“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Defeating Daesh

It is clear that American foreign policy and Western colonialism more generally have played a huge role in fanning the flames of “Islamic” terrorism. I’m heartened by the many peaceful Muslims who are speaking up to say that terrorists are most definitely NOT Muslims, including this brave fellow:

Be that as it may, these suicide bombers committing acts of “altruistic evil” certainly believe they are Muslims. Their twisted view of the faith is being fed to them largely by what Kamel Daoud calls the “religious-industrial complex” of the Saudi Arabian state. Peaceful Muslims saying Daesh is not Muslim is not enough, in my opinion. Obviously, we more or less secular Americans have a lot of work to do on ourselves and our society, and a lot to apologize for. But at this point, there is no turning back. We’ve created a monster that isn’t going to lay its weapons down just because we say sorry. The Western world needs to do everything it can to support and amplify the message of peaceful Muslims speaking out against terrorism.

Bombs may weaken Daesh, but they are not going to defeat them, not in the long term. Taking political power out of the hands of clerics in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern states and putting it in the hands of Muslim women (for example) is going to defeat Daesh. A theology of peace is going to defeat Daesh, a theology whose power comes from the persuasiveness of its vision, rather than from the fear of violence should its authority be challenged. Any religion based on externally imposed laws enforced by violence is shallow in comparison to a religion whose authority is based in unconditional love (agape) arising spontaneously from the hearts of its believers. I’d go even further and say religions based on repressive external laws represent the worst kind of idolatry. The power of God is the power of love. It works through quiet persuasion, not coercion or fear. Contrary to the fundamentalism of Wahhabism, pretending we are embodying the desire of the divine by creating long lists of rules that only serve to reenforce existing political structures is the very definition of idol worship.

While we in America need to get over our fear of others, reign in our imperialism, and immediately drop our support for dictatorships like that in Saudi Arabia, I think the key to defeating terrorism definitively is for the majority of Muslims to speak loudly and clearly to Daesh that they are evil and a disgrace to the faith they claim to uphold. And of course we non-Muslims need to support them, wherever they may be. It is obviously far more dangerous for those Muslims living in the Middle East to speak out against such extremism. We depend on their bravery and courage, as they depend on our ability to overcome our imperialistic habits and our implicit or explicit white Christian supremacy.


[Update on 12/1/2015: Given the recent shooting at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood location, I’m reminded that we in America also have a Christian terrorism problem. Peaceful and loving Christians need to stand up and condemn those who would pretend to do “God’s work” by murdering people. Disagreeing about the morality of abortion is one thing, but let us not forget what Jesus teaches regarding judgment of the alleged sins of others: “Let he among you who is free of sin be the first to cast a stone” (John 8:7).]








15 responses to “Defeating Daesh”

  1. louisbrassard Avatar

    Dear David,

    I agree with your message. But the message that the extremist fundamentalist muslims are not true moslem is bit too easy. The Saudi are controlling the Mecca which is the more holy muslim site and their ideology is extremist fundamentalist muslim. Are there true muslim or not? Saying that are not true moslem is almost saying that the pope is not a true christian. A lot of Crhistian may disagree with the pope but are they saying the pope is not a true Christian? I am here not accusing all muslims to be extremist fundamentalist. We should not react to extremist fundamentalist muslim with another extremist: islamophoby. This is what is intended by the terrorist attacts.

    There is an alliance between capitalism and oil money and the saudis. It is why the oil money financing of the extremist fundamentalist muslims all over the world is not condemned, not prevented. NO attempts are even made to block the web to the extremist fundamentalist propaganda and recruitments.


    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      You make a fair point. If Wahhabism is “true Islam” then the task of peaceful and open Muslims is the far more difficult one of initiating an Islamic reformation to root out hateful and oppressive doctrines so that the love at the core of the religion can shine more brightly.

      1. dmf Avatar

        how did you come to know what is at the “core” ? sounds like you have remade the message in yer own image…

      1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

        Thanks for that chronology. Fills in a lot of gaps for me.

  2. Russell Burn Avatar

    Sure we need to discourage Islamophobia, unfortunately the word has been greatly exploited by Islamisists in the UK for example: in fact, the fear instilled within our politically correct culture has resulted in horrific and prolonged social and sexual abuse, with those calling for justice silenced and castigated as “racists” and “Islamophobes” — appalling cases in several towns most notoriously Rotherham. Political Correctitude appears partially conceived of the Western guilt you speak of, maybe along with a deep desire to protect the human dignity of all, both have been roundly exploited by the Islamists, exploited as weakness therefore inevitably of great benefit to the hard right reactionary forces in our Democracies. Enough of “ordinary” Muslims responding to each new atrocious massacre with “this is not Islam” – this attitude of denial has simply enabled the once great religion’s dark shadow to proliferate and turn ever darker. With FWJ Schelling’s originary portrait of evil in mind: extremism = fanaticism = a serious form of addiction which manifests evil in its insatiable desire for total domination. The narrative desperately demands correcting, and former Islamists are those best placed to expose the neglected link between Islamism and “ordinary” Muslims. Jihad , it appears to me, exists out of the Fundamentalist deep fear of losing their domination to the freedoms offered by the West: they exploit our urge to offer freedom for all while plotting for a world of freedom for absolutely none but themselves. We’ve had enough, haven’t we?


    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Bill Maher has stirred up a lot of controversy because of his willingness to call out the sometimes overly PC responses of liberals… Again, like Louis above, I think you make a fair point. I am not an Islamic scholar, so I cannot pretend to speak authoritatively about what “true Islam” is.

      In this recent discussion on Bill Maher’s show, I think Ms. Freeland ends up falling victim to the sort of overly PC guilt response you refer to. Yes, we in the West have a lot to atone for in regard to our treatment of Arab people. But at this point, part of beginning to make amends for our imperialistic deeds is reestablishing integrity by living up to the values we profess. If the harsher interpretations of Sharia law are inseparable from “true Islam” as it is practiced today, then we should not shy away from criticizing it. Sharia law and democracy, diversity, freedom of thought and speech, women’s rights, secular separation of Church and State, etc., do not mix. It may indeed be the case that Islam needs to go through its own reformation or Enlightenment-type process. And I say this with some hesitation because I also recognize the negative and shortsighted side of the Enlightenment in the West. I’ve critiqued the Enlightenment mentality quite a bit on my blog, but I do so using many of the conceptual tools this very mentality has provided me with. I also don’t think the supposedly “secular” West is as secular as it pretends to be. We worship the god of the Market. Our religion is consumer capitalism. Our leaders believe in the divine Market so faithfully that they are willing to leave the fate of the planetary ecosphere in its invisible hands. So we in the West also have much work to do to critique our own blind faith in an outdated and destructive religion.

      When it comes to global terrorism, of course America needs to drastically alter and repent for its foreign policy over the last half century or so, BUT at the same time peaceful and loving Muslims also need to stand up and denounce those who commit heinous acts of violence in the name of their religion. They need to take their religion back, and/or they need to participate in reforming it so that Law and punishment are not worshipped over Love and forgiveness. Take note ISIS: your obsession with repressively codifying every aspect of human life is as idolatrous as it gets.

      1. Russell Burn Avatar

        Excuse the delay Matthew, I agree with your reply but to emphasise my point briefly, I believe making the simple demarcation between Islamism and Islam is the most useful clarification for all, except the Islamists themselves. Understanding the difference would have precluded the confusion exploited for the entertainment on the Bill Maher show, and maybe the discussion would be obliged to move on. I live in the hope that this simple clarity will begin to turn the tide on the damage already achieved by the Islamist poison- I feel sure it would have helped all concerned in recent years to identify the corrosive Islamist agenda and have that questioned rather than the “Islamophobia ” it gave birth to. Unlike them, I remain forever perfectly happy to be persuaded otherwise to any opinions or beliefs I feel compelled to express. Of course there exist the bigger problems, but the narrative is effectively stolen for now, in Europe, surrounded by this , this, this , always bloody this!

        Muslims who can say this is not Islam, this is Islamism, would be so much more useful than the usual flat denial.

  3. Russell Burn Avatar

    Ps. I really do not like the default gravatar next to my post, it is ugly and angry implying the tone to be likewise! Nor do I appreciate being manipulated thus into changing it! Subtle details of discouragement …. no one enjoys misrepresentation.

  4. PeterJ Avatar

    Seems like good thinking to me.

    The problem is not Islam or Christianity, it’s the crazy people who fly under their flags. This would go for Messrs. Bush and Blair as well as the fake Islamists.

    I have some sympathy for Russell Burn’s view also. These people are Muslims in their own mind, whether we like it or not, just as Bush and Blair and their supporters are no doubt Christians in their own minds. Hard to believe, but there it is.

  5. Yannick Baele Avatar

    Since you reckon language games lie at the core of the philosophical endeavor, I’d like to ask you the following :

    – do you think “altruistic evil”, as defined in the op ed you’re referring to or generally, has any semantic value, knowing the Oxford dictionary defines ‘altruism’ as “disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others” ?

    – knowing ‘religion’ ‘s etymology is the Latin verb ‘religare’ (to link), how would you define it in a historical/sociological context ? Up to now, has there been any structured religion not “based on externally imposed laws enforced by violence” and “whose authority [was] based [on] unconditional love (agape) arising spontaneously from the hearts of its believers” ? Or is this wishful thinking ?

    – “overcom[ing] our imperialistic habits and our implicit or explicit white Christian supremacy” is one of the conditions for a better intercultural understanding, you write. But prior to that you also wrote political power should be taken “out of the hands of clerics in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern states and [put in] the hands of Muslim women”. By whom ? By the ones throwing the bombs (previous sentence) ?

    On a more political note (not that the aforementioned concepts are any less political), did you analyze the average profile of Daesh’s leaders ? Their backgrounds ? Their modus operandi ? The role of women within their organization ?…

    – Is it a personal tropism that makes you think women are intrinsically better/less violent/less totalitarian than men ? Or did you deduce this from scientific facts ?

    – reigning in our imperialism is a pure intention worded very diplomatically, but how would you proceed/what would you advise concretely ? In other words, what is this imperialism made of ? And is it an exclusive feature of Western societies or is it a common trait of all humanity ? Some paleontologists say this tendency appeared when Cro-Magnon took over from Neanderthal (= when a sedentary lifestyle was introduced). Would you agree with that ? And if so, what does this imply ?

    – In acknowledging Daesh’s rhetoric and accusing them of idolatry (“Take note ISIS: your obsession with repressively codifying every aspect of human life is as idolatrous as it gets.”), you accept their premise. But what if this rhetoric were merely sophism ?

    Looking forward to reading from you…

    PS : since you’re diverting to popular culture, may I suggest you watch the (somewhat kitschy yet somehow enlightening) “Tyrant” series ? It might help you understand the real issue at hand in the Middle-Eastern conflicts and Western governments’ relation to it, namely raw power…

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      -I appreciated the term “altruistic evil” because it helped me make sense of the uncanniness of suicide bombing. It’s just one interpretation, though. Calling what a suicide bomber does “altruistic” implies that their motivation is selfless because they are sacrificing themselves for the “good” (or evil) of other Muslims, the people to whom they belong. But are they motivated by the sacrifice for others, or for their own selfish reasons? Maybe some of them truly believe their souls are rewarded for the deed, that upon death by detonation they are immediately whisked off by angels to Allah’s heavenly brothel in the sky where dozens of virgins await them. In this case, it would not be “altruistic evil,” but plain old delusional evil.

      -The idea of a religion of Love, rather than Law, is at least 2,000 years old. It remains an ideal, not a realized fact. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But I wouldn’t want to reduce religion to just wishful thinking. Calling it “wishful thinking” is to dismiss the seriousness of the religious persons response to life. Religion, for the religious person, is an attempt to come to terms with the pangs of conscience that arise of necessity from the feeling of freedom in one’s soul. Atheism is too easy if it only critiques religion and doesn’t reconstruct a viable response to what religion arose in order to account for. Atheism cannot simply ignore the problem of being a freedom endowed person living in a world of other free beings. We may think this or that about whether or not freedom is possible given what we think we know about the physics of neurons. But as a point of psychological fact, I at least experience myself as free (h/t Jung). There is no escape from self-consciousness of our freedom to do good or ill. The feeling of freedom, and my conscious response to it, would seem to be a pre-requisite for sanity, i.e., the ability to live responsibly among others. As a matter of sociological fact, we experience this freedom collectively as “God” (h/t Durkheim). The problem religion tries to face concerns the fact that, while we feel free, we can still (and often do) fail to act lovingly. How can this be so, and what are we to do about it? Some religions at various points in their histories have concluded that Evil is the cause of this problem, and that Law is the solution. Evil has infected the world, and so the only godly response is to impose an otherworldly order upon it, and to punish or destroy whoever fails to comply. Other religions have realized that freedom, even if it makes possible evil, also makes possible Love, and that without Love, not only would human society be impossible, the order of nature itself would fall to pieces. Without Love, the planets would be loosed from their orbits and the Sun would cease to shine. Without Love, families could not form and words would begin to lose all meaning

      -Ultimately, individual Muslim men and women will have to bring about the healing of the patriarchal norms of their society. No one else can or should do it for them. We can support theme, however.

      The MO of Daesh leaders and their treatment of women is spelled out by Graeme Wood here: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/

      -I mention women in particular because I think a great deal of the medieval penal codes enforced in شريعة‎ / Sharia Law stem from a fear of female sexuality and a pathological need to control it. I am not implying that men or women are superior or inferior, or that one is inherently more or less violent than the other. I’m simply pointing out a sociological fact that women in societies under Sharia Law are the property of men. They are bought and sold like cattle. They can be killed to protect the honor of their fathers should they ever disobey his will.

      -Western imperialism is made of capital. The tendency to colonize is not unique to the West but is also not universal throughout humanity. I’d dispute the interpretations of those paleontologists and offer something more along the lines of William Irwin Thompson’s reading of hominid evolution in The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light: Mythology, Sexuality, and the Origins of Culture: http://www.amazon.com/Time-Falling-Bodies-Take-Light/dp/0312160623

      -Yes, I accept that “idolatry” is a real risk for human societies. In modern terms, we might refer to it as fetishism. Critiquing fetishism is not sophism, but an attempt to defend against sophism.

  6. Yannick Baele Avatar


    – regarding “altruistic evil” :

    Brooks, in his op ed, says : “[t]he pathological dualist can’t reconcile his humiliated place in the world with his own moral superiority. He embraces a politicized religion — restoring the caliphate — and seeks to destroy those outside his group by apocalyptic force. This leads to acts of what Sacks calls altruistic evil, or acts of terror in which the self-sacrifice involved somehow is thought to confer the right to be merciless and unfathomably cruel”.

    But in a June 2015 article, The Telegraph summarized Sacks’ concept as follows : “[in his latest book], he coins the phrase “altruistic evil” to describe the appeal to such youngsters of Isil propaganda. It blends talk of high ideals and the sacred to justify what would otherwise be seen as murderous acts. “They are being offered an identity as part of the global nation of Islam which is presented in these social media outlets as being attacked and humiliated”.

    If I read both interpretations correctly, it seems to me the altruism Sacks is talking about is the one used to convince young Western Muslims who are not yet part of Daesh. It’s a projection of altruism as opposed to Western selfishness, materialism and exclusion, whereas in Brook’s version it becomes a reality in which said youths have become part of the so-called caliphate (“those outside his group”). What i was questioning was the pertinence of the word ‘altruism’ in this second context, because once they’ve become part of such a monolithic group, there’s only similarity through unity, and every otherness must be destroyed. So, I think Brooks’ wording betrayed Sacks’ (coherent) point of view…

    – regarding the definition of ‘religion’ :

    Atheism, religion, God, freedom, necessity, love … You’re mixing a lot of concepts here, and I would say not always at the same level of intelligibility. Would you mind deconstructing them ?…
    Let’s start with the first two : it’s funny you should spontaneously oppose them as if they formed a dichotomy that cannot be transcended. In doing so, you’re implicitly correlating religion with belief. Yet, if one keeps the word’s etymology in mind (which I purposefully mentioned in my initial comment), one should come to realize that, supposing being linked with others is not a given, in other words that it requires a positive movement towards something (When you and I were born, we were instantly linked to society without any further formality than our being here…), there are many ways of being “religaturus”, not all of which imply believing in something.

    For instance, some forms of (classical) hedonism didn’t feel the need to resort to any God to conceive a society whose members, each seeking their own pleasures, would be able to coexist harmoniously. Yet, you wouldn’t probably consider Epicurus as “a religious person”. But why not ?

    Though I’m not an atheist myself (because while believing implies affirming something without proof, believing there is no overall principle ruling the universe means denying it without evidence, which amounts to pure speculation in both instances), I think claiming religion (as you define it) has some sort of monopoly over notions such as respect, joy, wisdom, etc., and suggesting atheism, necessarily viewed as a reaction to religion, is any less concerned with building a viable society would mean mistaking it for nihilism. In my view, an atheist can be as “religious” as anyone else, if religion is a feeling and concrete ways of relating to one another rather than a structure (and a book). Do we fundamentally disagree on that ?

    As far as Durkheim is concerned, I’m afraid he’s not that fresh in my memory anymore. But if I remember correctly he analyzed the religious phenomenon independently of the content of the religious message (aka the doctrine), whether the latter aimed at creating the conditions “to live responsibly among others” or not. Correct me if I’m mistaken…

    “The problem religion tries to face concerns the fact that, while we feel free, we can still (and often do) fail to act lovingly”, you write. At this point, are you still talking about “the idea of religion” you mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph ? If not, are you really convinced making people “act lovingly” is religion’s core business ? If you think so, why is a Catholic supposed to “act lovingly” in such a different manner than, say, a Jew ?

    Generally, what does “acting lovingly” entail ? For instance, I’m not a BDSM fan, but does that entitle me to denigrate a guy who enjoys being whipped. The example is silly of course, but what I mean is that in order to circumscribe what is considered “good”, a norm is needed. And a norm is nothing but a law, isn’t it ?

    This, through some creepy back-alley, brings me to “Love”. Can you equate the love expressing itself when people form a family with the (alleged) love ruling human societies ? Is the former merely a part of a more global order or is it something unfit for categories such as order and chaos ? Is it eros or ‘eros’ and ‘thanatos’ combined ? And what is “the order of nature” ?

    Some would argue nature doesn’t make any distinction between “good” and “evil”, and that every progress human beings have achieved, they have done so against nature. Some of them would even go so far as to say that since man is part of nature, the same rules apply to him, namely none whatsoever : good = evil. If a new ice age exterminated all mankind, nature wouldn’t give a damn. Nature just is; it doesn’t need any other justification. In that regard, could you explain what you mean by “necessity” in “come to terms with the pangs of conscience that arise of necessity from the feeling of freedom in one’s soul”. Social necessity ? Design ?…

    Only by making a distinction between mankind as it has come to evolve and nature as it has always remained can we assert that there’s been a role switch : to a large extent, mankind has become the threat, “nature” the threatened. As an ecologist, I of course advocate the end of absolute productivism, and a better understanding between nature and culture. But for obvious reasons ecology is a new concept our distant forefathers, running from nature’s tantrums, couldn’t have thought of.

    So, I’m left with that “Love” of yours, and I don’t really know what to make of it. How binding should it be ? Not at all apparently, since it’s supposed to originate from the people themselves. But how then can we make it last ? The answer might lie in Jainism : constantly seeking an equilibrium between attachment and detachment, which in itself implies rethinking productivity.

    But even if someone were to live as a recluse (think of Syd Barrett or, to some extent, the later Thoreau), would that be a crime to “Love” ? Perhaps instead of expecting everyone to “act lovingly”, whatever that means, for everyone not to act detrimentally would be a satisfactory first step towards “religion”…

    – regarding Wood’s piece :

    Except for a few points, I won’t elaborate on it…

    1/ “If we had identified the Islamic State’s intentions early, and realized that the vacuum in Syria and Iraq would give it ample space to carry them out, we might, at a minimum, have pushed Iraq to harden its border with Syria and preemptively make deals with its Sunnis.”

    His article was published in March of 2015. Two months later, a DoD memo from August 2012 outlining major developments in the balance of power between terrorist organizations in Iraq became public by means of a FoIA request : http://www.judicialwatch.org/document-archive/pgs-287-293-291-jw-v-dod-and-state-14-812-2/

    2/ “The Islamic State’s ideology exerts powerful sway over a certain subset of the population. Life’s hypocrisies and inconsistencies vanish in its face.”

    Yet, the Quran, partly written during Muhammad’s stay in Mecca (the “act lovingly” part), partly in Medina, during the battle of the Trench (the “butcher the infidels” part), both parts being intertwined in most contemporary versions of the book, is itself filled with inconsistencies.

    Saying Wood’s readers didn’t unanimously subscribe to his main postulate and his rather oriented investigative methods would be an understatement. Among many others, you can read the following reaction : https://theintercept.com/2015/02/20/atlantic-defines-real-islam-says-isis/

    A few iotas (probably added after the first draft) are meant to make the opinion appear balanced, but as Murtaza Hussain points out : “[t]he beliefs of Islamic State on the other hand are expounded upon at length”.

    You were right when, in your post, you wrote : “[p]eaceful Muslims saying Daesh is not Muslim is not enough, in my opinion”. Even before reading Wood, I had thought of two arguments with which Daesh’s legitimacy could be disputed :

    1/ the corrupt origin of a large part of their finances (strictly prohibited by the Quran);
    2/ the fact they are takfirists, and as such dividing the ‘umma’ (or ‘community’ of Muslims).

    Anyway, that’s about their MO. But their background is crucial too : how can a few secular Sunnis suddenly pop up as Savonarola’s Muslim counterparts after spending a few years being tortured in US Iraqi or “allied” jails ?

    I referred to “Tyrant” because, at the end of season 1 and in the whole second season, it becomes clear violent Islam is but another means to an end, namely deposing a despot and taking power.

    – regarding Muslim women within Daesh :

    How do you reconcile what you write (which is true) with the fact numerous young women (including Western Muslims) chose to join the organization ? And that some of them are teaching young girls how to blow themselves up ?

    – regarding Western imperialism :

    It’s not made of capital only. Before anything else, it’s made of a superiority complex permeating every field of knowledge. As for Thompson, I haven’t read his book, but judging by its summary, I don’t see any major contradiction between his refusal to apprehend the Paleolithic through the bio-evolutionary lens only, and his focus on early elements of civilization (i.e. art) on the one hand, and what I was saying about what those paleontologists were saying on the other hand. Could you enlighten me ?

    – regarding sophism :

    I’m afraid either your comment is beside the point, or you misunderstood me : I was implying you perhaps didn’t question the reality of their idolatry, in other words that you may have been criticizing sophism thinking it was fetishism…

    بارك الله فيك

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: