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Discussing Islamism and anti-LGBT bigotry in the wake of Orlando

Jun 16, 2016

Discussing Islamism and anti-LGBT bigotry in the wake of Orlando

Update from AIJAC


June 16, 2016

Update 06/16 #03

In the wake of the murderous attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which took place on Sunday, and was claimed by ISIS (details on the ISIS claim are dissected here) this Update explores some of the debates that have broken out since: on the link to ISIS and Islamist ideology more generally in the attack and how it should be talked about, and on the connection between Islamism and anti-LGBT bigotry.

We lead with noted American intellectual Paul Berman, who has written extensively about the role of ideology in Islamist terrorism. He cites both US President Obama’s and Republican candidate Donald Trump’s responses as offering examples of “everything that is wrong” with the campaign against jihadist terrorism. He finds Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton somewhat better, but notes that other democratic countries, many with centre-left governments, have managed to speak with lucidity about the Islamist problem in a way that both Obama and Trump have not. For Berman’s thoughtful comments on how to address, and how not to address, about Islamist-inspired terrorism, CLICK HERE. Another highly lucid comment on the lessons of Orlando comes from American Jewish Committee director David Harris.

Next up is some commentary from Times of Israel editor David Horovitz drawing on Israel’s experience of terror. He is impatient with the mud-slinging, hand-wringing and point-scoring in the aftermath of this attack – and calls instead for serious thought about “a strategic, international, coordinated bid” to actually prevent similar attacks. He offers examples from Israel’s experience about what defensive and offensive measures are effective and necessary, but also urges a new seriousness – using every ounce of diplomatic and economic leverage that can be mustered – to counter and shut down the sources of radicalisation, both on-line and off. For Horovitz’s sensible ideas on how to move the post-Orlando debate forward, CLICK HERE. An additional good discussion of what can be learned from Israel counter-terrorism expertise come from American security analyst Kevin Reagan

Finally, an important part of the post-Orlando debate is the extent to which Islamist views about homosexuality contributed to the massacre. What these views are – and the strong propaganda effort being made to spread them, particularly on the part of ISIS  – is discussed by Washington Institute for Near East policy experts Aaron Zelin and Jacob Olidort. Their study includes not only a review of the Sharia arguments employed by ISIS to demand death for homosexuals, but also details of how these views have been put into practice – with at least 27 executions – in the areas under ISIS control. For this essential background to any debate about Islamist extremism and anti-LGBT violence,CLICK HERE. Also highly valuable is this comment from gay American writer James Kirchick about the refusal to acknowledge that Orlando and Islamist violence against gays is not simply generalised anti-LGBT prejudice but the product of a specific ideology.

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Article 1


Tablet magazine, June 13, 2016 • 10:09 PM

The reactions to the Orlando massacre show everything that is wrong with our campaign against the jihad. President Barack Obama in his first remarks conveyed anguish, but not anger. He identified the terrorist’s motivation as “hatred,” and, in order to underline his point, he repeated the word “hate” a couple of times. But he did not choose to define the particular hatred at hand. This is the Islamist ideology that wishes to exterminate large portions of the human race for theological reasons: the gays (as in this instance), the Jews, the Muslim miscreants and “hypocrites,” the Muslim heretics (Shia and others, who of course have suffered the most horribly from terrorist attacks), and so forth. Obama has never discussed this ideology. He is opposed to discussing it. Sometimes he mentions “extremism,” but he has never bothered to define “extremism,” either.

Donald Trump in his response on Sunday demonstrated why he is such a formidable political figure. He exploded in anger at Obama, and the display of emotion was striking for how rare it is, among America’s political leaders. He called on Obama to resign because of his failure to say the words “radical Islam,” which was preposterous. But Trump managed at least to look like a man who was pounding the table. His point about failing to say the words might almost seem to be persuasive, if only Trump himself knew how to say those words with a reasonable degree of intelligent nuance. But he does not. He ends up railing at the entire Muslim world, which means at our best allies, too. In Afghanistan since well before Sept. 11, 2001, Afghani soldiers have been fighting and dying every day in the grueling effort to defeat the Taliban. And yet, because Omar Mateen was the son of Afghani immigrants, Trump took the occasion to denounce virtually the entire population of Afghanistan.

Trump’s way of discussing “radical Islam” amounts to agreeing with the Islamists themselves. The Islamists think the world has never left the Middle Ages, and we are forever reliving the war of the Crusades versus the jihad. Trump thinks likewise. His definition of the enemy adds up to nearly a quarter of the human race, which is the Muslim population. It ought to be obvious that Islamism’s principal victims have always been Muslims; and Islamism’s principal opponents have likewise been Muslims. But nothing is obvious to Trump.

Hillary Clinton’s first instinct, on Sunday, was as bland as Obama’s. She, too, spoke of “hatred,” and otherwise declined to define the enemy. She offered a set of policies. She wants to “double down.” She favors “working with allies and partners,” “countering their attempts to recruit people here and everywhere,” and “hardening our defenses at home”—all of which reminds us, at least, that she does know how to lay out a policy. On Monday, in response to Trump’s taunts (and prompted by Joe Scarborough), she uttered the phrase, not for the first time, “radical Islamism” (which is a more accurate term than “radical Islam”), and this was good. But there is a reason why, when Hillary lays out her policy principles, the doctrinal issues do not come up, or do so only as afterthoughts. She has the diplomat’s bias, which is to avoid the ideological confrontations, whenever possible. This was the reason for one of her largest failures as secretary of State, which was the failure to appreciate the full danger to democracy posed by the oldest and largest of the Islamist organizations, the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. She considered that Mohammed Morsi, the Brotherhood’s president of Egypt, was naive in power; but the naïf was her. To be sure, her naiveté was shared with a good many people among the American diplomats and among the academic regional specialists—the people who do not want to look the Islamist doctrine straight in the face. But this only means that our problem is big, not small.

Somehow during the last year and a half, leaders of other democratic countries, but not the United States, have managed to speak out with striking lucidity on the nature of Islamism, on its dangerous qualities, on the relation between “radical” and “moderate” Islamists, and on the need to distinguish the Islamists from the mass of the Muslim world. David Cameron in the United Kingdom delivered a valuable speech on this topic last year, which you can look up by glancing at my article here. His government issued an intelligent white paper, which American officials ought to study. Manuel Valls, the Socialist prime minister of France, delivered another such speech, which I wrote about in the same piece. The president of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, has been eloquent on the totalitarian quality of the Islamist terror. At a site of a Nazi massacre of Italians, President Mattarella reflected on the struggle against Nazism in Europe: “The alliance between nations and peoples knew how to beat the racist, anti-Semitic and totalitarian Nazi hatred, of which this place is the painful symbol. The same unity in Europe and the world will beat those who want to drag us in a new season of terror.”

But nobody among the American politicians has delivered an equivalent speech, stirring and clear—not even on the occasion of one of the worst massacres in American history. Not even Hillary has done it—though if she were to stitch together a few of her remarks in interviews over the years and a few of her afterthoughts, she might discover that she is capable of it.

Paul Berman writes about politics and literature for various magazines. He is the author of A Tale of Two Utopias, Terror and Liberalism, Power and the Idealists, and The Flight of the Intellectuals.


Article 2

Terrorism: Stop the mud-slinging, fight the war


Op-ed: After Orlando, we can spend the next few weeks venting our fears and frustrations. Or we can get serious about thwarting death cult extremism

Times of Israel, June 13, 2016, 7:27 pm

I don’t have a panacea to prevent terrorism, but amid all the hand-wringing and mud-slinging in the wake of Sunday’s massacre in Orlando, what’s striking — and unforgivable — is the absence of a strategic, international, coordinated bid to so much as try.

We can all spend the next few days and weeks arguing about whether US President Barack Obama should have called the mass killing a case of Islamist terror, or whether that would have been a rush to judgment; and, for that matter, whether Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai should have invoked the occupation when discussing last Wednesday’s terrorist attack in Sarona Market, or whether that risked affording untenable legitimacy to the killings of four Israeli innocents. We can exercise ourselves, dominate the airwaves, and spend fortunes fighting and determining elections over what people are saying about terrorism. But wouldn’t it be smarter — and wouldn’t it be better for our prospects of staying alive — if we expended rather more serious thought, and budget, on the practical task of stopping the death cult extremists?

Specifically, that means a great deal more focus on each of three key areas: defending more effectively against the killers; taking the battle to them where necessary and feasible; and preventing the creation of the next waves.

Israel, though manifestly imperfect, has much to teach the world about defending against terrorism. As the Sarona attack bitterly underlined we have not halted it completely, but we have gradually improved techniques to make it harder for the killers to achieve their goals. The construction of the West Bank security barrier, relentless intelligence work, military operations to arrest would-be bombers and those who arm and inspire them, security coordination with the Palestinian Authority, the deployment of security guards at places where people gather in large numbers — all these and other steps gradually defeated the Second Intifada in the early years of this century, when our buses and our malls and our restaurants were being blown up on a weekly basis, and prevented a resurgence on a similar scale ever since.

Again, we are emphatically imperfect: Better intelligence, more security guards at Sarona, and a completed security fence would likely have averted last Wednesday’s killings. It is beyond scandalous that, more than a decade on, the West Bank barrier is still not finished, and the two Palestinian terrorists were thus able to enter Israel through one of the gaps.

Israeli security forces at the scene of a deadly shooting attack at the Sarona Market shopping center in Tel Aviv, June 8, 2016. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

But Israel has learned, bloodily, a great deal about keeping terrorists at bay, and when politicians around the Western world wailed, in the wake of last November’s terrorist onslaught in Paris, that they simply could not deploy security guards at every concert arena, soccer stadium, restaurant, etc., we Israelis said to ourselves, Well, actually, you can. And, tragically, you may have to.

Omar Mateen, who killed dozens of people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday, June 12, 2016. (MySpace via AP)

Get serious about defensive action, allocate the necessary resources, and you self-evidently raise your prospects of thwarting the killers. Reading about how Omar Mateen, the Orlando mass murderer, had twice been questioned by the FBI but then slipped off the radar after those interviews proved inconclusive, I was reminded of what Malcolm Hoenlein, the veteran head of US Jewry’s Conference of Presidents, said to me in an interview in February. The head of a “major security agency” in France, said Hoenlein, had told him that French intelligence had the Charlie Hebdo killers under surveillance until the Friday before that attack, but the agents were then redeployed to what was deemed to be a more pressing case, and thus brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi were not being tracked when, on January 7, they forced their way into the Paris offices of the satirical magazine and gunned down 11 people.

If France had budgeted more resources to its security agencies, it might have prevented that attack and the massacres that followed 10 months later. If the overstretched American security agencies are similarly bolstered, maybe the next Omar Mateen will not be able to slide away from the authorities and return with horrifying consequences.

Orlando police officers seen outside of Pulse nightclub after a fatal shooting and hostage situation on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. (Gerardo Mora/Getty Images/AFP)

When it comes to taking the offensive, again, Israel has more experience than we would have wished, and much of the world has been loath to learn from it. It was the notably Israel-empathetic George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, who told Israel to get out of the West Bank, and do so right away, when prime minister Ariel Sharon was stewarding Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 — destroying the Hamas and Fatah terror networks that were building bombs and training and dispatching suicide bombers. “I expect there to be withdrawal without delay,” Bush said that April, following a dreadful, bloody March in which over 100 Israeli civilians had been killed in terror attacks that culminated in the Netanya Passover eve massacre. Had Sharon heeded Bush, let there be no doubt, the bombings would have continued. Had Israel ceased its intermittent incursions into Palestinian cities ever since, Israel would now be in the midst of another full-fledged intifada, rather than what by our standards is a “low-level” terror war.

In considering when a more proactive stance might be appropriate, it seems to me that failing to support Iranians’ efforts to stand up to their regime, doing one’s best to ignore an escalating civil war in Syria for years, and now watching unhelpfully from the side as Egypt’s president attempts to marginalize Islamic extremism, are not the smartest approaches. Not when Tehran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, when the Syrian civil war has prompted a vast river of refugees with who knows how many killers hiding among them, and when Egypt could so easily fall again into the grip of the Muslim Brotherhood. The West cannot afford to try to disengage from the Middle East. Its extremists bite back. Sometimes, the enemy has to be tackled at source — prudently, cool-headedly, but tackled, nonetheless.

Finally, and most importantly, the leaderships of those countries that delight in the gift of being alive need to focus strategic attention, and resources, on fighting extremism at its root — where tomorrow’s killers are being imbued with hatred, and are attaining the skills and means to make that hatred fatally plain. We may hear in the coming days, as we have in the wake of previous attacks, how it was that the Orlando killer was radicalized. Which spiritual leaders he heeded. Which websites he frequented. Where he gained practical information in preparing to carry out his devastating crime.

The political leaders, the spiritual leaders, the conventional and social media outlets, the educational frameworks that are breeding tomorrow’s killers continue to disseminate their toxins with near-impunity. Some of this dissemination of hatred can be tackled by the free world in the free world. Where, for instance, are the potent partnerships between politicians, jurists, intelligence agencies and internet platforms to grapple with the spread of murderous expertise online? And where is the concerted international effort to ban, defund and marginalize extremist leaders and teachers the world over, using every ounce of diplomatic and economic leverage that can be mustered?

Right now, untold numbers of would-be killers are honing their capabilities, seeking their targets, preparing to strike. Worse still, countless more potential death cult recruits are gradually being wooed to follow them. Shrill and contemptuous mud-slinging might provide a vent for fear and frustration. But it’s not going to win the war against terrorism.

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel.


Article 3

The Islamic State’s Views on Homosexuality

Aaron Y. Zelin and Jacob Olidort

Policy Analysis, June 14, 2016

The group’s public executions of gay men are part of a deliberate moral policing campaign, one aimed at showing supporters and enemies alike that it means to enforce its narrow, atavistic view of Islamic law wherever it can.

The tragic events at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando shed light on a lesser-known facet of the Islamic State (IS): the group’s virulently hostile views toward homosexuality, in particular its targeting of gay men. Thus far, no evidence has surfaced suggesting that IS directed the perpetrator, Omar Mateen, to conduct the operation, and jihadis usually have multiple motivations for taking action, including in this case possible mental health issues. Yet IS has published a vast corpus of justifications for killing homosexuals, and it has publicly targeted numerous allegedly gay men in Iraq and Syria in the past year-and-a-half alone.

To be sure, gay men were being targeted by the Iraqi and Syrian regimes prior to the announcement of the so-called IS “Caliphate,” and the region’s legal and religious climate is often inhospitable to that community. Moreover, other jihadi groups have executed homosexuals, including the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and its branches Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). What stands out with IS, though, is the level of textual justification it has produced for such executions and the theatrical manner in which it conducts them, potentially inciting greater anti-LGBT violence.


Condemnation of homosexuality is ubiquitous in IS propaganda, where it is most often characterized as “the actions of the people of Lot” — referring to verses in the Quran and sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad (hadith) that condemn the ancient figure Lot and his people for acts of sodomy. Yet the group differs in significant ways from how Islamic law traditionally views homosexual acts.

The Quran and hadith are clear about the moral ruin of the people of Lot, and the hadith in particular include many passages calling for harsh punishments of homosexual activity. Yet these condemnations focus specifically on anal penetration between men, not romantic feelings or other kinds of sexual acts between them (e.g., see Khaled El-Rouayheb’s 2005 book Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500-1800). Moreover, the burden of proof for actually administering the associated punishments (which range from banishment to lashings) is high. Given the laborious investigation required to prove such “offenses” and the often-differing opinions of Muslim jurists on the matter, it is unclear how often this prohibition has been enforced throughout history and how much various Islamic societies have tacitly accepted homosexuals. Today, gays remain subject to legal persecution in most parts of the Middle East, with the exception of Israel, Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon (though the region is hardly unique in this regard). Where homosexuality is addressed in modern legal codes, it often appears as a category similar to adultery, for which the prescribed penalty in some Middle Eastern states is death by stoning.

Even so, the Islamic State has taken such attitudes and precepts to a unique extreme, treating all aspects of LGBT culture as “actions of the people of Lot” and, therefore, as forms of sodomy and moral decay. While its rhetoric seems to target gay men exclusively, this may be due to the relatively ambiguous and less frequent Islamic legal discussions surrounding lesbianism and other LGBT issues. The group also bypasses the burden-of-proof requirement, enabling its adepts to apply the penalty for suspected homosexual acts quite liberally.

Moreover, IS has taken pains to characterize America as the root cause of homosexuality. In a treatise titled “The Lofty Proofs Concerning the Excommunication of Those Who Aid the Crusader Campaign Against the Islamic Caliphate” (first published in September 2014 and rereleased in September 2015), the group supported this accusation with numerous claims and conspiracy theories. For example, one passage noted that “San Francisco is considered the capital of sodomy, where [homosexuals] comprise a fourth of the state’s constituency” (p. 10). Another suggested that Bangkok’s status as “the world’s capital of sexual depravity” is due to the presence of a U.S. military base there (p. 13).

Besides using homosexuality as a foil for condemning the United States, IS uses its “punishment” of such “transgressions” as an expression of its commitment to reviving the supposedly neglected Islamic penal code. According to the group’s rhetoric, applying anything aside from what it sees as Islamic law is tantamount to “ascribing partners to God” in legislation — a contorted logic that allows it to accuse other Muslims of polytheism, which warrants warfare. For example, a December 2014 administrative document from the group’s Wilayat Halab (Aleppo Province) explains that those who do not apply hudoud (the corporal and capital punishments prescribed by Islamic law) are unbelievers even if they keep all other religious observances. The document goes on to list the acts that should be punished: blasphemy (against God, the Prophet, or religion), adultery, homosexuality, theft, alcohol consumption, calumny, “spying on behalf of the interests of unbelievers,” apostasy, and highway robbery. Similarly, an October 2015 Wilayat Halab picture essay showing the execution of gay men, titled “God’s Law Regarding Whoever Committed the ‘Act of the People of Lot,'” uses this argument about the need to apply Islamic law as a means of justifying the stoning of gay men.

Such arguments about killing homosexuals appear throughout IS propaganda. This includes articles in the group’s English and French-language magazines (Dabiq and Dar al-Islam) and videos that depict punishing homosexuals as a means of both exacting retribution against unbelievers and “maintaining virtue and deterring immorality.” The latter concept, more commonly known as “commanding right and forbidding wrong,” is the justification for the “moral policing” (hisba) often used to maintain a conservative social order in the region — not only by IS, but also by authorities ranging from the Taliban to the Saudi state.

In this regard, IS departs from other jihadist groups. At its core, the movement is a state-building enterprise that seeks to redefine and control social relations according to its moral code which treats anyone who departs from its narrow understanding of Islam as an unbeliever subject to swift and often shocking retribution Like other adherents of Salafism, IS emphasizes a return to how the Prophet and his earliest Sunni followers allegedly practiced the religion rather than the subsequent fourteen centuries during which traditional Islamic law developed. Among other things, this means relying exclusively on the Quran and hadith for religious guidance. Yet IS has put its own violent spin on this Salafi methodology by using the harshest precedents within certain hadith to justify its treatment of gay men, ignoring the various legal minutiae devised around the topic over the centuries.


ISIS photo purportedly showing militants prepare to throw a man off the roof of a building as punishment for homosexuality in Mosul last year.

Based on a database collected by the authors, since the Islamic State announced itself as a caliphate in June 2014, its Diwan al-Hisba (Moral Policing Administration) and online media apparatuses have publicly announced twenty-seven executions of allegedly gay men. Thus far, these actions have been limited to eight of the twenty-one “provinces” in the group’s core territories of Iraq and Syria.

The main method used to kill these men has been to throw them off the roofs of high-rise buildings, based on a hadith in which the Prophet’s successor, Abu Bakr, prescribes throwing a man off a cliff for engaging in homosexual acts. In other cases, victims were stoned, beheaded, or shot instead. Twenty-two of the executions took place last year alone, but the group’s ability to continue such punishments has seemingly been curtailed by its military losses in the past few months.

IS has singled out these victims as part of its deliberate program to root out “deviancy.” According to leaked files from Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi (aka Haji Bakr) — head of the group’s military council and architect of its plans to conquer and administer territory until his death in January 2014 — IS told its spies to identify homosexuals when infiltrating new territories so that they could later be blackmailed. Group members have also entrapped gay men by posing as love interests, either to extract ransom (allegedly up to $11,000 per person) or to find and execute them. IS often attempts to use the cell phone and Facebook contacts of these detainees to track down other homosexual “suspects.” And in some alleged cases, gay men have even joined IS to mask their homosexuality, informing on others to protect themselves.

Once a gay man is caught and sentenced by an Islamic State sharia court, the group carries out the same tragic bit of theatrical propaganda it reserves for other capital offenses: the person is taken to a town square or similar area where a large crowd is present. In the case of an alleged homosexual, the man is either dragged to the middle of the crowd or taken to the top of a high-rise building to be read the religious justification for his execution. Then the sentence is carried out as described previously, with IS taking photos and/or video of the brutal act to show supporters and recruits that it is implementing what it views as the rule of God.


There is not much the United States can do to prevent such atrocities besides the indirect method of inflicting military losses on the Islamic State and taking away its territory. But Washington can exploit cases of IS hypocrisy on the issue in its countermessaging campaign. For example, Syrian activists claim that some of the group’s members have engaged in sexual relations with other males, most notably senior IS commander Abu Zayd al-Jazrawi, a Saudi fighter whom they accuse of having a relationship with a fifteen-year-old boy. While the boy was apparently executed, Jazrawi received a lesser sentence: he was flogged and forced to fight on the front lines in Iraq. More generally, the U.S. government should reiterate the importance of LGBT rights in its public and private diplomacy with Middle Eastern countries, especially given the region’s worrisome pattern of criminalizing homosexuality.

In addition, Washington should be mindful of the risks and effects of this potential intersection between hudoud and terrorist violence. While there is still no evidence that IS directly instructed Mateen to attack a well-known gay nightclub in Orlando, the incident could indicate a new trend of jihadi vigilantism that blends the type of terrorist acts typically seen in the West (wanton killing sprees or explosions in civilian centers) with a redefinition of the scope and application of Islamic law — in this case, to bypass the more nuanced traditional legal definitions, processes, and institutions and encourage targeted violence against LGBT communities and culture by individual lay Muslims. To those unversed in Islamic history and texts, such violence may be incorrectly taken as representing the traditional Islamic approach to homosexuality, so Washington and Muslim communities should be quick to condemn all such acts.

Aaron Zelin is the Richard Borow Fellow at The Washington Institute and maintains the website Jacob Olidort is a Soref Fellow at the Institute.



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