Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts James Foley and the Battle for the Soul of the Arab and Muslim Worlds

James Foley and the Battle for the Soul of the Arab and Muslim Worlds

James Foley and the Battle for the Soul of the Arab and Muslim Worlds

S. Abdallah Schleifer

S. Abdallah SchleiferThis article, by FPRI Senior Fellow Abdallah Schleifer, is adapted from an essay that originally appeared in The American Muslim, August 25, 2014. Writing from Cairo, Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo and founded AUC’s Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is a veteran American journalist who served as Cairo Bureau Chief for NBC News and as Washington Bureau Chief for Al Arabiya and is currently a regular columnist for Al Arabiya News.

As an American Muslim and as a journalist, I am more than appalled by the murder of James Foley and the murder video. If I were King of Whatever/Wherever,  I would go to war—to wipe out these IS perverts — perverters not just of Islam but of all the decencies known to all men/women of all the traditional faiths and to all men/women of just simple decent feelings.

And not just for James Foley, brave soul that he was. But for all the victims of this atrocity that is called “The Islamic State” and known to us as ISIL or ISIS – the Christians, the Yazidis, the Shia soldiers of the Iraqi Army who surrendered and were then executed gangland style; the Sufis and any Iraqi Sunni who does not submit in public to the barbaric Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi , the False Khalifa of Islam.

Because of these criminals, who but traditional Muslims and decent Western scholars of Islam know that for Muslims the greatest litany of all, invoked at all times, in all places is Bism’Allah ar-Rahman, ar-Raheem – in the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate.

The Grand Muftis of Saudi Arabia and Egypt know these killers by their proper name—heretics, defilers of Islam; in the words of Saudi’s Grand Mufti Abdul Azizi Al-Sheikh of Saudi Arabia, both IS/ISIS/ISIL and Al Qaeda are “enemy number one of Islam.” 

Yet the leading association of British Muslims, while condemning Foley’s murder, nevertheless accuses the British and presumably American and Arab media of “glamorizing” these perverts, presumably by screening the video of this and the earlier mass executions. What could that comment mean?  Perhaps the British Muslims’ association is so reticent about showing the murder video of the execution because the executioner has a British accent and is believed to be a British Muslim. Defensiveness like that of the association is counter-productive and borders on letting the IS murderers partially off the hook.

It is true that IS makes videos of their atrocities to put fear into the hearts of those Iraqi Sunnis they now rule over as well as the Iraqi Army, which fell apart in northern Iraq when the IS offensive began. But it is not fear that forced the Peshmerga to fall back in the first weeks of combat with IS – it was the superior firepower provided IS by America, courtesy of the disintegrating Iraqi Army. Let the Muslim world see the crimes that these men commit, and then decide which side they are on.

The James Foley story is obviously of continuing leading interest in American media even though the grisly video of his execution no longer dominates traditional and social media. The front page story in America has moved on to reaction of friends, family and colleagues and beyond that to discourse concerning the debate over further American involvement in striking at IS in Syria as well as intensifying the air campaign in Iraq. And to the curiously cool response President Obama had taken to the obvious swelling threat of ISIS/ISIL not just this past July and the first days of August but in the many months past, when the U.S. funneled military equipment to Nuri al Maliki’s hopeless Iraqi Army while ignoring the Peshmerga, the armed forces of Iraqi Kurdistan, which is the only successfully governed and religiously tolerant portion of Iraq. And with rare exceptions the U.S. mainstream media went along.

I cannot forget how Obama said — in a most condescending tone — in the earliest days of U.S. Air Force strikes against IS fighters advancing on Erbil and terrorizing the Christians of Mosul that the American jet fighters “are not the Iraqi air force.” Why not? But I also wonder: Why just the U.S. Air Force? Where are the Arab and Turkish air forces?  For the fight in Iraq is a battle for the soul of the Arab and Muslim worlds.