Thursday, 8 October 2015

Taqiyya and the "Islamic Conspiracy"

When I was a young man the World Government Conspiracy was quite popular (or should I say unpopular?) in the conservative church circles in which I moved for a while.  The basic idea was that various powerful forces were working in secret to create a single world government, perhaps with the United Nations as its initial vehicle.  This government would appear benign and desirable initially, but once firmly established would show its true Satanic character in fulfillment of various prophecies in the Book of Revelation.

There were a number of usual suspects in this conspiracy - Freemasons, the Illuminati, the Club of Rome, Jewish bankers (or Jews in general) and Communists.  Many elements were imported from earlier conspiracy theories.  For instance, the Jewish aspect of the conspiracy was imported directly from Nazi propaganda.  The Protocols of the Elders of Zion - a clumsy forgery created by the Russian secret service which purported to describe a Jewish plot for world domination - was still being taken seriously by right-wing conspiracy theorists in the 1980s.  For all I know it still is today.

The thing about a good conspiracy theory is that it is pretty much impervious to criticism.  Of course conspirators will lie, cover their tracks and create false records.  Hence, those producing evidence which discredits the conspiracy theory are either part of the conspiracy, or duped by it.  Once this mindset has taken hold, all argument is futile.  Even the clumsiest and most outlandish conspiracy theories are protected behind this wall of circularity.

I haven't heard anybody advocate the World Government Conspiracy for years, but lately my Facebook feed has been infused with a steady drip of articles and memes about the Islamic Conspiracy.  This particular conspiracy has quite a bit on common with its older cousin.  Islamic forces (vaguely defined) are plotting world domination.  They wish to impose Sharia Law on the whole globe, by force if necessary.  Where it is feasible to do so they will impose their will by force (as in Saudi Arabia, or Iraq and Syria), but where it is not feasible they will do so by infiltration, getting a foothold in Western countries through immigration (sometimes as "refugees") and having large families to mavouvre themselves into a position of demographic dominance.

In the vanguard of those promoting the notion of this conspiracy are neo-fascist groups such as Reclaim Australia and its counterparts around the globe.  However I'm also hearing these ideas from people who I know are definitely not neo-fascists, including many conservative Christians.

While many aspects of the Islamic conspiracy are less detailed and less well-thought-out than the World Government Conspiracy, it far surpasses the older theory in its capacity to insulate itself from criticism.  This self-protective structure is founded in a rather peculiar interpretation of the Islamic concept of taqiyya.

The anti-Islamic website Religion of Peace provides the following description of taqiyya, which it translates as "lying".

There are two forms of lying to non-believers that are permitted under certain circumstances, taqiyya  (saying things that aren't true) and kitman (lying by omission). These circumstances are typically those that advance the cause Islam - in some cases by gaining the trust of non-believers in order to draw out their vulnerability and defeat them....

Leaders in the Arab world routinely say one thing to English-speaking audiences and then something entirely different to their own people in Arabic.  Yassir Arafat was famous for telling Western newspapers about his desire for peace with Israel, then turning right around and whipping Palestinians into a hateful and violent frenzy against Jews.

The 9/11 hijackers practiced deception by going into bars and drinking alcohol, thus throwing off potential suspicion that they were fundamentalists plotting jihad.  This effort worked so well, in fact, that even weeks after 9/11, John Walsh, the host of a popular American television show, said that their bar trips were evidence of 'hypocrisy.'

These are just some extracts to give you the flavour.  They cite a number of verses from the Quran and the hadith to back their case.  Other anti-Islam sites provide similar arguments, and there is no shortage of such sites out there.

The upshot of this description is that Muslims cannot be trusted.  Even if you make friends with a Muslim or work with one and they seem nice and "normal", chances are that they are simply practicing taqiyya, lulling you into a false sense of security, waiting to strike when the moment is right and either make you a willing convert or force you to bow to their will.

There is a lot wrong with this argument.  For a start, it is not clear that Yasser Arafat, never mind the 9/11 conspirators, are models of Islamic behaviour.  It may well be that Arafat practiced deception - plenty of politicians of all religious persuasions have done the same.  It may also be that the 9/11 conspirators deliberately concealed their Islamic fantaticism in order to throw police off the scent - after all, they were desperate criminals.  On the other hand it could be as Robert Pape suggests, that they simply weren't that devout and were motivated by nationalism not religion.

If we turn to Islamic sources we find the term understood very differently.  We learn for instance that the idea is mostly argued by Shiite Muslims rather than the majority Sunnis.  The Shiite online library describes it in the following way.

The word "al-Taqiyya” literally means: "Concealing or disguising one’s beliefs, convictions, ideas, feelings, opinions, and/or strategies at a time of eminent danger, whether now or later in time, to save oneself from physical and/or mental injury.” A one-word translation would be "Dissimulation".

…a better, and more accurate definition of "al-Taqiyya”is "diplomacy.” The true spirit of "al- Taqiyya”is better embodied in the single word "diplomacy” because it encompasses a comprehensive spectrum of behaviors that serve to further the vested interests of all parties involved.

It goes on to provide a lengthy exposition, citing various seminal Sunni and Shiite teachers, the upshot of which is that the purpose of al-taqiyya is self-preservation - such dissimulation is to be used in the face of persecution, at which point it is permissable for believers to conceal their belief and even commit forbidden acts in order to preserve life and limb.

A kind of footnote at the end of the article responds very dismissively to a Wahabbist comment suggesting the wider meaning.  (Wahabbism, remember, is the interpretation of Islam preferred by Al Qaida, IS and Saudi regime).  Al-Islam's author suggests that this is a fringe interpretation based on an ignorance of Islamic tradition and scholarship.

The Washington Post quotes Khaled Abu El Fadl, a professor of law at Harvard and leading authority on Islamic law.

“Yes, it is permissible to hide the fact you are Muslim” if a person is under threat, “as long as it does not involve hurting another person,” Abou El Fadl said. “But there is no concept that would encourage a Muslim to lie to pursue a goal. That is a complete invention. Any Muslim is raised on the idea that lying is a sin.”

Neutral sources echo this more narrow interpretation.  For instance the article on Rational Wiki says this:

This concept has been seized upon by bigots to suggest that all Muslims are constantly focused on deceiving their neighbors to appear more likable, and then once they've lured you into a false sense of security - bam - the old fork in the eye.

The truth of the matter is that the standard for employing taqiyya is particularly high. For example, during the Spanish Inquisition when Muslims (along with Jews) were tortured by the Grand Inquisitor Torquemada, it would have been permissible for a Muslim to claim to convert to Christianity to avoid torture and death for himself and his family, while continuing to practice his faith in secret. 

Even such a sober and neutral source as the Oxford Dictionary of Islam expresses the same view.  It defines taqiyya as follows.

Precautionary denial of religious belief in the face of potential persecution. Stressed by Shii Muslims, who have been subject to periodic persecution by the Sunni majority. 

I could go on but I don't want to labour the point.  The interpretation of taqiyya advanced by anti-Islamic campaigners like Religion of Peace is at odds with the vast majority of Islamic teaching on the subject.  Islamic scholars are clear that deception is permissible in extreme situations where there is a direct threat to the life of the believer.  This is why it emerged first in Shia Islam, whose followers have been much more subject to persecution across their history than the majority Sunni faith.

This is not to say that no Islamic person will lie to you, or even that no Islamic preacher will advocate the more expansive interpretation of taqiyya.  What I'm pointing out, though, is that if this is taught it is a minority position which does not reflect the mainstream of Islam.  It is a problem within Islam rather than a problem with Islam, just as white supremacism or the Children of God are problems within Christianity but do not reflect the view of the majority of Christians.

The problem is, I can argue this all I like.  Those who are convinced that there is an Islamic conspiracy will simply say that I have been duped, that Al-Islam and Abu El Fadl have practiced a clever piece of taqiyya and that people like the Washington Post journalist and even the Oxford Dictionary have been taken in.  Conspiracy theories are not rational, they are expressions of our deep fears, and we cannot argue them away.

However, their existence makes the goodwill of the rest of us all the more important.  Just as it is important to show that terrorism and deception are  not the norm in Islamic communities, it is important to show that bigotry is not the norm in secular Western societies, or in Christian churches. Acts of friendship and humanity can help to bring down the wall, or at least lower it.  Do you have Muslim neighbours?  Say hello.  They will probably say hello back.  They will not mean anything sinister by it.  They are just people, like the rest of us.


Hermit said...

However, there's enough history of Islamic acts of terror to cast fear into the hearts of non-Muslims. How are we to know? Certainly, many countries have had law-and-order problems with Muslims. Certainly, Muslims want to impose sharia law through out the world. Christians in Muslim countries are being beheaded. I've watched the videos. Its for real. So how can I accept your word that there is nothing to fear? For many people in the world there really has been much to be feared.

Jon Eastgate said...

The thing is you could rewrite those sentences substituting "Christian" for "Muslim".

"However there's been enough history of Christian acts of terror to cast fear into the hearts of non-Christians. How are we to know? Certainly many countries have law and order problems with Christians. Certainly, Christians want to impose Christian law throughout the world. Muslims in Christian countries are being (not beheaded but) vilified and placed under surveillance. So how can I accept your word that there is nothing to fear?"

You will reply that these things are perversions of Christianity and most Christians don't act that way. I agree. This is the same reply Muslims give when people say these things about them. How many Islamic governments are beheading Christians? How many Australian Muslims are advocating or practicing violence (less than 1% if the figures reported from the AFP are anything to go by).

When we generalise this and blame these behaviours on Islam we are guilty of prejudice and we are also misdirecting our attention in the same way the bikie laws misdirected our attention on law and order. Yes there are criminal bikies but not all bikies are criminals. Yes there are criminal Muslims but all Muslims are criminals. And there are plenty of criminals who are neither.

Hermit said...

Should I tell you that you made a grammatical error? You said, "Yes there are criminal Muslims but ALL MUSLIMS ARE CRIMINALS". (Emphasis obviously mine).

You have taken a position because you believe that it is the "right" one; I would say the politically correct one. You think it is better because it is not "racist" or otherwise prejudiced. However, sometimes there IS a real threat. Sometimes it may well be correct to be "racist". Look at the Jews in Germany in 1939. Not all Germans wanted to kill the Jews, but enough did, hence the Holocaust.

So the Islamic threat may well be very real. Although it may seem "racist" or "religionist" to fear Muslims, yet there may well be a serious problem resulting from Muslims flooding into western and European Countries. To be afraid, to speak out against the perceived threat, may yet turn out to be the correct position to have adopted.

And yes, I can't resist: Christians haven't committed acts of terror. Anyone can say they are a Christian, but you can know them by their fruits. No murderer has eternal life dwelling in him. So-called acts of "Christian" violence (done by non-Christians) do not happen with anything like the frequency of Islamic acts of terror.

I'm sorry, but this time I think there is a very real threat.

Jon Eastgate said...

Oops! Freudian slip?

What I say may be politically correct but it is also correct. The main stream of Islam does not teach people to lie for their faith, except to protect their lives, and does not teach people to bomb innocent civilians or behead Christians. Most Muslims see these behaviours as perversions of Islam. This doesn't mean they're not a threat - we know for sure that they are - just that Islam as a whole should not be tarred with this brush.

But I hope you can see what you are doing here. If I talk about Christian violence, you say that those people couldn't be real Christians because you will know Christians by their fruits. But if a Muslim - even a highly respected Islamic scholar - says "lying and killing innocents is anti-Muslim and people who do it are not true Muslims" you disallow this point and suggest they are being deceptive. You are (not deliberately, I'm sure) applying a double standard.

As to frequency, how many people have been murdered in Australia this year? How many of these murders have been committed by Muslims acting in the name of Islam? How many non-combatants have been killed by US and allied air strikes since 2001? How many non-combatants were killed in last year's Gaza invasion? I suspect your assessment of the frequency of Islamic killings is a case of confirmation bias.

Hermit said...

I hear you, but there are many other voices (many educated) saying that Islamic terror is a very big issue and a very big problem for the west. Yes, when Governments send their military to attack, many non-combatants die. But that is not Christian violence (Jesus doesn't tell us to attack our enemies), and does nothing to convince me that Muslim terrorists are not a significant threat to us. You can't use acts of war to say - Muslims aren't a risk to us, because some countries attack other countries and kill non-combatants.

If you have time, you might listen to a little of this ...

Jon Eastgate said...

"Islamic terror" is a different question. The guy in that link is entitled to his opinion but whether Mohammed would join IS or not, very few 21st century Muslims would. He himself says that the vast majority of Muslims in the world are moderate and have no sympathy for IS - then he talks about the "tens of thousands" who are attracted to IS, out of two and a half billion Muslims. In fact far more Muslims have been killed by "Islamic terrorists" than Christians or people of other faiths.

George W Bush prayed hard before he made the decision to invade Iraq and firmly believed that God had guided him to make the invasion. "God instructed me to strike Al Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did."

Jon Eastgate said...

One more thing - that recording actually lost me near the beginning, when he says Tariq Ramadan's assertion that IS is an aberration within Islam is a "fantasy". The thing is, Tariq Ramadan is Professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University - so who should i believe on the subject, him or this guy? This, along with the fact that your guy himself says the vast majority of Muslims don't hold with IS's view, should alert you that something is going on here. He thinks it's because most Muslims don't take their faith that seriously, but this is nonsense. Tariq Ramadan takes his faith very seriously. The world is currently full of Christian preachers who want to present us with the "correct" interpretation of Islam. Would you accept an Islamic preacher telling you the "correct" interpretation of Christianity if it went against what you have been taught all your life by people you trust?