Islamism, Mental Illness & Inbreeding


I wrote this after following a series of tweets between Dean Obeidallah and the Co-Founder of Ex-Muslims of North America Sarah Haider, where the below tweets came from. I had my own conversation with someone about the topic, which caused me to research inbreeding in the Muslim world.


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Notice the trap Obeidallah is lumbering mindlessly towards. If I had of compared the mind of God and the prophet Muhammad to the mentally ill; I dare say, I might find myself in a wee-bit-o-trouble. Of course, Obeidallah won’t willingly fall into this trap, but alas the trapping pit is not nearly as thinly veiled to him, as his attempt at apologetics is to me. Obeidallah claims that he just “can’t trust people who at one time advocated woman have no rights, and gays and apostates should be killed”, and said of Maajid Nawaz, “once an Islamist always an Islamist”, because in his unapologetic view, “Islamism is a mental disorder”, an “incurable” one. The trap should be, becoming clearer now, albeit too late for Obeidallah to prevent his fall. Although it would be comical–which is apparently his forte–to see the attempt.

Obeidallah suggests we shouldn’t trust former Islamists–who according to him, are mentally ill–because of their grotesque beliefs about homosexuality and apostasy. Well, it’s not difficult to find Hadith or Quranic verses advocating these ideas. One hadith narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbas, Muhammad’s cousin and early quranic scholar wrote, “The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.” So what were Lot’s people doing? “do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you?…for ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women, ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds…and we rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): Then see, what was the end of those who indulged in sin and crime!” verses 7:80-84. Also on apostasy, a hadith from one of the three most trusted sources in Sunni Islam: “Ali burnt some people and this news reached Ibn ‘Abbas, who said, “Had I been in his place I would not have burnt them, as the Prophet said, ‘don’t punish (anybody) with Allah’s Punishment.’ No doubt, I would have killed them, for the Prophet said, ‘If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.” Need I continue with Muhammad’s record on women’s rights? Thus, it appears that these grotesque beliefs come from God, and were believed and promoted by Muhammad. Therefore, in Obeidallah’s view, Muhammad must be mentally ill and irredeemable. After all Muhammad is said to have received the revelation from the angel Gabriel, over some twenty-three years. Talk about schizophrenia!

Also notice, because the ideas Obeidallah finds so disgusting are available in the quran and hadiths; claiming one is mentally ill for taking them seriously, does not at all exonerate Islamic scripture. Rather it suggests, that access to the texts, is akin to leaving a pair of sharp scissors on a table in a mental health ward, someone’s bound to get hurt! Besides, it seems to me, if Islamists do indeed suffer from mental illness, they’re worthy of more of our compassion, not less. Mental illness reduces culpability for ones actions. Is a paranoid schizophrenic, who killed his wife because voices in his head told him she had been taken over by demonic forces, as culpable as a man who murdered his wife to collect the life insurance policy? Of course not. Moreover, we know that Islamism is “curable”, due to the people who have renounced the Islamist ideology (despite Obeidallah’s idiotic skepticism of Maajid Nawaz). The fact is, Islamism, or any ideology that promotes barbaric ideas, and the horrific acts that follow–however unconscionable–need not, have anything to do with mental illness, even when grounded in superstitious beliefs. Humans evolved a propensity for violence and a credulous mind, which lends itself to believing all kinds of nonsense, making normal people capable of all kinds of evil deeds.

If Obeidallah would like to play his faith card by claiming that Muhammad did in fact get the revelation, and therefore wasn’t hearing voices–a claim for which he has no evidence–then I would evoke the philosopher David Hume, and ask him, what is more likely, that Muhammad was a charismatic schizophrenic or liar, or that he really did receive the final revelation from a perfect deity, who didn’t get it right on the preceding two occasions, with the Jews and Christians? I would also point out what a cheap move invoking faith would be for a man in his position; and that it doesn’t explain the quran and hadiths promotion of the very ideas he finds so abhorrent; and he should be quiet, and it rubs the lotion on its skin!

Inbreeding insufficient to explain Islamism

It was suggested to me that mental illness could indeed, explain Islamism, due to the prevalence of consanguineous relationships in the Muslim world, going back to the time of Muhammad. In other words, the adverse effects on the offspring of blood relatives–first cousins being the usual focus. I don’t know if Obeidallah subscribes to this view, so I’ll leave him to wallow in his trap. But if he thinks he’s using consanguinity as a rope to climb out, he’s mistaken. Muhammad married his first cousin and the quran lists relatives one cannot marry, but luckily for Muhammad, no such prohibition on cousin fuckin’ exists; given there seems to be a few issues with the offspring of consanguineous relations, you’d think the creator of the universe might have prohibited it, another opportunity lost, it appears. Most experts in this area don’t call for a ban on the practice either. Instead, they call for education about the risks, and advocate genetic screening for consanguineous couples. It’s true that the potential health risks are double that of the general population, but the overall risk remains small. In a nutshell, relatives have more genes in common than people that are unrelated. If both parents carry the same recessive gene, then their offspring have a higher risk of getting the genetic disorder associated with that gene. The overall risk for non-consanguineous couples is around 2.5% compared to approximately 5% among consanguineous couples (first cousins). However, if there is consanguinity going back generations–which will be the case for many Muslims–the risk can be higher, how much higher is unclear.

In 2011, a veritable who’s who of geneticists and researches working in this area met in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss “Consanguineous marriages, pearls and perils” and went on to produce the “Geneva International Consanguinity Workshop Report.” They concluded that the adverse effects of consanguinity on offspring, predominately relates to autosomal recessive genetic disorders. The authors suggest that although there is some evidence of the effects of consanguinity on IQ–possibly a result of most consanguineous couples coming from rural, poor, uneducated areas–Down Syndrome, Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar Disorder, Autism and Alzheimer’s, the evidence is often “vague and inconsistent”. Moreover, the authors’ of the report suggest–in relation to autosomal recessive genetic disorders–approximately “92% of first cousin couples will not be at increased risk of the birth of an affected child”. Of course, we would have to increase the percentage of risk among Muslims due to the history of consanguinity. Regardless, if evidence for mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bi-polar or low IQ are better controlled for, and their results are more consistent, I have no reason to suspect that similar approximations like the above, wouldn’t be true in that case, namely the majority of offspring being born without problems.

Some believe we just have to look at the Muslim world and conclude Islamists are mentally ill, or suffer from poor education or low IQ, “just look at the case of Farkhunda, tell me that’s not insane”. According to this article, one of her most “fervent” attackers, a young man named Mohammad Yaqoub heard people shouting “if someone doesn’t hit her, he is an infidel.’ That was when I got emotional and hit her twice…my third punch hit the road, and my hand got injured.” Maybe the dim-witted boy felt intimidated and feared the mob might turn on him, if he didn’t participate. Except, when he went back to his shop and wrapped up his injured hand, he could still hear the commotion outside, and decided to go back for more. When he returned, he picked up a stone to pulverize Farkhunda’s lifeless body, it was so large, “he could barely lift it.” Without knowing if Mohammed Yaqoub is schizophrenic–the voices he heard that day were certainly real, including the screams of his victim–whatever affliction he may suffer, as the article puts it “Mr. Yaqoub was hardly an illiterate day laborer. He had completed 11th grade and, when interviewed in prison, said he was 18. He explained his fury by saying, “The Quran is like our honor: It is our personal honor and the honor of the prophet.”

Ghazi O. Tadmouri et al. interestingly point out that consanguinity is also practiced among Lebanese, Jordanian, and Palestinian Christians, albeit to a lesser degree than their Muslim neighbors. However, they do often suffer the same injustices as their neighbors, and one wonders if they’re driven to a Christian form of Islamism that causes them to fight the West by turning to the Old Testament (or even the New Testament) to express their mental corruption. Such Christians appear rare, which again suggests that it’s not the illness that’s the problem, it’s the texts, but I digress. Tadmouri et al. point out other limitations; most researchers break their studies into two groups: consanguineous verses non-consanguineous, even when the type of consanguinity is unknown or undisclosed. For example, stating that 30.3% to 39.8% of Syrians are in a consanguineous relationship doesn’t indicate whether they’re all first, second or third cousins, which is important, as the less gene’s in common the lower the risk. However, they do concede that “the risk of birth defects in first-cousin marriages may be estimated to be 2-2.5 times the general population rate, mainly due to the expression of autosomal recessive disorders”. But again they conclude; “studies on the association of consanguinity with chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome and association with non-communicable disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, and psychiatric disorders [Italics mine] among Arabs are presently non conclusive…likewise, studies on the association of consanguinity with traits such as intelligence quotient and stature are scanty among Arabs and results of studies performed in Western countries cannot be applied directly to societies with high consanguinity rates such as the Arab society.”

Therefore, it seems to me that mental illness, whether caused by consanguineous relationships or otherwise, is insufficient to explain Islamism.

Islamism, Mental Illness & Inbreeding

The Hijab Solidarity Farce

World Hijab Day–symbolically adopting the struggle of others–is not an original concept, there are many forms of it. In New Zealand we have the National Bandana Day to show solidarity with sufferers of cancer, who lose their hair due to chemotherapy treatment. In the case of World Hijab Day, non-Muslims are asked to show solidarity with Muslim women who face bigotry (not excluding physical assault) from ignoramuses and thugs, by adopting the Hijab for a day. Seems rather innocuous doesn’t it? However, when you think about what the Hijab represents; not so much. The mastermind behind World Hijab Day, Nazma Khan, is the owner of a headscarf company in Brooklyn New York. Aki Muthali humorously suggests this is more than mere coincidence, but perhaps that’s a bit cynical, after all it is possible to believe in a cause, and make a profit from the cause itself. I don’t see anything wrong with that in principle. Muslim reformers themselves are undoubtedly paid for public appearances and the books they write. The real issue for me, is the cause itself. I don’t begrudge any woman that chooses to exercise her freedom of religion to wear the Hijab, and I will defend her right to do so. However, I do take issue when she attempts to minimize or distort, what the Hijab stands for, and I take issue with her lack of solidarity with her Muslim sisters from conservative families or communities in their own [Western] countries, and their sisters in Muslim majority countries like Iran, who are unambiguously forced, often violently, to wear the Hijab or the Burqa.

In fact, many non-Muslim women already wear the Hijab, when they travel to countries like Iran, Kuwait, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Yemen etc. These sites give some useful tips for women who want to travel to the Middle East: “you are still perfectly safe, simply follow the rules you would anywhere – don’t go off alone with a man, or group of men, and if you do feel awkward, there are plenty of women-only areas in many parks”. First of all, how offensive is that to men, I recommend reading this site, talk about sexism, it reads as if every man is a potential rapist who froths at the mouth at the sight of a blonde. “Clothes – What you are expected to wear varies a lot from place to place. In a Red Sea resort, and more Westernized places, you can relax a bit [italics mine], but otherwise, you’ll need to cover your body”, “In general, it is better to be dressed too conservatively than to offend the locals. Do your research for each country before you travel to check what women wear.” The fact a woman has to “do their research” before traversing OUR planet is a moral scandal, and yet it is wholly acceptable to people. Make no mistake the “clothes” often involve wearing a Hijab in these places, and the rationale is scarily like the Islamists. Moreover, for a non-Muslim actually living in these places, where is the solidarity? Imagine being a woman in the Middle East attempting to exercise your human right not to wear the Hijab or cover your body. The Justice system is just as likely to condemn you, as the public for their bigotry.

Asra Q. Nomani and Hala Arafa point out in their excellent article that Ahlul Bayt is a major contributor to World Hijab Day, their website Global Hijab Awareness provides a revealing resource on the topic. Firstly, “”You are not like any other women”: Muslim women are not like no-Muslim women. So, they should maintain their distinction and dignity”. Brilliant, no need for a World Hijab Day then is there? “If one asks why Hijab or Purdah is necessary, the only proper reply would be, ‘because Allah and His Messenger have so decided”. Yes, the freedom to choose flows so easily, when one choice goes against the creator of the universe. This resource from 1977, even has a Q and A section, and it’s priceless:

Q: Is it allowed for a veiled girl to attend co-education schools?

A: If she observes all the rules of Hijab and is sure that no one would look at her with lust.

Q: She would not be able to answer the questions put forward to her by the teacher, she would have to whisper?

A: Talking to Ghair Mahram becomes haram (forbidden) when there is a danger that [he] may get lustful ideas by hearing the voices of the women.

Q: Some ladies, without veil have kept their dignity. So why all this?

A: Purdah of Eyes and Purdah of dress, both are compulsory for all Muslim women. The dignity of a Muslim woman in the eyes of Allah depends on Purdah.

Q: Should parents abstain from recommending purdah to their daughters lest she is forced after marriage by her in-laws to take it down?

A: As far as she is with you, you are to perform your duties and responsibilities [enforcing the purdah].

Q: Is it respectable for a girl to have her veil removed by her in-laws?

A: No. It is haram. She has to refuse.

Any organization that includes this sexist garbage in its reading material cannot, and should not be taken seriously on moral questions. In all seriousness, it’s fantastic if your family had the human decency not to enforce the Hijab on you, but make no mistake that in Islam, by many interpretations, this is not only a privilege many of your Muslim sisters are denied, but it’s an outright defiance of Allah himself (or herself – oh no he didn’t, well yes I did).

Lastly Maajid Nawaz created a bit of a storm on twitter by asking Muslim women to take off their Hijab’s in solidarity with the victims of acid attacks, who are often targeted for their lack of modesty or their audacity, essentially their bravery. Why not? It would be almost impossible to get reliable statistics on this, but I can confidently assert that more Muslim women around the world, are persecuted, beaten, raped (only for their rapers to escape justice) or killed, for NOT wearing the Hijab or the Burqa, than those that face bigotry and assault for wearing the Hijab in the West. So again I ask, why not? Could it be, that the Muslim women who are “not forced” to wear the Hijab are afraid of the repercussions for such a brazen display of solidarity? Will their parents look on them with shame, will they be berated by members of their communities, or do they ridiculously think they will be raped on the spot? Or perhaps they believe that Allah himself will be displeased? If any of these concerns are stopping any Muslim woman from showing solidarity with her Muslim sisters, suffering under the yoke of Islamic conservatism around the world, then clearly their “choice” to wear the Hijab is not really a choice at all, it’s a display of cowardice and submission. If on the other hand they choose not to because they don’t believe in such a cause, then at best their morally abhorrent.

The Hijab Solidarity Farce

Support the Muslim Reform Movement I Implore Thee

If you haven’t signed the Muslim Reform Movement’s petition yet, you simply must. Muslim reformers are becoming more vocal, or perhaps more accurately, are gaining more traction in the media, and are starting to organize themselves very well, as the MRM demonstrates. The reforming voices are acting like a beacon for others, and as that beacon shines brighter, the shadowy figure of Islamism and Islamic Conservatism is being pushed out to the fringes. Alas, we will never be rid of them completely, with scripture like the Quran or the Bible anchored to a concept of an omniscient and omnipotent God, extremism will never truly disappear. But as it was with Christianity, Islamism whether jihadist or conservative, is more mainstream than many Muslim’s care to admit.

As an atheist I love debating the existence of God and the truth claims of religion. It’s an important conversation to have. It improves ones reasoning skills and sharpens ones character by mere participation. Atheists and Christians have been having this conversation for some time now. We take for granted the fact, that this was not always the case, and it’s certainly not the case for too many Muslim’s in the 21st Century. Whether you’re a Muslim living in Saudi Arabia or Britain, or just attempting to have the conversation in the family home–where you should feel the safest–in all these cases, too often, Muslim’s are gambling with their lives and their freedom, and risking social isolation and desertion by family members and peers. Reformers have the unenviable task of not only legitimizing an interpretation of Islam that allows for their groups declaration, that they’ve collectively and so beautifully constructed; but they must also render such conversations about truth and God, benign and mainstream. Now this isn’t to say I want reformers to break down these barriers so I can pull out Peter Boghossian’s A Manual for Creating Atheists in order to convert more Muslim’s to atheism. That would be a cynical mission indeed, and some Muslim’s fear that allowing such conversations to take place, will water down the faith, and therefore won’t give an inch. They can relax, this isn’t an atheist conspiracy.

The Regressive Left often fuel this fear. It’s fairly easy to dismiss atheists, and among the Regressive Left, it appears even easier to dismiss ex-Muslim and reforming voices by labeling them native informants or house Muslim’s–a reprehensible and slanderous smear against the brave men and women that have taken up this challenge–in any case the more Muslim voices out there, like the members of the MRM; the less hysteria and frustration there will be from people whose only experience of Islam, are either shouts of Allahu Akbar moments before explosions and gunfire fill the air, or Islamist bully tactics, or the evasive apologism and denial of moderate Muslim’s, who are adamant there is no problem with Islam, while the former’s continue to dominate the news and the debate (if one could call it that).

So ubiquitous is the idea of an angry, aggrieved, apologist Muslim, that reading or watching a Muslim that doesn’t fit the image can be quite startling to some. I noticed this recently when Asra Q. Nomani–herself a member of the newly formed MRM–surprised her CNN host, by agreeing with mothers in Virginia, who were upset about the Shahada (the Muslim declaration naming Allah as the one true God and the prophet Mohammed as his messenger) being incorporated into a lesson on Arabic calligraphy at Riverheads High School. “When you hear a story like that, what do you think?” the host asked. “Well I am a mother in Virginia, and I wouldn’t have wanted this assignment in my son’s school”. The reaction is quite amusing, the hosts bemused “Hmmm”, and the shifting in her seat was priceless. She was clearly taken aback. If Asra had of said, “you know, as a Muslim I think it’s disgusting how these mothers can be so islamophobic, the Shahada is beautiful, this is a racist school and as a mother in Virginia I would have taken my son out of that school to keep him from such vicious bigotry”, dollars to donuts, the CNN host wouldn’t have batted an eye, and neither would most viewers. Instead, Asra, a Muslim, stood up for secularism, shocking! They’re out there folks and we need to support the reformers and give them the biggest platform possible. SOLIDARITY!

Support the Muslim Reform Movement I Implore Thee

The role of the Regressive Left in the rise of anti-Muslim bigotry

I am angry, in fact that’s an understatement, I am furious! I’ve just watched Donald Trump call for the wholesale ban of Muslim immigration to the United States. I viewed this video last week, which shows the ignorance of some Americans on the issue of Islamic extremism/terrorism. Both instances, and other examples of anti-Muslim bigotry are reprehensible and makes the blood boil. In the wake of the Paris attacks in November, Marine Le Pen’s party, the far-right National Front is gaining traction in France’s regional elections. Anti-Muslim bigotry has always existed, no new atheist thinker or critic of Islam has ever denied that fact. The issue was the term Islamophobia, and the conflation of Islam–a set of doctrines that inform beliefs and therefore the behavior of individuals–with race, in order to quell criticism of a religion, which desperately needs to be subjected to contrarian views. Honest attempts at dialogue, and indeed the critique of Islam as a set of doctrines were shouted down. Advocates for that conversation were branded as irredeemably racist or were considered suspect and many were chased out of the market place of ideas with burning torches and pitchforks.

Sam Harris, Maajid Nawaz and others–both victims of this regressive backlash–warned that obfuscation and denial will indeed lead to a rise in real anti-Muslim bigotry. Harris warned of this in his 2006 piece the end of liberalism. Harris writes, “increasingly, Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West.” And so, it has come to pass, the Regressive Left would have had it no other way, and likely think their shrieks, distortions and facile arguments have been validated by the current climate around this issue. Nothing could be further from the truth. Harris is the one who has been validated here. The language being used by these religious right-wing nutters, have shot past well defined terms like Islamism or Islamic extremism–terms which, attack after attack, President Obama could not, and still cannot bring himself to say–to rhetoric befitting their ignorance, ALL MUSLIMS ARE TERRORISTS. This is a very clear validation of Nawaz’ term the Voldemort effect, “What happens if you don’t name the Islamist ideology and distinguish it from Islam? You’re sending out the message to the vast majority of Americans: there’s an ideology you must challenge…what are they going to assume? The average American is going to think, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to challenge an ideology — it’s called Islam.” This too has come to pass.

Needless to say a lot of finger pointing will occur before this storm dissipates, mostly at the far-right, Christians, reformers, and definitely new atheists. However, those of us who saw this coming, should not let the left slip out the back door. Their role in this mess should be illuminated for all to see, so they may be held to account. The far-right are doing what they always do, we expect it from them. The left should show some shame for what it has become.

The role of the Regressive Left in the rise of anti-Muslim bigotry

Kyle W. Orton’s Syrian Strategy #mustread

Middle East Analyst Kyle W. Orton was recently appointed as an Associate Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. The HJS is a British based think tank that aims to “fight for the principles and alliances which keep societies free–working across borders and party lines to combat extremism, advance democracy and real human rights, and make a stand in an increasingly uncertain world”. The HJS has its critics, but their statement suggests a post-ideological approach. Christopher Hitchens (drinks be upon him) claimed to have gone through such a transformation in his support for the 2003 Iraq War. Hitchens was accused by many of flip flopping, from extreme leftist to neo-con hawk, most inarticulately by George Galloway–who incidentally has a shameful record of praise for the [Assad] Regime–in their infamous 2005 debate. Hitchens’ rebuttal speaks to the post-ideological point “yes it’s true I was an opponent of the last Gulf war [1991]…I don’t know why anyone thinks that is a point against me…I wouldn’t have been invited here if it wasn’t known that I was probably mistaken…I began a process of re-examination of which I can’t really say, or be expected to say, I am ashamed”. Rather than viewing everything through ideological lenses and espousing mass produced positions labelled: left or right, it’s best to develop the ability to (re)examine, and adapt to, information objectively, it gives one a far more comprehensive and illuminating account of the challenges facing civilization. It is in this post-ideological spirit Orton’s appointment with HJS–someone whose resume also includes contributor to Left Foot Forward “Britain’s No.1 left wing blog”–should be viewed by its critics.

Orton’s first paper for the HJS: Destroying Islamic State, Defeating Assad: A Strategy for Syria, is a fantastic read. I won’t replicate Orton’s strategies. I will simply comment on what I feel about the contents of the paper. Firstly the nuances and increasing complexity of the Syrian civil war, and IS’ growth and exportation of jihad to its neighbors and Western societies, as evidenced by the attacks in Paris in November, and in San Bernardino California this week, makes a strategy for Syria quite urgent. Orton writes with clarity and conciseness in his paper and demonstrates just how difficult a project that is, and for me, it shows just how inept the West has been with its foreign policy, particularly the Obama administration, and how cunning Syria, Iran, Russia, IS and others have been in setting the stage for this conflict and responding to Western ineptitude. From the foolhardy concentration on IS in Iraq instead of Syria, arguably IS’ most valuable territory, to the failure to support the removal of Bashar al-Assad–before rebel groups became largely displaced and/or infected by Islamist groups–helping IS’ propaganda ring true in the ears of Sunni Muslims. Orton makes clear whatever the plan for IS, the regime must end because that end will aid the ideological fight against IS’ propaganda. The complications in ending, both the regime and IS, are plentiful. Some are touched on in Orton’s paper, others I will mention here.

Orton does a great job describing the scandalous–and to my mind largely unknown–mutually beneficial relationship, between the regime and IS. Orton describes how the regime sabotaged Iraq, prior to and during the uprising in Syria, by “funnelling foreign Salafi-jihadists into Iraq to join IS’ predecessors, al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic State of Iraq in their fight against American and British troops and the elected Iraqi government” and “released violent Salafist prisoners early in the uprising”. These facts, no one ever cares to mention, when the blame for IS’ growth and invasion of Iraq are being thrown at the feet of the United Sates (US). He also points out that, it’s not the case that the US surge had no successes, but by December 2013, there was a recommencement of the Iraqi civil war, and ISI–not yet ISIS/IS–had set about undoing much of those successes, undoubtedly aided by the regimes aforementioned sabotage, which enabled IS’ “de facto control of large areas of Iraq” prior to the capture of Mosul in 2014, which of course, led to the declaration of the caliphate, headed by IS’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. This scandalous relationship also plays a role in IS’ revenue collection, and in the functionality of the area’s they rule over. It is well known that oil is a major source of the group’s income, but perhaps less known, is the trade of “crude for imported refined fuel and natural gas for utilities supplied by the [Assad] regime”. Another not so widely known source of IS’ revenue is the “mafia-style” taxation of the population in Raqqa city and other territories in which IS has gained a foothold. This makes halting their expansion an absolute must.

Orton suggests “rolling back IS’ physical control of territory would deprive it of its main income—from taxes and oil—and would also assault its ideological legitimacy. IS’ famous slogan is “remaining and expanding”; if that can be disproven by events, it would severely dampen IS’ appeal to foreign fighters and embolden those living under its rule, thus weakening IS”. The strength of the Caliphate is indeed central to IS’ propaganda, and when you get down to it, the West is in a no win situation here. As McCants pointed out in November, IS’ foray into global jihad is a show of strength, and attempt to distract from its weaknesses. Therefore, we know, unequivocally, that the more territory IS loses as a result of Western airstrikes, ground troops or arming of Sunni tribes and/or Kurdish forces, the more terror attacks the West will suffer. On the other hand, if the West allows IS to expand, continue to extort funds from the populations they subjugate, and collect revenue from the spoils of war, the more powerful and attractive they will become to Islamists worldwide. Perhaps, even incorporating other Islamist and Jihadists groups’ overtime. Because, in their mind, the end game is a showdown between Christianity and Islam, this will see the West dragged into a war one way or the other. If IS hadn’t of started their Western jihad in Paris, I believe they would have done so eventually, once strong enough to provoke their grand finale. In saying that, IS is unlikely to get there, considering the other players involved here, like Iran and Russia, who once they’ve used IS for their agenda will seek to deal with them. Nor do I think, if the West withdrew from the conflict today, terrorism perpetuated by those loyal to IS would drop to zero, but in any case, surely it is better to defeat the enemy as it is, as opposed to what it could become?

There is another thing to consider in this however. If we’re to accept that civilians in the West will be targeted for jihad, more so if we increase our activity against IS, then we must do what we can to minimize the risk and harm of such attacks. Are we willing to increase surveillance efforts to detect home-grown jihadists, which is extremely difficult as this week’s attack in California again proves? And what about the refugee crisis? Orton writes that IS wants to construct a “utopia as a prelude to the apocalypse”. This is why they’re not solely trying to persuade Islamists to wage armed jihad, but also calling for “doctors and engineers, to make hijra (emigration) to the Islamic State to help in its functioning”, and it is “IS’ belief that it has created utopia for Muslims that makes it so opposed to refugees leaving: it is very damaging for their brand”. If correct this puts the West in a precarious position on the refugee question. Increased activity in Syria will displace more people, that will seek to flee to Europe. IS wouldn’t be worthy of their brand if they didn’t capitalize by sending war-hardened jihadists through those channels, to connect with their European sympathizers, and orchestrate terror attacks like we saw in Paris this November. Anyone who thinks this is ridiculous or racist is guilty of donning those ideological lenses referred to earlier. If attacks lead Europe to close its borders, and the Gulf States continue to shun refugees, they have little option but to remain, which may bolster IS’ claims of a “utopia for Muslims”, attracting more foreign fighters. No matter what any government or party thinks at this point, Western civilians will not escape this foreign conflict, without blood being spilled on their streets.

Of course the sectarian nature of this conflict can’t be ignored, any more than the religious underpinnings that enable Islamist groups like IS in the first place. As Orton points out the ruling family in Syria are Alawi, a branch of Shi’a Islam, whilst the majority of the population are Sunni Muslims. In most places where Islam holds sway, the Shi’a and Sunni divide causes problems, and it has done since time-immemorial. True to form the regime sought to utilize religious tensions and committed atrocities against Sunni Muslims in Syria to intensify sectarian tension, thereby taking attention off the desire of its own expulsion. Also Iran has taken control of the conflict on behalf of Syria, and on behalf of its own interests, and imported Shi’a jihadists–approximately 20,000 at last estimate–which plays into IS’ narrative, which claims among other things, that IS is the “protector of the Sunni’s”. Moreover, US foreign policy has never really focused on the ousting of the regime–not least because of President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, which he thinks will be his defining moment–and the money Iran stands to acquire through their dealings with the US, can be used to support the regime, who as mentioned, have been squeezing Syria’s Sunni majority. Ipso facto the US is perceived to be aligned with Iran and Syria–Shi’a Islam–in a war against Sunni Muslims, whose only defender is IS. The propaganda almost writes itself doesn’t it? This refusal of the Obama administration to support Sunni tribes against the regime means they will not be our ally against IS, and may end up joining them. I think these foreign policy blunders will be Obama’s legacy, not the nuclear deal with Iran.

Perhaps the most unnerving part of Orton’s paper is on the Kurds who are held up by many, including Maajid Nawaz, as the side to back against IS. I have not yet heard anyone that supports the Kurds today, give a moment’s consideration to the issues raised in this paper. Even Kurdish champion Hitchens, said in reference to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) “Many of us who are ardent supporters of Kurdish rights and aspirations have the gravest reservations about the PKK…This is a Stalinist cult organization”. It is this group Orton argues, that has too much presence and influence in Kurdish forces fighting IS writing “the People’s Protection Forces (YPG), are dominated by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian branch of the militant Marxist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (designated as a terrorist organization by the United States) which has historical ties to the Syrian regime”. Moreover, Orton suggests the Kurds cannot be relied on to help in any plan to remove the regime writing “the PYD’s focus is on building a proto-state in the Kurdish-majority areas of north-eastern Syria, not forcibly removing the government in Damascus”. And of course, a Kurdish state project also feeds IS’ narrative, that they’re the protectors of Sunni Muslims. As Orton points out the vast majority of Sunni Muslims would oppose Kurdish expansion and rule over them in those areas, citing Amnesty International’s documentation of war crimes committed by the PYD, “ethnic cleansing against Arabs and Turkomen, and even some Kurds” and “the PYD threatening to call in US airstrikes against people who would not leave” for example. If backing of Kurdish forces in Syria doesn’t fuel the US/West backed conspiracy against Sunni Muslims I’d be surprised. This is a problem for those that would hold the Kurds up as warriors of justice in this conflict.

Another wholly depressing fact about the regimes opposition; is that so many groups are in bed with Al Qaeda’s Syrian branch, Jabhat an-Nursa. Even the ones described as moderates are usually described as “moderate Islamists”. Even if, as Orton hopes, the West can “peel some of these groups away from Nursa”, if any of those groups came to power after the fall of the regime, Syria would still not be a country that many of us would care to live in. So anyone thinking we can solve this conflict and the result will be a democratic, free, and equal society is going to be hugely disappointed, as we all were after the so-called Arab spring in Egypt. Even if such a benevolent group–there are none that I can see–came to power, its neighbors would quickly drag it into their conflicts and destabilize the country once more. Because no matter ones strategy for Syria or for IS, there is no strategy for the region, and as yet no strategy to combat the Islamist ideology, a conversation we are starting to have, but is still in its infancy due to centuries of shielding religion from criticism, and today’s Islamists and regressive leftists attempting to silence that conversation, in so doing, providing cover for the ideas that lend credence to Islamist/jihadist groups like IS. For me, realistically no matter what course we take, action, inaction; we will be indicted for our mishaps and our victories will not be celebrated.

Kyle W. Orton’s Syrian Strategy #mustread