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An understanding of their thought process and the limits of their knowledge enabled me and my colleagues to use their claimed piousness against them.” Three years earlier, in 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was obtained by the . The newspaper claimed they concluded, “A well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.” As I have pointed out on these pages before, Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar, the two young British Muslim men from Birmingham who were convicted on terrorism charges in 2014 after travelling to fight in Syria, bought copies of from Amazon prior to their departure. Sageman, the former CIA officer, says we have to locate terrorism and extremism in local conflicts rather than in grand or sweeping ideological narratives – the grievances and the anger come first, he argues, followed by the convenient and self-serving ideological justifications.It revealed: “Far from being religious zealots, a large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly. For example, he says, the origins of Isis as a terror group lie not in this or that Islamic book or school of thought, but in the “slaughter of Sunnis in Iraq”.However, we should also remember the name of Didier François, a French journalist who was held by Isis in Syria for ten months before being released in April 2014. “There was never really discussion about texts,” the French journalist told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last month, referring to his captors. It was a political discussion.” According to François, “It was more hammering what they were believing than teaching us about the Quran.
Here, after all, is a group that calls itself Islamic State; that claims the support of Islamic texts to justify its medieval punishments, from the stoning of adulterers to the amputation of the hands of thieves; and that has a leader with a Ph D in Islamic studies who declares himself to be a “caliph”, or ruler over all Muslims, and has even renamed himself in honour of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr. In September 2014, a Zogby poll found that only 27 per cent of Americans had a favourable view of Islam – down from 35 per cent in 2010.
“It’s not why they do this [or] why young people go there.” Isis members, he says, are using religion to advance a political vision, rather than using politics to advance a religious vision. Religion, according to this view, plays a role not as a driver of behaviour but as a vehicle for outrage and, crucially, a marker of identity.
“To give themselves a bit more legitimacy, they use Islam as their justification. Religion is important in the sense that it happens to “define your identity”, Sageman says, and not because you are “more pious than anybody else”.
By February 2015, more than a quarter of Americans (27 per cent) were telling the pollsters Life Way Research that they believed that life under Isis rule “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like”., in which he argued, “The religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.” Bernard Haykel of Princeton University, the only scholar of Islam whom Wood bothered to interview, described Muslims who considered Isis to be un-Islamic, or anti-Islamic, as “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion”, and declared that the hand-choppers and throat-slitters of Isis “have just as much legitimacy” as any other Muslims, because Islam is “what Muslims do and how they interpret their texts”.
Many other analysts across the political spectrum agree and have denounced the Obama administration for refusing, in the words of the journalist-turned-terrorism-expert Peter Bergen, to make “the connection between Islamist terrorism and ultra-fundamentalist forms of Islam”.