Sunday, October 04, 2015

How to Pass as a "Moderate Muslim" in the Counter-Jihad

This is part of my continuing series into the increasingly dismaying collaboration, partnership, bromance -- whatever you want to call it -- between Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz, a Muslim who, in the past few years since he got out of an Egyptian prison for being a terrorist, has remade himself into a new-and-improved Reformer.  (My previous installment was Does not compute: The Sam Harris/Maajid Nawaz "Conversation".)

After his recent CNN "debate" with a Muslim named Dean Obeidallah (whom  Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch in various articles has variously described as an "Islamic supremacist hate propagandist" and "filmmaker" and "comedian"), Sam Harris penned a post on his blog in which he complained intelligently about not only Obeidallah's "tribalistic" tactics, but also more generally about the depressing quality of the Conversation out there on the problem of Islam.  He titled his blog post, How to Pass as a 'Moderate Muslim' in the Media.  As a skeptic of Harris's newfound collaboration with Nawaz, based upon certain details about him, and more broadly on my broader & deeper skepticism about our ability to trust any Muslim -- since perforce they admire Mohammed and the Koran -- that title immediately connected in my mind to the fact that Harris continues to replicate the very problem he is complaining about in others.

Hence my essay title today.

Sam Harris has apparently already vetted Maajid Nawaz and passed him with flying colors.  Not so fast, Sam, I say.  Play it again, Sam.  It's not too late for Sam Harris to pause, recalibrate, and reconsider his trust of Nawaz.

I.e., Maajid Nawaz still hasn't passed the interview and gotten the job of "Muslim reformer to help the Counter Jihad".  Since, however, the Counter-Jihad remains disorganized, it has no real concerted way to 1) identify problem reformers like Nawaz, 2) devise a vetting process for him, and 3) analyze the results to see if they can bless Nawaz with their imprimatur.

But a man can dream, can't he?  In that spirit, allow me to speculate that the Counter-Jihad finally got its proverbial shit together.  One aspect of that organization would involve a proper vetting process of supposed Muslim "reformers" like Maajid Nawaz.  Let's run through that process which evidently so eludes someone as otherwise so astute as Sam Harris is:

1) Identify the Muslim reformers who need to be vetted.  A Counter-Jihad worthy of the name would apply this universally to any Muslim who claims to be (or who is claimed to be) a reformer.

2) Submit the reformer in question to a series of long conversations/debates (say, 90 minutes) with various strategically key participants.  These various participants would be a combination of anti-Islam analysts and Muslim good cops who are already under suspicion in the Counter-Jihad.  Example, with Maajid Nawaz, he would have to sit down with the following people for conversations/debates:

a) Reza Aslan

b) Tariq Ramadan

c) Zudhi Jasser

d) Bill Warner

e) Andrew Bostom

f) Robert Spencer.

Of course, the first two would be difficult to persuade to sit down in the first place, because they might cunningly perceive that it would undermine their ongoing stealth jihad propaganda efforts.  (Jasser is another matter, much like Nawaz himself.)  The Counter-Jihad would then work on persuading them (perhaps by dangling the carrot that would entice them with the prospect that it would be useful to them).   As a backup measure, if any one of all of those good cop Muslims refuse to participate, they would have Nawaz do a "virtual"  conversation/debate with all three -- essentially, he would engage with video taped excerpts of those three, controlled by both himself and the moderator (with the moderator, a Counter-Jihad person of course, having ultimate control) in terms of pausing and playing in order to engage with the videos.  In this context, the moderator (or moderators) would have to exercise scrupulous oversight to make sure Nawaz doesn't try to get away with his usual slippery evasions and tap-dancing.

3) Submit Nawaz to a battery of questions.  The questioners should prepare detailed follow-up questions to anticipate any tap-dancing maneuvers & sleight-of-hand Nawaz would likely deploy; and they should also be nimble and informed enough to catch Nawaz with spontaneous follow-up questions or calls for clarification.  The questions would include the following.  This list won't be exhaustive; it's just an example of what can and should be done, and thus is an incomplete list, as I may not have thought of everything now. Even if the Counter-Jihad participants (Warner, Bostom, Spencer) bring any one or more of these points up in their discussions with Nawaz, they should be repeated in separate phases of the process.

a) Why did you call your Islamic reform organization "The Quilliam Foundation"?

b) Did you know that Abdullah Quilliam waxed zealously in favor of a global calpihate?

c) Do you support Abdullah Quilliam's rhapsodic enthusiasm for a global caliphate?

d) Did you know that Abdullah Quilliam condemned the British efforts to help Muslims in the Sudan by fighting against the extremist jihadist Mahdi Jihad?  Did you also know that Abdullah Quilliam fervently enjoined fellow Muslims to do the same, to condemn the British efforts to fight against the extremist Mahdi Jihad?

e) Do you support Abdullah Quilliam with regard to the two points mentioned in (d)?

f) Do you admire Muhammad?  Do you agree with the Koran when it elevates Muhammad to the "best model of conduct" for all Muslims and when it elevates him to the "perfect man"?

g) [List a few of the key words & deeds of Muhammad that any reasonable person would agree are horrible, vile, pernicious, and dangerous for society if emulated, then ask]  Do you agree that Muhammad said and did these things?  [If he says "no", then ask] Why do you say no?  [This may be the place then to follow up with questions about what he thinks about the various apparatus of the Sunna -- the hadiths, sira, and tafsirs -- which detail at length the horrible facts of Muhammad.  It is doubtful that a clever snake like Nawaz would actually be honest and say "yes" -- but he may well try to waffle between "yes" and "no".  At this point, the questioners should focus on the implication of a "yes" between the lines there and seize upon it with probing questions -- in order to force him out of his untenable attempt to occupy the non-existent position between "yes" and "no".]

h) [Basically the same questioning process would be applied with regard to Allah and the Koran -- both of which one of course reasonably assumes Nawaz admires.]

Note:  As mentioned previously, each question may well entail follow-up questions before moving on to the next question.  However -- very important -- the questioners should be on guard against the typical Islamic tactic of generating red herrings calculated to derail the line of questioning and obfuscate the resulting evasions.

On a broader level, the various specific stipulations I have mentioned involved in the questioning process may seem to someone like Sam Harris, who seems anxious to err on the side of a congenial "conversation", to be overly cynical & confrontational.  However, Sam Harris is an intelligent, bright fellow who has made it the central focus of his life since 911 to study the problem of Islam; and as such, he has no excuse not to know (or at least not to be actively open to learning) that, to put it bluntly, there is no defense of Islam, of Allah, or of the Koran.  Once we seriously realize this, it puts Maajid Nawaz at a terrible -- if not devastating -- disadvantage in terms of his attempts to sell us the idea that he's both a Reformer and a Muslim.  But if we're going to vet him -- and we must, the stakes are too high -- we must proceed lucidly with this in mind.  The onus would be on Nawaz to come up with a plausible, persuasive construct that avoids the Scylla and Charybdis of simultaneously affirming Islam while affirming decency, human rights, and the safety of free societies.  It's a formidable onus, verging on being impossible.  In one sense, the whole vetting process would be a robust effort to try to expose Nawaz as a Better Cop -- better than the standard-issue "Good Cops" who have successfully fooled the PC MC Mainstream; better precisely in order to fool those who are slowly wising up to the problem of Muslim taqiyya and no longer fall for the Good Cops.  If Nawaz is a genuine reformer, the logic goes, he should have no problem with submitting to this, and he should be able to pass the test. 

The fact that the Counter-Jihad would even bother to vet a Muslim reformer like Nawaz at all, indicates that it believes in the possibility, however remote, that the Muslim reformer could pull it off and actually come up with something tenable.  However, the Counter-Jihad should uphold the strictest standards during the questioning and discussion process.

Sam Harris thus far in his vetting process of Maajid Nawaz has apparently applied relaxed standards, which is quite dismaying.   It's not too late for Sam Harris to change his mind on this.


Midnight Sun said...

Your analysis is amazing. I've always wanted Maajid to be a genuine 'good cop', but have always felt uneasy about him , mainly because he comes over as arrogant and is quick to label people like Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller as 'bigots'. I'm also uneasy about the Quilliam organisation.

I take all your points about Islam and the word 'Islamism'. I also believe that Islam in any shape or form is an unpleasant ideology and I wish it would go away. One thing I do realise, however, is that we can't work magic. We can't ban the religion worldwide, as there are millions upon millions of followers.

So, despite all my misgivings about Nawaz as an individual, solely for practical purposes, I support the idea that by separating 'Islamism' (the political/jihadist/caliphate ambition) from the religious aspects of Islam is a step forward. It's a consciousness raising exercise aimed at focusing attention on condemnation of the jihadists (violent and stealth versions). In doing so, the aim is to prevent hostility towards other Muslims who merely attend mosque and have no intention of committing violence or stealth jihad.

Of course, reformation of Islam remains a monumental task and may never be achieved in our own life time. But I feel we must start somewhere.

Hesperado said...

Thanks Midnight Sun. I too am ambivalent about Nawaz -- not him as a reformer per se (I already reasonably suppose he's really not), but about his effect in the wider scheme of things. I suppose in many instances the spectacle of seeing him go as far as he's willing to go to play his Better Cop game can help to begin the process for many people of waking up. My only concern is that the waking up process comes as part of a package, of accepting Nawaz's "rider" that Islam is not the problem and that the "vast majority of Muslims" are harmless and therefore, it would be logical to suppose, would pose no problem continuing to immigrate into the West to become an increasing part of the fabric of our societies. In this sense, Nawaz's strategy is ingenious: he is manipulating the Counter-Jihad into connecting their sense of countering jihad with his plan of increasing the presence & influence of Islam in the West. This would be successful to the extent that the Counter-Jihad fails to keep in mind a Zero Tolerance of Islam and Muslims (which would mean refusing to parse Islam and Muslims into "Islamism" and "Extremist vs. Moderate Muslims".

Anonymous said...

Nawaz is the "good" Muslim as they saw. If the CJ keeps accepting this sort, they will never support a zero tolerance program towards Islam and Muslims in general.


Godless said...

Harris starts off by agreeing that Carson is a bigot. Carson is right for the wrong reasons but Harris fails to point this out. Next Harris talks about how thousands of Muslims in America would make better presidents than Carson and Trump.

Harris is already wasting too much time being on the defensive rather than saying what needs to be said and Dean Obedallah does an excellent job of keeping it that way WITHOUT deceivingly symapthyzing with Harris' concerns at all like Majid Nawaz does.

Majid Nawaz is much more skilled at distracting and confusing Harris than this Dean Obedallah. I have heard Harris claim that he is becoming more pessimistic about reforming Islam since the release of Islam And The Future Of Tolerance but he does not demonstrate it. Actually Harris is regressing by now using the term "Islamism" rather than Islam.

Looking at Harris' response on his blog to the CNN debate with Obeidallah he knows exactly what Obeidallah is up to. Harris' awareness of Obeidallah's aims is surprising given how miserably he failed during their exchange. There are multiple questions Harris could have shot out that would have cornered and exposed Obedallah but he was too concerned about not looking like a bigot. This makes me lack hope that Harris will ever realize how to question Nawaz correctly.

Yes a conversation between Harris, Nawaz and Tariq Ramadan would be fascinating to watch. Harris had indicated in the past that he is skeptical of Ramadan's sincerity. I think a conversation between the three of them would increase the chances of Harris waking up about Nawaz.

Hesperado said...

Good analysis & description, Godless.

One analogy/metaphor I can think of for Harris's behavior would be the two concerns a person would have, let's call him "Sam".

Sam needs a new car (his old car isn't working) to make a big move from Philadelphia to New York City for a new job that will likely be a good career move for him and his family, after years of struggling financially. Thanks to a couple of loans from family and friends, he now has the money to go buy a car for the road trip that will be both hopeful and fun for him, his wife, and their daughter.

Sam at first unwisely tries to buy a car off the street, but ends up nearly mugged as the seller actually wanted to rob him (the Anjem Choudhery Bad Cop). Sam of course immediately recognizes this as a disastrous way to "move forward" with his goal.

Next, Sam goes to a used car lot where the salesman smiles a lot and glad-hands him, but his seersucker suit has holes and his pants come up above his socks -- all part of a package revealing to Sam that he is an obvious phony. And his cars are obviously in bad condition (bad tires, odometers that won't work, engines leaking gas, etc.). (Dean Obedallah)

Someone tells him about a second used car lot. However, Sam is brighter than that, and although the second salesman seems to be better dressed with a snappy suit, Sam can see through him and his cars, which also are shoddy products. (Reza Aslan)

A third used car lot Sam tries is similarly no better (Tariq Ramadan).

Dispirited, Sam seeks some advice, and finds it in a friend (Ayaan Hirsi Ali?) to seek out a high-end yet affordable "Broker in Retooled yet Fine Automobiles" (good old Maajid). He goes to Maajid's Emporium and Maajid has been waiting for him for a long time, even did research on Sam to figure out the best way to schmooze him. By this time also, Sam has become so frustrated that his concern to get a good car so he can get on with changing his life makes him relax his rigor with regard to exercising the utmost skepticism that would help him make the best decision about a workable car.

The result, sadly, was reported later in the papers:

"Sam Harris drove happily away from Maajid's Emporium of Cars with a brand new car he would only learn later, tragically, was seriously faulty (indeed, police later learned Maajid had tampered with the brakes and the gas line), resulting in a horrific accident in which his legs became paralyzed, his wife was mangled to death, and his 10-year-old daughter became a vegetable needing medical care 24/7. 17 others were killed in the 5-car collision on Route 611, along with nine injured, when one of the cars exploded and another rammed into a truck stop filled with customers."

Moral of the Story: Sam Harris's anxious concern to "find a solution" to the metastasizing problem of Islam seems to have caused him to suspend his critical faculties about the need to rigorously test-drive solutions before we buy them and entrust the safety of our families, friends and fellow citizens to their use.