by Playthell Benjamin
They Must be No Longer at Ease
These days I find myself of one heart with the ancient Roman Senator Cato the Elder, who ended every speech with the declaration: “Carthage must be Destroyed!” The rational for the Senator’s demand was that the North African nation’s very existence posed a danger to Rome. After all, Carthage had been the staging ground for the invasion of Rome by the great general Hannibal, who surprised and amazed the Romans by crossing the Alps with elephants. Today a rag tag group of armed Islamic zealots pose a clear and present danger to the international order by carving out a fanatical Islamic Caliphate in the sands of Syria and Iraq that refuse to recognize the legitimacy of international law, or man-made laws of any kind, especially if they are the product of a democratic process.
In their view only Sharia is valid, the laws dictated by God/Allah to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. If God has given you the law it is perfect, they argue, how can man improve upon it? They see blasphemy in the thought. Calling their desert stronghold the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq aka ISIS, their supreme leader Caliph Ibrahim, an Islamic theologian with a PhD in Sharia Law, is so convinced that he is carrying out the will of God/Allah he routinely orders gruesome murders of captives – citizens of sovereign states big and small – and films them for display on the internet. These shocking crimes have provoked a howl across the globe, with multinational voices chanting: “Isis Must Be Destroyed!”
Indeed ISIS has left the citizens of the world little choice. The pacifist may cry out for negotiation but their pleas are destined to fall on deaf ears. It is clear to anyone who have been paying attention to the murderous antics of ISIS that negotiating with them is a fool’s errand, a pipe dream induced by ideological opiates.
Alas, one cannot negotiate with people who are led by a religious potentate with a doctorate in Islamic Law, and is convinced that he alone holds the blueprint for constructing the perfect world. When this belief is accompanied by the idea that the end justifies the means and mass murder is an acceptable process for bringing about the new world order, plus they are recruiting Jihadists from among your populace and training them for attacks on their home land, the international community is left no choice but to destroy the aggressive state or movement.
The belief that ISIS must be destroyed has been declared by no less an Islamic authority than the theologians at the University of Al Azhar in Egypt, the land that gave birth to the modern Jihad. (see: *Of All the Places in the Islamic World, Why Egypt?) After watching the video of Jordanian pilot Mouath al-Kasaesbeh being burned alive by ISIS militants, Muslim Scholars at the 1000 year old University of al Azhar, the most revered authority on Islamic doctrine in the Sunni world, denounced the Sunni militants in ISIS.
Their statement expressed “deep anger over the lowly terrorist act” and called ISIS “a Satanic terrorist group.” And the Qatar based International Association of Muslim Scholars, led by the widely respected theologian Youssef al-Qaradawi, called the burning a crime and issued this statement: “The Association asserts that this extremist organization does not represent Islam in any way and its actions always harm Islam.”
Upon first hearing of these statements I was surprised that the Scholors at al Azhad finally spoke out on the theology of ISIS, as they have repeatedly refused to comment on the authenticity of ISIS’ interpretation of Islam. Hence I naturally assumed that the issuing of collective statements on behalf of institutions provided a smokescreen by which the scholars could mask their individual identities, and for good reason given the murderous proclivities of ISIS. However many scholars have courageously stepped forward and issued critical statements in defense of their religion under their own name and authority which amount to scathing denunciations of ISIS; declaring their beliefs and actions “un-Islamic.
First among these is Ahmed al-Tayeb, The grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, who said the ISIS militants ought to be “killed, crucified or to have their limbs amputated.” Salman al-Odah, a prominent Saudi Imam, called the incineration an abomination and declared: “It is rejected whether it falls on an individual or a group or a people, only God tortures by fire.” Most compelling of the condemnations is that of Abu Sayaf, a Salafist Imam from Jordan whose nom de plume among the Jihadists in al Qaeda is Mohamed al Shalabi.
Sayaf is no stranger to militant Islamic activity, having served ten years in a Jordanian prison for organizing an attack on US soldiers, but he views the actions of ISIS as a misrepresentation of Islamic teaching that is destructive to the Islamist movement. Sayaf argues:
“This weakens the popularity of Islamic State because we look at Islam as a religion of mercy and tolerance, even in the heat of battle, a prisoner of war is given good treatment. Even if the Islamic State says Muath had bombed, and burnt and killed us and we punished him in the way he did to us, we say, ok. But why film the video in this shocking way, the method has turned society against them,’’
The principle theme in all of the condemnations of this type is the vindication of Islam through the rejection of ISIS’ atrocities, which the militants justify through the application of Islamic law. However they have a big problem: Since there is no central authority that the billion Muslims in the world can look to as the final authority on Islamic doctrine – like the Catholic Pope or the Mormon Prophets – the matter of doctrine is open to various interpretations. Which allows Caliph Ibrahim, who is an authority on Islamic law, to dismiss his critics as ignoramuses and charlatans, even worse they can be declared apostates and have their heads lopped off with a scimitar.
Apparently anticipating a theological dustup about their public torching of a Sunni Muslim pilot, ISIS issued a Fatwa; a religiously inspired death penalty that can be ordered by a high ranking religious leader against anyone deemed to have profaned the Islamic faith. The Fatwa placed on the Indian Muslim novelist Salman Rushdie by the Ayatollah Homeni, leader of the Islamic revolution in Iran, is the most poignant case of a condemned man under Fatwa; he is still in hiding and running for his life after two decades!
In the Fatwa issue by ISIS, the theological justification for burning the Jordanian pilot is argued with a scholarly rigor that sets forth chapter and verse. In a February 2, 2015 analysis titled, Fatwa: How Islamic State Justifies Burning Pilot Alive, written by Raymond Ibrahim, a widely respected expert on militant Islam, we are told:
“The brief fatwa argues that “the Hanafis and Shafi‘is [two of Sunni Islam’s four orthodox schools of jurisprudence] permit burning’ people. Next the fatwa quotes the eminent Hafiz ibn al-Hajar (d. 1449) who comments that ‘the deeds of the companions [of Muhammad] evince the permissibility of burning, and the prophet put out the eyes of the men of Urayna with a heated iron [he also cut their hands and feet off], and Khalid bin al-Walid burned some of the people who apostatized.’ None of this is surprising, every atrocity IS has committed—whether beheading, crucifying, raping, enslaving, or now immolating humans—has precedents in Islam, whether in the deeds of Muhammad, that most “perfect” and “moral” man (Koran 33:21, 68:4) or his revered companions.”
As we can see by comparing this exegesis on the theological foundation of ISIS’s Fatwa, which justifies the burning of the Jordanian pilot, with the denunciations of the Islamic scholars cited above, there is no agreement on what the correct teaching of Islam is on the critical issue of human immolation. The obvious consequence of this ambiguity of interpretation is that the preachments of those scholars who oppose ISIS will fall on deaf ears. And I suspect that after some of these are deemed apostates and murdered it will be harder to find oppositional theologians who are willing to go on record. All of this leads to one conclusion: ISIS must be destroyed with military might, and the sooner the better!
But how is this to be accomplished when the US President has promised the American people that he will never, ever, ever, send American ground troops to fight ISIS? Whatever solution President Obama decides on it cannot involve American “boots on the ground!” But even if he were willing to order troops to the area right now victory would not be easily won.
This is because fighting ISIS requires getting involved in a quagmire of conflicting religious and ethnic grievances whose roots lay deep in centuries of tortured Islamic history. Tom Friedman, the three time Pulitzer Prize winning Foreign Affairs columnist for the New York Times, provides an insightful summation of the problem in a September 2, 2014 essay titled “Ready, Aim, Fire. Not Fire, Ready, Aim.”
“To defeat ISIS you have to address the context out of which it emerged. And that is the three civil wars raging in the Arab world today: the civil war within Sunni Islam between radical jihadists and moderate mainstream Sunni Muslims and regimes; the civil war across the region between Sunnis funded by Saudi Arabia and Shiites funded by Iran; and the civil war between Sunni jihadists and all other minorities in the region — Yezidism, Turkmen, Kurds, Christians, Jews and Alawites. When you have a region beset by that many civil wars at once, it means there is no center, only sides. And when you intervene in the middle of a region with no center, you very quickly become a side.”
Yet, even so, given the increasing dangers posed by ISIS to everybody that disagrees with them, American intelligence agencies should be tasked with finding the factions that will work in a coalition with the limited objective of defeating ISIS. And since bitter experience has demonstrated that giving weapons to any “side” in this complicated conflict usually results in them ending up in the arsenals of the Jidadist, prudence dictates that we seek another strategy. Here is the ideal opportunity to finally take the historic step of removing the restrictions placed on Japan in the aftermath of World War II, which prohibits them from deploying armed forces beyond their borders to resolve international disputes.
Many members of the US Congress have called for the lifting of this prohibition – which was written into their post-war constitution under American direction as part of their “unconditional surrender” after being devastated by American atomic bombs during World War II. And regional Pacific powers such as Australia, feeling threatened by the growing might of China, are also calling for Japan to play a larger military role in international affairs. It is no secret that this would be to the liking of the Japanese Prime Minister Abbo, who has made no secret of his desire to strengthen Japan’s military posture, even acquiring nuclear weapons. The Prime Minister has openly questioned the reliability of the American “Nuclear Umbrella” by raising the critical question of whether Americans would risk nuclear war with China to defend Japan. However in my view, any deal that would allow Japan to become a nuclear armed nation would be a dangerous Faustian Bargain and the Devil will one day claim our bodies and souls, it would be just a matter of time.
Hence what I have in mind is a far less grandiose plan. Although if other nations that are less developed and technically competent than Japan such as India, Pakistan, Israel, South Korea, et al are allowed to build nuclear arsenals it is just a matter of time before Japan joins the Nuclear club, to think otherwise is self-deceptive folly. But for the time being Japan could supply an affective armed force to confront ISIS on the ground. The brazen public murders of Japanese citizens on the internet while the Japanese government pleaded for their lives as they tried to work out a deal, has created public support for a Japanese invasion force to take the field against ISIS.
They have all he means to do the job and I think this could be their moment to renter the international arena as a military power. No nation in the world has a longer history of military distinction than Japan, and some of their most influential thought leaders have made it plain that they do not like being known as “a nation that produces beautiful flower arrangements.” And they are anxious to remind the world that they are a great warrior nation. I say let the remind us by taking the field against ISIS and removing them from the face of the earth, with the full backing of the rest of the world! What to do about ISIS? Therein lies your answer.
Benjamin is a veteran political journalist out of Harlem NY. His essays can be read on his blog site Commentaries on the Times.