Notes on Terrorism in The Global Islamic Context

Here is my second post on things that Dr. McCloud, Michael and I have been discussing and working on in the office. This time, our conversation was about rebellion and rulership, and how that translates into the modern questions of statehood and terrorism.

The Black Panthers could so easily be seen as a threat not by their visual icon of the AK-47, but because of the very notion that they could have the discipline and organization to groom, feed, and tutor children without the authority of the state. That is, without needing the servitude of the self to the state.

So what makes a terrorist organization? The IRA, the many-faceted Irish militia with the goal of expelling the British from their colonial land-grabs; the ELF, the organization with the aim of destroying infrastructure that destroys and exploits the Earth; the gangsters shooting up innocents on the South Side of Chicago; the United States’ military drones indiscriminately firing missiles at civilian compounds in Afghanistan. What do these have in common?

I’ll leave that an open question.

What makes a terrorist act?

Let’s cross-examine these characteristics with a Qur’anic implication found in Sura Qur’aysh:

For the covenants (of security and safeguard enjoyed) by the Quraish,
Their covenants (covering) journeys by winter and summer,-
Let them adore the Lord of this House,
Who provides them with food against hunger, and with security against fear (of danger).

This sura speaks clearly of security against fear in particular as a gift from God. This is a positive thing, and therefore the absence of this security is a negative thing. God provides people with this security, so what right does a person, a creature, have to take this away from people in a way that God has not divinely ordained?

Terrorist actions are then:

1. Unexpected,
2. Concerning a variety (or indiscriminate types) of targets, and
3. Concerning actors that have exploitable features (that the public can then use to justify their own hatred of these actors.

All these characteristics promote public fear. The second point in this list also involves in combat possible noncombatants (not innocents), which the Qur’an prohibits attacking. The juristic understandings of war also usually claim that a war is public insofaras the enemy knows that it is coming. Unexpected attacks are problematic for this reason. And so the exploitable features of the third point become more open, resonant, and exploitable.

Professor Wilferd Madelung on Mu’awiyah b. Abi Sufyan (d. 680)


Very interesting quote from an important Western scholar of Islam. Gets you to really think about power and authority in the period after the passing of the Prophet.

Originally posted on Ballandalus:

The era of the so-called “rightly-guided Caliphate” is generally understood by Muslim historians to have ended with the assassination of Ali ibn Abi Talib in 661 A.D and the subsequent abdication of al-Hasan ibn Ali in the same year. This secured the way for the ascension of Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan, once amongst the staunchest enemies of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, to the position of supreme authority in the Islamic world. Although the stability of this regime wasn’t entirely secured until 691, by which time the Hashemite (Husayn ibn Ali) and Qurayshite (Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr) challenges were resoundingly and brutally defeated, many historians have dated its rise to the reign of Mu’awiyah, although its origins may also be sought even earlier. Essentially the emergence and establishment of a regime based on military force and hereditary rule signified the beginning of the dominance of a political culture of despotism, which…

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Notes on Issues of Privacy in the Islamic Context

This summer, I’ve been working at the DePaul Islamic World Studies department as a research assistant to Dr. Aminah McCloud, helping her around the office, but more importantly being a brainstorming wall that she and my coworker Michael Ortolano bounce things off of. As part of a piece Dr. McCloud is working on, we have been discussing issues of privacy, shame, and interpersonal ethics from a philosophical standpoint. Here are some of the notes I took on today’s conversation.

Lack of privacy doesn’t entail that people are not part of God’s creation. It is not given that everyone will follow the same notions of privacy, but people have a sense of privacy in general. Privacy is necessary in a certain sense: not because of the biological requirement, of which there doesn’t really seem to be one; but because privacy is an essential part of the human Self/the godly Other, and so we are destined to have a sense of privacy about our interactions.

When God made it so that Adam and his wife were made aware of their private parts, it could mean visually, ethically and intentionally, or that the very generation of the parts spawned the ethical attention to those things. The last one is biological. If it is the first one, it means that there is an inherent connection between privacy and ethics. It is then unethical to breach ones privacy. Not only that but also to breach your own privacy, meaning to pull that which is meant to reside in the private sphere into the public one, thereby making it performative. I don’t believe it to be the second one because there does not seem to be a real relationship between the forbidden fruit and the visual sense (especially because they were aware of that faculty when they spied upon the fruit). I don’t believe it to be the third because such spontaneous generation as would be necessary for it to have occurred is uncharacteristic of God.

Privacy necessitates a secret. 

That is, the fact that the human’s essential nature engenders private actions and covering of private parts, as per Quran 20:121, and that humans are created in the Image of God, God can be understood as private, hidden through veils. That privacy that humans show is that of the private parts, the generative organs of the body. This is logical, given that God’s creative medium is also veiled from humanity in the same way. The deepest secrets of God, the Sirr al-Asrar, are hidden from humanity. Self-disclosure of God is achieved only by the ultimate lowness of the Human Self, the Femininity of the human being and the complete Masculinity of God. This, of course, is the archetype of marriage itself.

What does all this mean for sexuality and the act of sex? It makes it extremely important and disassociates it from matters of guilt. It can either be sacred in the light of privacy, or shameful in the light of the public (performative). The trick of control societies is not to force people to self-disclose, but to convince that it is good and natural. Isn’t this the aim of social networking? Self-disclosure into the public sphere is constantly reinforced, allowing our identities and innermost qualities to be transformed into data on excel spreadsheets. This allows for manipulation on the most core level of our being by the state. A sign that this is becoming more and more common is the proliferation of identity politics.

Don’t spy or intrude or spy, says God. That means that privacy is a human right.