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Ex-Radical Islamist: How to Defeat the Islamic State

Maajid Nawaz, the author of “Radical: My Journey Out of Islamist Extremism,” writes on how to destroy and marginalize the Islamist ideology.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Islam is a religion, and like any other faith, it is internally diverse. Islamism, by contrast, is the desire to impose a single version of Islam on an entire society. Islamism is not Islam, but it is an offshoot of Islam. It is Muslim theocracy.

In much the same way, jihad is a traditional Muslim idea connoting struggle—sometimes a personal spiritual struggle, sometimes a struggle against an external enemy. Jihadism, however, is something else entirely: It is the doctrine of using force to spread Islamism.

President Barack Obama and many liberal-minded commentators have been hesitant to call this Islamist ideology by its proper name. They seem to fear that both Muslim communities and the religiously intolerant will hear the word “Islam” and simply assume that all Muslims are being held responsible for the excesses of the jihadist few.

I call this the Voldemort effect, after the villain in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Many well-meaning people in Ms. Rowling’s fictional world are so petrified of Voldemort’s evil that they do two things: They refuse to call Voldemort by name, instead referring to “He Who Must Not Be Named,” and they deny that he exists in the first place. Such dread only increases public hysteria, thus magnifying the appeal of Voldemort’s power.

The same hysteria about Islamism is unfolding before our eyes. But no strategy intended to defeat Islamism can succeed if Islamism itself and its violent expression in jihadism are not first named, isolated and understood. It is as disingenuous to argue that Islamic State is entirely divorced from Islam as it is to assert that it is synonymous with Islam. Islamic State does indeed have something to do with Islam—not nothing, not everything, but something. That something is the way in which all Islamists justify their arguments using Islamic scripture and seek to recruit from Muslims.

The urgency of making these distinctions should be apparent to everyone. The attacks seem to be coming in swift succession now: Istanbul, Sinai, Beirut, Paris, San Bernardino, London. What is the strategy behind this Islamic State-inspired violence? Jihadists of all bents seek to create discord, pitting Muslims against non-Muslims in the West and Sunni Muslims against Shiite Muslims in the East. The theocratic ideology of Islamism thrives on division, polarization and claims of Muslim victimhood.

Islamic State’s leaders insist that the U.S. and the rest of the West are waging a global war against all Islam and Muslims. This is obvious nonsense, but by a combination of provocation and self-fulfilling prophecy, Islamic State is doing everything possible to make it a reality—helped along, alas, by Donald Trump’s call this week “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Islamic State’s goal is to leave Sunni Muslims—in Europe, America and the Middle East—with no refuge except the terrorist group’s own self-declared caliphate in the lawless regions of Syria and Iraq.

As Islamic State has outlined in its own magazine Dabiq, it aims to eliminate what it calls the “gray zone,” the middle ground between Islamist theocrats and anti-Muslim bigots, so that everyone is forced to pick sides. In this way, Islamic State hopes to turn non-Muslims against Muslims and, once this process is complete—that is, once we all begin to see each other primarily through narrow religious lenses—to set off a global religious war.

Read the rest of the article here.

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