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Reconsidering Religion, Reconsidering Terrorism

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Reconsidering Religion, Reconsidering Terrorism

Alexs Thompson


This article suggests that a new definition of religion is necessary to properly conceptualize and develop policy in response to violent religious behaviors.  It is argued that religion is frequently, even if indirectly, presumed to be peaceful theological window dressing that can be ignored in addressing religious violence.  Military and political leaders, for example, forbid troops from entering religious building for fear of offense with little regard for missed opportunities for engagement.  Such a perspective leads commanders and analysts to be stuck describing terrorists as evil monsters with no real mechanism of understanding how religion can be alluring because of its advocacy of violence.  There is a frequent discussion, for example, about whether Islam is fundamentally violent.  In what follows, a new perspective on religion is offered that recognizes and prioritizes the fact that religions like Islam can sanction violence in ways that are ultimately local and intoxicating.  Rather than relying on terms of convenience like terrorist and evil, this new perspective on defining religion offers a more nuanced approach to responding to religious violence.


In 2008 while deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, I found that Imams were frequently described as the primary fuel for violence in al-Anbar province.  Accordingly, military and diplomatic leaders tended to avoid and isolate religious leaders from important discussions about rebuilding stable Iraqi communities.  Religious leaders were understood to be forces of discontent who needed to be marginalized if Iraqis were to ever realize a thriving society.  Given the important historical role that religious leaders have played in Iraqi history, I designed a data collection plan to test whether religious leaders were preaching violence and stoking the flames of insurgency.  With the help of my teammates and various military units, we were able to gather reports from tens of thousands of Friday sermons. 

We discovered that over 80% of the sermons we analyzed were neutral to the Iraqi government and the United States; approximately 10% were positively disposed towards the Iraqi government and the United States, and less than 5% were openly hostile to the United States and the Iraqi government.  Rather than finding a preponderance of violent sermons, we found those sermons to be primarily concerned with religious and social justice issues.  For example, we were able to find an imam who was preaching against the disruption of the food supply chain by terrorist elements.  By engaging that religious leader, we were able to make substantial changes to development priorities, security procedures, and contract awards with the effect of increasing local Iraqi involvement in rebuilding their own society. What follows are three erroneous principles that guided our analyses and two principles that were gleaned from our study of those religious sermons.

Religion is Not Peaceful

When analysts face improbable situations like religiously motivated beheadings or rape, they default to name calling because religion is so frequently avoided and misunderstood.  Muslim terrorists are described as evil monsters because there is little understanding of their religious motivations.  Appeals to 99 virgins for those who martyr themselves, for example, is scoffed at as opportunistic, juvenile, and unconvincing: window dressing for deeper, more important social issues.  The intersection of religion and violence tests the limits of analysis because there has been little explanation of how religion can be alluring because of violence.  When young men and women speak enthusiastically about their desire to kill themselves in the name of God, it is significantly easier to investigate their economic status and declare that they are too poor to understand the implications of their behavior then to trace the religious justifications for such decisions.  Analysis of these types of events gets stuck describing how bad the perpetrators are and how they are poor representations of their religious tradition.  Accordingly, policy recommendations are most frequently focused on how to acquire more guns and more money to dissuade and, if necessary, eliminate those who make such decisions. 

Defaulting to terms like monster and evil or ignoring religious is based on a predilection to understand religion as constructive and peaceful.  Terrorists are monsters because they bastardize religious traditions that would otherwise build communities and strengthen social bonds.  Terrorists, like werewolves and vampires, are perversions of the visage and aims of the societies from which they emerge and which they terrorize.  It is helpful to recognize that religion neither is peaceful nor violent and terrorists are not monsters, but products of their religious environments. Terrorists, for example, are drawn to religion because it affords an opportunity to exact religious justice and institute a more perfect world.  So long as those terrorists are explained away as miscreants who violate the principle of peaceful religion it will be much easier to avoid and misunderstand religiously motivated violence than engage it.  Religious leaders in Fallujah, while I was there, were ignored not only because they were erroneously understood to be fomenting an insurgency, but because they were seen as unable to use their religion to bring about peace.  If religion was the cause of violence and could not be leveraged to build peaceful communities, religion was ineffectual.

Religion is Not Window Dressing

Religion is one of the most difficult topics from which to collect data because of cultural sensitivities.  The adage discouraging the discussion of politics or religion in polite conversation is well attested notwithstanding the fact that political science has a long history of sophisticated theories.  It remains possible to speak in fairly abstract and specific terms about political realism and political economics, for example.  Religion tends to lack such a rich syntax for theoretical, public discourse.  This is true in spite of the fact that religion continues to influence human behavior at every level.   

Individuals who commit acts of violence in the name of religion are frequently analyzed as psychologically unstable, socially deviant, and economically disadvantaged.  Religion, as an actual cause for violence, is frequently left ignored and unanalyzed.  When religion is identified as the cause of religious behavior, the arguments are usually simplistic accusations against “them” by “us”.  Those who put effort into analyzing violent events frequently preserve a type of privileged status for religion, writ large, even if individual religions are labeled as violent.  The contact point between religion and violence for sophisticated analysis is frequently one of confusion.  Analysts are understandably disgusted and angry when they observe violence perpetrated in the name of a particular religion and seek to explain away the religious aspects of the actors and apply deeper, more important motivations for such behavior such as sociological factors.  There are frequent calls for moderate religious leaders to admonish their violent counterparts with the expectation that the truth of that religion supports moderation and peace-building. 

In effect, religion is treated as mere window dressing for an explanation of violence; those who perpetrate such violence do not understand their true religion.  Policy implications of this perspective tend to encourage nation-building, inter-religious dialogue, and psychoanalysis.  It frequently happens that even when perpetrators of violence point to religious texts as the motivation for their behavior, analysts default to psychological and sociological explanations.  Religious explanations for violence become untouchable, inexplicable, and beyond the pail of productive policy discussions. 

But religion cannot be ignored when analyzing religious violence.  While in Iraq, my military and political commanders avoided local religious leaders because they did not have the knowledge to attack what those commanders understood as the key cause of violence in the region.  They treated religious language and religious leaders as critical variables that ought not be engaged.  For example, representatives of the US-led coalition were forbidden from entering any religious buildings.  Religious buildings in the communities where I worked were social buildings where problems were solved, resources were distributed, and relationships were solidified.  Our commanders were motivated by a sense that Iraqi problems were tribal, economic, and political even though our enemies and our partners understood religion to be the keystone issue.  Islam, in that case, was not window dressing that could be avoided.  This does not mean, however, that Islam is violent, but that serious analysts must be able to frame violence in particularly Islamic terms without ascribing that violence to every Muslim everywhere.

Religion is Not Theology

Another reason religious leaders were ignored while I was in Iraq was that religion is often mistaken for theology and few people understand theology of their or other religious traditions.  Theology, as the study of God, is concerned with how human communities theorize a divine being.  When confronted with claims of purported divine authority, it can be tempting to find competing texts that reject violence in Islam and preach tolerance and moderation.  When that happens, however, the discussion devolves into a contest about who has the proper interpretation of divine will.   At the conclusion of our study of religious leaders in Fallujah, I sat one day with a group of people who emerged from our studies as key communicators and partners in spreading stability.  As we discussed ways of undermining the influence of violent actors, the discussion turned to whether the Qur’an can be used to justify killing innocent Muslims.  One Imam mentioned a Qur’anic passage that requires special accommodations for Christians and Jews. 

Other Imams chimed in with other Qur’anic passages that advocated violence that gave the terrorists what they needed to justify their actions.  We came to agree that theology—the study of texts—could not resolve the fundamental issue at stake.  Our research team, as a result of that encounter, came to understand that another prevailing misunderstanding of religion is that it is synonymous with theology.  Theological awareness is important, but on both sides of any disagreement, the validity of an argument is not the ink on a piece of paper, but the traditions that authorize the use of one type of verse over another.  Those who perpetrate religious violence have their own theological systems that does not need to accord with other religions or even with others within their religious tradition.

Theological engagements can lead to greater understandings of various theological perspectives, but they do not usually lead to the cessation of religious violence.  Terrorists are unlikely to be persuaded that they misunderstand their theological tradition because one or another outside observer is able to quote the Qur‘an.  If the study of religion is understood to be the study of theology, observers rightly back away from direct engagement with religious leaders and resort to emotional descriptions of terrorists and their violent actions.  When understood correctly, religious justifications for violence are not primarily found within religious texts, but in the complex lived experiences of those who choose to commit those violent acts. 

Religion is an Analytical Category

Stripped of its frequent assessment as window dressing that is focused on peace-building and theology, religion takes on a very different image.  Religion, from this perspective, can be understood as a theoretical term that requires more careful definition if religious violence is to be conceptualized and handled correctly.  Religion, let us say, describes a class of human behaviors that are similar only because they have been defined as similar.  “Religion” is a term of convenience created by analysts to make it easier to describe vastly different phenomena.  Religion is an analytical term—a heuristic device—that attempts to lump together human behaviors that appeal to the divine for their justification.    

Jonathan “J.Z.” Smith, a pioneer in the study of religion, wrote: “Religion is solely the creation of the scholar’s study.  It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization.  Religion has no independent existence apart from the academy.”  Smith’s point was that analysts—academics in his estimation—ought not conduct their work as if all religious events can be analyzed by the same criteria.  When writing an academic paper or presenting to a similarly theoretically-minded audience it might be useful to compare “religion” across cultures, but that comparison is for some purpose.  Most frequently, that purpose is to explain how religious events should be conducted. 

Terrorists are frequently compared to their non-violent counterparts to justify why the terrorists’ theology is incorrect.  Analysts and commanders tend to create an empirical equivalency between religious phenomena rather than recognizing that equivalency as analytical.  This is to say that one’s ability to compare a Muslim terrorist with a moderate Muslim is only possible because outsiders want to be able to lump “Muslims” into one category and construct that category as peaceful.  But those two groups are Muslim only insofar as the term Muslim helps outsiders figure out how to stop terrorists.   It is useful to talk about Islam and Muslims as theoretical categories, but those theories have done little to thwart the appeal of terrorist ideologies.  It is time, then, to refashion one’s understanding of religion.

Religion is Self-Authorizing

Given these observations, let us suggest that religion is a closed system of language that authorizes itself.  Rather than ignoring religious components of religious violence or defaulting to peace and theology, it might be useful to understand religion as primarily a system of language that defines its own reality.  Violent religious groups rely on themselves to legitimize their behavior.  It is not necessary to defer to interpretations of religious texts offered by other groups or bend to legislation.  This allows violent religious groups to interpret well-known passages in radically new ways.  Traditional methods of interpreting texts become irrelevant because new religious movements assume the right to interpret texts in ways that they authorize.  They may be called heretics by outsiders, but they refer to themselves as reformers and visionaries.

In other language systems, there is a necessary dialogue with external groups.  Theorists of political science and economics, for example, are still bound by academic history and social customs.  What makes religion different as an analytical category is that it requires no external authorization to assert its theories.  Religious groups can justify their violent behavior by pointing to other texts and individuals, but they can also exclusively authorize their behavior internally.  Religious groups certainly can engage their wider communities, but they are organized to eschew social trends in favor of religious principles. 

Religious groups are frequently, at their foundation, utopian groups whose purpose is to change society even when that society does not want to be changed.  Religion need not accord with social norms if its stated aims are in jeopardy.  This aspect of religion, more than its appeal to the divine can drive a reformulation of one’s understanding of religion.  Rather than simply referring to terrorists as monsters, for example, it might be useful to describe them in their own terminology.  Monsters are otherworldly and lend themselves to fantastical descriptions.  Terrorists, when reimagined as part of the continuum of human behavior, expose themselves to sustained analysis. 

Analyzing Religious Violence

The recent rise in popularity of ISIS in Iraq and their supposed inspiration for the most recent attacks in Paris are a fitting example.  Labeling ISIS as Islamic, Salafist, extremist, violent, barbaric, backwards, and evil may have descriptive and cathartic value, but those terms offer little insight from which to build effective policy.  If one analyzes ISIS as a utopian group, however, the calculation changes.  That is, if analysts take a break from demonizing terrorists and consider them in their own terms, it is more likely that the effects of ISIS can more clearly be understood and, hopefully, mitigated. 

ISIS is a utopian movement that has come together as champions of a just society.  Their violent behaviors are authorized through compelling language that refers to a golden era of Islamic rule.  If one takes seriously the actions and words of those who support ISIS, one hears traces of a historic call for a better society, a more just society, one in which individuals are able to achieve their highest potential.  Terrorists of this sort become a group that metes out the most extreme and awful punishment only on those who deviate from the utopian ideal.  Their message is appealing because it uses violence to instill the most desirable form of human community.  The fact that we find them abhorrent is irrelevant.

Those who perpetrated the beheading in August 2014 and the attack on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 are not unique because they appeal to the divine nor because their actions are “religious.”  Terrorist organizations in general achieve their impact on communities because they create compelling linguistic frameworks that cannot be dismantled by external factors.  ISIS, like Al-Qaeda, is not simply a military force that can be bombed into submission or a social movement that will be replaced by a new fad.  There are certainly military, diplomatic, and economic aspects of their success, but its distinctive feature, the reason it has caused such a policy problem, is that it is a closed system of language that cannot be bombed, talked, or bought out of existence.  Members of ISIS that arrive from the United States, Europe, and the United Kingdom are not simply disaffected, uneducated, poor young males; the utopian society described by ISIS is, let it be said plainly, alluring. 

The number of deaths and the amount of destruction in places like New York, Fallujah, and Paris have frequently been quantified to justify military action and moral disgust, but it has done little to explain the ability of terrorist language systems to persuade individuals around the world to join their cause.  The goal of a new analytical perspective, however, would not be for us to create a utopian society for them, but to support competing narratives for a stable society. 


When I deployed to Iraq, many analysts were persuaded that religious leaders were the primary cause of insurgency because so much of the violence was being perpetrated in the name of religion.  The commanders and analysts with whom I worked spent a great amount of energy ignoring and perpetuating misunderstandings of religion in general and Islam in particular.  Through detailed study we discovered that indigenous religious leaders were not a determinative cause of religious violence, but that they could be helpful in building stable communities.  Once we were able to redefine our understanding of religion, integrate religious leaders, and focus our attention on the narratives promulgated by violent religious groups, our efforts were significantly more effective. 

Rather than countering theological arguments, for example, we directed our attention to specific people, locations, and issues that drove narratives of religious violence.  Our interactions with local religious leaders were focused on understanding the local arguments of terrorists in their communities and we abandoned a broad, theoretical understanding of terrorists and terrorism.  We began to understand that our use of the terms insurgent and terrorists were primarily to help us talk to one another, but that those terms did not adequately describe the communities in which we were working.  Iraq in 2008 may not be the Iraq or Paris of 2015, but theoretical considerations about the confluence of religion and violence remain important.

About the Author(s)

Alexs Thompson received his Ph.D. from the Divinity School at the University of Chicago where he focused on the Qur’an and Islamic theology.  He has backpacked through much of the Middle East and subsequently supported U.S. troops throughout Africa and the Middle East.


A thought:

Given that the focus of foreign governments -- re: other states and societies -- is often to re-organize, re-order and re-orient these states and societies; this, so as to gain greater access to and greater utilization of the human and other resources contained therein.

This often entailing:

a. The "getting rid" of a ruler that is uncooperative re: this re-organization, re-ordering and re-orientation agenda and

b. The installing of a ruler that the foreign governments hope will be more cooperative re: their state and societal "transformation" designs.

(A process which -- often as not -- leads to state, societal and even civilizational instability and insurgency.)

In such instances as these, both parties of the conflict may seek to use religion generally -- and the indigenous religion specifically -- to their individual advantage.

Thus, the foreign aggressor, as the author notes above, might be wise to use the more-peaceful, more-inclusive and more-societal-calming aspects of a religion and the applicable texts and practices thereof.

The insurgent, for his part, might wish to refer to the more-war-like, anti-foreigner and more exclusive aspects of the religion, texts and passages; in his case, to help define and focus the conflict in ways favorable him and to, otherwise, advance his "resistance" cause.

Thus in this more utilitarian light to see any specific religion -- and/or any specific passages and practices thereof -- not in terms of being the root cause of, for example, the resistance-to-transformation problem (which may, indeed, include terrorist activity), but more as a tool that offers possibilities to both sides?

The distinction between winners and losers -- re: this contest between (1) the imperialist and (2) the targeted states and societies -- possibly going to the one who has shown the most imagination, and the most ability, to use the "tool of religion" to his best advantage?

Bill C.

Mon, 01/26/2015 - 6:36pm

In reply to by Alexs Thompson

"I don’t mean to suggest that theorizing is unnecessary ... simply that any theory should be able to adjust to the environments in which real people operate."

Given that the Cold War has now ended (characterized by Hans Morganthau as a contest between rival expansionist "secular" great powers), then might we see today's conflict environment more in 16-19th Century terms?

Thus, as a contest between:

a. A powerful, expansionist, secular West seeking to gain greater access to and greater utilization of the human and other resources of other states and societies (today via the transformation of these states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines). And

b. A less-powerful Rest -- seeking to preclude/prevent/deny such encroachment/ domination/transformation/assimilation -- via appeals to religion, conservative values and more-glorious times (ex: the Caliphate; the Russian Empire).

Note that I do not see the Wests' problems here in terms of the Middle East/Islam alone. But, rather, in more-holistic West v. the Rest conflict terms; which, in turn, seem to be more characteristic of the pre-Cold War/colonial period. Thus, in this specific "macro" manner, to better understand and address -- not only our political objective ("a" above) -- but also the problems which are typically related thereto ("b" above). In this way, to better understand the true nature, scope and character of our challenges, the difficulties related thereto, and, thus, to provide us with the necessary framework to craft diplomatic, military, etc., approaches. I understand that my "theorizing" here negates the "universal values" thesis; but this, I believe, is necessary to bring us back to reality and to, thus, be able to deal effectively with the issues (examples: the rise of religiosity[?], terrorism, insurgency, etc.) related to the old/new "conflict environment" that I have described above.

CW4 ret H North

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 11:08pm

In reply to by Alexs Thompson

Professor Thompson,

I commend you for your essay on this important topic. The spirited discussion that it has generated highlights the dearth of coverage that it apparently has lacked, yet deserves.

You mention that “these kinds of discussions are … less useful in the conduct of war and diplomacy.” I believe they are essential! It is impossible to formulate a viable war or diplomatic strategy without clearly and concisely defining and identifying the enemy. I present our leadership’s failure to do so over the last 14 years as evidence of how well that has worked out for us—or more accurately, not worked out.

Your goal to “never provide the true definition of Islam or Muslims but to argue that such definitions result in the promulgation of convenient terms and phrases that allow “us” to talk about “them”" I believe has already been proven. Our social, political, and military vocabulary is rife with terms and phrases that are wholly convenient for us unlearned Kuffar to talk about them, but it is precisely because we refuse, and therefore fail, to understand their doctrine and terminology that we have forced ourselves to develop our own. To illustrate, this was never the case during the Cold War, where our Field Manuals clearly identified Soviet “Motorized Rifle Divisions” as, well, Motorized Rifle Divisions. We did not attempt to put a square peg in a round hole by applying our own terminology to their doctrine by calling them “mechanized infantry” units. Yet we refuse to study our current enemy’s doctrine and use their terminology, resulting in such vague and innocuous definitions and titles like “violent extremism”, “moderates”, or “lone wolf”. None of these terms are used by our enemy. And so the cycle of defeat and failure continues.

The entire concept that the enemy somehow “varies widely across time and space” is exactly the undefinable position they want us to be in. And it is precisely this deliberately applied vagueness that makes it more difficult to conduct good faith engagements and accomplish sustainable diplomatic and military objectives. An enemy that cannot be defined cannot be identified. An enemy that cannot be identified cannot be defeated. This is what the MB in the United States has strived to do, and they have been very successful at it.

Alexs Thompson

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 12:05pm

I want to respond to more of the ideas presented in the comments, but I'll start with this:

Spirited discussion is a sure sign of an important topic. I would like to change the direction of this conversation and the general conversation about these issues. If we continue to have these discussions in the context of “what Islam is?” or “what Muslims are like” or “Islam is violent”, we get what we’ve always gotten: unresolved conflict. CW4 ret H North provides an important theological argument that Islam is a supremacist ideology singularly focused on instituting shar‘ia law. CCJOHNS takes the conversation a step further when he argues that Muslims are like the average German in Nazi Germany. In each of these cases, readers are treated to homogenized abstractions that may capture some aspects of their respective phenomenon, i.e., Islam and Muslims, but undoubtedly miss important aspects that don’t fit theoretical simplifications.

In my article, I mentioned that: "Theological awareness is important, but on both sides of any disagreement, the validity of an argument is not the ink on a piece of paper, but the traditions that authorize the use of one type of verse over another." Discussions that take the form of academic one-upmanship rarely resolve physical conflicts. In keeping with our example, I could present a verse from the Qur‘ān about violence and it could be countered by another verse. I would explain why my verse is more relevant and back it up with some hadīth I happened to have memorized. In response I am inundated with other hadīth that I either forgot or never learned that legitimately contradict my point. Conversely, my comparisons are countered with historical or current examples. I tell stories of my time in Yemen or Afghanistan about how Islam/Muslims are good/bad/evil/violent and I receive a response that argues that Islam/Muslims are good/bad/evil/violent. At the end of the discussion we, usually, agree to disagree but are no closer to formulating and carrying out effective policy.

I would like to change the direction of the argument and suggest that these kinds of discussions are useful when trying to get published, but that they are less useful in the conduct of war and diplomacy. My goal was never to provide the true definition of Islam or Muslims but to argue that such definitions result in the promulgation of convenient terms and phrases that allow “us” to talk about “them”. Any theory about Islam, which seems to be our most relevant example, attempts to define a phenomenon that varies widely across time and space. “Islam” exists in such variation that to argue that “it” is one thing or another makes it more difficult to conduct good faith engagements and accomplish sustainable diplomatic and military objectives as referenced by CCJOHNS. CCJOHNS mentioned that it was a process of personal and interpersonal interaction that brought about demonstrable success—not the imposition of this or that theory onto Afghans in Kapisa province.

I don’t mean to suggest that theorizing is unnecessary—I have suggested a theory of my own—simply that any theory should be able to adjust to the environments in which real people operate. Theories of this nature should be subjected to the people and places that are purported to contain them, not the other way around. Islam, like religion, is an idea (an analytical category) and exists in the minds of individuals. Individuals act on those ideas in ever more creative and sometimes violent ways. Those behaviors vary with the environments in which the individuals find themselves and resist durable, external abstraction. In short, it is a difficult task indeed to easily define a millennia-old idea like Islam or the billions of people who use the word Muslim to describe themselves.

Alexs Thompson

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 12:08pm

In reply to by CCJOHNS

Thank you for sharing your experiences in Afghanistan. The more I talk about these things the more I learn how many people worked hard to integrate religious leaders in their KLE programs. In an act of shameless self-promotion, I would like to suggest you take a look at an article I wrote for Joint Force Quarterly and solicit your comments. Thanks, Alexs

CW4 ret H North

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 10:33am

In reply to by CCJOHNS

Mr. Johns,

I commend you on your work in Afghanistan with the ETT Program. It is apparent you went above and beyond, and had a profound impact on the Battlespace. You are correct that at the tactical level, personalities have significant influence.

I believe there may be some confusion about the replies to the original essay. I wrote the original reply, and Bill replied to my reply. And I have since replied to Bill’s reply. Confusing already, right?

Anyhow, your observations of Islamic influences here in our own country are astute, and far beyond what our media is able to muster. Apparently, you have been researching beyond the taglines of the drive-by media elites. Impressive. One point: you mention that “there have been a couple of beheadings on our own soil now in the past year, albeit by misguided/radicalized lone-wolves.” Please understand that proper application of Sharia is not properly characterized as “misguided” or “radicalized”—these are Western terms used by those who do not understand Islamic ideology. If we are to correctly interpret and understand our enemies, we must return to using the enemy’s terminology instead of attempting to superimpose our own over it. Muslims do not look upon those that practice Sharia as “misguided” or “radicalized”, but more clearly as “good” Muslims. It is difficult for lay Westerners to grasp such a concept, since beheading is so abhorrent as to be rejected on any level as “good”. But Muslims do not see Sharia through such lenses, as they have been indoctrinated to believe that Sharia is from Allah, and everything from Allah is “good”, even the draconian punishments demanded by it, because those punishments cleanse the offender, and give them a chance to re-enter “Paradise” in the Muslim version of the Afterlife, and also removes negative influences from the Ummah, thus improving the lives of fellow Muslims. In this sense, the imposition of Sharia punishments is seen as “merciful”. And a “lone wolf” is just a Jihadi working alone.

You are correct that “the lack of outrage from moderate Muslims against more extremist elements of their own faith” is of great concern, but again, only from a Westerner’s unlearned observation. First, the lack of outrage is an expression of support for Jihad, which ALL learned Muslims understand, whether they are actively engaging in it themselves or not. Actually, such silence can be interpreted as a form of Jihad in itself, by encouraging other Jihadis, knowing that they will not face condemnation from the Ummah. I wish to point out your use of the western terms “moderate” and “extreme” again do not reflect use of enemy terminology. Muslims do not self-identify as being a “moderate” or an “extremist”, and so it is poor application on our part to use these terms as well, but they are so widely used that it is difficult for Westerners to define Islamic practices without them now. I prefer using the terms “practicing” and “non-practicing”. A jihadi is "practicing", while a Muslim that does not engage in any form of Jihad is "non-practicing".

Your knowledge and awareness of the Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of America is commendable. This was a major topic in my week-long Islam course, and shocked most attendees. Most Americans have no clue what Muslim organizations are actually doing here in our country. The MB and their front organizations have been very effective at concealing their true purposes, infiltrating the organs of the media and government at all levels, and quashing any open dissent through the use of the innocuous term “Islamophobia”.

The desire for liberty, peace and security are natural human quests endowed upon every man by our Creator. It is the imposition of Islamic Doctrine that contradicts and quashes these natural desires, and creates aberrant behavior among its followers. And yes, you are correct again that the Republic is in grave danger.

Mr. Thompson,

Excellent article and follow on comments by Bill. I have no claim to expertise in this topic of discussion other than having spent all of 2009 in Afghanistan as on an Embedded Training Team (ETT) where I was an advisor and friend to an Islamic Mullah in Kapisa Province, named Wazir.
I can honestly say that our relationship moved from mistrust to trust over the course of a year and, in fact, we developed a Mullah Engagement Kit together that had a profound non-kinetic effect in Kapisa Province that directly led to decreased freedom of movement in certain tribal areas by elements that desired to launch mortar attacks upon Baghram Air Base. One of the laments of Mullah Wazir was that I was the first member of an ETT to work with him in seven years. That is an epic COIN failure! It is also ironic because the U.S. Army training I received prior to deployment (I am an Air Force officer) taught me about Key Leader Engagement (KLE) and it turned out that Mullah Wazir was a Key Leader in the 201st Corps of the ANA, its just that no-one knew he was a key leader because no-one took the time to get to know him out of fear of General Order 1 and stereotypes concerning Islam. Mullah Wazire had incredible influence as his father did before him. Personalities play an important role at the tactical level and can have higher order effects. As a Christian, I struggled at first to set aside some of my own personal bias to achieve goals of common interest to each of us and our organizations. Much more could be said because it was one of the most rewarding and painful times of my 25 year career in the military, but I only mention it to frame my interest in your article. I have a couple of thoughts concerning your response to Bill:

With regards to Bills comment, "The over-arching purpose of Islam is to implement Sharia, which Muslims are taught is the pure, undefiled law of Allah, as stated in K. 5:3 and 6:38. Thus, Sharia is the ultimate goal, and Islam is only the delivery mechanism. Unlike other religions, Islamic Sharia is to be imposed worldwide on everyone including non-Muslims (infidels), at the point of an Islamic sword via Jihad, in accordance with K. 4:59, 5:3, 9:33, 47:35, 60:4, and most importantly, the Sword Verse, 9:5."

You commented to Bill that "Then should we understand that, by far, the vast majority of individuals of the Islamic faith are not, shall we say, practicing Muslims?"

Perhaps the answer here is that the vast majority of individuals of the Islamic faith are indeed practicing their religion, especially when you consider that Islam is the second fastest growing religion in the world. This means they are affecting others with the "sword" of words. There were even several lower court cases in the United States in the past couple of years that ruled using Sharia law instead of U.S. Constitutional law. Why is that? It would seem that the average Muslim may very well indeed be "winning" folks to Islam and influencing American society, it's just that there is no need to use the physical "sword" at this point in America, like it is being used in so many other countries right now. That does not mean the "sword" is not being employed to some form in our very own country, in fact, there have been a couple of beheadings on our own soil now in the past year, albeit by misguided/radicalized lone-wolves. So I think the average Muslim is very active doing what they are supposed to do what is disturbing is the lack of outrage by moderate Muslims against more extremist elements of their own faith. Silence in Germany by a reasonable majority led to an unreasonable minority assuming power.

My second thought is that like in American warfare, there are many forms of Jihad that are not necessarily kinetic in nature and yet can have devastating effects. I submit that documents seized by the FBI raid of the mosque in Falls Church in 2004 reveal a disturbing Muslim call for quiet infiltration and "peaceful" settlement of American society in order to change it from within. Infiltration is a component of warfare and cannot be overlooked. Unfortunately, it's become politically incorrect to even reasonably discuss such possibilities without being accused of "Islamophobia". Infiltration is as real a possibility here as when I experienced it in Afghanistan. Why have we in our history gone through such great lengths to deal with the infiltration of Communism and Fascism in our country and yet we cower to think that it could be happening in a new form under our very noses.

I submit that the average Muslim , like the average German in Nazi Germany, does not seek to do harm but, like my friend Mullah Wazir, desires liberty, peace and security. However, like in Nazi Germany, if out of fear, no-one speaks out against the tyranny that can usurp any ideology, then we are all in danger and the Republic is in danger.

CW4 ret H North

Sun, 01/25/2015 - 9:38am

In reply to by Bill C.

Thank you for your very valid and poignant questions!

Yes, you are correct to understand that a majority of Muslims can be considered currently non-practicing. However, also understand that there are four methods of waging Jihad, and in this sense, perhaps a larger portion of Muslims do wage Jihad on some level than we Kuffar realize. First, there is Jihad of the Heart, where every Muslim is commanded to hate the Kuffar in their heart, even when outwardly appearing to be friendly to them. Next is Jihad of the Tongue, where Muslims are commanded to speak out against anything that detracts from the implementation of Sharia. Similar to that is Jihad of the Pen, where the Muslim writes about and publishes the same. And lastly comes the Jihad of the Sword, which involves physical fighting. And there is one more, Jihad of the Womb, where Muslims infiltrate Kuffar lands until they are the majority. So, when taking into account all of the ways a Muslim may wage the various forms of Jihad, I believe it can safely be said that a larger portion of the population are doing so in one fashion or another than most Westerners realize.

Yes, you are again correct to point out that Muslims look upon Jihadis as heroes of their ideology. Anyone that has had an opportunity to walk the streets of Gaza or the West Bank will see endless billboards and posters of “martyrs” that either blew themselves up as homicide bombers or otherwise were killed fighting against Israel. This propaganda campaign is a deliberate attempt by the Palestinian Authority to maintain the pool of Jihad martyrs with volunteers from within their own population. We can see this same propaganda campaign in Iran as well, with the grotesque “Blood of the Martyrs” fountain at the Tehran Cemetery.

Alternatively, there are those Muslims who do have difficulty looking upon those that do what Islam requires of them. Many of them feel hopelessly trapped, since the penalty for leaving Islam is death, and those that do escape are disowned by their families, which keep many who would desire to from escaping. A very few valiant ones actually do so despite the consequences and dangers. This almost always requires escaping to the West to avoid being murdered, usually by your own family. Many live in hiding in the West. It is sometimes difficult for free-thinking Westerners to comprehend the overwhelming nature of Islamic ideology, especially when imposed from birth, and then being raised in such an environment your entire life, with no knowledge of anything different, until perhaps encountering the Internet.

Bill C.

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 8:30pm

In reply to by CW4 ret H North


If Islam is to be understood this way, to wit:

"The over-arching purpose of Islam is to implement Sharia, which Muslims are taught is the pure, undefiled law of Allah, as stated in K. 5:3 and 6:38. Thus, Sharia is the ultimate goal, and Islam is only the delivery mechanism. Unlike other religions, Islamic Sharia is to be imposed worldwide on everyone including non-Muslims (infidels), at the point of an Islamic sword via Jihad, in accordance with K. 4:59, 5:3, 9:33, 47:35, 60:4, and most importantly, the Sword Verse, 9:5."

Then should we understand that, by far, the vast majority of individuals of the Islamic faith are not, shall we say, practicing Muslims?

This, because they ignore what would appear to be their primary responsibility in life -- which would seem to be to impose Sharia worldwide and on everyone?

This such effort (to impose Sharia worldwide and on everyone) being taken up by only a very few, shall we say, zealots?

Thus, while one might (rightfully?) say that the problem lies in what the Koran actually demands of its people,

One cannot also say that the problem lies in how the vast majority of the Islamic people actually live their lives?

Christians, I believe, also have a mandate; in their case, to preach the gospel worldwide and to everyone:

"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away." (Matthew 24:14,35)

Back in the day (much as with Islam/Sharia?) this might have been accomplished via the sword.

Today, however, most practicing Christians, I would guess, do not spend their lives preaching the gospel throughout the world and to everyone.

Those that do, as in days past, often run afoul of those holding different beliefs.

When this happens, the non/less-evangelistic Christians, I believe, often look upon those, shall we say, more-dedicated Christians in a very positive light and as "heroes." This, because these more-dedicated and more-compliant Christians are seen as actually fulfilling the primary requirement/responsibility of their faith.

Do you think that a similar problem exists within the Islamic World; wherein, people of the Islamic faith often have difficulty looking -- in a very negative way -- upon those that actually do what their holy book requires them to do? (This, if your such interpretation is, indeed, correct.)

CW4 ret H North

Sat, 01/24/2015 - 7:25pm

The author is correct that a new definition of religion is necessary, but he misses the mark by attempting to incorporate Islam as one of those religions. As a PhD with a focus on the Koran and Islamic theology, it is disappointing that the author seems unable to define Islam for what it truly is: a supremacist ideology, of which religious characteristics make up only one small part of the whole. Islam by its very nature is much more than just a religion, as it also dictates everything from cradle to grave for all Muslims, complete with its own set of laws—Sharia. And Sharia is not mentioned a single instance throughout the entire essay.

The over-arching purpose of Islam is to implement Sharia, which Muslims are taught is the pure, undefiled law of Allah, as stated in K. 5:3 and 6:38. Thus, Sharia is the ultimate goal, and Islam is only the delivery mechanism. Unlike other religions, Islamic Sharia is to be imposed worldwide on everyone including non-Muslims (infidels), at the point of an Islamic sword via Jihad, in accordance with K. 4:59, 5:3, 9:33, 47:35, 60:4, and most importantly, the Sword Verse, 9:5.

Once Muslims conquer a group of infidels (Kuffar), their ultimate goal is NOT to convert them to Islam, but to impose Sharia upon them. As “Dhimmis”, only practicing Christians and Jews need apply, while all others (Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, homosexuals, etc.) are summarily enslaved or killed, as specified in K. 9:29. In this sense, no other religion even comes close to being comparable with Islamic ideology. The Koranic passage requiring “special accommodations for Christians and Jews” mentioned by the one imam almost certainly was referring to K. 9:29, which is the equivalent of being prisoners of war, with little to no rights, and subject to slaughter at any time, just as the Armenian Christians were in 1915, but had lived as Dhimmis under Ottoman rule for hundreds of years. Personally, I choose to do without such "special accommodations."

Islam=Sharia. And at its core, Sharia is based upon the example set my Muhammad himself, which is considered “a beautiful pattern of conduct” for ALL Muslims to follow, in accordance with K. 33:21. Up until the early-to-mid 20th century, Muslims were more correctly referred to as “Muhammedans”, because of their insistence in following Muhamad’s example in ALL things. This term can still be found in earlier writings about Islam. It is only in recent history that followers of Islam have insisted they be called “Muslim”, which correctly translates as “slave”. To know Muhammad is to know Sharia and Islam.

In combat zones, religious structures are protected under the Geneva Convention, but only so long as the enemy doesn’t abuse that protection. Once an enemy violates that sanctity, the structure automatically becomes a legitimate target. Since Islam is an ideology instead of a true religion, mosques are already exempt from Geneva Convention protections, the same way the Nuremburg parade grounds were exempt from destruction during WW2, along with any other structure adorned with a swastika.

However, Islam exempts their mosques anyway, since Muhammad identified the legitimate uses for mosques, including for military purposes, to store weapons and for military training. Research shows that 80% of mosques in the US preach Jihad. Mosque = military barracks. Mosque = weapons depot. Mosque=Jihad. This was validated repeatedly in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, the mosque is a symbol of Islamic conquest, either built to display Islamic authority over the land and its subjugated peoples, or often converted from captured Christian chapels/cathedrals, or other religious structures, as has been done throughout Islamic history, in accordance with K. 3:85.

The perspective that “leads commanders and analysts to be stuck describing terrorists as evil monsters with no real mechanism of understanding how religion can be alluring because of its advocacy of violence, and the frequent discussion about whether Islam is fundamentally violent,” is a direct result of our leadership’s criminally neglectful refusal to perform their Constitutional duty to properly define the enemy. Our enemies proudly and loudly self-identify as Jihadists fighting against the Kuffar—that’s us—as the highest form of worship of Allah, while our leaders embarrassingly tip-toe around every attempt to avoid the ‘J’ word for fear of offending Muslims. Meanwhile, Muslims everywhere snicker at our self-imposed ignorance while funneling their Zakat to fund the Jihad in accordance with K. 9:60.

The author describes how during his tour in Iraq in 2008, “imams were frequently described as the primary fuel for violence.” This reflected in my own experiences working in Military Intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan as well. This is a common misconception among Kuffar unfamiliar with Islamic Doctrine. The primary fuel for violence is the Islamic Doctrine of Jihad, as clearly and strictly defined in Sharia Law. The imams are only broadcasting the message of Jihad, they are not creating it out of their own consciences, or otherwise making it up. They are compelled to broadcast it, as it is dictated upon them by the requirements of Islamic Doctrine. Sharia Law clearly states that it is the duty of ALL Muslims to wage Jihad until the Earth is for Allah, in accordance with K. 2:216. Our attempts to marginalize imams were a blatant display of our gross ignorance, incompetence and failure to even attempt to understand the enemy doctrine, and made us look foolish to Muslims everywhere. It’s the equivalent of refusing to read Mein Kampf during WW2 to learn about Nazi Doctrine, for fear of being labeled a “Nazi-phobe”.

The proper interpretation and application of Islamic texts is critical to understanding Islamic doctrine, and hence Jihadi motivation. In this, there is no “contest”, as the author describes, about who has the proper interpretation. Most importantly, every learned Muslim is taught that there are no competing passages in the Koran, because the Doctrine of Abrogation as defined in K. 2:106 cancels ALL of the peaceful passages from application, and identifies Jihad as the pinnacle of Islamic expression. As a self-described scholar of Islam, I would expect the author to know this basic, fundamental doctrine, but the essay does not reveal any understanding of this.

The author correctly describes ISIS (more accurately termed the Islamic State (IS), or the caliphate) as “a utopian movement that has come together as champions of a just society,” and as “alluring” to Jihadis worldwide. Part of that “just society” that helps make the IS so alluring is the resurrection of the sex slave trade, practiced for the last 1,400 years until the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, in accordance with Sharia under K.4:3-4.

I can only presume that the author was subjected to the Islamic Doctrines of Taqiya and Kitman by Muslim faculty members in his studies of the Koran and Islamic theology, in accordance with K. 3:21 and 16:106. Especially since the word “Sharia” does not appear a single time in his essay. I, too, was a victim of Islamic deception throughout my studies and eventual appointment as an instructor of Islam to deploying troops. At one point, I was subjected to investigation by the Pentagon at the insistence of the HAMAS-linked Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) on the spurious charge of “Islamophobia”, shortly before my retirement. Until our leaders step forward and perform their Constitutional duties, our nation will continue to be deceived, and will suffer the consequences.