When the counter-terror experts don’t know the basic facts about their field, we’re all in trouble. Establishment counterterror analyst Max Abrahms, a professor at Northeastern University and a “term member” at the Council on Foreign Relations, is an exponent of all the false assumptions and failed dogmas that have crippled our response to the jihad terror threat for years now. This wins Abrahms plaudits from the establishment media, but only ensures that the same failed policies will be implemented again and again.
Abrahms once agreed to debate me on the question of whether or not the Islamic State is Islamic, but then lost his nerve and backed out, leaving behind a smokescreen of ad hominem attacks to mask his cowardice. And now we see how he would have fared if that debate had happened: in a review of Abrahms’ new book in the august Times Literary Supplement, Diana Darke inadvertently reveals that Abrahms is abjectly ignorant of Islam, and of the jihad terrorists about whom he professes to have expert knowledge.
Darke writes: “Up to 80 per cent of jihadists, Abrahms tells us, have been assessed by scholars as being ‘largely ignorant about Islam’. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself only turned to Islamic theology when he failed to get the grades to study law. An analysis on al-Qaeda operatives in the West found that ‘they went to bars and frequented prostitutes more often than they went to the mosque.'”
All three of these points are absolutely worthless to establish the point that the jihadis are ignorant of Islam. Taking the last one first, both Abrahms and Darke are clearly ignorant of the fact that jihadis often go to bars and frequent prostitutes — the 9/11 hijackers went to a strip club — because they know that their act of jihad will outweigh any sins they commit. “We shall set up scales of justice for the Day of Judgment,” says the Qur’an (21:47): if one’s good deeds outweigh one’s evil deeds, one will go to Paradise, but if one’s evil deeds outweigh one’s good deeds, one will go to hell. And what good deed weighs the most? A hadith has a Muslim asking Muhammad: “Instruct me as to such a deed as equals Jihad (in reward).” Muhammad replied, “I do not find such a deed.” (Bukhari 4.52.44)
So if a believer goes on jihad, his good deeds will outweigh all his evil deeds. Thus if a jihadist knows he is about to wage a great jihad, he knows its value will outweigh anything evil he has done, and he can relax a bit, have a few drinks, etc.
Darke also writes, apparently relating something Abrahms has in his book: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself only turned to Islamic theology when he failed to get the grades to study law.” So what? If that is true, does it mean that al-Baghdadi didn’t learn Islamic theology, or got it wrong? Al-Baghdadi got his PhD in Islamic studies. Is Abrahms suggesting that he is actually ignorant of Islam because he couldn’t get into law school?
And people take Abrahms seriously!
Also: “Up to 80 per cent of jihadists, Abrahms tells us, have been assessed by scholars as being ‘largely ignorant about Islam.'” The subtext here is that the jihadis are misunderstanding and misrepresenting their peaceful religion. If that were so, however, one would expect jihad groups to de-emphasize Qur’an instruction, not wanting their recruits to peruse the book too closely and discover that they were actually violating its tenets. Yet the Islamic State (ISIS), in its heyday, quoted the Qur’an frequently and offered numerous inducements to get people to read it. ISIS quoted the Qur’an extensively in threats to blow up the White House and conquer Rome and Spain; in explaining its priorities in the nations it is targeting in jihad; in preaching to Christians after collecting the jizya (a Qur’an-based tax, cf. Qur’an 9:29); in justifying the execution of accused spies; and in its various videos.
ISIS also awarded $10,000 prizes and sex slaves in Qur’an memorization contests. One of its underground lairs was found littered with weapons and copies of the Qur’an. Children in the Islamic State studied the Qur’an and get weapons training. One Malaysian Muslim said that the Qur’an led him to join the Islamic State. A Muslim woman in the U.S. promoted the Islamic State by quoting the Qur’an. An Islamic State propagandist’s parents said of him: “Our son is a devout Muslim. He had learnt the Quran by heart.” A Muslim politician from Jordan said that the Islamic State’s “doctrine stems from the Qur’an and Sunnah.”
Max Abrahms either doesn’t know any of that, which would be a criminal omission for “one of the world’s leading experts on terrorism,” or doesn’t want you to know it, which would be even worse. The fact that a book as worthless as Abrahms’ book obviously is can get reviewed favorably in the Times Literary Supplement shows why Max Abrahms is considered an “expert”: he tells the political and media elites what they want to hear.
That’s why we are losing the war against the forces of the global jihad: because politically correct mediocrities such as Abrahms are considered “experts,” primarily, if not solely, because they reinforce the elites’ determination to ignore and deny the jihadis’ motivating ideology.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His new book is The History of Jihad From Muhammad to ISIS. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.