So I downloaded and was reading the Islamic State’s webzine Dabiq — because hey, why not be on a terror watchlist? Comrade Coates shared something about it on Twitter, some vile passage that’d been originally been posted on Reddit, so I decided to track down a copy and have a read myself. It’s always a rush, seeking out those obscure East Asian message boards where you can find files of Dabiq. You never know if you’re about to download some fatal virus. Part of the thrill of it, I suppose. Jihadology and other more respected sources of primary documents on extremism are no fun. They take the sense of adventure out of it.
Anyway, apparently the self-styled Caliphate thinks that Western nations were too soft in their imperialism. Or else so corrupted by liberalism and “political correctness” that they felt obliged to apologize for their misdeeds years later:
The clear difference between Muslims and the corrupt and deviant Jews and Christians is that Muslims are not ashamed of abiding by the rules sent down from their Lord regarding war and enforcement of divine law. So if it were the Muslims, instead of the Crusaders, who had fought the Japanese and Vietnamese or invaded the lands of the Native Americans, there would have been no regrets in killing and enslaving those therein. And since those mujahidin would have done so bound by the Law, they would have been thorough and without some “politically correct” need to apologize years later. The Japanese, for example, would have been forcefully converted to Islam from their pagan ways. Had they stubbornly declined, perhaps another nuke would change their mind. The Vietnamese would likewise be offered Islam or beds of napalm. As for the Native Americans: after the slaughter of their men, those who would favor smallpox to surrendering to the Lord would have their surviving women and children taken as slaves, with the children raised as model Muslims and their women impregnated to produce a new generation of mujahidin. As for the treacherous Jews of Europe and elsewhere — those who would betray their covenant — then their post-pubescent males would face a slaughter that would make the Holocaust sound like a bedtime story, as their women would be made to serve their husbands’ and fathers’ killers.
Furthermore, the lucrative African slave trade would have continued, supporting a strong economy. The Islamic leadership would not have bypassed Allah’s permission to sell captured pagan humans, to teach them, and to convert them, as they worked hard for their masters in building a beautiful country. Notably, of course, those of them who converted, practiced their religion well, and were freed would be treated no differently than any other free Muslim. This is unlike when the Christian slaves were emancipated in America, as they were not afforded supposedly government-recognized equal “rights” for more than a century — and their descendants still live in a nation divided over those days.
All of this would be done, not for racism, nationalism, or political lies, but to make the word of Allah supreme. Jihad is the ultimate show of one’s love for his Creator, facing the clashing of swords and buzzing of bullets on the battlefield, seeking to slaughter His enemies — whom he hates for Allah’s hatred of them.
Much of this is clearly meant to serve a propaganda function, the group’s genocidal aims laid out matter-of-factly, in keeping with their apocalyptic imagery. It would of course be foolish to dismiss it all as empty posturing. Daesh actually does systematically murder, enslave, and rape within its shrinking territory. Some of the lines excerpted here seem almost designed just to scandalize mainstream liberal sensibilities, which are identified with the West. For example, the standard boilerplate complaint about “political correctness” is something one frequently sees on Alt-Right and RadTrad forums and message boards. Here IS is daring them to take the green pill instead of the red, an even more heady traditionalist concoction than the one they’re already accustomed to fantasizing about.
Part of the shock in reading this, however, is its departure from the usual anti-imperialist rhetoric spouted by political Islam. When Islamists of various stripes have drawn on such rhetoric in the past, which they’ve more or less taken over from Marxist radicals in the region since the 1970s, it was was always more about pointing out the hypocrisies of Western liberal democracy. It aimed to demonstrate the palpable disconnect between the reality of Anglo-European military interventions and the humanitarian pretexts used to justify them. “Look at the the West, with its humanist ideals and lofty mission civilisatrice,” they’d write. “Yet witness the injustice these ideals have wrought in our lands.”
Glancing back at the passage cited above, one sees that this is just the opposite. The claim being made here is that the West is incompetent and unable to carry out this imperialist program because of its cultural decadence and moral faintness of heart. Just about anyone who lives in Western Europe or North America has at some point heard right-wing racists or xenophobes casually proclaim that the entire Middle East ought to be nuked. But these are the impotent ravings of powerless bigots, earnest and terrifying though they may be — i.e., not the official publication of a pariah state with military forces at its disposal and large tracts of Syria and Iraq under its heel.
Oddly enough, the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek comes out of this looking strangely vindicated. Not by anything he’s written recently, to be clear, although snippets from his older articles have been recycled into the less impressive stuff put out on immigration of late. Back in 2009, he’d diagnosed the psychopathology of Western imperialism in a review of Badiou’s The Communist Hypothesis. Žižek writes:
The more the West confesses its crimes, the more it is made to feel culpable. This insight allows us also to detect a symmetric duplicity in the way certain third world countries will now criticize the West: if the West’s continuous self-excoriation functions as a desperate attempt to re-assert our superiority, the true reason why some in the Third World hate and reject the West lies not with the colonizing past and its continuing effects but with the self-critical spirit which the West has displayed in renouncing this past, with its implicit call to others to practice the same self-critical approach: “The West is not detested for its real faults but for its attempt to amend them, because it was one of the first to try to tear itself out of its own bestiality, inviting the rest of the world to follow it.”
How weirdly prescient this now seems.
Returning to the paragraphs quoted from Dabiq, one has to admit that the bit about continuing “the lucrative African slave trade” is a nice touch. Under the auspices of Sharia law, of course. Incidentally, there’s a book out in French by Tidiane N’Diaye provocatively titled The Veiled Genocide [Le génocide voilé]. He chronicles the “Arab-Muslim slave trade” [la traite négrière arabo-musulmane], which lasted roughly twelve centuries and perhaps represented the first racialized system of slavery (with black Africans congenitally treated as chattel).
N’Diaye’s scholarly credentials are quite solid. Plus, he’s a non-practicing Franco-Senegalese Muslim, so I don’t think he can be accused of trying to demonize Islam. Of course right-wing websites have already seized on his scholarship and deployed it in typical opportunist fashion, as if European civilization is somehow absolved of centuries of enslavement by the fact that others were doing it beforehand. But N’Diaye can hardly be blamed for this abuse.
It is somewhat strange, however, to think that black converts to organizations like the Nation of Islam often fancy that the Arabs of old weren’t just as racist as the Anglo-American slavers who came later. While I can’t imagine it was quite as brutal as the European transatlantic slave trade, what with the Middle Passage, it perhaps expressed the beginning of a logic that would later come to full fruition with colonialism and settlement in the New World. Maxime Rodinson’s book on Islam and Capitalism, which shows just how developed commercial capital was within the Arab world, perhaps illustrates the material basis of this ideological racism.
This is important, I think. Because it shows racism not to be the deliberate invention of some “white devil,” but rather a structural dynamic tied to a social relationship unfolding historically in the process of primitive accumulation. History also shows that the high-minded rationales presented by more developed countries as justification for their use of force and subsequent involvement in less developed ones usually turn out to be bogus. King Leopold of Belgium rationalized his invasion of the Congo over a century ago by highlighting the injustices of the Arab slave trade going on at the time.