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Part of the difficult in addressing ISIS and others becoming defined as “Islamists” by the worlds to which they have brought harm involves accessing the greater body of literature stemming from the Qur’an and the legends and speech of Muhammad plus a body of commentary plus a developed and divided legal history. The miscreant groups, and clearly Qanta Ahmed repudiates them in her article, draw on verbal lore, however selected, however selfishly believed, to validate their barbarism.

My acquaintance who have delved into, let’s call it “dangerous text”, have done so with some blanketing “Islamophobic” intent, in essence justifying ISIS behavior on the basis that ISIS claims, and with which Dr. Ahmed claims to be unfamiliar.

Scholarship developed in isolation or within a circumscribed intellectual and geopolitical space may be given to corruption by the scholar’s own self-interest. In any religion, a cleric or priest or other “holy man” may be expected to install in others what benefits his own position. Today, asking a modern person — again: any religion — to delve into the arcane bodies of work promulgated by the experts, i.e., asking me to read the Talmud, for example, or Dr. Ahmed to plow through volumes (and ages) of related intellectual history to support further argument, merely leads the mind back into the closed universe of the feudal world. What ISIS has put on display by displaying itself needs no extraordinary scholarly knowledge for universal condemnation, including condemnation by the greater Islamic Ummah.

Those whose obsessions lead them back into lost worlds may also drown themselves in the same. For some, myself, at least, time is the only ocean, and one wants to navigate the crossing of it into the future, not into the past.


The prompt: the posting of Dr. Qanta Ahmed’s condemnation of ISIS (CNN, August 18, 2015) on a forum page and, in the background, a conversation with a friend who has collected and come to know a fair portion of the material on which the Daesh project permits itself its excesses.

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