Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Raymond Ibrahim and Laurent Murawiec debate the "mind of jihad"

Some time back, I wrote a book review for The Mind of Jihad by Laurent Murawiec for the Weekly Standard. Soon thereafter, Mr. Murawiec wrote something of an angry rebuttal -- accusing me of having an "agenda" and "disfiguring" his book -- which was to be published in a forthcoming Weekly Standard issue. The editors were kind enough to have asked me to respond to his rebuttal, and I did. I just found out, however, that the Weekly Standard will not be publishing them. Therefore, as a courtesy to Mr. Murawiec, who may feel that he wasn't given the proper opportunity to vindicate himself, I am posting our exchange, for the record. Laurent Murawiec wrote:

In his review of my book The Mind of Islam (“Consider the Source,” January 26, 2009), Raymond Ibrahim made several factually erroneous points. Since they command his evaluation of the book, let me set them straight.

Far from not “[being] interested in examining Islam's own peculiar Weltanschauung” as the source of radical Islam, I devoted three chapters out of seven to just that (1, 3 and 4). I never argued that radical Islam was “heir” to Medieval European Millenarians, rather that there was a structural homology between their belief-structures. Gnosticism is not a Christian monopoly but has been integral to Islam throughout its entire history, rather than an epithet I arbitrarily affixed to Islam.

Further, the reviewer mixes up Europe’s “Dark Ages” with the Middle Ages, which he bizarrely calls “lawless.” Today’s jihadis do not “live in the modern era”, Ibrahim to the contrary: their hands use modern tools while their minds live in the 7th century – as he himself insists. Today’s Islamic world is not “much more prosperous and structured than the Dark Ages in Europe, which directly influenced the savagery of the Millenarians.” Prosperous? Structured?

Millenarian violence had overabundant scriptural support, and it was vouched for by many frocked and defrocked priests, contrary to Ibrahim’s assertions. In the four main Sunni schools of law and in mainstream Shia, jihad is a conditioned commandment, not a “pillar of Islam.” Modern Jihad innovated in this, drawing upon selective sources, e.g. Ibn Taimiyya, or using the Kharijites as antecedents, whom I repeatedly mentioned without needing his injunctions to do so.

That Islam borrowed only Europe’s totalitarian ideologies that were compatible with itself is a point that I made repeatedly – contrary to what the review states. It is Mr. Ibrahim who adopts Maududi’s view of Muhammad as “a revolutionary,” a concept that has no meaning whatsoever in 7th century Arabia. I presented Maududi as he himself did, a would-be Mahdi, as much if not more than as a “Lenin.”

In short, Raymond Ibrahim’s review puts forward his own agenda at the price of disfiguring a book that he has only briefly scanned. I would have expected a more scrupulous treatment: disagree he may, misrepresent he should not.

Laurent Murawiec
Hudson Institute
Washington, D.C.

I responded:

According to Laurent Murawiec, when I wrote he was not "interested in examining Islam's own peculiar Weltanschauung"—he omits the rest of that sentence, “as outlined by the Koran and hadith, articulated by the ulema, and codified in sharia law”—I was somehow being "factually erroneous." As evidence, he insists he devoted an entire three out of seven chapters to "just that." One would have thought a book titled "The Mind of Jihad" would have devoted seven out of seven chapters to "just that," since jihad is a strictly Islamic phenomenon. "Factually erroneous" should be reserved to when Murawiec laments that I did not credit him for noting that only totalitarian ideologies comported with Islam, when in fact I did.

Incidentally, those three "devoted-to-Islam" chapters—two of which are titled "The Gnostic Mahdi" and "Manichean Tribalism"—represent only one-third of the book. The other two-thirds deal primarily with European history and philosophy. One searches in vain for talk on the true origins of jihad (delineated in my review).

I highlighted, for instance, the importance of the Kharijites to understanding the jihad—to which Murawiec indignantly asserts, "I repeatedly mentioned [them] without needing his injunctions to do so." In fact, the word ”Kharijite(s)” appears on three pages. Conversely, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Marx, Trotsky, Obenhein, Seeckt, and Roy—men supposedly inextricable to understanding the “mind of jihad”— receive nearly 100 pages-worth of coverage.

But Murawiec's point is that "there was structural homology between their belief-structures." Indeed, that is the book's thesis: to make (sometimes strained, sometimes valid) connections between modern-day jihad(ists) and anyone and everything else. While an interesting (albeit purely academic) exercise, the blunt question that haunts the reader page-after-page is—"So what?"

As I agreed in my review, "It cannot be denied that parallels exist between Muslims and non-Muslims: Such is human nature, which reacts similarly to similar stimuli, irrespective of race or creed." But such connections—real or imagined—tell us little about that unique institution of jihad, and nothing about how Muslims understand it.

Murawiec writes: "Raymond Ibrahim's review puts forward his own agenda at the price of disfiguring a book that he has only briefly scanned." Aside from his otherwise flawed psychic assertion—in fact, I read his book cover-to-cover—I can assure him my only "agenda" is objectivity.

In short—and here we get to the root problem—any writer who claims to be explaining the "mind of jihad" (an admittedly bold task) had better do so, rather than further cloud the issue by making strained ties to peripheral subjects that he just so happens to be better acquainted with. Had Murawiec titled his book "The Mind of Insurgency: A Comparative Study," he would have received a review that would not now require my revisiting it.

Raymond Ibrahim
Middle East Forum
Philadelphia, PA

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