Above Image: A crowd of Black Muslims applaud during Elijah Muhammad’s annual Saviors’ Day message in Chicago in 1974.
In respond to my recently posting a story on Facebook about an ISIS supporter in Phoenix (apparently an African-American male who had converted to Islam) who was searching for a midnight mass he could attack over Christmas, a friend asked me the following question.
“Is there a concern that black Americans, who feel marginalized in society, will be a segment of the population ISIS may try to manipulate and recruit? The Nation of Islam is still very active in the US, estimates of around 20,000 or more followers. And while I can distinguish between the Nation and ISIS, I am concerned that in our current political and social climate more African American males will be led to believe they are not valued in Western society. We have the case you have posted here, I think there was a potential plot in Miami a few months ago. I just worry if we do not address the appeal of ISIS to a disenfranchised group of vulnerable Americans, we may see more and more cases of this.”
There are many issues to consider here and I admit plainly that I am no expert on the Nation of Islam, how it indoctrinates its adherents, and the impact of black militancy or black nationalism ideology in the production of terrorists. As a result, let me address some of these points in more general terms and then tentatively theorize a bit about the details.
Map: Situation as of June 29th, 2016. The grey area represents the territories effectively under the control of the Islamic State (source).
A July 12th report in the Washington Post by Joby Warrick and Souad Mekhennet has caused a stir recently for suggesting that the Islamic State’s “caliphate” is on the ropes. Titled “Inside ISIS: Quietly Preparing for the Loss of the ‘Caliphate,” the story has received a lot of attention on cable news and has been widely (and in some cases, enthusiastically) shared online. Indeed, I have been asked to comment on the topic in an interview for a local television station on Saturday morning, but I assume the topics considered during the interview will now, unfortunately, expand to include discussion of the terrorist attack killing 84 people in Nice (and wounding over 200) that took place on July 14th. Yet here I want to focus on the claims of the Washington Post article and think through the issue a bit. Continue reading →
[Update: In addition, in 2014 Mateen also became a devotee of the radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, whose lectures had inspired other radicals to commit acts of terrorism.]
In light of such a past, it hardly seems surprising that he declared his support and allegiance to the Islamic State as he carried out his slaughter. What surprises me is the effort to pretend all of this is not somehow related to his actions in Orlando. Other factors such as mental health, homophobia, etc… most likely played a part in this, but to deny also the radicalization aspect in this seems itself a form of denial. It is also a dangerous one, particularly if it means we refuse to factor in or downplay the threat of the global jihadist movement (led by the Islamic State) and its massive online propaganda machine (which has demonstrated its effectiveness in motivating others on many occasions). Indeed, Mateen, is precisely the type of person they hope to target with their efforts, even if they never have direct contact. Today the DOJ even released only partial transcripts of the killer’s conversations with the police during the massacre, scrubbing the killer’s extremist viewsand omitting his pledged allegiance to the Islamic State [Edit: See addendum].
What else did Mateen need to add to his resume to be considered as having shown “warning signs” of radicalization?
He seems to have checked every box.
He even called the police and posted on Facebook to make his motivations and intentions as clear as possible, after a long history of personal connections with extremism, yet we refuse to believe him.
When I was a kid growing up in St. Augustine, I took karate lessons from the great Taekwondo Instructor Ken Durling. Even then, more than thirty years ago, the always kind and soft-spoken Mr. Durling was something of a local legend. I vaguely recall one day before class, sitting huddled with other elementary or middle school aged kids, one of the older kids telling us with great sincerity and enthusiasm of how Mr. Durling had once killed an opponent by punching through his chest, snatching his heart, and showing it to the man before he died. Needless to say, at a young age when I was more willing to entertain stories like that, I was likely a bit quicker in snapping to attention that day and promptly obeying all of Mr. Durling’s commands during class.
I have no idea where this particular myth originated. For all I know, the “showing your opponent his heart before he dies” myth probably began with Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris and then found its way to local heroes or legends like Mr. During, to be endlessly repeated by young students and fans who lionize their indestructible martial arts instructors. The myth itself might be silly, but not the respect that young students have for such instructors. Martial arts instructors are often extraordinarily important role models for kids, who look to them for guidance not only in dealing with a bully, or any sort of dangerous situation, but also more generally in terms of character and discipline.
Al-Azhar University is considered Sunni Islam’s oldest and most distinguished institution of learning. The University was founded c. 1171 in Cairo when the Ayyubids under Salah al-Din overthrew the Shia Fatimid Empire in Egypt. The new Sunni rulers insisted that the instruction of Sunni jurisprudence should replace any Shia instruction and the new university would be centered around the Al-Azhar mosque (originally constructed c. 970-972). It was at this point, with the founding of the university c. 1171, that Al-Azhar (and Cairo) began to establish itself as one of the most authoritative Islamic institutions of the past nine-hundred years, remaining so today. Thus, the views of the scholars of Al-Azhar matter to many modern Muslims, particularly in the absence of a modern generally recognized caliphate, who often look to Al-Azhar for guidance on modern controversies. Consequently, I have found Al-Azhar’s commentary on issues related to the rise of the Islamic State (and related issues) troubling. Continue reading →
With the recent institutionalization of slavery in the so-called Islamic State, as well as the troubling and much publicized acknowledgement of the legitimacy of slavery by some modern Islamic scholars (see examples here, here, and here), the issue of slavery in the Muslim world has been on my radar recently.
Consequently, some comments by the former Princeton scholar Bernard Lewis on this issue recently caught my attention. In his book Race and Slavery in the Middle East (Oxford University Press, 1990), Lewis wrote: Continue reading →
I recently had one of the more rewarding teaching experiences of my career when I had the opportunity to present two lectures on the background of the so-called “Islamic State” to U.S. Marines from Company B, 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion. These were not just any Marines, mind you, but Marines from the reserve unit I once proudly served in as a sergeant. Continue reading →