No 'Crisis in Islam': Just Apathy of So-called 'Historians'
01 August 2015
By Ramzy Baroud
On the "BBC This Week" program, historian Tom Holland labored to counter the
argument that the so-called Islamic State should not be labeled as such: "The
Holland's logic in the program seemed more philosophical, concerned with
dialectic and logic of language, and hardly situated in any proper historical
His comments were in response to British Prime Minister David Cameron's
objection to the BBC's use of the phrase ‘Islamic State'. Cameron prefers
ISIL – which, itself, stands for the ‘Islamic State in the Levant' or the
cynical qualifier ‘so-called' to be placed before the phrase.
Although Holland asserts that Cameron's protestation to the use of the phrase
‘Islamic State' is essentially principled, he does not agree with the Prime
Minister. By denying ‘IS' the right to use the phrase, according to Holland,
Cameron is replicating the ‘IS' strategy of denying any Islamic credentials
to their Muslim opponents, describing them as ‘heretics'. Cameron is playing
the same game as ‘IS', according to Holland.
However, in an article published in March by the New Statesman, Holland tries
to live up to his own credentials as a ‘historian' by delving into history,
but a selective version of it. His take on Islamic history struck me as alien
and foreign draped with what seemed like an authentic reference, but lacking
in genuine knowledge in the overall values and meaning of Islam and the
spirit of its message.
"The problem faced by the orthodox religious authorities in the Muslim world,
however, is very similar to that which confronted the Catholic Church in the
16th century," he wrote. ‘Very similar,' he says, yet offers little by way of
demonstrating his out-and-out assertion.
In the BBC program, he concluded with another unqualified claim, closing with
an earth-shattering remark that ‘Islam' is experiencing a ‘crisis'.
For someone who protested Cameron's simple request to apply a ‘so-called'
before ‘Islamic State', while declaring that there is a crisis in the heart
of Islam – a religion that is rooted in a culture that spans over 1400 years,
which manifests itself throughout numerous cultures and geographies, the
world over – Holland needs to exercise more caution.
History, with all its complexities, cannot be isolated from the present,
notwithstanding current political turmoil. To be dubbed ‘history', it should
not be made a landscape for underhanded political ideas masquerading as
historical facts, simply because the likes of Holland can utilize past
historical references and market them to his audience as genuine analogies.
I found it particularly telling that Holland's views on history are borrowed
from ancient references such as early Islam, 16th century Christianity, etc.,
but fail to examine a more immediate – and much more relevant – history that
made possible the rise of the so-called ‘Islamic State'.
It is impossible that Holland did not know or, at least, appreciate the
relationship between western military interventions in the Middle East,
especially in Iraq in 2003, and the rise of jihadist groups in the region.
To completely ignore the gradual rise of ‘IS' from the early fundamentalist
outlets that flooded Iraq following the US-British invasion, morphing into
the fighting force that it has become, is a catastrophic gaffe to anyone who
claims to know history.
While sectarianism exists in Muslim societies, as with any other religious
groups in other societies, it was the American Governor of Iraq, Paul Bremer,
who initiated the current sectarian violence in the region when he launched
his campaign of ‘De-Ba'athification' of Iraq in May 2003. It resulted in the
rooting out of every aspect of the Ba'ath Party's influence in Iraq, the
dismantling of the army, and every aspect of state institutions. It entailed
the minimizing of any form of Sunni influence in the country, setting the
stage for the takeover by Shia groups, including numerous Shia militias that
continue to constitute the Iraqi Army.
Absent from Holland's speech, and that of other ‘historians', is the role of
former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who, although largely disliked by
the general public, continues with his political meddling and shady politics.
Blair was the closest ally to the US President, George W. Bush. Together,
they turned Iraq into a killing field, where the bloodletting is yet to
Of course, Holland is not alone in promoting the ‘crisis of Islam' jargon. It
was, and remains, at the heart of the discredited neo-conservative thinking.
The purpose of such claims is largely to disown any responsibility regarding
the mayhem gripping the Middle East, and putting the blame squarely on local
actors for their countries' misfortunates.
Such a discourse does not just absolve the US, the UK and others from any
responsibility: it positions them as a victim in a war propelled by Muslims
and their own crisis of religion and sect.
"The continued rise of violent, anti-Western, Islamic fundamentalism is one
of the defining challenges of our time," wrote Mark Mardell on the BBC
website (July 02, 2015). ‘IS', he wrote, "controls vast areas of Syria and
Iraq and has more than mere footholds in Libya, Yemen and Nigeria."
Although Mardell gave all the keywords required to place the rise of ‘IS' in
proper context, he still fails to see it.
What have Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen have in common? Both Iraq and Libya
have suffered two massive western wars, and Syria and Yemen are being
victimized by unrelenting western intervention. The war on Iraq brought al-Qaeda-turned-IS
to the country; the war in Libya divided the country among hundreds of
western-armed unruly militias, and so on. Do you see the logic?
But Mardell is not concerned with any of this as he, like Holland, is busy
haggling with irrelevant terminology: "And, it seems to me, once we start
passing comment on the accuracy of the names people call their organizations,
we will constantly be expected to make value judgments. Is China really a
Although Mardell is not a ‘historian', he is a ‘presenter'; a media man
should, at least, be aware of some current affairs that are of direct
relevance to his topic.
One such current affair, the Arab Spring, had the potential of ending the
radicalization of Arab youth by offering them a democratic outlet that did
not see a contradiction between Islam and democracy, on one hand, and
economic opportunity, on the other.
But every single one of these experiences were quashed by military force,
leaving little Tunisia fighting for its nascent democracy against ‘IS'
recruits and their benefactors.
The idea behind the violence is to destroy any possibility of seeing a
harmonic marriage between political Islam and democracy, and the so-called
‘Islamic State' is the demon unleashed against the forces of moderation and
modernity in the region.
This is far from being a ‘crisis in Islam', but a political struggle that
will, ultimately, define the future of the region for many generations to
– Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20
years. He is author of several books and the founder of
PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter:
Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London)