MCR: Covering up an exit from IS terrorism

Blog by Milan Rai

If you want a straightforward example of journalistic dishonesty about terrorism, one clear recent case is provided by right-wing columnist Dominic Lawson in his article, 'Put down the nail bomb - Jeremy wants to talk'.

Lawson selectively quotes and misrepresents an Islamic State (IS) document which actually contradicts his argument. The article he quotes in fact says that the west could achieve a suspension of IS terror attacks by ending western airstrikes, invasions, occupations, torture and the support of client dictatorships in Muslim-majority nations.

Lawson's misrepresentation of a document which can be found on the internet within seconds is really a statement of contempt for his readers.

Lawson set out to counter two points made by Jeremy Corbyn after the Manchester attack. One of Corbyn's observations was that conflict resolution often requires talking to people who you disagree with. Another was that al-Qa'eda/Islamic State-style terrorism in the UK is connected to British foreign policy.

Writing in the Sunday Times on 28 May, Lawson ridiculed the idea that those who were behind the slaughter in the Manchester Arena had any demands that could be negotiated and conceded. In Lawson's view, Islamic State, al-Qa'eda and such groups only have demands that cannot be negotiated. Their terrorism is 'motivated by hatred of emancipated western women', and 'their minimum demand would be the abandonment of our democracy and submission to the rule of Allah'.

While it's clear that these kinds of views have been expressed by al-Qa'eda- and IS-inspired terrorists, it's also clear that these home-grown European terrorists have gone through several stages in their development before becoming suicide attackers, and that a key early factor for many of them has been the reality of violent western intervention in Muslim-majority countries, something I'll address in another article.

In support of his interpretation, Lawson quotes (selectively) from an article in the fifteenth and final edition of Islamic State's English-language journal, Dabiq, published in July 2016: 'Why We Hate You & Why We Fight You'. When we read the article carefully, it turns out that the 'minimum demand' of IS for suspending attacks is not abandonment of democracy, conversion to Islam and submission to IS itself, but an end to western violence in Muslim-majority lands. It's true that, in the article, an end to western violence can only lead to a temporary suspension of IS violence against the west, but it is nonetheless a world away from the picture given by Lawson.

It hardly needs to be said that this is just one article in one magazine of one jihadist group. It would require much more evidence to come to any firm conclusions even about the position of IS on these issues. The point of examining this one article is to help untangle some complicated issues, and to show the depths of Dominic Lawson's deceit.

This final issue of Dabiq was unusual in that it was addressed to Christians rather than to Muslims. It focused on discrediting Christianity and trying to convert Christians to IS-style fundamentalist-jihadist Islam. The longest article is a 17-page theological critique of Christianity, especially Trinitarianism, the mainstream Christian belief that God is three persons in one: the father, the son and the holy spirit.

As Lawson says correctly, 'Why We Hate You & Why We Fight You' lists six reasons for hating and fighting the west, in descending order of importance. He quotes the first three reasons in the article (we quote just the beginning of each section, as does Lawson):

1) 'We hate you, first and foremost, because you are disbelievers; you reject the oneness of Allah....';
2) 'We hate you because your secular, liberal societies permit the very things that Allah has prohibited....';
3) 'In the case of the atheist fringe, we hate you and wage war against you because you disbelieve in the existence of your lord and creator.'

Lawson writes:

'It's only when you get to reason six that "invading our lands" is mentioned. But it then concludes: "What's important to understand here is that although some might argue that your foreign policies are the extent of what drives our hatred" - hello, Jeremy - "this particular reason for hating you is secondary, hence the reason we addressed it at the end of the above list."

Let's look at some of the things in this list of reasons that Lawson decided not to mention in his article. Firstly, let's look at the whole of reason six:

6) 'We hate you for invading our lands and fight you to repel you and drive you out. As long as there is an inch of territory left for us to reclaim, jihad will continue to be a personal obligation on every single Muslim.'

'Jihad as a personal obligation' in the IS perspective includes anti-civilian terror attacks such as the Westminster Bridge attack in March, and the Manchester Arena and London Bridge attacks in May.

Let's look at reason five, which Lawson decided to skip over entirely:

5) 'We hate you for your crimes against the Muslims; your drones and fighter jets bomb, kill and main our people around the world, and your puppets in the usurped lands of the Muslims oppress, torture and wage war against anyone who calls to the truth. As such, we fight to stop you from killing our men, women, and children, to liberate those of them whom you imprison and torture, and to take revenge for the countless Muslims who've suffered as a result of your deeds.'

Again, section five gives reasons why Islamic State hates (based on Western foreign policy actions) and it gives reasons why Islamic State fights (to stop killing and to liberate, and to punish).

Invasions, airstrikes, imprisonment, support for Middle Eastern dictators and torture are, in principle, negotiable grievances.

The final paragraph of the article calls on the west to make a choice:

'So you can continue to believe that those "despicable terrorists" hate you because of your lattes and your Timberlands, and continue spending ridiculous amounts of money to try to prevail in an unwinnable war, or you can accept reality and recognize that we will never stop hating you until you embrace Islam, and will never stop fighting you until you're ready to leave the swamp of warfare and terrorism through the exits we provide....' (emphases added)
What this says is that IS will always hate the (Christian/atheist) west, but it will not necessarily always launch terrorist attacks on the west. The final sentence continues:
'[we] will never stop fighting you until you're ready to leave the swamp of warfare and terrorism through the exits we provide, the very exits put forth by our Lord for the people of the Scripture: Islam, jizyah, or - as a last means of fleeting respite - a temporary truce.'

These three options for ending the fighting are:

1) conversion to Islam (exactly as Lawson suggests);

2) acceptance of IS rule, and payment of the jizyah tax on non-Muslims (which means the end of western democracy, as Lawson suggests); or

3) 'a temporary truce' requiring neither conversion to Islam nor submission to IS (a possible way out that Lawson does not acknowledge).

In the rest of this issue of Dabiq, there are references to temporary truces that the prophet Muhammad entered into during his lifetime with his enemies.

A watered-down version of the temporary truce option is spelled out under Reason 1 of 'why we hate you & why we fight you', 'because you are disbelievers'. Here is some text that Lawson left out under this heading:

'even if you were to stop fighting us, your best-case scenario in a state of war would be that we would suspend our attacks against you - if we deemed it necessary - in order to focus on the closer and more immediate threats, before eventually resuming our campaigns against you. Apart from the option of a temporary truce, this is the only likely scenario that would bring you fleeting respite from our attacks. So in the end, you cannot bring an indefinite halt to our war against you. At most, you could only delay it temporarily.'

This says that IS could temporarily stop attacks on the west if the west stopped fighting - it's not clear in this sentence who the west needs to stop fighting: either IS or the global Muslim community. This is not a formal temporary truce of the kind that Muhammad entered into with enemies at different times, but an informal temporary truce.

Let's go back to the conclusion of the article quoted by Lawson, and quote the whole paragraph, which spells out the jizyah exit from the swamp:

'What's important to understand here is that although some might argue that your foreign policies are the extent of what drives our hatred, this particular reason for hating you is secondary, hence the reason we addressed it at the end of the above list. The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam. Even if you were to pay jizyah [an annual tax paid by adult male non-Muslims under some previous Muslim administrations] and live under the authority of Islam in humiliation, we would continue to hate you. No doubt, we would stop fighting you then as we would stop fighting any disbelievers who enter into a covenant with us, but we would not stop hating you.' [emphases added]

This again distinguishes between why IS hates the west, and why IS is fighting the west. IS is saying here that it is not committed to killing all non-believers just for being non-believers.

If we take the article at face value, what it says is that western countries could end IS terror attacks in those western countries by ending invasions, drone warfare, airstrikes, imprisonment and torture - and the support of puppet governments in Muslim-majority countries.

The article says that this suspension of attacks would only be temporary, and that once local enemies had been overcome, the IS campaign to subjugate or convert the non-Muslim world by violence would continue.

For the sake of completeness, we should mention that Reason 4 in the article is about waging war on the west 'to punish you for your transgressions against our religion': 'As long as your subjects continue to mock our faith, insult the prophets of Allah - including Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad PBUH - burn the Quran, and openly vilify the laws of Shari'ah, we continue to retaliate, not with slogans and placards, but with bullets and knives'.

This is another conditional threat: as long as these insults continue, there will be IS terrorism. It implies that if these insults to Islam end, IS terrorism connected to these insults will end as well.

Dominic Lawson claims that IS-style terrorism is 'motivated by hatred of emancipated western women', and 'their minimum demand would be the abandonment of our democracy and submission to the rule of Allah'. The central evidence he cites does not support this conclusion. It is clear from this article that hatred of liberal western societies is not the only motivator of IS violence, and that western foreign policy is a key motivator of IS terrorism in the west. Furthermore, it is also clear from the article that neither mass conversion to Islam nor submission to IS are required to bring IS attacks in the west to an end (temporarily).

Lawson's key evidence contradicts his argument rather than supporting it. His reliance on selective quotation from an article in Dabiq, the entire run of which is archived on a anti-jihadist website, shows his contempt for his readership, who are expected to accept his distortions without question.