The following fascinating interview with a recruiter for the Islamic State was originally published by Der Spiegel and has been translated by Rembrandt Clancy.
You’ll notice that the interviewer is what is commonly referred to as a “moderate Muslim”. In his eagerness to find acceptable, humane parts of the Koran with which to confront his subject, he seems unaware that the Doctrine of Abrogation has rendered those verses irrelevant. The IS recruiter, in contrast, is fully versed in all the nuances of Islamic law.
“Islamic State” Recruiter Interviewed: “Democracy is something for Unbelievers”
What makes the “Islamic State” tick? How do their followers see the world? An IS-recruiter gives SPIEGEL ONLINE an account of how the extremists imagine the future. A disputatious discussion with an uncompromising radical.
Source: Spiegel Online
Translation: Rembrandt Clancy
by Hasnain Kazim
23 October 2014
The conditions of the Islamist [des Islamisten] are stringent: no photograph, no sound recordings; and it goes without saying that he will not divulge his real name, any more than reveal his country of origin. He says only that he is an Arab. His English is polished, with a British accent.
He calls himself Abu Sattar, a man of roughly 30 years with a thick, black, full beard reaching down to his chest, with a shaved upper lip, his head is shorn. He wears a black floor-length robe. In a black leather briefcase, he carries a Koran wrapped in a cloth.
In Turkey Abu Sattar recruits fighters for the terrorist militia, “Islamic State” (IS). He checks the basic cast of mind of interested parties who wish to travel from the many countries of the world to Turkey, whence they wish to go to war in Iraq or move to Syria. Many IS-followers, independently of one another, recommended him as a discussion leader, one they believe can best explain what the IS stands for. For many, he is something of an ideological paragon.
After some hesitation, Abu Sattar agrees to a meeting. He sets a date and promises to specify a location in good time; but then allows the arrangement to fall through, only to once more set up a meeting the next day, in the morning, in a public place. This time he actually surfaces: a man with brown eyes behind rimless glasses. He gives the impression of being self-confident and confrontational. He orders tea and allows a prayer chain with wooden beads to glide through his hands during the interview.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Assalamu alaikum.
Abu Sattar: Are you a Muslim?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What part does that play here? For me, religion is a private matter.
Abu Sattar: Then why do you say “Assalamu alaikum”?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Because it means “Peace be with you”, and I consider it a friendly greeting.
Abu Sattar: Therefore you are not a Muslim. But I knew that!
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why is your way of thinking within the “Islamic State” constantly driven by a division of the world into believers and unbelievers? Why is it, that in the “Islamic State” everything is always black and white, “we against the rest of the world”?
Abu Sattar: Who started it then? Who conquered the world and attempted to subject all foreign cultures and religions? The history of colonialism is long and bloody. And it continues to today in the form of the arrogance of the West vis-à-vis everyone else: “we against the rest of the world”, that is the driving formula of the West. Finally, we Muslims are successfully offering resistance against it.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You spread anxiety and terror and kill innocent people; incidentally, Muslims above all. Is that what you call successful resistance?
Abu Sattar: We are following the word of Allah. We believe it is the single task of mankind to honour Allah and His prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him. We are implementing what is written in the Koran. If that can be done, then naturally that is a success.
To Salafists like Abu Sattar, the Koran is the only valid law. They derive their faith solely from scriptures, and reject scriptural interpretation, or even abstraction. Abu Sattar and the IS idealise the Islamic community extant during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed. In those days, in the view of the Salafists, Islam was lived solely in its “true form”. Only for this reason, they believe, could the Islamic empire have expanded so rapidly. It is in accordance with their understanding of this era that the IS wishes to revive it and emulate the early Muslims.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Do you think that those who cut other people’s heads off are good Muslims?
Abu Sattar: Counter question: do you take for good Christians those who bomb Afghan wedding parties with fighter aircraft or who, on a pretext, march into a land such as Iraq? Are those responsible for Guantanamo or Abu Ghuraib good Christians?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You are evading the issue. What you mention did not happen in the name of a religion and was vigorously criticised in the West. Once again: What for you is a good Muslim? Which people are you recruiting?
Abu Sattar: A Muslim is one who follows Allah’s laws without any ifs or buts. The Sharia is our law; no interpretation is needed and no man-made laws. Allah is the only lawmaker. We recognise that there are sufficient numbers of people, also in Germany, who sense the emptiness of the modern world and yearn for values like the ones which Islam embodies. Whoever is against the Sharia is no Muslim. We talk with the people who come to us and examine the firmness of their belief.
Turkey is the centre for IS recruitment. People from all over the world, from Europe, the USA and from Central and South Asia, travel to Istanbul and find contact with the extremists. According to Turkish accounts, around a thousand Turkish nationals are also fighting in the neighbouring “Caliphate”.
The government in Ankara denies supporting the IS, but in the past they have admitted that jihadists have been travelling via Turkey to Syria and into Iraq hence to the combat zone. There was evidence that the extremists obtain foodstuffs, medicaments, weapons and munitions via Turkey and that wounded terrorists were treated in Turkish hospitals.
For the last three years Turkey has been pursuing the objective of overthrowing the Syrian ruler, Bashar al-Assad, and for this reason has supported anyone who damages him — including Islamist organisations. At the very least, that the IS recruits fighters in the middle of Turkish cities has at least been taken seriously.
Abu Sattar now casually looks around to see if he is being observed. He could pursue his activity further, but “a little caution is called for”, he explains.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: There are an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. Many are very democratic, some are liberal, others conservative. And imagine: there are heterosexuals and homosexuals among them. Most do not share your ideology. But you act as though there were only one kind of Muslim; namely, those who think as you do. But that is absurd.
Abu Sattar: Democracy is something for unbelievers. A genuine Muslim is not a democrat, because the opinion of majorities and minorities does not interest him. What interests him is what Islam says. Apart from that, the West uses democracy as an instrument of domination; and for Islam, the opposite is the case. Why do you act as though the entire world needs democracy? And with regards to homosexuality, that is unambiguously laid down in the Koran. Accordingly it is forbidden and must be punished.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: With such statements you are relegating all Muslims to the terrorist camp. In many countries the pressure is increasing on them to declare that they are opposed to the “Islamic State”, although they have nothing to do with terrorism.
Abu Sattar: And? Are they raising their voices against us or not? (He laughs.) I believe there is very much more support for us than you wish to admit. Those who demand that Muslims should stand up and be counted are completely right. We go one step further: all people should acknowledge whether they submit to Allah or not. Who is against us is our enemy and must be combatted. That also includes those people who call themselves Muslims, but do not adjust their lives accordingly: those who drink alcohol, do not pray, do not fast, those who have continually changing partners and those who are unable to recite the Koran.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: There are many Muslims who consciously decide in favour of such a lifestyle.
Abu Sattar: That may be, but it is not Allah’s will. When we are in charge eventually, Insh’allah, throughout the entire world, then the Sharia will be in force. Such people will then have to atone for their behaviour.
Religious fundamentalism is as old as religion itself. The IS puts it into action with the utmost rigour. A closed conception of the world, which differentiates clearly between good and evil, friend and foe and makes it easy for the followers to cope in a complicated world. Muslims who interpret Islam differently than the Salafists, are summarily declared to be unbelievers. This common practise is called “takfir”. For the victim, it means the death sentence, because renunciation of Islam is forbidden. The extremists do not even shy away from the religious justification of war crimes. In the view of Abu Sattar, all means are permissible in the fight for the “true faith”. Obviously that attracts thousands of people.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You abduct non-Muslim women, turn them into sex slaves, crucify or behead people of other beliefs, even children. What is Islamic in that?
Abu Sattar: Why did no one become worked up over the many people whom Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has on his conscience? But now that we are establishing a Caliphate there, it is suddenly a problem? To answer your question: it is every Muslim’s duty to fight those of different faiths until only Allah is worshipped throughout the entire world. Everyone has the chance to profess faithfulness to Allah and to walk the right path. (He recites in Arabic from Koran Sura 5, verse 37 )
“Those that make war against Allah and His apostle and spread disorders in the land shall be put to death or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or be banished from the country” [The Koran: Sura 5 verse 33. Trans. N. J. Dawood]
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Only a few non-Muslims “feud” with anyone else. Billions of people, regardless of their religion, live together peacefully or at least next to each other.
Abu Sattar: (He recites, again in Arabic, this time Sura 4, verse 91 .)
“They would have you disbelieve as they themselves have done, so that you may be all alike. Do not befriend them until they have fled their homes for the cause of Allah. If they desert you, seize them and put them to death wherever you find them. Look for neither friends nor helpers among them…” [The Koran: Sur 4, verse 89. Trans. N. J. Dawood].
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You are being evasive in that you answer complex reality with religious verses. But if you absolutely insist on arguing in this way: in the Koran it also states that there is no compulsion in religion [2:256]. In another place it states that one should “avoid excess”, because God does not love the intemperate [2:190 and 7:31]. What you are doing is excessive.
Abu Sattar: Yes, that is in the second Sura. But there it also states that you should kill the unbelievers or drive them out, wherever you find them [2:191].
This is a typical argument of the fundamentalists: They search selectively for those sources supportive of their own position. They ignore others or change the meaning to meet their own requirements.
Abu Sattar says that under his supervision “dozens” of young men had been accepted into the ranks of the IS. They were segregated strictly according to their countries of origin; and later, during their training in the camps on Syrian territory, they will remain segregated by origin. He emphasises that, contrary to what is occasionally reported, no training takes place in Turkey. Especially favoured are battle-seasoned men who, for example, have already been to war in Chechnya or Afghanistan.
The IS concentrates on nothing but combat and the implementation of their version of Islam. The militia even reject mosques*, because they distract from belief. Also they destroy monuments and art treasures, because they consider them to be graven images.
* [Translator’s note: The link refers to a German-language article in Spiegel Online, which describes the destruction of mosques and monuments by the IS. They report “IS-jihadists” as having repeatedly said that a Muslim requires no mosque, “only a simple, clean place to pray”.]
SPIEGEL ONLINE: At the period of Islam’s florescence there was music, dance, painting, calligraphy and architecture. You, on the other hand, are advocating a cultureless and art-free Islam. Don’t you think it is time to discuss the content of religion and interpret it in a way that is in keeping with the times?
Abu Sattar: It is not for us human beings to interpret God’s word. Time and again In Islamic societies there were errancies and transgressions. Among those times I include what you call the period of florescence.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Then you must at least support Muslims reading the Koran in their own language, so that they understand what is required of them in respect of compliance. In particular, most Muslims are unable to understand the Arabic language. Do you think the many incitements to fighting and killing would then find favour?
Abu Sattar: Exactly as written down in the Koran, such is what constitutes Allah’s word. Also it is not for us to translate. Whether or not something written there is popular, is not the point. We are not to put in question a single word.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You consider the people ignorant and build your power on that. That is the dodge of all extremists, also your kind.
Abu Sattar: You have your view of it, we have ours.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: But you fight all those who do not share your view.
Abu Sattar: Christians and Jews are after the blood of those who preside over raw materials but refuse access to them. Crude oil is the best example. The USA and her allies continually interfere with countries where they have no business to be, only because they are fearful for their own prosperity. Is that any better? We do not fight because we are greedy and self-seeking, but for values and morals.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: There is little evidence of values and morals when one follows your conduct in Iraq and Syria. What remains is the impression that it is shaped by an inferiority complex. That also goes for your recruits: people who feel excluded and who now finally see that they have a chance to live out their power fantasies.
Abu Sattar: It is not correct that only people who hitherto have had no success in life, come to us. Among them are many who have completed their studies, people who were established. But they all see the injustices which we Muslims have long been experiencing, and they want to fight against them.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: You speak continually of fighting. Do Muslims not always emphasise that Islam is a religion of peace?
Abu Sattar: It is a religion of peace — when all men have become submissive to Allah. Allah is merciful and forgives those who follow Him.