The Swedish security police (Säpo) recently released a report on “violence-approving Islamist extremism”, which is the literal English translation of the phrase used by the authors of the report. Våldsbejakande means supportive of violence, but not violent in itself — talk about not treading on any Muslim toes!
The idea that “violence-approving” jihadis could be in any meaningful way distinct from “violent” jihadis is a quintessentially Swedish way of parsing reality. It’s designed to lull the Swedish mind into its accustomed complacency — which was so rudely disturbed by an exploding man in downtown Stockholm on December 11th, not long after the report was issued.
Was Taimour Abdulwahab Al-Abdaly actually violent? Or only an approver of violence? We’ll have to let the Jesuitical minds at Säpo sort that one out.
Säpo’s (the Swedish security police) report on violent Islamist extremism in Sweden [pdf] is in many ways meritorious, but suffers from many serious deficiencies: it does not deal with the Islamism that is not supportive of violence, and it does not mention the radical Islamists’ ideology in its discussion. In the following I intend to summarize the report, emphasize the most relevant aspects and state something about its deficiencies. Since the report is available on the Internet, I will avoid page references; the quotations are easy to find by searching in the PDF-file.
Säpo establishes that there are a number of networks in Sweden that actively spread radical (what Säpo calls “violence-accepting”) Islamic ideology. The ideology is treated as uniform by Säpo (it is shared by “most of them”). The ideology has very specific targets: part of their propaganda is against “foreign troops in Muslim countries”, part is against “regimes that are regarded by the networks as corrupt and don’t uphold the interpretation of Islam that the networks regard as the only truth”, and part is also against caricaturists.
Here we at once see that radical Islamism is rooted in the religion of Islam. Radical Islamism’s attitude towards Islam’s orthodoxy — whether it diverges from established Islamic theology and jurisprudence — is something that Säpo is interested in, and after having read the report I am unfortunately forced to admit that they are not capable of doing that analysis. Säpo protects itself in an elegant way against possible accusations of taking sides in the intra-Islamic debate — the wording “the interpretations of Islam that the networks regard as the only truth” protects Säpo against unserious criticism. But at the same time it makes them unable to understand fully the incentives and the prime movers of the suicide bomber.
The question to ask is the following: why is it a problem for radical Islamists (or more easily expressed, Jihadists) that there are non-Muslim troops in Muslim countries? Because Jihad, which means holy war, both in the sense of invading non-Muslim countries and imposing Sharia law (which is not the same thing as converting all people into Islam) — the offensive Jihad — and defending Muslim countries against attacks — the defensive Jihad — considers only whether the countries to be defended are Muslim. According to Sharia, (Islam’s jurisprudence; Jihad is a part of Sharia) it does not matter that Afghanistan and Iraq were governed by tyrants that tormented their own inhabitants and, in the case of Saddam Hussein, it does not matter that he initiated aggression against his neighbours. It does not matter that the Taliban oppressed the people — it was still not legitimate for non-Muslim countries to invade Afghanistan, since the doctrine of Jihad expressly opposes this. The war that is waged today by the Western Powers is usually seen a humanitarian intervention, but this concept completely lacks meaning for Muslims who take the doctrine of Jihad seriously. Non-Muslims do not have the right to invade Muslim countries, no matter how badly the latter behave, while Muslims has an imperative, collective obligation to invade non-Muslim countries. This is what is behind the violent Islamic extremists’ focus on non-Muslim invasions of Muslim countries — they know what Sharia says about the matter, and apply Sharia, Islamic law (which is by definition not radical or extreme; Sharia is Islam’s orthopraxy, and if Sharia is radical, it means that Islam in itself is radical).
The discussion in the paragraph above may well apply to the Jihadists’ struggle against regimes that are regarded as insufficiently Islamic. Among other things, Sharia comprises rules for how the state shall be governed, and how the state shall act towards non-Muslim countries. The purpose of the Islamic state is to see that Sharia law is applied and followed. An Islamic state is a state that applies Sharia; the Islamic state is ruled according to Sharia. Offensive Jihad aims at forcing the whole of mankind to obey Sharia. It is not the existence of non-Muslims that is problematic, according Sharia: it is the existence of non-Muslim states. According to Sharia, non-Muslims simply do not have any right to govern their own countries. The same impulse that is behind the doctrine of offensive Jihad is behind the Jihadists’ criticism of Muslim states that do not practice Sharia in the right way (according to the Jihadists). Whether the states in question apply Sharia in a correct manner is first and foremost an intra-Islamic question: the most important point for us non-Muslims to realize is that the root of the evil is Sharia, the decrees of Islamic law.
That said, one does not need to be too anxious about the Jihadists that live in Sweden devoting themselves to practicing Sharia. They amount to about two hundred people, and most of them seem to know each other. The networks are not so coordinated that they can plan and carry out joint actions. Up until now many Jihadists living in Sweden have traveled to other countries and participated in Jihad; the suicide bomber in Stockholm is a break in the trend. More disquieting is the fact that Jihadists who have killed people in other countries have been radicalized in Sweden. Jihadism is thus spreading in Sweden, by immigrants and converts that apparently act relatively undisturbed. Exactly which persons are behind the process of radicalization in Sweden is not evident from the report. The report establishes that Jihadism in Sweden does not constitute any threat against “the fundamental structures of society, Sweden’s form of government or its central state management”, and nor is there anything that indicates that the number of Jihadists is increasing. The threat should thus not be exaggerated, but nor should it be minimized; we have seen examples of the latter when Europol’s terror reports are brought forward in order to show that the Islamic threat is limited. Säpo’s report establishes that the EU’s member states estimate that “Terrorism motivated by Islamism constitutes the greatest threat, since it usually intends indiscriminate attacks with large damage”. The threatening picture consequently does not depend on the number of executed or averted acts of terror, but on the objective of the terrorists; the only ones that have the aim to kill as many civilians as possible are Muslim terrorists.
The report shows the relation between local events in the Western World that are mentioned and become part of global Jihadism. The examples are, not very surprisingly, the Mohammed cartoons in Denmark and Lars Vilks’ roundabout dog. Here one can see an interaction between isolated occurrences and a denationalized ideology that urges all Muslims around the world to exact revenge on those who “insult Islam”. The report does not pay attention to the fact that this reaction is conditioned by Sharia, and works in approximately the same way as exhortations to participate in Jihad. The defensive Jihad is formulated in order to defend Muslim countries from attacks and is adapted to situations where the leadership in the attacked country is not capable of repelling the invader (unlike the offensive Jihad, that must be led by a legitimate ruler, i.e. a caliph, which also explains why Al Qaeda want to re-establish the caliphate). If a Muslim country has been invaded, Muslims from other countries must go there and fight. The defensive Jihad works according to the principle “make circles on the water” — if the attacked country is not defended, more Muslims from even more countries will be involved and go there. It is a question of an international, cross-border solidarity with other Muslims; the solidarity is of a religious type, not nationalistic. The fact that Saudis go to Afghanistan in order to defend Islam military is comparable with the Somali who tried to kill Kurt Westergaard.
Religion is central to both cases, and the Jihadists’ actions are conditioned by the provisions of Sharia. When Jihadists ask themselves how they should react to a certain incident, they look at what Sharia says about it. This is valid both for the Jihad and attacks on Mohammed. According to Sharia, all who criticize Mohammed should immediately be executed. Attacks on Mohammed are met in the same way as attacks on Muslim countries. And since Sharia imposes capital punishment for criticism of Mohammed, Jihadists react to such criticism by trying to kill those who blaspheme Mohammed. If Sharia did not impose capital punishment for this, the Jihadists would probably react differently. One more time: The provisions of Islam (more specifically Sharia) condition the appropriate the reactions of the believers. The Jihadists apply Sharia, i.e. normative Islamic law.
Nothing of this is explained in the Säpo report. The body of Islamic law, which is very much relevant for the comprehension of the Jihadists’ actions, is not discussed in the report: “As a police authority with responsibility for preventing and combating terrorism, the focus of the Security Service is on the safety-threatening activity that persons in Sweden carry out, not on the arguments and ideas with which this activity is motivated and is justified.” This cannot be seen as anything other than a serious deficiency. However, in spite of Säpo’s lack of interest in or ignorance of Sharia, Sharia pops up anyway, particularly if one reads between the lines. The attacks on Muslim states that are regarded as inadequately Islamic aim at replacing these regimes with “a new regime based on a certain interpretation of Sharia” (cf. later, “The aim is to introduce a certain type of Islamic regime in different areas by way of violence”). It is also this objective that is partly used in order to make clear which persons are legitimate targets: “In general one can say that those who are regarded as obstacles to the establishment of an Islamic regime also are regarded as legitimate targets for violence.” The Jihadists who work to implement Sharia “are to be regarded as central actors with relatively long experience as a part of to the established violent Islamist environment”. Here Sharia and the Jihad converge. Jihad aims at establishing Sharia — but this can also be done through non-violent, democratic methods. The most important observation by Säpo, however, is that there are experienced, genuinely dangerous Jihadists in Sweden who work to implement Sharia with the intent of establishing Islamist states (a notion that also is to be found in the threatening letter of the suicide bomber). This is something that all Jihadists and non-radical Islamist organizations round the world have in common: terrorism is only one method; the Caliphate may be the objective, but the main thing is that they apply Sharia’s decrees. This explains why Somali Jihadists execute suspected adulterers and excavate Sufi graves. If one only takes an interest in terrorism (which is a tool) and the deadly violence that is directed towards non-Muslims or insufficiently Muslim soldiers, one does not see the overall picture. Only when one considers Sharia as a whole can one explain why Jihadists do what they do (murdering women who may have had sex with the wrong man has nothing to do with combating a foreign occupation).
That Säpo does not properly understand how Sharia is constituted is problematic, but at least as problematic is the fact that Säpo does not take an interest in the Islamists who share the ideology of the Jihadists, but choose other methods to attain their goals. This is of course due to the fact that coverage of non-violent Islamism is not embraced by Säpo’s assignments, but that is why there is a gap in the coverage of antisocial individuals and organizations. Hizb ut-Tahrir works for a caliphate; al-Qaeda works for a caliphate; only al-Qaeda is monitored by Säpo. Säpo make clear that “anti-democratic acts such as not recognizing persons’ equality, but without using or supporting violence” can be “problematic in other perspectives”, but it is not the task of Säpo to cover this. The wording about all people’s equality is of course interesting — Sharia applies sex apartheid, commands aggression against non-Muslim states, and punishes adultery, open homosexuality and conversion to another religion with capital punishment, and is thus compatible with neither the Swedish constitution, UN’s declaration on human rights, or the European convention on human rights. This is important to bear in mind when listening to Islamists recommending the application of Sharia, even though only in certain issues. The Islamists who want Sharia to be applied to marriage law do the same thing as al Qaeda: they fight for Sharia; certainly other aspects of Sharia, but the systems are the same in both cases.
My personal opinion is that democratic Islamists — those who “accept and work politically within existing parliamentary systems” — are far more dangerous than the Jihadists, since they, unlike these, are regarded as relatively harmless. The Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful Islamic organization in the world, works through democratic methods to introduce Sharia law, and for the Islamization of the Western World (the Muslim members of the Swedish parliament, Mehmet Kaplan and Abderisak Waberi, have both cooperated with the FIOE, the co-ordinating European organization for the Muslim Brotherhood). Al-Qaeda is not a member of the Swedish parliament; on the other hand, in Sweden’s parliament are members who openly co-operate with the Muslim Brotherhood, the chief ideologue of which, Sayyid Qutb, formulated the modern Jihadist ideology, and the armed branch of which is Hamas. It ought to be apparent which of these organizations represents the more serious threat against Sweden’s democracy.
Another problem with the report is the drastically inadequate discussion of terminology, which gives the impression that Säpo is making an effort not to offend Muslims; either this is the case, or else Säpo is ignorant about Islam. In a note Jihad is defined:
The Arabic word Jihad means “ambition” or “effort”. The notion is used to describe a spiritual ambition that principally has to do with every Muslim’s ambition to follow God’s will. It can also be used in the sense of holy war till in defense of those who constitute a threat against Islam. Violent Islamist groups assume this interpretation in order to justify different types of violent acts.
Jihad certainly means ambition/effort, and can mean a moral struggle to become a better Muslim. This interpretation of the notion originates from the Sufi tradition, and has insufficient support in the muniments of Islam. There is, however, no contradiction between the notions of Jihad as a moral struggle and a holy war respectively. Classical Sufism saw the moral struggle as the necessary condition for the holy war: it is not until one has been “purified” and is prepared for a fight only for Allah (and not for material belongings) that it is possible to participate in the holy war. The definition that is to be found in Islamic law manuals is also the most recent meaning — there is no legislation on Jihad as a moral struggle, but there is legislation on Jihad as a holy war. That Säpo then regards the holy war as a defensive war shows that they either deliberately ignore or are ignorant of the fact that Jihad has an offensive dimension. Whatever the explanation is, the formulation found in the report is alarming. Another note, about the word “Mujaheddin”, is just as problematic:
Mujaheddin is the plural form of the Arabic word mujahid. Mujahid literally means “the one who makes an effort” and has in Islamic tradition been a term for those who engage in struggle for defence of Islam. The notion is used in a romanticizing way by violent Islamist groups in order to describe those who defend Islam with violence against a perceived attack. In these environments, the notion is used with the rough meaning of “holy warriors”, and can refer to those who participate in armed conflicts and to those who perform attempts outside areas of conflicts.
From this note, one could get the impression that the Jihadists themselves invented the idea that Mujaheddin means holy warrior. Here Säpo again misses that Jihad can be either offensive or defensive: in the former case Jihad is a collective duty (fard kifaya), in the latter case it is an individual duty that is incumbent on every Muslim (fard ayn). The one who perchance states that Jihad only means defensive war may very well explain why Sharia in that case separates Jihad as a collective duty from Jihad as an individual duty.
Jihad doctrine mandates also that you as a Muslim have a duty to support those who participate in the holy war, if you are not able to participate yourself. This is something that Säpo makes a note of: “propaganda is made for the importance of financial and moral support for Mujaheddin”; they also note that the Jihadists describe it as desirable to “die for Islam and thus become a martyr”, which “is described as the most beautiful that is possible to reach”. Jihadists “point at promises of what is awaiting the martyrs in the life to come”. It ought to be noticed that none of this deviates in any way from orthodox Islamic theology and jurisprudence. There are several hadith in which Mohammed promises his warriors that they shall enter Paradise if they die in combat for the sake of Islam. That Säpo uses the word “martyr” about the Islamic notion of “shahid” is moreover to be regretted — an Islamic martyr is someone who dies while he participates in a war against the unbelievers, while a Christian martyr is someone who permits himself to be killed for his faith. This is a profound difference.
The last deficiency I want to discuss is Säpo’s notion of how radicalization can be counteracted. They point at the fact that “increased knowledge of Islam can work as a way out of the violent environment”, which is a remarkable statement, considering that it is often knowledge of Islam, particularly Sharia, that transforms ordinary Muslims into Jihadists. Just today the police followed up the report by proposing to actively “increase the knowledge of Islam”, and the “local police, local decision-makers and other authorities concerned” are encouraged to establish a “better dialogue” with Muslim groups; whether this dialogue includes an open dialogue on Sharia and Jihad is not evident. It is worth noticing that some of the Muslims who have been interviewed in connection with the draft of the report make requests for “better instruction on Islam in Swedish schools”. It is appropriate to ask: why? Because “deeper knowledge of the religion”, according to the report, is “a way of rendering it more difficult for recruiters to mislead young people”; so is “knowledge a way of avoiding misunderstandings that are founded on a incorrect picture of Islam”. It is a bit amusing that Säpo here are making themselves into Islamologists and saying that there is a distorted picture of Islam, and thus of necessity a correct picture of Islam (to compare with their own earlier neutrality on this question), while at the same time one can assume that the debate follows will be on the conditions set by the “interest groups”. At worst the Muslims that will take part in the debate, insofar as they have a self-interest in not discussing Islamist law with Säpo, will individually avoid the most important factor in understanding why the Jihadists do what they do.
A feeling of distress appears after having read the report. Säpo does not discuss the ideology of the Jihadists, nor do they discuss “democratic” Islamism; they use terminology in a vague way, and their recommendations on how to solve the problems of Jihadism sound like the clichés on “insufficient integration” we have been fed for years and days (“experiences of isolation and discrimination, together with segregation and unemployment, [are] some of the most common motives for radicalization”; “To improve people’s situation concerning work, residence and education thus stands out as one the largest and comprehensive tasks for national actors”). It is apparent that the serious, critical debate on Islam’s relation with Jihadism must be held by someone else than Säpo.