T Nation

The Arab/Muslim Mindset

Very interesting article in the Economist, on the general topic of “Why they hate us” – and “us” is no longer just the U.S., but includes G.B., Australia, Indonesia, France, Russia, and many others. I’m wondering what peoples’ thoughts are? I think one of our main problems is the appalling ignorance of the “man on the street” in Islamic countries – I’m not going to look up the source at the moment, but I remember reading a poll done in the Middle East that indicated a majority of the citizens don’t believe that disease is spread via bacteria and viruses.

And please, I don’t want to hash out – yet again – the views on what the U.S. is or isn’t doing in Iraq. There are other threads for that. I really am interested in discussing the mindset and perhaps what people think could be done to change it.

At any rate, here it is:

Extremists declare that Muslims are the victims of the war on terror and must fight back. Liberals try to save their faith from being hijacked

THREE years after the attacks on New York and Washington, the anguish among the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims has not diminished. Other Muslim fanatics have carried out other fearful crimes in the name of Islam. And non-Muslim armies have stomped into Muslim-populated lands to prosecute a war on terror that some perceive as a war on Islam.

The result is that ordinary Muslims find themselves confronted with increasingly fierce claims for possession of their faith. Rival narratives have emerged at either end of the extremely broad Muslim spectrum, and they could scarcely be more different. Expressing one view, a prominent Arab columnist decries the fact that while it is obvious that all Muslims are not terrorists, it is sadly apparent that these days nearly all terrorists happen to be Muslims. The spokesman for a jihadist group in Iraq dissents. Wherever you cast your eye, he writes in a recent posting to the internet, you find only one truth, which is that infidels are slaying Muslims ?in every way, in every land, and with overspilling hatred.?

The two views produce radically different conclusions. With growing stridency, Muslim liberals are saying that it is high time for Muslims to act, to stop their faith from being hijacked and turned into a cult-like vehicle for a clash of civilisations. Their sense is that the violence of a radical minority is not merely ruining sympathy for just Muslim causes in such contested places as Chechnya and Palestine, it is beginning to threaten Muslims’ peaceful coexistence with others everywhere.

For their part, the jihadists voice the conviction that sympathy for Muslim causes never existed in the first place. Islam, they say, is so imperilled that fighting for its survival is not merely right, but a sublime duty. And so vicious are its enemies that any means may be used to deter them, the more shockingly cruel, the more effective. Ultimately, they believe, Islam will triumph only if all foreign influence is chased from a vast, unified Islamic state.

To the non-Muslim world, there is little doubt which view is more realistic. Three years ago, it was only Americans who asked Why Do They Hate Us? The same question is now being asked by Indonesians, Spaniards, Turks, Australians, Nepalese, French, Italians, Russians and others whose citizens have fallen victim to jihadist ?vengeance?. The puzzle is how so many Muslims could for so long remain oblivious to the extremism in their midst.

Egypt’s leading newspaper, the government-owned daily Al Ahram, provided a clue recently. On September 1st, it relegated to inside pages the brutal massacre of 12 Nepalese kitchen workers by Iraqi guerrillas, who claimed to be ?executing God’s judgment? against ?Buddhist invaders?. A day later, Al Ahram put on its front-page news that rioters in Katmandu, the Nepalese capital, had attacked a mosque?but did not explain what they were angry about. A slip, perhaps, but the omission reflected a pattern, repeated across the Muslim world, of harping on Muslim injury.

There is nothing abnormal in rooting for your own. American coverage of, say, Iraq, is hardly exemplary in even-handedness. The trouble comes with the cumulative effect of repeating a tale of Muslim victimhood, of amplifying it through mosque sermons and manipulating it for short-term political gain. All too many governments have found it convenient to direct their own peoples’ grievances into offshore arenas, such as Iraq, and so deflect demands for empowerment closer to home.

Seeing the world through a lens of victimhood has grown into a comfortable habit. So it is that some Arab commentators have explained the kidnapping and murder of foreign civilians in Iraq as the work of American agents. The agents’ aim, says Galal Duweidar, who edits Cairo’s mass-circulation daily, Al Akhbar, is to ?demonstrate the barbarism of Arabs and Muslims and so justify Washington’s war on Iraq and its purported war on ?terror’.?

Conspiracy as a way of life

Such conspiratorial views seem to reflect a need to sustain coherent plot-lines to explain what are, in fact, rather messy situations. America’s occupation of Iraq must be seen to be just as wicked as Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, or Russia’s of Chechnya. Resistance to all these onslaughts must therefore be noble, however ugly its manifestations may appear.

The desire to paint Muslim resistance with glory leads to peculiar equivocations. Yusef Qaradawi, the most popular television preacher in the Arab world, says that while Islam distinguishes between soldiers and civilians in war, it is hard to make this distinction in practice. Killing prisoners is sometimes justified, he argues, but disfiguring their bodies is a sin. Adel al-Muada, an Islamist radical who is the deputy speaker of Bahrain’s parliament, recently declared that while he personally condemned the attacks on New York and Washington, he could not condemn Osama bin Laden because there was ?no proof? that he was responsible.

Such wilful blurring of lines is made easier by the way the war on terror has been conducted. The lumping of a range of movements that happen to have a Muslim colouring?some of them at root ethnic, some national, some indeed religious?under the single rubric of terrorism can perhaps be portrayed as ?moral clarity?, but it tramples on the real grievances behind many of the causes.

Scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guant?namo have made it difficult to maintain that there exist universal notions of human rights, rather than particularist and discriminatory ones. America’s record in Iraq is not pretty. The past week’s imagery alone has included a bombed ambulance, a dead infant being removed from a shelled building, and the on-camera killing of an Arab television journalist.

Even so, the sheer nastiness of jihadist violence has begun to generate a powerful groundswell of angry Muslim opposition. The coincidence of the anniversary of September 11th 2001 with the horrific slaughter of schoolchildren at Beslan provoked a chorus of condemnation. This was not only against terrorism, but also against the clerics whose extremist interpretations support that terrorism.

Why, demands a former Kuwaiti minister writing in the Saudi daily Al Sharq al Awsat, have we not heard a single fatwa against Osama bin Laden, when Muslims fell over themselves to condemn Salman Rushdie for writing a ?vapid? novel? Who has done more damage to Islam? Muslims must no longer remain silent, declares an editorial in the Egyptian weekly Rose al-Yusef; our fear of speaking out has become the terrorists’ fifth column.

You find really good aritcles!

Personally I’m rather saddened that Tom Friedman has taken a sebatical from the NYT to work on a new book; seems like we could use his input now more than ever. Frankly, if either candidate were to pre-appoint him to a high level advisory position, he’d most definitely get my vote. But then again, Tom is probably smart enough to stay out of politics.

The questions in this article are often the ones posed to Tom when he gives lectures, and his answers are always fascinating. The truth always seems more complicated than politicians would like.

I was going to try to paraphrase some of Tom’s ideas on the subject, but instead will see if I can find some columns of his about this very subject that I downloaded before NYT started making you pay to download them!

Opera –

I’d love to see it. Right now, most of the “soldier” terrorists that we face are the product of poverty and ignorance, combined with the “education” provided by local imams and Wahhabi religious schools funded by the Saudis.

I think we need to do the equivalent of a Radio Free Europe, but to the Islamic countries – with TV, radio and internet programming. We need to educate them out of their conspiracy mindset, and give them other perspectives.

That’s just one solution that comes to mind, although it’s obviously long-term rather than immediate.

To add to your post, a very good but lengthy critique of the 9/11 report from that viewpoint. (Don’t worry, it’s not conspiracy theory)

In a nutshell he critiques the 9/11 commission for going into such details as, what seat the hijackers were sitting in, but then never explaining the ideology behind why they were actually sitting there in the first place.


Just reading through: If you dont know Indonesia is the largest muslim state in the world. The attacks in indonesia are usually to attack Australian’s and other foreigners i.e. Australian embassy bombing that happened a few weeks ago and the bali bombing.

Finally, I’ve been complaining that we need to also be taking non-military action for ages (and been called a pacifist, leftist, whatever and worse for it).

It’s called propaganda. You have an ignorant audience duped with one sided news sources and you have control. So, extremists have easy pickings for generating brainwashed human bombs.

Finally, someone with an audience is noticing that Muslims need to take responsibility for curbing their own or have their future ruined. The Jihadist element is creating a self-fulfilling prophecy when they use brutal means to attempt to terrorize western nations.

The rest of the world has a lot of inertia, but if a few more countries get the nuts in a bunch (i.e. Russia, France, Germany, China, etc) then it will be open season.

So, the obvious question is, why don’t we finance intelligent educated muslims who can find a way to voice moderate viewpoints without getting themselves assasinated?

It isn’t that expensive when you look at the money being poured into the current methods.

Finally. That’s all I really have to say, maybe in few years we’ll start to see action at top!

[It also goes to show you that where you read something has a lot to do with what you think of the message.]


From what I understand, there has been a problem in getting the moderates in the Muslim community to speak out against the extremists, but it looks as if that wall is breaking down. We should definitely take advantage with a full-frontal propaganda assault, especially with mainstream Muslim scholars and clerics denouncing terrorists and their tactics. We have the resources to saturate the whole middle east with that message – hopefully we can find Muslim scholars and clerics of high enough standing to make the message believable, and penetrate through the conspiracy-theory mentality that has a hold there.

I think part of the problem is that the moderates in any of these countries cannot speak out without seeming like puppets of the west in the eyes of their base. The only ones who could speak out and call out the terrorist for what they are are those that have the legitimacy given by their position in the Islamic faith. These fundamentalists people are the ones that are most closely allied with the terrorists unfortunately. It will take them changing to make peace. See Nixon with China, Sharon withdrawal from Palestine etc. People that dont have that legtimacy cant often pull it off.

Although there was some encouraging signs of outrage over the Beslan massacre in the Arab press.

Those sick bastards that think we’re waging a war on Islam don’t want to be reasoned with. They know only one way of dealing with us “infidels” and that is to kill us…too bad they suck at it. So knowing that, what choice does that leave us as Americans? That’s right, we have to fight fire with fire and kill those motherfuckers. Before anyone jumps on here and says how horrible of a guy I am, think about this: They are killing innocent non-combatants in Iraq that are there to help their fucking Iraqi children. Those poor souls left their homes to help war-torn kids and they’re being beheaded for it. That to me says that these people can’t be reasoned with. Hell, if I thought that I would have an eternity in paradise if I did what I did, then chances are that I couldn’t be reasoned with either. We can’t get through to these people!!! Why do you think the U.S. doesn’t negotiate with terrorists? I’ll tell you why. It’s because it’s fucking useless. They’re there to do their dirty deed and not to be bartered with. The majority of the people in Iraq are happy we’re there, and it’s just a small percentage of them that are hostile. What terrorists believe is a warped version of Islam that is way off base from the “actual” religion, so we’re not fighting all of the Islamic world. Fighting a brutal enemy requires the application of brutal tactics. RLTW


[quote]vroom wrote:
Finally, I’ve been complaining that we need to also be taking non-military action for ages…why don’t we finance intelligent educated muslims who can find a way to voice moderate viewpoints without getting themselves assasinated?

Well, in a word: collaborators! That’s why, vroom! It’s not that you have a bad idea, it’s just that it’s not particularly practical. Look at the Arabs who have tried to take the moral high ground and “do the right thing.” Sadat made peace with Israel (not out of love for Jews, but rather out of love for his Egypt), and was assinated to the cheers of the majority of the Arab world. Today, the average Egyptian wants to throw away the peace treaty with Israel.

Yes, it’s true that the common perceptions in the Arab world are not conducive to peace with the West, but in order to change that, one of two things needs to happen: the Arabs have to slowly change that mindset from within (as opposed to having it forced on them by collaborators who profit from their relationship with the West), or; it has to be forced upon them by war, sanctions, occupation, etc…

History, unfortunately, teaches us that attitudes like these usually change only when forced by external pressures. See Germany and Japan for examples.

I wish it were as simple as propoganda being the key, but it’s not. It’ll take a genuine “intellectual revolution” to change attitudes in the Arab world. I don’t see that happening, not even after the defeat of Iraq. Maybe the Arabs just need to learn that terrorism and hostilty will only bring about their defeat at a level the common man in the street can comprehend: failure to achieve Palestinian statehood, failure to drive out the US and Brits from Iraq, failure to see Iran get the nuke, failure to stem the economic and social problems of a decaying, non-democratic Arab world.

Personally, I think you’re world views are more optomistic than mine, but I think my own are closer to reality. I hope I’m wrong.

Ranger Tab

Amen to that. The level of brutality is defined by your enemy. If they will never surrender and want to kill themselves and innocent people to further their cause then so be it. The only alternative is to kill them before they take action against you.

This current Jihad movement is part of the worldwide Jihad that took root after WWII in Egypt. Nasser pretty much eliminated it by jailing and executing many of it’s proponents. The wars against Israel provided a rallying point for many in the 60’s and 70’s. Of course Afganistan in the 80’s was the coming of age for the current crop of terrorists we are facing. In it’s simplist form it preaches a struggle against the infidel from within, then in the Arab lands and finally in the land of the infidel. Guess what phase we are in now. The ultimate goal is an Islamic nation, restored to greatness, as the dominant power in the world.

You have two choices. Surrender and submit to Islam or kill them. That’s it. If you don’t convert you are an infidel and your life is without value.
I don’t ever want it to get to that point. Time to realize we are in a war and act accordingly.

Compare the current radicalism to Nazi Germany. The middle east needs to be de-radicalized. The same way Germany was de-Nazified.

That’s the mindset of our enemy.

Hedo and Ragertab:

Slightly off the original topic, but what are your thoughts on this essay’s thesis concerning winning the war on terror?


Back on topic re: mindset, here is an excerpt from a story about the most recent hostage beheadings that captures that mindset:

“The fate of the first infidel was cutting off the head before your eyes and ears. You have a 24-hour opportunity. Abide by our demand in full and release all the Muslim women, otherwise the head of the other will follow this one,” the speaker said.

He appeared to indicate the hostages would be killed one at a time and did not specify whether Hensley or Bigley would be next.

The militant on the video called President Bush “a dog” and addressed him, saying, “Now, you have people who love death just like you love life. Killing for the sake of God is their best wish, getting to your soldiers and allies are their happiest moments, and cutting the heads of the criminal infidels is implementing the orders of our lord.”

Read the whole thing, although it might make you queasy.

Guys, I am not optimistic at all. However, if you know anything about the socialization process, you’ll know that what people learn as they are growing up greatly influences the attitudes and actions they take.

Making sure these people achieve some level of education and at least hear moderate voices and the other side of the opinion spectrum gives them a chance to not become brainwashed terrorists.

Once they do become such, nobody is arguing that they can be reasoned with or retrained. People rejecting the talk of non-military means on this basis are missing the point. I’m talking about trying to stop the next generation from becoming weapons – not trying to pacify the current group of idiots.

Or would you rather we simply have a perpetual idealogical war on an ongoing basis instead?

I think the model for how to do it ‘right’ would be Indonesia. According to a piece in Tuesday’s WSJ, 100 million Indonesians went to the polls to elect their next leader for the first time - ever.

This is the world’s largest Muslim nation.

They eveidently didn’t vote for religous/authoritarian rule - opting instead, it seems, for a general who wants terrorism out of his country.

How did the Indonesians achieve this? I don’t know, but it would probably do us well to figure it out and use the same strategy in the Middle-East.

BB -

Overall, it was a good article. I agree with the fact that we DO have the means in which to win this war; we always have and always will. However, the problem with that is, let’s say we do go in and kick Iran’s ass and destroy all of their means of becoming a nuclear power. Hell, we just walked right into Baghdad. The problem comes when the ground war stops. All it takes is for someone to open a window and rain lead down on some troops conducting a patrol. Obviously we are far more advanced, better trained, and motivated, but the shit hits the fan with the stuff that we DON’T know about (like the guy in the window). We don’t know when someone dressed like a civillian is gonna roll a grenade into some soldiers taking a break. I am totally confident that we could make them stop if we use the right tactics; and that means saying “Fuck the Geneva Convention”. Our problem is that we’re too nice. Screw world opinion. It’s obvious that we aren’t going to win the hearts and minds of the guerillas carrying out these attacks. Knowing this, we have to be brutal. We have to match their brutality with something that will scare the living shit out of them. (Believe me, there’s a lot of stuff that they’re scared of). The only way we’ll end this is if we take the fight out of them and tell them that the fun and games are over and that we mean business. RLTW

The problem is you have a hard time knowing who is guilty and who isn’t. All you have to do is brutalize some innocent people and they won’t be able to tell the difference between the US forces and Saddam’s forces.

Traditionally, having a brutal opponent doesn’t break the will of other combatants. It just allows them to demonize the enemy and further steel their resolve. It will also ensure that even more moderates become radicals.


You always seem to have the ability to find the right article to add to the topic. Must be a good lawyer!

I’ll second Rangertabs opinion that we can pretty much roll into any country we want and subdue it in short order. The problem is lack of political will rather then military might.

A few people have suggested a massive PR campaign. I agree that might help. I also think a version and a demonstration of MAD would help. Eg. If anyone uses a nuke on US soil you are getting 25 in return. Kill one of ours we are going to round up a dozen of yours and shoot them. It’s called reprisals and when fighting a guerilla forc it is the only effective method. We’ve used it in the past…at the end of WWII the Germans had a unit called the Wherewolves fighting as irregulars after the war. When they attacked from a village we attacked the village. Guess what the Wherewolves started to get turned in by the civilians. is it Brutal and inhuman…of course.

War is not pleaseant or fair or anything at all nice. War is brutal and terrible and should be avoided at all costs by righteous men. We tried. the time for trying is over. We must now show those who wish us harm the cost of their choices. We must be brutal, total and fearless and when we are thru we will set the stage for peace. I live in Battery Park City. That hole is the ground about three blocks from where I live is all the reminder I need about the war we are fighting. You can still walk by that place and see people crying. People who have the 1000yd. stare that any veteran knows when they see it.

I am a vet who has seen my time. I am also a father. I don’t want my son to carry this burden. Let’s get it over with and let our kids live in peace.

Aye, there’s the crux! Honest men and women can disagree over this point.

Hopefully without being branded traitors and nitwit pacifists…

Anyone hear that Syria may begin patrolling their borders?

Powell is “cautiously optimistic” about the Syrian position.

Jordan is discussing sending troops into Iraq to help the Interim government.

I hope the Administration keeps the pressure on Iraq’s Arab neighbors.