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The Appeal of ISIS: Islamism, Trust, and Costly Signaling

As refugees flood to the West in unprecedented numbers, and in the wake of a series of terrorist acts directly linked to Islamism, the chorus asking Muslims to explicitly denounce the violence of Islamism is growing ever louder. Others decry this request as inappropriate, unnecessary, patronizing, or even racist (Muslims are not a race, but this goes under the banner of “Islamophobia”). Mainstream Muslims should denounce Islamism and violence, but not because of the reasons many take as obvious.

First, however, we must define Islamism as a fundamentalist and militant religious and political ideology that drives for global conquest of an extreme Islamic theocracy and the application of strict Sharia law under its dominion. That Islamism is inspired by Islam via certain literal readings of the Quran is unambiguous, yet it remains just one draconian and acutely regressive interpretation of the religion. Islamism is dangerous and often deadly, and its broad conflation with Islam—and thus association with all Muslims—is deeply unfair. The violence that is associated with Islamism, then, is best understood as Islamist terrorism, not Islamic terrorism. Islam may be adhered to by Muslims who embrace nonviolent secularism. Islamism does not.

The reason Muslims need to condemn Islamism and Islamist terrorism is due to what social scientists call costly signaling—the performance of a symbolic act to indicate to other members of a social group that one is playing for their team and doing so at a price. It evokes trust—an indispensable commodity currently in short supply. Costly signaling taps into fundamental aspects of human psychology. Many Westerners—those on both sides of the political spectrum, from liberals who accuse critics of Islamophobia to conservatives who lump all Muslims into one category—do not appear to distinguish between Muslims and Islamists. Yet this distinction is critical to Western acceptance of progressive Muslims—those who do not embrace the violence of Islamism. The condemnation of Islamism and Islamist terrorism is an important, if not crucial, costly signal by which progressive Muslims can demarcate Islamism from Islam and simultaneously generate trust.

Human beings are groupish animals. We organize ourselves into groups, teams, tribes, cultures, and, ultimately, societies. The factors that go into separating human groups are many, and one of those is moral. Specifically, human beings form groups of “moral communities” around particular moral codes. Once these communities are defined, there’s often a fierce adherence to the norms of the group.

This groupishness evokes a trait known as parochial altruism, which means in-group prosocial behaviors coupled with out-group distrust and even hostility—displays of which we have unfortunately had little shortage. In other words, we are nicer, kinder, more trusting, more welcoming, and more generous with people we perceive as being on our team and sharing our values than we are others we deem to be outsiders; and we find it all too easy to mistrust and be callous, mean, or even vicious to those outside of our group. (Think of the famous image of the Hungarian reporter who kicked Syrian refugees.) Groupish behavior of this sort is a fundamental facet of human social interaction, whether or not the team designations are arbitrary, unfair, or nonsensical.

Moral communities, be those groups of friends, political parties, religions, or any sense of shared cultural values, are a kind of team. Whatever in-group squabbling occurs, we are likely to unite against the perception of a common enemy (even though such things as “friends” and “enemies” tend to grossly oversimplify human interactions, both within and between groups). Religions, especially tightly knit ones such as Islam, are particularly adept at forming strong moral communities with high levels of internal cohesion. This cohesion is reinforced by a sense of shared beliefs, rituals, food preferences and restrictions, and visual markers like female garb and male beards. The visual markers in particular make group identification, and thus separation from other groups, easier. Unfortunately, this also raises the stakes on demonstrations of costly signaling to be accepted by some broader group whose trust they’d like to secure.

Progressive Muslims deserve that trust from Westerners, and they hopefully realize the value in securing it. Islamism, however, is fundamentally at odds with Western values such as those articulated by John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Charles Montesquieu. Brushing in broad, yet meaningful strokes, this gives us two teams: Westerners on the one side and Islamists on the other, with the vast majority of Muslims caught in between.

Muslims who adhere or subscribe to a much less fanatical and much more pluralistic and liberal understanding of Islam than do Islamists face this implacable choice. On the one hand, they have to stand with Western—thus secular—values; on the other, they must retain sympathies with Islamists and perhaps even terrorists who discharge the uncompromising goals of Islamism. As the threat and intensity of Islamist militarism and terrorism increase, people are demanding to know where those Muslims in their communities—or seeking access to it—stand. Choosing to ally with Western values and denouncing Islamism and Islamist terrorism is a costly signal that tells people exactly that.

This is a Hobson’s choice for Muslims. Islamists despise the West, but they also reject Muslims who favor Western values like secularism and pluralism more than they hate the West. Islamists, like those in ISIS, also act upon that hate, branding Muslims with a different theological interpretation of Islam as enemies and thus targeting them for murder. (To wit, much of ISIS’s success and brutality lies in exploiting the Shia-Sunni rift.) Muslims who denounce Islamism take an enormous risk with their lives (witness, for example, the murders of secular bloggers in Bangladesh). Indeed, conservative family and friends may harbor significant Islamist sympathies and, despite those relationships, represent a clear and present danger to progressive Muslims, who are understandably cowed into uncomfortable silence. That silence, however, is being met with increasing animosity as Islamist violence becomes harder to ignore and displaces ever more good, decent Muslims into Western communities.

We don’t need a discussion about how public repudiations of violence helps Muslims become more progressive. There’s no need for any decent human being to denounce mass murder and terrorism in order to make it clear that they don’t stand for such acts. At issue is how we form moral teams. Most Westerners, to accept that Muslims are genuinely committed to playing on the Western team, need to be convinced.

Far from being bigoted, as some on the left insist, inviting such denunciations is a request to the majority of Muslims to show us they’re progressive—to show us they’re secular enough to live in a secular society. Islamism arises directly from a literal, if fierce, reading of Islamic scripture, and so the blurry line between Islam and Islamism must be made clear. Making the costly signal of denouncing terrorism with connections to Islam (if only through the fanaticism of Islamism) covers some of that distance.

More importantly, contrary to many right-wing media and Republican Party narratives, this isn’t Muslims or Islam against the West; it’s Islamism against Western values and human rights. The more Muslims who help make that clear by making this costly signal, the more obvious that distinction will become, and every one, especially Muslims, will benefit by getting this right. END

About the Authors

Peter Boghossian is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Portland State University and an affiliated faculty member at Oregon Health Science University in the Division of General Internal Medicine. He is the author of A Manual for Creating Atheists. Connect with him @peterboghossian.

James A. Lindsay has a Ph.D. in mathematics and is the author of God Doesn’t; We Do, Dot, Dot, Dot: Infinity Plus God Equals Folly, and Everybody is Wrong About God. Connect with him at @GodDoesnt.

This article was published on December 15, 2015.


35 responses to “The Appeal of ISIS: Islamism, Trust, and Costly Signaling”

  1. Jay says:

    Exclusivism indeed runs deep in Islam, and it it is, I think, that cultural exclusivism that poses the greatest threat to other communities -and Muslims who are not of the locally-dominant denomination.
    Some weeks ago a perfectly peaceful, sweet little girl of twelve years, a student of mine, told another girl of the same age and description, “I wish all people were Muslims; just imagine Spain were Muslim again.” She noticed I’d overheard them, and explained, “You know, all Muslims are like brothers.” How do I tell that girl just how wrong she is?
    Well, trying to live that dream she got from home, from an immigrant father who hasn’t learned this country’s (Spain’s) language after more than a decade, that litt

    • Jay says:

      … refrains from socialising to any meaningful extent with non-Muslims. As do her siblings, and most of her coreligionists I’ve come to know.
      Meanwhile, ISIS and Co. call for reconquest of Spain. Will it sound threatening or promising to that sweet little girl once she’s a mother faced with the realities of life for minority members?

  2. Guerilla surgeon says:

    Not a lot of “costly signalling” going on in the Christian community. Largely because they never seem to be asked to condemn Christian terrorism the same way Muslims are always asked – or for that matter assumed to support – Islamist terrorism.

    • D.H. says:

      Obviously, because the majority of Westerners are moderate Christians – I would say nominally Christian. When we see Christian extremists perform some act of terror, we don’t associate them with ourselves. I’m sure many Muslims feel the same way about Islamic extremists, but since Muslims make up such a small part of our population in the US and Europe, it’s easy for us to group them all together. I know a few Muslims personally. Many, maybe most Americans know none personally. It’s not fair that Muslims should have to speak out against Islamic extremists, but until they do, large numbers of Americans are going to support the ideas of people like Donald Trump.

      I think the Muslim community needs to take a lesson from the Mormons. The FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints) is a splinter group, wackos who consider themselves the true LDS Church, who still practice polygamy. Whenever something comes up in the news about the FLDS, I always see some LDS spokesperson reminding us that those people aren’t associated with the LDS church. You could say the LDS church shouldn’t have to do this, but they know it’s in their best interest. It’s all about PR. From the time I was little, I saw Public Service Announcements on TV, just basic “be good to your neighbor” type things, and at the end they said, “from the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints”. That can go a long way in shaping how people think about a particular group.

  3. Ray Madison says:

    Interesting comments! Our biggest problem as humans comes from the very attributes that have made us superior to other animals, the ability to conquer and kill, as well as occasionally eat, all others of our competing species. We have had to, in short, evolve competitively.
    We will either need to continue to evolve as competitors or to not evolve at all. We have in turn evolved cultural systems such as religions that set out to command us what we need to do to achieve competitive order, and how we need to do it. In other words, how to most cooperatively compete! (Or compete cooperatively?)
    And as noted by other commenters, our two most prominent religions have advised us that the most powerful competitive deterrent is to kill the competition. Which our ancestral biological entities have learned to do quite well and deviously, as it also fits with finding the living things have best been evolved to be grown and then eaten: Meats and vegetables, I’ve left out humans as being seen as edible, because one of the most important thing that modern civilization seems to have agreed upon cooperatively is that we don’t eat each other. Unless we feel we have to.

  4. Rob says:

    “Islamism arises directly from a literal, if fierce, reading of Islamic scripture, and so the blurry line between Islam and Islamism must be made clear.”

    Do ‘blurry lines’ exist in the Bible?

    20:9 If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death.

    20:10 If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.

    20:13 If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death.

  5. Steve Reilly says:

    “[E]very one, especially Muslims, will benefit by getting this right.” Would “everyone” include those Bangladeshi bloggers who’ve been murdered? It’s hard to see how they’ve benefited.

    If you want people to risk their lives in order to join your team, why not just say so instead of dressing it up with jargon about “costly signaling”?

  6. William says:

    I agree with Ray Madison – not as long as people remain social animals.

    From the time in pre-history when humans first started banding together, various group practices have been used to define “us” and make “them” undesirable/unclean.

    Religious tenets/commandments are one way of codifying “desirable” tenets/practices. An act/requirement that is specified by a ruler may well be questioned or ignored, but make that same act/requirement a part of “divinely inspired” scripture and many/most will accept the dictate without question.

    • T Sawaya says:

      I understand perfectly….sometimes I embarrassed to be a human….and then I have to look hard to find something to sparkle my day….it helps to “pay it forward” even in the smallest way and,,,, turn off the news.

  7. T Sawaya says:

    After living in a Muslim country for two years in 2007-2008, I know what it feels like to be a minority in such a predominant theocracy. It is hard to predict who backs the extreme viewpoint of what to do with “Infidels” but there was no tolerance for an atheist. To me, this shows that the road in a Muslim dominated country has a long way to go for an individual to be as such….an individual in their personal belief system. I therefore found it better to keep my ideas of atheism to myself in order to deal day in and and day out with my job, associates, and acquaintances. Once a person from a democratic society experiences the opposite, the reality of the whole “world religion” problem becomes clearer. There are no solutions due to the lack of tolerance on all sides. I think that if killing occurs under the umbrella of any religion, no matter how it is deciphered with twisted definitions as seen in this article and blog, the truth is that all humans should speak out and claim disgust with the atrocities committed …. and those from centuries past. When will it stop?

  8. Mr. T. T. Rothach says:

    Apparently I’m not “most Westerners” because I don’t need a pointless, doesn’t-do-anything symbolic act to assure me that the Pakistani exchange student next door who just moved in isn’t going to kill me in my sleep. Why? Because I know there are different denominations of Islam. What the authors, and some commenters have called for is a double standard: asking every Muslim to apologize and denounce every act of Muslim Terror committed by another Muslim group. Hindus are not asked to apologize for every act of Hindu Terror inflicted upon minorities in India. Christians are not asked to apologize for every act of Christian Terror inflicted upon minorities in North America, South America, Australia, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Asatruar are not asked to apologize for every act of Asatru Terror inflicted upon minorities in North America and Europe. What I am seeing here is more Christian Terror and Secular Terror: putting more stress on an already stressed out minority who suffer everyday from harassment, and in some cases outright violence, just for being a Muslim. That this mass hysteria that has led to drivers being shot in their cabs, owners being beaten in their stores, grannies being harassed while shopping, and mosques and Sikh temples being vandalized has reached the skeptical community shows that “most Westerners” are more doomed than even republican presidential candidates realize.

  9. Frank Stagg MD says:

    In World War II Germany as a whole was rightly held partially responsible for the crimes of the Nazis even though most Germans were not party members. Why should so called moderate Muslims not be held at least partially accountable for the crimes of the Islamists? Radical Islamism could not exist without the passive acquiescense of the Islamic community.

  10. Mark Van Houten says:

    Those of us who lived through the second half of the twentieth century have seen fascism take many forms. In Nazi Germany it was “liebensraum” for the Aryan race. In Soviet communism it was the sacredness of the proletariat. Currently it is the Sharia law of Mohammed the conqueror. We must distinguish the content from the form in which fascism is disguised and promoted. If aspects of Sharia law are fascist, then those elements must be exposed and extinguished. The enemy is not the muslim, but the fascist use of Islamic doctrine. Muslim must be made aware of those practices and attitudes within Islam that are fascist, such as attacking apostate belief systems, subjugating women, vilifying social non-conformists, restricting secular practices, and theocratic control of free thought and democratic institutions. We should not be apologetic about confronting fascist ideologies, whatever form that they take.

  11. Frank Stagg MD says:

    Obama and the authors of this article are always bringing up the boogeyman of Islamophobia and blaming “Republicans and the far right”.
    This is balderdash. How many Muslims in the US have been beheaded by Republicans? How many have even had any physical harm done to them? If the climate in the US and Europe was so hostile why would you have so many Muslims risking their lives to get here.
    To compare Islamists with Conservative Republicans as if they are two side of a coin is ridiculous and obscene.

    • Dr Sidethink says:

      a sure sign of declaration of “Guardian of TROOTH” upon oneself is to
      define inquiry as a pathology.

      Defining one as a ” ****phobe ” Means you have a scary agenda afoot.

      Mad Magazine cascade follows

      anyone who says something is a Phobia has a phobia themselves

      anyone who says “something is a Phobia ” has a phobia themselves ” has a phobia themselves”

      anyone who says “anyone who says “something is a Phobia ” has a phobia themselves ” has a phobia themselves” gas a phob1a themselves

      next ???

      Dr S.

    • Ray Madison says:

      “This is balderdash. How many Muslims in the US have been beheaded by Republicans?

      How many Donald Trumps have advocated summarily wiping out the families of Jihadis? Or is beheading an unacceptable way of killing those we designate as bad guys?
      And how many Republicans are “Donald Trumps”?

  12. Stewart says:

    ISLAM IS NOT A RELIGION, it’s a theistic political movement. Some forms of Islam do not qualify as religions according to our Western concept of a religion. Such Islamic denominations are akin to a theistic communism, fascism with a godhead. Such “non-religion” forms of Islam would include those denominations that subscribe to the legalization of certain ideas like:
    a. Violent jihad to spread Islam
    b. Immigrate to conquer America for Islam and not to become a Westernized American
    c. No separation of state and religion
    i. Sharia law should be the law of the land (and the world)
    ii. The Constitution is not the supreme legal document
    d. No freedom of speech
    i. Death or other disapprobation for blasphemy
    ii. Death or other disapprobation for those who insult Islam
    iii. Death or other disapprobation for those who produce pictures of Mohammed
    e. No freedom to choose one’s own religion without governmental oppression
    i. Death or other disapprobation for apostasy
    ii. Death or conversion for non-Muslims who aren’t people of the book (mostly Christians and Jews)
    f. No legal equality for all people
    i. Second class citizenship for woman
    ii. Death or other disapprobation for homosexuals
    iii. Second class citizenship and special taxes (Jizya) for certain non-Muslims (like Christians and Jews) who aren’t required to be converted to Islam or killed

    Unless Muslims specifically exclude themselves and their denominations from the above unacceptable beliefs, it may reasonably be presumed that they accept some or all of those anti-American beliefs.

    • Raf Ollivierre says:

      If you define what is a religion by the standards you propose then you must admit that Christianity also fails the test.

  13. Dr Sidethink says:

    Simple question.

    I can’t get a simple answer.

    ” Does the Quaran teach that every Muslim has a right and a duty to
    spread Islam by any means at his/her disposal including the Sword … I.E ” We makea you a offa uou can’t refise ” ? ?

    typical response is

    “depends what you mean by teach”

  14. Humanist says:

    We need to have a free and robust discussion about Islam without any political correctness. Muslims have been the number one victims of Islam for the last 1400 years.

    • James says:

      Humanist is absolutely right! Without open discussion there is no way to achieve understanding.

      Dr. Sidethink is square on target. Questions in this arena need answers, not Socratic type BS!! Those who refuse to give clear and direct answers are playing games.

  15. Bad Boy Scientist says:

    This sounds like a rehash of Bill Maher’s statement (albeit with more academic trappings) – Muslims need to disavow the extremists & fundamentalists.

    How, exactly, are they going to do that? How are they going to _survive_ doing that?

    Bill Maher recounted that after a performance in Ohio in which he asked “Where are all of the moderate Muslims” he received a note from an audience member who told him, as a moderate Muslim, where they all were: in jail.

    Do you realize that for every attack on Western peoples, these extremist groups commit many against other Muslims – to intimidate and force them into submission. I wonder how many would love to decry terrorism but keep quiet out of fear.

    [Would we have asked in 1944 the non-Nazi Germans to publically disavow Hitler? Or the non-communist Russians to decry Stalinism?]

    We condemn them for not being brave like us in criticizing Scientology and Mormonism but the Mountain Meadow Massacre was a long time ago. Every Muslim, anywhere, who speaks out against these radical elements are much more heroic than we are. Let us show a little respect for the few who speak out!

  16. Tantris der Narr says:

    Dear Authors: “The West” is far from being the secularist monolith implied by this article (and if in passing). He¢k, every POTUS signs off with “God bless America”—and, he not only does not include South and Central America but does not even include large portions of North America in the terms “America” and “Americans”; nor does he mean any God other than The Christian One. Think of how does any Moslem, Hindu, … Atheist, or Apache feel during the invocation at a State function such as The Inauguration of the President… or during the benediction of the departmental Thanksgivings potluck.

    Yep, tolerance is hard; and not infrequently, the intolerant procreate more.

  17. Asteroid Miner says:

    The real reason behind radicalism:
    We are headed for a human population crash from 7.5 Billion to 70 thousand or zero people some time between 2022 and 2040. We don’t have time for research or fooling around with renewables. Causes of a population crash:

    1. Global Warming [GW] will cause civilization to collapse within 13 years give or take 6 years because GW will cause the rain to move and the rain move will force agriculture to collapse. Famine has been the cause of many dozens of previous population crashes.

    2. Reference “Overshoot” by William Catton, 1980 and “Bottleneck: Humanity’s Impending Impasse” by William Catton, 2009. Catton says that we humans are about to experience a population crash. Population biologist William Catton says that the US is the most overcrowded country. Collapse from overpopulation could happen any time now.
    The Earth has 4.5 Billion too many people. An overshoot in population requires an equal undershoot. We overshot by 4.5 billion, and the consequence is an undershoot by 4.5 billion. The carrying capacity is 3 billion. 3 billion minus 4.5 billion is zero because there can’t be minus 1.5 billion people. This can happen even if there is enough food.

    Catton tells the story of an island with deer but no wolves. The deer population increased to ~3500. There was still plenty of food, but the population crashed to 35. The reason was overcrowding.
    Sharing kills everybody because you can’t survive on half of the required calories. 7 billion people is 4 billion too many no matter how you slice it. “We” didn’t make “Them” have too many children.

    3. Aquifers running dry No irrigation, no wheat. No wheat, no bread. The “Green Revolution” was a bad idea. It caused India to double her population rather than get out of poverty. Now Indian farmers have “discovered” that water is a limiting resource. Water is a limiting resource in the US as well. When, not if, the aquifer under the high plains runs dry, there will be no bread and no pasta in the US.
    We didn’t “cause” third world poverty. They were never “unpoor” in the first place. They were stone age, not poor. We invented science. They didn’t. Their failure to invent science is not our fault.

    4. Resource depletion
    4A oil
    4B minerals

    War will kill a lot of people. Famine will kill 8 billion out of 7.5 billion. 7.5-8=-0.5, but with population, the crash ends at zero.

    Will there be survivors? Nobody knows. Nor does anybody have any idea who or where the survivors might be, if any.

    NATURE has lots of other ways to kill humans. Don’t provoke her.

    • Endor says:

      As to the end of your point 3: what a crock of BS! Yes, we did play a HUGE role in causing third world poverty. We still do. Colonialism, aka I take your resources so my people can prosper, was the norm for several hundreds of years. We invented science? What BS! science is not an invention. It is s progression of working out the details of the universe we live in, it is the answer to the “why” we’ve asked ever since we were two. For eg, why does the apple fall from the tree, why does a ship seem to disappear slowly at the horizon etc. scientific principles were worked on several centuries before the west had an opportunity to weigh in. For eg, Arabic and Indian contributions to basic and advanced math- after all the number 0 is an Indian “invention” without which any applied science would be lost!
      Overall your “us vs them” mentality will doom us all. I have not read Catton, so I will refrain from commenting on that. Go in peace and hopfeully learn your scientific history better my friend!

  18. RonW says:

    Yahya wrote “Of course the vast majority of the Muslims don’t approve of terrorism, but still a considerable number of them harbor ideas such as dominating the world and executing the laws of Sharia globally.”

    But, the basis of sharia, the koran _does_ approve of terrorism, as chapter 9 (‘revealed’ after the peaceful verses, and hence abrogating (replacing) them) is explicitly about conquest of unbelievers until there are no more unbelievers.

    Since the koran is the unalterable word of allah, valid for all time, there is no ambiguity about meaning. Terror is advised as a weapon to be used.

    Hence if _any_ muslim (and that means presumably all of them) holds the koran to have validity, as is claimed for it, they perforce believe that terror is a valid means to further islam.

  19. Yahya says:

    I think the article inadvertently paints a rosy picture of Muslims. By only condemning the “Islamist terrorism” the saga doesn’t finish. Of course the vast majority of the Muslims don’t approve of terrorism, but still a considerable number of them harbor ideas such as dominating the world and executing the laws of Sharia globally. There are a considerable and worrying number of Muslims in western countries that desire to use the democracy in the west against itself to propel goals such as propagating Islam and Islamic laws.
    So I think along with denouncing terrorism, Muslims should also state clearly that they believe in western and liberal values, they recognize the differences among religions and that they will remain liberal even if they overpopulate western countries.

  20. Ray Madison says:

    It would help if the authors had told us what, in their opinion, Muslims who favor Western values actually do believe in, since it’s fairly obvious that while they may find it easy to live and survive among us Westerners, they are not very eager to have Westerners live and survive among them. When they are in the minority, they adapt to the rules of the Western majority in public, but not in private. When, however, the shoes are on the other feet, they have no interest in seeing Westerners living peacefully among them.
    It would have been nice if the authors had told us what they are purported to know about the Muslim whys of the matter.

    • Yahya says:

      I think you are mixing up individual Muslim’s beliefs with the Islamic governments.
      Due to the unfortunate fact that political aspect of Islam is uncompromising and doesn’t fit at all with democratic values, an Islamic government cannot be democratic and inclusive, therefore a western lifestyle as you said is not tolerated and Liberals like me who are living in Islamic countries have to conceal their viewpoints. But living inside an Islamic country, I assure you that Muslims themselves have a higher capacity than their governments to get along with a person who believes in western values.
      However, what you say is partially accurate since a portion of Muslim population is highly conservative and they consider non-believers as “untouchable”.

  21. John Heininger says:

    This video shows why Trump is right

    By The Numbers – The Untold Story of Muslim Opinions & Demographics

    As told by a Moslem reformer

    • T Sawaya says:

      Very interesting video…however, Trump is not the one to bridge the gap of understanding to lead a democracy. This is a very complicated situation and hearing from educated Muslims will help guide our thinking. The bigger question not answered; how to get the moderate Muslims to band together and reform the radicals. This is never answered.

  22. Johnathan Miller says:

    The authors appear to conflate ISIS with Islamism. Yes, ISIS is one strain of Islamism but not all Islamists are ISIS. Islamism does not arise “directly from a literal, if fierce, reading of Islamic scripture” as the early history of the Muslim Brotherhood, the worlds oldest, and largest Islamist organization, clearly shows. Far from being a literalist, Brotherhood founder Hassan Al Banna did believe that the only way to deal with the challenges facing the Islamic world was to return to the “pure” and “uncorrupted” Islam of the past. However, he differed from the current “salafist” movement for example in that he and other islamic “reformers” urged the adoption of Western sciences and institutions that might strengthen Islam. Ironically, that makes much of Islamism (Political Islam) actually more difficult to deal with in the long run than the fanaticism of ISIS because contrary to what this article claims, the majority of Muslims do not perceive a “blurry line” between their Islam and ISIS, something they are constantly trying to tell us when they say ISIS “has nothing to do with Islam.” If the larger Islamist movement, in all its variations, is to be defeated, we need first to understand what it really is and not be seduced by the introduction of new and novel definitions that have never been tested for their theoretical/analytical explanatory power. The authors need to spend at least the minimum amount of time trying to come to grips with the actual scholarship in this area before trying to tell Muslims, as well as the rest of us, what needs to be done.

    • Mike Maybury says:

      Fundamentalist Muslims are similar to fundamentalist Christians. Do we expect the police to control the fanatics who murder staff at abortion clinics and who condemn homosexuality etc. or do we expect the rest of Christians to do this work?

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