As the world moves forward with women going to school, men critiquing the government and philosophers contemplating – the Muslim world, especially the Middle East, takes steps backwards, with men ensuring they maintain their lofty positions (e.g., the right to keep four wives at the same time, not allowing women to drive, etc.), and making sure women stay busy adding more pieces to their burkas. Naturally, we inquire, “Who is responsible for such backwardness?” And of course, the answer we receive is no surprise: the terrorist organizations – especially Islamic State (IS).
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As a brother of a 9/11 survivor, I am familiar with all kinds of terrorism, including that of Adolf Hitler. The Nazis killed more than two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe. What made Nazis barbaric is that they did not hesitate to kill – even if the victim was a child. What makes Islamist terrorists worse than Nazis is that jihadists are not only happy to kill, but also happy to commit suicide (e.g., the hijackers in the 9/11 attacks). Nazis were a one-dimensional animal.
Their mission was to promptly kill all the Jews. The jihadists, however, are a two-dimensional animal. Their mission is kill others and kill themselves. They kidnap innocent people and sometimes burn them alive or behead them in front of cameras. They also proudly display dead victims’ heads and bodies, releasing the still or video images via the Internet. If they are unable to kidnap their victims, then they unleash the suicide bombers.
I must admit, there were moments when I would read about their horrific acts in the newspaper, and I would force myself to shut my eyes, keeping them closed to hide my tears. As a well-read person, I am familiar with the carnage that helped IS spread terror from Iraq to Yemen, including the beheadings of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, David Haines, Alan Henning and Kenji Goto, as well as the burning alive of Jordanian pilot Moaz Kassasbeh. I am familiar with the cruel disregard for human life and the heinous religious ideologies that motivated jihadists to play a part in the deaths of hundreds of Syrian, Kurdish and Afghan soldiers. Reading about these tragedies, I just wanted to scream: “The Middle East used to mean the cradle of civilization!” However, today it means kidnap, behead and broadcast. It means, “I’m about to kidnap non-Muslims and behead them.”
It means, “I’m about to mix the victims’ blood with the seawater.” It means, “I’m about to kidnap a pilot and burn him alive.” It means, “I’m about to detonate a bomb inside a crowded mosque.” It means, “I’m about to destroy pre-historical statues and artifacts.”
It means, “If I’m from the Middle East, then I’m a terrorist.”
Even with the familiarity of their barbarism, there is still little that can prepare a poor reader like me for the grisly accounts of the mass beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians.
IS first reported the mass kidnapping of Egyptian Christians in their newspaper, Dabiq. The report included pictures of all 21 captives, including two brothers, Bishoy Kamel, 25 and Samuel Kamel, 22. Both brothers earned university degrees, but had to migrate to Libya in search of the work they could not find at home. They actually planned to return to Egypt when they heard about the IS presence in the Libyan city, but it was too late. IS kidnapped them along with 19 others and threatened to kill them to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden. Eventually, the IS terrorists took them to the Mediterranean coast on February 5, 2015 and beheaded them, along with the other 19 captives. “The sea you’ve hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s body,” said one jihadist before the beheading of the Kamel brothers, “we swear to Allah we will mix it with your blood.”
These are stories usually seen within the realm of horror movies. One brother was forced to watch the beheading of another brother, and watch as men took their revenge by mixing the blood of fellow captives with the seawater. The mass murder of the 21 Egyptian Christians was, indeed, unprecedented in its horror. No other terror involved such rapid, targeted, and deliberate brutality, or was so tightly bound to the idea that people had to be beheaded and their blood had to be mixed with the seawater. When I read this in the newspaper, I cried out loud, tears trickling from my disbelieving eyes. I said, “Jihadists of Islamic State, you are not Muslims. You are monsters. You are disgusting bastards.”
Unfortunately, these disgusting bastards are gaining momentum in the southern part of the Middle East – especially in Yemen, where they possess a stronghold similar to ones they already have in Iraq, Syria and Libya. In fact, IS unleashed its suicide bombers to blow up crowded mosques in Yemen, which killed over 140 worshipers, all Muslims.
These are stories that would make any rational thinker question: why are terrorists of the Islamic State group, who claim to be Muslims, hiding bombs on their bodies to kill Muslims worshiping in mosques? Even Nazis did not kill Nazis, Khmer Rouge did not kill Khmer Rouge, yet Muslims kill Muslims all the time.
When I read these kinds of stories in the newspaper, I ask myself, “What motivates these men to kill and commit suicide?” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the so-called caliph of IS, has the answer: religion. In fact, he cleverly used Islam to re-establish the caliphate, a concept of a one-world government system led by successors of the Prophet Muhammad. I read the Koran to find my own answers, but the holy book disappointed me because some of its verses condemn the violence and some of its verses promote the violence. (The Koran contains at least 100 verses that call Muslims to war with infidels to establish a caliphate.) The United States has been trying to resolve the problems in the Middle East since the end of World War II, because what happens there affects us here. Hence, America needs to remember that there is no religious solution to this problem.
After all, the US cannot remove the verses from the Koran. So it must find an alternative to deal with this form of religious terrorism. President Barack Obama’s strategy must be divided in two main components: political/military and educational/ socio-economic.
Separation of church and state worked for so many countries, including America.
So it should work for the Middle East, too.
But to establish such secularism, the US needs to work sincerely with its allies to eradicate every single terrorist organization from the Middle East, including IS.
This challenge can be overcome through a military action.
The US also needs to keep in mind that these terrorist organizations (including IS) are not isolated cults, but support a culture that still feels empathy for Osama bin Laden. It should be noted that most Arabs, especially the older generation, are illiterate. (For them, literacy means reading the verses in the Koran.) It is easy for IS terrorists to control these illiterate minds.
However, this challenge can be overcome through establishing a socio-economic revolution effected via education.
Congress needs to act fast to allow President Obama to send a loud and clear message to Abu Baker al-Baghdadi that he is no successor of the Prophet Muhammad or his four caliphs, but simply the notorious leader of the biggest terrorist organization in the world.
The author is a CRISP scholar at New York University.
THE SUMMIT of Mount Moses in the Sinai Peninsula, one of the places reputed to be where the Ten Commandments were given. (Reuters)