15 years while government services back home are slashed to ribbons.

But instead, because protesting the war "emboldened" jihadists, to what extent and what specific result Dr. Hamid does not even offer a tentative suggestion, protestors should shut up and accept things as they are. That right there is some bullshit, Dr. Hamid.

" "Looking outside the sphere of Islam, why didn't Hindus in India, who were subject to the British Raj for more than a century, become international terrorists? Indeed, Gandhi went the opposite route." -- p65

This sort of thing is away from the scope of my little review here, but here the Doctor repeats a common falsehood. Actually, the Indian resistance to the British was not peaceful, and there was indeed armed militant forces and terrorism directed against the British. History books love to play up the non-violent players in liberation movements, simply because they want to raise children to discount violent tactics should they ever have to contest with their government. In reality, most effective liberation movements involved violence. Yes, especially the Civil Rights Movement.

Finally, I have to voice concern that Dr. Hamid quotes the same polls and studies that many right-wing reactionaries do when seeking to poison the well against refugees and immigrants. Yes, it's true that there's a disturbing amount of support for radical Islamists among the ostensibly moderate Muslim population. Yes, Muslims can resort to taqiyyah (deliberate lies to allow greater opportunity to advance the agenda of Islam) and that's something we need to remember. And it's true that Muslims should denounce and take action against Islamic radicals wherever possible.

But it also needs to be understood that Muslims do contact police and blow the whistle on terrorist plots; right-wing demagogues ignore this and repeat their cries of "why don't they ever do anything?!" They do denounce and even kick out of their mosques dangerous individuals; right-wing demagogues insist they never have. The disturbingly high percentage of tacit or passive supporters is a concern, but they're still the minority of Muslims in Western nations, some of which are completely peaceful denominations; right-wing demagogues instead insist they are all the same.

So, in summary, I concur with Dr. Tawfik Hamid that Radical Islam is a problem in itself. In fact, as a secular humanist, I see little value in most religions and consider Islam itself to be one of the worst. However, I hold a nuanced understanding of the subject in much the same way that I don't approach every Christian, with whom I probably have a vast amount of disagreements, as if they were Pat Robertson.

That's what "the left", which is hardly a big monolithic bloc of people, understands: generalized bigotry is nothing but a weapon of the elite, it drums up jingoism and unthinking support for warfare, and that's exactly how it has been employed here. How is simplistic thinking and bigotry about Muslims in general going to birth an effective long-term solution to the problem of radical terrorism? How is casting the moderate Ahmadi in with the insane Salafist going to address the theocratic abuses of Saudi Arabia? Critically, how will ignoring (just to maintain our feel-good, nationalist narrative) the fact that the very same people we're supposed to consider the heroes in the struggle against radical Islam are the people funding and arming it to commit warcrimes? Of course we need to acknowledge this and call out the obvious conflicts of interests besetting our own powerful institutions.

Going by a fundamentalist or Salafist interpretation, Islam is possibly the most violent and dangerous religion on the planet, and Dr. Hamid's suggestions on how to reform and reframe Islamic theology are interesting and possibly effective, but for the bitter hatred Muslims have for any and all reformation attempts. A concern he notes, though for which can't quite offer satisfactory solutions. Still, we can be hopeful that some Islamic leaders will be brave enough to expose themselves to the inevitable threats on their life to make the attempt. If you're curious about what he suggests, I recommend picking the book up for yourself, as detailing them here is beyond the scope of my criticism and fair use.

However, Dr. Hamid's understanding of left-wing critique of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as left-wing attitudes towards Islam in general, are either woefully misinformed or a deliberate rehashing of neoconservative strawmen intended to dismiss or demean anybody that isn't falling in line and cheering the wars on, despite the ocean of civilian blood they've spilled during the course of over one and a half decades.

As a result he has written some of the most outlandish things I have ever seen in a book on this subject, which is why I took the unusual step of actually writing about it here. If you managed to make it all the way through to the end, thanks for reading. I'm done with this book now, having read it three times. This is the result of only about half of the notes I took on this text.

But, for now, I think this is more than enough.

* -- IBN 978-0-9908089-1-6
** -- This is why it's not just unsurprising that media didn't cover the fact that Muslim bakers refused to bake cakes for same-sex weddings; it doesn't matter. They're about 1% of the US population, and would be subject to the same legal precedents if the far more common Christian bigotry was circumscribed by a court decision prohibiting cake-related bigotry in general; indeed, it's a far more potent precedent if the majority religion is slapped down. Of course, I don't believe the state should force someone to bake cakes they don't want to, and I'm aware that the real reason the media was selective was because of political correctness, but from the perspective of secular activists, it doesn't matter that CNN are cowards.
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You may be interested in what Imam Tawhidi says about Islam.
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