Feminist Muslims on ISIS and Islam: ‘Name It to Tame It’

AP Photo
AP Photo

Muslim author Asra Nomani and journalist Hala Arafa have published a piece at the Daily Beast in which they say that in order to defeat ISIS, the President needs to accurately identify it. As they put it, the President must, “name it to tame it.”

The authors spent 200 hours going over every frame of the last two ISIS videos–the murder of a Jordanian pilot and the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians. What they saw was not unfamiliar, nor was it incoherent. On the contrary, the authors write, “we, as Muslims, recognize every word in the Islamic State’s theology from teachings, ideas and interpretations we’ve heard through our approximately 50 years on this earth.”

The familiarity and careful assemblage of familiar Islamic ideas presented in the videos convinced the authors that, “Islamic State strategists, propagandists and recruiters are very much grounded in a logical interpretation of the Quran, the hadith, or sayings and traditions of the prophet Muhammad, and fatwa, or religious rulings.” In other words, this is not the work of madmen but of deeply religious, albeit radical, Islamists.

Because the content is so clearly, at least to Muslim eyes, coming from within the Islamic tradition, the authors argue (similar to the argument I made here) that the President’s obfuscation is merely aiding a shame-based culture in deflecting a much needed acknowledgement of reality.

Doing a verbal tap dance around Islamic theology and extremism, even calling it “whatever ideology,” Obama and his policy team have it completely wrong. We have to own the issue of extremist Islamic theology in order to defeat it and remove it from our world. We have to name it to tame it.

Among Muslims, stuck in face-saving, shame-based cultures, we need to own up to our extremist theology instead of always reverting to a strategy of denial, deflection, and demonization.

The authors make clear they are not endorsing a “war with Islam” view of the conflict. They say we are at war with, “an ideology and theology of Islam.” That difference–between un-Islamic and of Islam–is significant. According to the authors, it makes Obama’s focus on “‘historical grievances’ and ‘root causes,’ from the Crusades to colonialism” counterproductive.

What Obama has done is deflect responsibility from those who need to take it and give succor to the “wound collectors” who want to claim violence is justified because of past (or present) wrongs. In short, President Obama’s approach to radical Islam is completely backwards.