Is there a War on Islam?

The War on Islam?

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Labelled as a conspiracy theory, the War on Islam has been perpetrated by a number of political and social theorists. The term can refer to any acts that involve military, economic, social, cultural harm or any discursive means to undermine sovereignty and/or authority, like creating a negative public image, swaying public opinion with propaganda or fabricating stories about individuals and events.  In particular, the term is said to have come from Islam and pertains to accusations that the west is imposing its modern secularized ideas onto the traditional Islamic way of life. However, the War on Islam is much more than an idea or a political discourse, it has led to real wars, genocides, massacres, immense poverty and human displacements.    Juxtaposed is the western point of view, whereby The War on Islam has been converted into the western declaration of a War on Terrorism. This syllogism has been used mainly to identify key Islamic insurgents such as Sayyid Qutb, Ayatollah Khomeini, Anwar al-Awlaki and Osama bin Laden, all of whom are said to have raged a War of Terror on the capitalist west.  Sadly, there is little public knowledge on the history that cause these key figures to turn to terrorism.  By definition, terrorism is about inflicting terror, but it is also about having been terrorized. In order to understand these dynamics, we must go back to the source of terror that has been imposed on Islam in the past.

When we think about terrorism our minds hark back to the events of September 11th and the attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre.    Since 9/11, hundreds of Americans and people residing inside the United States have been charged with jihadist terrorism or related crimes, or have died before being charged, but were widely reported to have engaged in jihadist terrorism. The rise of ISIS brought a surge in terrorism across the world, although there have been cases every year since 9/11 that were not so widely acknowledged.  As the years have passed and since the peak of ISIS, the group’s influence has greatly diminished and the number of terrorism cases has actually declined.[1]  What has not declined is the targeting of innocent Muslims who have nothing to do with terrorism and just want to get on with their lives.

Today, Muslims live in many parts of the world and there is a view that they should assimilate into the western culture. Those who are charged with trying to make this happen seem not to understand that Islam is very different in its social order and requirements to that of the west.  Added to this, some aspects of the western culture have found their way into the Islamic countries and caused a split between the ideas of the establishments and the new generations, this in turn has added to the tension between east and west.

The west has rejected the idea that power should rest in the hands of religious leaders, European history has already had this experience at the time of the reformation.  Islam is also having a reformation, but it is not one major event, rather the reforming of Islam has been constant.  Within its own religious context Muslims have probably been subject to more reforms that any of nation. Reform is an integral part of Islams history. The greatest of all reformers was the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The early community attempted to improve their life-world by establishing Islam, which is in effect a reform movement in its own right. This was supported by Hadith claims that in every century, God would send a leader who would renew the religion. The concepts of reform (islah) and renewal (tajdid)[2] are taken directly from the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet and both involve a return to the fundamentals of Islam.[3]  However, the idea was not to move away from the ideas of Islam, but to appropriate modern ideas within the Islamic framework.

The problem incurred from the west lies in the inception of modernism, which has its roots in nineteenth century colonialism. This caused a dramatic decline in the Islamic economies. Muslims became totally subordinate to western domination.  Europe was deeply embedded in the new sciences, which were actually not new at all they were implicitly lifted from the historical contributions made by Muslims.  The fact is, Islamic science was robust  when Europe was still in the Dark Ages. These sciences included mathematics, geometry, algebra, medicine astronomy and religious life.  Reforms gave power to women long before the west’s suffragette movement.

It is true that many Muslims cannot support the idea of a secular society and the most radical of groups such as Hisb al-Tahrir are hoping to reinstate a Caliphate and gain global dominance. Some countries have installed Islamic States and/or theocratic republics that range from the monarchy of Saudi Arabia to the religiously dominated governments of Pakistan, Iran Afghanistan, Turky, Bangladesh, Maylasia, Indonesia and Sudan, most with autocratic regimes propped up by the military. The west has played a crucial part in the birth of these regimes through years of colonialism. Yet, today, this has seen the west entering into new crusades based on the notion of turning these states into democracies. Indeed, there is an ongoing assumption that democracies are the ideal system for any country wishing to join the New World Order,  but realistically,  most democracies are plagued with self-interests, corruption and failure to serve those who vote them in.

In studies on conflict the philosopher Charles Peirce uses semiology (the theory of signs) to understand and to clarify the problems of conflict.   Peirce draws on a theory of signs to identify the dynamics of hostile engagement. Hitherto, I shall apply Charles Peirce’s theory of signs to simplify and re-frame the Western and Middle Eastern problem.

First let us look at some of the characters already mentioned in their historical context. Sayyid Qutb was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamic organization founded in Egypt by the Islamic scholar Hassan al-Banna in 1928. Sheikh Hassan Ahmed Abdel Rahman Muhammed al-Banna was an Egyptian schoolteacher and imam, and one of the most influential Islamic revivalists.[4]  He published his treatise “On Jihad” in the late 1930s and it “became a required part of the Muslim Brothers’ curriculum.” [5] The main translation can be found in Wendell’s 1977 collection, Five Tracts of Hasan Al-Banna (1906-1949).[6] Al-Banna’s writings marked a dramatic shift in Islamic intellectual thought by presenting a modern Islamic ideology.  He designated the Qur’an to be the only acceptable guide to life and he promulgated the total Islamization of the state, the economy, and society. He declared that establishing a just society required development of institutions and progressive taxation, and elaborated an Islamic fiscal theory where zakat (taxes) would be reserved for social expenditure in order to reduce inequality.  Al-Banna strongly criticized Western materialism, consumption and rigorous competitiveness.   He condemned British imperialism, and the traditionalism of the Egyptian ulema (a body of Muslim scholars who are said to have specialist knowledge of Islamic sacred law and theology). Al-Banna’s ideas appealed to Egyptian and pan-Arab patriotism, but he rejected Arab nationalism and regarded all Muslims as members of a single community.[7]

Al-Banna’s work and that of his contemporary Sayyid Qutb need to be viewed in the context of an Arab Middle Eastern struggle for independence. The rule of Ottoman Albanian commander Muhammad Ali established a dynasty in 1805 that went on to reign until 1953. It was informally part of the Ottoman Empire.  In 1859-69 the Suez Canal was built, but it and other infrastructure projects ruined the economy of Egypt and lead to a gradual occupation by the British. In 1882 the British troops defeated the Egyptian army and took complete control of country. Egypt then became a British protectorate in 1914 at the start of the First World War. During the war Britain mustered its forces to guard the Suez Canal against invasion. The Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) was a British Empire military formation, formed to accomplish that role, It was established on 10 March 1916 under the command of General Archibald Murray from the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and the Force in Egypt (1914–15), at the beginning of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.[8] Fierce battles ensued before the defeat of the German and Turkish forces further crippling the Egyptian economy and the peoples’ spirit. After the 1914 Egyptian independence was restored, but the British influence remained strong until the 1950s. Importantly, at this time there were many changes occurring in Britain and the United States and Qutb believed the western influence was having an impact on the Egyptian monarchy. Sayyid Qutb visited America to see what was happening and what he witnessed disturbed him.  What he saw was America’s materialist and violent society, obsessed with sexual pleasures. Qutb spent two years pursing studies in educational administration.   Over two years, he worked and studied at Wilson Teachers’ College in Washington, D.C.   He visited the major cities of the United States and spent time in Europe.

America had a profound influence on Qutb’s thoughts and  he wrote about it.  Qutb noted with disapproval the openly displayed sexuality of American women:  He showed how the American girl is well acquainted with her body’s seductive capacity. “She knows it lies in the face, and in expressive eyes, and thirsty lips. She knows seductiveness lies in the round breasts, the full buttocks, and in the shapely thighs, sleek legs – and she shows all this and does not hide it”. [9] He also commented on the American taste in arts and disapproved of them.

Before visiting America Qutb had enjoyed the western classics, but the realities of a changing western world were too much for him. On his return to Egypt, Qutb published “The America that I Have Seen”, where he became explicitly critical of things he had observed, materialism, individual freedoms, the economic system, racism, divorce, sports such as boxing and the interaction between men and women. He also objected to the strong support the United States gave to the new State of Israel. [10]

On the 29th August 1966, Sayyid Qutb, was executed for his role in an alleged plot to overthrow the government of President Nasser, but he has remained a hero to those Muslims America refers to as Jihadists and he is said to be the father of Islamic fundamentalism. He is believed to have been the inspiration behind the fight in Syria and the massacres in European cities. His book, known in English either as Milestones or Signposts, is described as being to militant Islam what Das Kapital was to communism or Mein Kampf was to Nazism. It has certainly influenced generations of Islamic fundamentalists, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.[11] However, author James Nolan, who writes about Qutb in his book What They Saw in America, says the Egyptian struck him as an unlikely candidate to be an Islamic terrorist. He was educated, a consumer of classical music, an intellectual.[12]  In Nolan’s book the story of Qubt is one of an existential crisis. while trying to determine whether he was going to be a true Muslim or if he was going to give way to what he called jahiliyyah—a departure from true Islam,’ Nolan explains. “This was tested one night in his cabin on a ship when a woman came to his door  semi-naked.  She asks if she can spend the night with him.

“True to his resolutions, he says no and he shuts the door. Then he hears her collapse outside the door in a drunken state”. Qutb sees this as an example of him keeping to his determination to stay true and not get into western sexual mores. This was believed to have radicalized Qutb.  Nolan goes on to suggest there were already seeds of discontent due to the Egyptian complacency with British colonization.

 When Qutb went back to Egypt, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood and helped in the overthrow of the monarchy. Later, under the government of the secular nationalist Gamal Abdel Nasser, he was thrown in jail for his extremist activities.

At 3:00am on 29 August 1966, Sayyid Qutb was hanged in Egypt for his part in a conspiracy to assassinate Nasser, though Nolan says the trial was really based on his book.

Al Qaeda and Islamic activists have been very much influenced by Qutb’s writings and his life.   Nolan states, .’I think we need to understand him. You don’t have to agree with him to understand him.’[13]


In this last and final part of this study, Al-Banna wraps up his essay by addressing contemporary arguments against the obligation for violent jihad.  In a passage that could have been written by any online jihadi today, Al-Banna dismisses the “greater” vs” lesser” jihad argument.  In a fascinating reversal of tactics, it’s Brotherhood members themselves who use the “greater vs lesser” argument to deflect criticism from non-Muslims. [14]

Al-Banna’s teachings spread far beyond Egypt, influencing today various Islamist movements from charitable organizations to political parties. The English-language political neologism of “War on Islam” was coined in Islamist discourse in the 1990s and popularized as a conspiracy theory only after 2001.[12] Jonathan Schanzer has argued that the historical Muslim indifference to the West turned to “alarmed dislike” with the beginning of Western military superiority in the 17th century. This is  when Europe was coming into its own intellectually and scientifically.  There was fierce competition between beliefs with Islam being perceived as threatening to both the monarchy and the Christian hierarchy. However, with the end of the era of Western colonialism, rage against non-Muslims and the governments of Muslim-majority countries stemmed, not from alleged non-Muslim aggression and enmity, but allegedly from frustration over the unrelenting encroachment from Western culture.   This encroachment has never ceased.  [13]


[2] Ibid p 90

[3] Qur’an 7. 170;  11. 117; 28.19.

[4] Making Sense of Jihad.

[5] Iibid.

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid


[9]“‘Qutb: Between Terror And Tragedy’ by Hisham Sabrin”. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 17 June 2006. quoting Hourani, A. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age: 1798–1939. Cambridge University Press, 1962. and Mitchell, Richard S. The Society of The Muslim Brotherhood. Oxford University Press, 1969.



[12] Ibid

[13] James Nolan What They Saw in America,  Williams College, Massachusetts. Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Online publication date: April 2016; Print publication year: 2016​ …



The Story of the Veil.

The shocking take-over of Afghanistan by the Taliban reverberated around the world. The main question was what would this mean for women? Afghan women have a prior history of being invisible.  Just as they were beginning to acquire some rights and freedoms, they are again plunged into the abyss. I watched them on the evening news, night after night, saddened by the outcome. Hiding behind the compulsory chador or niqab the women are hardly figures of exuberance, more like ghosts from a terrible past. It got me to thinking, how long will it take before these women are allowed to become visible again.

It was not so long ago that western women were invisible, it happened differently. Our bodies were exposed, but our personalities were crushed under the weight of patriarchy.  It reminded me of a 1960s song that conveyed a similar message in relation to suburban life. In the song our homes were described as little boxes. As women were locked into those suburban boxes.  The notion resonates with bodies being locked into the yards of black or blue cloth, the chador, niqab or burqa.  Women like dolls are wrapped up and packaged.    How do they work, half-blinded by the blackness?

We, the western women have shared much in common with our Muslim sisters, but they may not know it.  We were not invisible in body, but we were demolished in spirit and soul.   We were the domestics, cleaning, cooking and looking after children without pay or reward.  This is not the same as house-keeping or mothering, real  caring and nurturing are innate.  What I am speaking of is domestic slavery and exploitation, we were like robot dolls.. This view of women was recounted in another 1960s song by the popular Cliff Richard, the words described the situation perfectly, “Got myself a cryin’, talkin’, sleepin’, walkin’, livin’ doll”, the second verse speaks directly to the nature of imprisonment. “I’m gonna lock her up in a trunk so no big hunk can steal her away from me”. No loving or honouring was included in these lyrics,  just rank possession of the sublime object.

The story of invisibility is not unique to the Muslim women who must hide behind the veil. All women were veiled.  However, today’s Muslim women remind us of where we have come from.   My generation of women experienced a form on invisibility that obscured the person, but made the body available.  It was called the swinging sixties, the time of the sexual revolution and the discovery of the contraceptive pill. As women, we were made more available than ever before in history.  Men took full advantage of the new science and sexually used and abused us against our will.   All repressions on sexuality appeared to be lifted and people called it liberation… Liberation for whom?  Any woman who did not comply with the new demands was labelled frigid or a misfit. We were covered in a veil, but the veil was like an icy mist that would come and go over the landscape.

In the west attractive women were not physically invisible, to the contrary any attractive young woman would be encouraged to use her attractiveness to get ahead in the world.  At the time I was a junior in the film industry, how to get a quick promotion was easy, but not all of us wished to comply. With this in mind, many were locked out of their employment and left to fend for themselves.   Smart women did well, they found their voice.  A lot of women   complied, but for many it backfired, because as soon as they reached any kind of maturity, say age 20, they were no longer needed, there was a new cohort of pretty young girls to replace them on the casting couch.

Jump ten years and Muslims were immigrating into Europe and bringing their values with them. Some young western girls found honourable young men and turned their faith to Islam.   Muslim women appeared to have more protection and Muslim men had more respect, but we never got to know the full story.   By the 1970s feminism was rife in the western world, but Islamic women did not participate and we did not invite them. They seemed too entrenched in patriarchy.

Feminism did not reach the Middle East until much later, it had a difficult birth and a tedious evolution. The oppression and possession of Muslim women was different and it was not truly made visible until after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.  Prior to the Revolution Iranian women had enjoyed a lot of western style freedoms, but beneath the surface there was an insidious regime exploiting the workers and stealing the spoils.  The old Shar was very accommodating to western influences. In the 1930s, the Shar had banned the veil and ordered police to remove women’s headscarves.  Iran was central to the west’s attack on Islam, but we failed to see what was happening. The west appeared to be offering freedom, but what it was really pushing was colonization.

After the revolution, Iran’s new leader the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini decreed that all women had to wear the veil and the Islamic dress code was not just back in fashion it became mandatory.   All women regardless of religion or nationality were required to wear the hijab. Notably, the revolution came about, not through culture or religion, but due to oil,  Iran had barrels of it and America wanted it.  However, America’s presence in Iran would come to an end.  The Americans and the British had a long history of attempting to take possession of Iranian oil, but finally they capitulated. The Iranians hated America and subsequently they were sympathetic to the most extreme interpretations of Islamic Law.

In 1979 protesters outside the US embassy voiced their anger towards the US.  Revolutionary students took dozens of US embassy staff hostage while thousands of anti-US demonstrators surrounded government buildings and filled the streets with chants and protests. After the revolution women were largely confined to the home and wearing the burqa outside of the home became compulsory. A quarter of a century later women had become used to the code of dress and they were demanding the authorities maintain their compulsory laws regarding the wearing of the hijab.  Following the western occupation, the burqa and hijab made them feel protected.

It is commonly accepted that in order to change the society, you must first embed the changes into the culture and it takes roughly twenty-five years for any change to occur. Looking back, we cannot separate the events of the Iranian revolution from those of the US and British occupation.   It was the circumstances of oppression from the west that led to the establishment of an Islamic state that would be equally, if not more oppressive.

There are no strict rules regarding the full veil in the Qur’an and many Muslim women reserve the right to choose which parts of the body they wish to cover and how they will be covered. The liberal view is that women should be free to choose the cover that suits them.

Prior to the Taliban’s invasion in 2021 women were exercising many freedoms, in dress, education and the ability to hold important positions as well as being able to voice their opinions. Yet sadly, within days of the Taliban take-over women were back to wearing the burqa, chador or niqab.  This dramatic change sets an unfortunate precedent for the reigniting  of  womens’ oppression, not just in Afghanistan, but anywhere in the region.   Muslims are far more united under the umbrella of Islam than they are under the state and dress is a key religious signifier in the unity of the  Ummah, especially in times of insecurity.

During the festival of the hajj, the most important festival in the Islamic year, the men wear two pieces of white cloth and the women wear the burqa, chador or niqab and they are usually dressed in black. It conjures up medieval visions of the dark and the light, metaphors once used for the good and the bad in Christendom.  The woman was always perceived as the temptress and was often dressed in black, while the man was in the colour of angels.

Personally, I do not like the full veil, but I respect those who choose to wear it. I cannot truly imagine what it is like to see the world through a piece of muslin cloth.  To me the full veil is the outward expression of male domination and it dehumanizes the female, but many Muslim do not agree with me and they have a right to their own opinion.

We should not shy away from beauty and there are many beautiful head coverings.  Today,  veils still play a significant role in many religions, including Orthodox Judaism and Catholicism as well as in Islam with all three religions having had their roots in climates where head coverings are conducive to the environment.   We must take into account the context. Islam began as a small religious community in Medina in the Arabian Peninsula.  It was established by the prophet Muhammad (c. 570–632 CE) and it gradually spread across the Middle East to Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, then to Central Asia, and parts of Europe.   In these times women did not wear the burqa, the covering was a veil or scarf as was the tradition long before the inception of Islam. It is only recently that some Islamic states, such as Iran, Afghanistan and more, have begun to require all women to wear the full veil.   There are issues of freedom here and there are significant health issues as well. The body needs some exposure to light and the sun,  without it vitamin deficiency will occur and the body will not be allowed to breathe.

As a general rule Islam does not require women to wear the full covering, but many choose to.  We need to understand this and we need to ensure that the woman knows that if she chooses not to wear the full covering, she is not failing in her religion or in respect. Islam allows for the freedom to choose.

In the end, it is modesty that holds the key to the female’s  choices and some will wear clothing that completely covers the body from neck to toe, but which is not traditionally Muslim.  In addition, many western women will dress in a manner where there is nothing to distinguish the western women from the Muslim woman. Long gowns go in and out of fashion as do head scarves.  Today, on the western streets many young girls will wear modern dress, often jeans or pants and simply cover their head with a scarf. Many of the clothes are tight fitting and would be frowned upon by the older generation.  Also, today, many western people are converting to Islam and this is bound to have a significant impact on Islamic law, jurisprudence and the way Muslims dress.

Across the world men have been telling women how to dress since antiquity. The struggle over what women wear has been well established in history. During colonization many authorities attempted to stop Muslim women from wearing traditional dress.  In Islam there is no one size fits all. In some parts of Islam, if men wear silk and gold, it is considered to be haram as these two things are meant only for women. In other parts men will wear brighter colours or just pastels.  In many respects women are idolized by Muslim men and this can be manifest in the promulgation of extreme controls. Guidelines differ, many Muslim men are happy to allow women to travel alone, use jewellery, perfumes and makeup, while others are not.

For women it is not easy being a Muslim. At the intersections of all traditional practices, we find misogyny, oppression and brutality.  In addition, Islamophobia makes being a Muslim woman very difficult in western society. There is a lot of ignorance and even more arrogance  that impacts on the Muslim community.   Women need to feel confident and they need to feel safe and they should be permitted to dress accordingly.