CPM: Is it fair to draw a parallel between what we’re seeing in Islam right now and the French Revolution? The elites abused their status, their wealth and their power and the people, behind radical revolutionaries, rose up in an incredibly violent way. They were almost fascist in their revolutionary zeal, but it was because of the tyranny that was inflicted on them from the very few at the top.
Deen: Yeah, there is a parallel to a degree, but what I’m saying here, is that it’s easier for groups like ISIS to recruit people, like kids.
For example, the biggest thing in Islam, is not materialistic wealth. It’s your actions and your deeds. What you do in this life is going to get you what you deserve in the next life.
So maybe you want to do something more than just accumulate material wealth. Or maybe you got in trouble once and you’ve never been in a position to do something greater. It’s not really hard for Daesh to recruit these people, “Hey, look, there’s something going on that’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you to do something.”
CPM: That’s going to help your next life?
Sayed: Right. They’re skewed, obviously, they’re misleading people.
Deen: But that’s why it’s easier for them to recruit. Plus, if they want to build a caliphate, they don’t need fighters. Fighters are low-hanging fruit. They need to build a foundation to build a city, to build a caliphate. They need lawyers, doctors. They need to build a foundation for that city to function normally.
They’re not looking at fighters anymore. They’re looking at other people who can make the cities work.
Some of these people, maybe they’re feeling ostracized, because of what maybe, Donald Trump is saying or because you have some stupid commentator reading something out of the Koran. They’re asking themselves, “Well what the hell? Why do I want to be here? I might as well go somewhere where I’m accepted.”
Sayed: It says in the Koran that there’s no compulsion of religion. People should willingly come to Islam, not because of force or economic interest, because someone sees, “Wow that man or that woman, is really noble, really honorable — what makes them act that way?” So there is no forced conversion.
You can get radicalized when you get exhausted and vulnerable, when you withdraw from your family, but many of the families don’t know. Like with the tragedy in San Bernadino, the indicator is when your son who goes to Friday prayers stops going to Friday prayer. When he stops visiting the mosque for two years, that is a huge indicator, because, as a man, one thing — and I’m not an avid mosque-goer, I go when I can — is that Friday prayers are very important. If you miss three Friday prayers in a row without a valid excuse, you are considered a non-believer. If you make one a month, you know, one every three weeks, you’re good.
For a man to miss Friday prayers when he knows the importance of that, that’s a huge red flag, because what are you doing? [Note: According to reports, Farook only stopped going to mosque a few weeks before the attack.]
The biggest tragedy was they had a six-month-old daughter. We already talked about important a daughter is, it’s a blessing. So to intentionally orphan your children, that’s a huge no-go, you don’t do that.
Deen: I saw, on CNN, some FBI profiler lady profiling Tashfeen Malik, but she’s comparing her to a common criminal. Now granted Malik’s ideology might be perverse, but it’s still an ideology, she believed in it.
CPM: There’s an internal logic.
Deen: There’s an internal logic, but the way the profiler was profiling her, it was like she was profiling a common criminal.
Sayed: In Islam, if you kill someone, it’s as if you killed all of humanity. If you save someone, it’s as if you saved all of humanity. Al-Qaeda’s big thing was suicide bombers and it says in the Koran, straightforwardly, suicide under any pretense is forbidden hell fire.
A lot of scholars got that message out, so, in response, terrorists now know not to do suicides — they want to have the same effect, but without alienating knowledgeable Muslims. So now, it’s a lone wolf or, instead of blowing up a vest, they want to leave a bunch of pressure cookers and die in a shootout, a righteous shootout.
CPM: Like the old “suicide by cop.”
Deen: The beauty of Islam is I don’t need an imam to tell me how to interpret anything. He is supposed to be the scholar and if I don’t understand something I can go to him, but if I can read it, I can interpret it the way I want, I don’t need him to tell me…
CPM: …it’s not like a Catholic priest, there’s no conduit to God.
Deen: There’s no conduit, I can do it on my own. So if they’ve made up their mind that they’re going to do the suicide bombing or something like that, they’re not going to look at it as a suicide. They’re going to look at it as doing something to help the religion or help the cause of martyrdom.
How To Fight Radicalization
CPM: I’m going to try out a parallel because I keep thinking about people who have never met a Muslim, will never meet a Muslim and have no frame of reference for understanding Islam or its current struggles.
Based on what we’ve been talking about, is it fair to say that exponents of Islamic radicalization, like Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, are a little bit like John Brown prior to the American Civil War? I mean John Brown was a white abolitionist known for his fanaticism, who actually beheaded slave owners and terrorized them until he was finally captured at Harper’s Ferry. But his actions — his extremism — are considered the emotional catalyst that galvanized the nation into fighting a war to free the slaves.
Even though John Brown was a radical and arguably the first domestic terrorist, his actions were done in the name of freeing people from slavery.
Based on what you say are the dangers of monarchism and the perversions that it brings to Islam, is it fair to say that Daesh and similar radicals are in a sense, just the John Browns of Islam? That they commit a lot of violence and un-Islamic behavior but for an ostensibly decent purpose — eliminating the chief threat to Islam, eliminating the monarchy?
Sayed: That’s where it’s heading.
CPM: So, if that’s the case and in 10, 15, 20 or 50 years from now Islam will be in a good place because of this turbulence — what can we do today to make sure these radicals aren’t a threat to average rank-and-file people who could give a shit less about the state of Islam or its internal struggles? If you were the President of the US today, then how would you approach the problem of terrorism?
Deen: I’d start calling out some of our supporters — Arab allies — and bringing these questions up. Also, from my perspective in the Army and intelligence world, there are few to no Muslims involved. I know there are some qualified Muslims out there, Muslim Americans that can be policy guys, that can rely on their experience, both professional and personal, to help make policy, but you never really see any of these people out there.
The President says, “Hey Muslims, we want you to do more.” OK, well you have to give us a platform to do it.
CPM: Meaning what? What should that platform be?
Deen: I would start looking for the right candidates to fill some of these policy positions dealing with Counterterrorism. Who is our new ISIS czar? I mean, half of the people they find for these positions are just lawyers and non-Muslims.
Sayed: It’s not just at the highest levels, either. When I was in Iraq, they knew I was Muslim — I began to practice my faith more in the military. There were one or two guys in S2 [Note: the military intelligence section] who wanted to make a difference, but had no background in basic Muslim culture, so they would come to me on a daily basis to get guidance.
At first, I was all open to it, but when they started to get awards based upon the information and kind of work I did, I was like, “You’re on your own.” I wanted them to put me in those slots, because none of those guys knew anything and our cultural advisors, both who were contractors, were working banker hours.
In Iraq, Ramadan started the day before it does in the US — on the 20th in Iraq. We had an E7 who was not a Muslim, no foundation with Islam, but he was a cop in a very diversified city, which supposedly qualified him to be our training officer and authority on Islam. He was going around telling everybody that Ramadan started the 21st. We had a couple of other units under us in the compounds and they knew I was Muslim. One of them called me up and said, “Hey dude, I need a serious answer, when does Ramadan start?”
“Are you fasting?”
I hear in the background, “Hey Sayed’s fasting, so we’re not doing anything. Thanks, man.”
I’m like, what was that about? Well, our policy was that if more than five detainees would refuse their meal, it’s considered a hunger strike and that opens up a whole can of worms — we have to wake up some very important people.
CPM: Does the United States need to be more culturally aware of the struggles going on inside Islam?
Sayed: Not culturally aware, but more religiously aware.
CPM: More religiously aware, OK.
If that’s the case, I think many Americans would say — and bear with me, I’m going to paint with a very broad brush — “Hey, we didn’t need to learn a lot about Germany to go beat the Nazis. We just decided that if they wanted to do us harm and if the Japanese are bombing us, then we’re just going to take them out. We’re not going to learn a lot about Shintoism, we’re not going to learn a lot about Nazism, we’re not going to learn a lot about Italian fascism, we’re just going in and doing what we need to do to defend the homeland.
I mean, isn’t it unrealistic, in this day and age, to ask Iowa farm boys to go learn all about Islam’s inner struggles just to take out bad guys?
Deen: If Nazism was a religion then…
CPM: But what about Shintoism, which fueled the Japanese state?
Deen: There wasn’t a billion of them. It wasn’t a religion that shares aspects with Christianity and Judaism.
CPM: What I’m getting at is, why do we have to talk to Saudi Arabia about how to fix their house? Why can’t we simply lay down the law to terrorists? If Daesh wants to be killing innocent people, beheading reporters, raping women, hey, they need to prepare to be smacked.
Deen: What’s going to happen, just like with al-Qaeda, we’ll kill all the top guys, but the ideology will still continue.
We just killed the finance minster of ISIS. You go ahead and kill that guy — it doesn’t matter, another person will come.
CPM: Because the monarchy is still there in Saudi Arabia.
Deen: Right — the motivator of their ideology. Basically Islam is broken.
CPM: So, if the monarchy in Saudi Arabia disappeared tomorrow, would ISIS disappear?
Sayed: It would be a bloody transition.
Deen: I’m not saying this is going to happen over night.
CPM: But hypothetically, if the pretense in Saudi Arabia was over — if the monarchy was eliminated — would ISIS still have a popular recruiting platform or would it disappear?
Deen: I think it would disappear. It should, because some of ISIS’ stuff is such a perversion of Islam. You can’t just make someone convert, “Hey man, I’m not going to give you an option, either you convert or you die.” If you converted on someone else’s terms to live, to survive, why would I even want you in my religion? You’re just converting to save yourself.
That’s what I’m saying to you, the ideology is not in line with what it should be. Now that will evolve, that will probably evolve in the next couple of other groups…
CPM: Kind of like the Corleone family? Essentially, “We’re mobsters now, but in a few years, it’s going to be a legit business.” Is that fair to say?
Sayed: I think what people don’t understand is that, for Muslims, whether you’re a MINO — a “Muslim-in-name-only” — or a radical, we all believe we are slaves or servants of God. We’re created to worship God, that’s one of our tenets. “This life is a journey,” “The afterlife is more important than this one” and “Jihad” — that’s the core faith. It all comes down to how you interpret it.
Let’s say we’re both Mets fans. You’re a normal Mets fan, supporting the team, keeping up on it. But I’m a radical Mets fan — I believe in the same tenets, but I say we have to start killing Yankees fans. I’ve got to blow up Yankee stadium, because that’s the only way to bring more people to our cause of being Mets fans. Either I need some help or I’m just completely misguided, but the core tenets that we believe are the same, we both see being Mets fans is a way to support our community and as a way to the path to God, in a sense.
So, if you ask a Muslim, whether it’s someone from the United States or someone from the backwoods of Afghanistan, they’ll have the same notions to some extent. The person in the US will probably have a deeper understanding and realize that their place is to be a good citizen, but the person in Afghanistan, because of ignorance, won’t.
We need to get more Muslims involved in resolving terrorism, because part of the recruiting push is that the West doesn’t trust Muslims. Daesh and al-Qaeda say the West doesn’t trust us and that the West won’t put us in critical positions.
We also have scholars in this country, in the UK and the West — I’m thinking of guys like Suhaib Webb, Nouman Ali Khan. We could basically broadcast their sermons, their podcasts, their videos across the spectrum, almost like a information operations campaign in the Middle East …
CPM: Kind of like Voice of America.
Sayed: It’s important because, in the Koran, a line may mean one thing to readers in New Jersey, but another to readers in California and something totally different in Beijing. You, as an American, in the year 2015, could interpret a line of the Koran completely differently than I would as a Canadian in the 1960s.
Now, you don’t need an imam to practice Islam, but the way that Islam is set up, you are required to seek knowledge and get better understanding, because, with it being a different type of Arabic, you have to take a look at what you’re reading and how it applies it you.
It’s a simple faith, but it can also become complex. The core thing that people need to realize is that we are servants of God — our entire life is to serve God. You’re striving for the afterlife, you’re striving to make the world a better place in a sense, but that can be perverted, as Deen said, to the point I have to put a suicide vest on and blow up somebody who doesn’t agree with me, because they’re a threat.
Why Aren’t Muslims More Pissed Off About Terrorism?
CPM: Do me a favor, guys. Rank the following in terms of the threat each poses just to Islam itself — let’s forget geopolitical considerations for the time being — Saudi Arabia, Wahhabist terrorists and Iran.
Deen: You can do the first two as one.
CPM: Really? Aren’t the Wahhabists a reaction — an overcorrection, if you will — to the monarchy? I’ve always heard it described that Wahhabist terrorists essentially extort money from the Saudi government so they will take their cause abroad and not stir up as much trouble in the Saudi street.
Deen: To a degree that’s true. If you look at the UAE and what they did with their standing mercenary group, with Erik Prince going down there, with like 18,000 mercs, their core concern was “no Muslims,” so the mercs are all Colombian or whatever.
CPM: So, if you take ISIS and al-Qaeda as one tentpole of Sunni extremism — do you think they’re aligned with the Saudi monarchy or do you think they’re planning insurrection against the Saudis?
Deen: They’re probably using them in some instances to gain money, to do things…
Sayed: …but eventually the training wheels come off.
Deen: ISIS doesn’t really need Saudi Arabian money anymore…
Sayed: …that’s what I was going to say.
CPM: OK, let me try out a hypothetical. Let’s say Bible Belt Christians began launching attacks across the globe, beheading people, terrorizing non-believers and violently enforcing rules that had been perverted from Christianity.
And people see me go to church and get nervous because I’m Christian too. If I feel like I’m being profiled and alienated in my own country, I’d be pissed.
Now, maybe I’d be a little ticked at my country for turning its back on me or maybe I’d be unhappy with, hypothetically, let’s say, the British monarchy for being bad stewards of Episcopalian Christianity, but mostly, I’d be pissed at the Christian terrorists that were giving me a bad name and making my neighbors afraid of me.
It’s fascinating to me that you guys don’t seem as bothered by, say, Daesh — which is really the cause of most American fears about Islam — as you are about Saudi Arabia which most Americans don’t care about.
I’m wondering why you guys aren’t more pissed off, like, “Man, you guys in Daesh are really screwing up Islam for the rest of us?”
Sayed: Tomorrow, we could gather a battalion of Muslim soldiers and airmen and everything from Canada, the US and England, and we could go eradicate Daesh, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram — overnight we could do it.
The problem is, it will come back. It’s like that toxic mold, unless you pull off the drywall and vent the entire thing, you’re not going to have anything done, because who is that “toxic mold,” who is that source behind the drywall? That’s Saudi Arabia or the monarchy.
If I start speaking up against the Saudis, or if I become a big thorn in their side, something will happen to me here. They have so much influence in the West. I’m not saying I’m going to sleep with the fishes, but maybe I won’t be able to travel, maybe I’ll be put on a list, maybe I’ll…
CPM: …I think a lot of Americans would wonder — if it was really that easy for Western Muslims to eliminate that many bad guys — why not just go do it? Once the “superficial” issue of Daesh or Boko Haram is settled, I don’t think the world have any issues letting Islam sort out whatever internal or theological problems it has with Saudi Arabia.
Deen: The problem is how do they go about doing that without being on the no-fly list, sitting in Guantanamo or being arrested?
CPM: I know many others Westerners have already gone on their own to fight ISIS in Syria. If a Muslim country like Indonesia says, “Hey, we’re being negatively affected by being lumped in with ISIS,” or if American Muslims say, “Hey, this is making us look bad, man — people are looking at us with crossed eyes when we’ve got nothing to do with ISIS,” shouldn’t there be action to unite and stop terrorism?
Deen: The problem is, Indonesia’s going to be like, “Look, we have our own damn issues, we don’t really want to make this worse then we can make it.” The problem is, no country wants to be another Libya or Syria or Iraq.
Even Turkey, prior to us using some of their bases and stuff like that to bomb ISIS, really wasn’t into that fight. They had the attitude of, “Don’t mess with us and we won’t mess with you.”
I’m not condoning what they did — I’m not saying it’s right or wrong — but once they started cooperating, letting us use some of their bases to launch a few airstrikes, what started happening? They’ve had to deal with a wave of attacks and they’ve got so many bad guys coming in and out of the their porous borders. So what they did for us is hurting them.
CPM: Then isn’t ISIS the more clear-and-present, front-burner threat than, say, Saudi Arabia?
Sayed: Muslims are standing up to ISIS, but they’re also being killed. The majority of the Muslims who want to go and fight Daesh and fight al-Qaeda, they’re also the ones calling for democracy in the Middle East — even the overthrow of the King. These authoritarian governments have them in prison or on watch lists, controlling them.
So, for many Muslims, they think, “Yeah you want me to go fight Daesh, but I got another terrorist in my country who happens to be the president and he oppresses our rights, so let me concentrate on my home front and the threat that’s at home before I focus on the threat in Syria, which is a couple of countries away.”
Look at Yemen, which was not religious at all. Yemen had a large Shiite population, but they were thinking about bringing back the King. Elements of that royal family leaned towards the moderate side and would have gone in a different direction than the Saudi monarchy — more of a British-style monarchy.
The problem is that a lot of Yemenis have duel nationality as Saudis. If they were to create a new monarchy, if they changed their government to be seen as a little bit more democratic, that could leak into Saudi Arabia and the Saudis see that as a threat.
Saudi Arabia sold the war in Yemen as Sunnis versus Shiite. Iran and the West ran with that. Now, with the human rights violations in Yemen, the Saudis are giving Daesh a run for their money.
Deen: If you look at Egypt when Mubarak was overthrown, they had an election and the Muslim Brotherhood won. Not a great thing, but that was what the people wanted. Whether it’s right or wrong, it’s an elected government.
Since we didn’t like the outcome, we backed al-Sisi while he basically staged a coup. So now, Egypt has an army dictator again. What’s the stability going to be like in that area?
All I’m saying is, all these groups — these radical groups — are despicable, they do bad things, we shouldn’t support them, but they’re a byproduct of their environment.
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