By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
In 2014 as Islamic State was gaining ground in Syria and Iraq social media exploded with supporters of this extremist movement. In the English speaking world, particularly in the UK, it was common to see people online talking about “the kuffar.” The kinds of tweets people used in 2014 are still in use today.
The brainwashing of othering people by calling them “kuffar” is part of the daily incitement of the kind that Nazis used to make people view others as “Sub-human” and thus providing an excuse to execute them. People have to be conditioned to hate others and see them as not human. Unfortunately in the West the term “kuffar” or Kufr is often translated as “unbeliever.” But that is a false understanding of the way the term is used. It is used to denigrate others and distance them, to dehumanize and make the genocide of others appear acceptable. It is used to condition people to hate. The 6,000 ISIS volunteers from Europe believed in this just like the Nazi recruits of the 1920s and 1930s.
Many people have forgotten Ahmad Rahami, who was involved in a shootout and accused of being a bomber in New York in 2016. He wrote about “killing the kuffar.” In 2016 ISIS also urged its followers to target certain “kufr imams” that it had designated. This kind of hatred has a particularly western pedigree because it has taken on a western Islamist context that is unmoored from its original. This is because two or more generations have grown up in the West searching for a new extremism to follow after the defeat of Nazism and decline of communism.
In all extremism there is a desire to other people by putting them outside the fold and eventually making the murder of them acceptable. Nazism did this to “sub-humans” or Untermensch. Numerous groups were foisted into this categories, especially Jews. Under Communism, particularly the Stalinist variety, the “others” were the “wreckers” and “saboteurs,” the “kulaks” or the “Trotskyites.”
The rise of Islamist extremism gave birth to a new terminology of hate. Central to that in the West was taking men, and some women, and encouraging them to follow a new extremist creed. Most of the extremists were not pious or from a religious background. But the one thing they quickly internalized was hatred of the “kuffar,” because this was an easy concept to inculcate, like teaching people to hate members of a rival sports team. This gave these aimless young men, many of whom in Europe had criminal backgrounds a direction and a feeling of superiority. For the same reason the KKK appealed to lower class whites and whites who felt threatened by African-American equality or success, the hatred of “kuffar” provided a generation of men who went to support ISIS and other extremists, a feeling of belonging and superiority. We can hear in the descriptions of sermons given by these haters.
For instance a UK imam named Kamran Hussain was jailed in 2017 according to The Guardian. “At a meeting on 19 August last year there were up to 15 children and 25 adults present as he gave a sermon about kuffar, or non-Muslims, the court heard.” There was the man who held a proud “ISIS” member BBQ in June of 2014 in the UK. He told the press “He adds that Christians can have their churches, but not ring the bells. ‘The kuffar [kaffir, plural] can have their churches, but they are not allowed to ring the bell . . that is, my dear brothers, the Islamic state.’” Men who were radicalized in prison were also given a quick course in talking about “kuffar” as a central part of their “religious” awakening. One man told a British magazine “They would say that the kuffar [a derogatory term for non- Muslims] had been killing our women and children and that our calling was to become ‘a soldier of peace.’ They talked about going to fight in Syria and Iraq when they got out and joining the war for a Muslim caliphate.” Notice the bait and switch here between being a “soldier of peace” and “going to fight.” In this context “peace” means the “Dar al–Salam” which means House or Abode of Peace in Arabic. This is opposed to the “world of war” or “dar al Harb” where the “kuffar” can be killed, the section of the world to be subjected to war. This theological talk was put into practice by ISIS.
The talk of “kuffar” doesn’t just relate to hatred of westerners, it is also part of the worldview that involves hatred of Ahmadi Muslims and Shia and others. This has been documented on film with sermons of imams providing hate speech to their willing listeners. This trend has been identified by academics and those studying radicalization. They note the tendency to use the term “kuffar” to create a sense of a “supremacist” ideology and “anti-western” agenda that feed a “manichean world view.” This doesn’t go far enough in explaining why the “kuffar” discussion appeals to people. It appeals precisely because it is a Nazi-like idea and the “revolution” that has taken place in the last decades leading to the rise of ISIS and leading to the fact that intelligence agencies in Europe are tracking tens of thousands of Jihadists, 23,000 in the UK alone. Many of these are, in a sense, converts. Some are actually converts but many others find their way to extremism through criminality. Young recruits for ISIS, for instance, were searching for an outlet and for a way their they can act out their aggression, desire to be dominant and also in some cases their fantasies of sexual violence and rape culture.
The number of extremists in parts of Europe has a striking similarity to the number of fascists and Nazis in the decades before these movements took power. Spiegel online for instance described the Brownshirts as the unemployed, the underemployed, apprentices and high-school students — were ‘political soldiers.’ In Goebbel’s view, their task was the ‘conquest of the street.’ In the melting pot of Berlin, these primarily young men were supposed to reconcile and embody two previously hostile worldviews: nationalism, which Goebbels believed had to be ‘reshaped in a revolutionary way,’ and a ‘true socialism’ free of Marxism.”
Hatred of “kuffar,” also involves anti-semitic hatred. In Canada several sermons attacking Jews and calling for their murder have been investigated. An imam in California also spoke about the “filth of the Jews.” Unfortunately media does not probe these comments enough, focusing on the imam and not on the people who listened quietly and intently and didn’t question the sermon. So long as men sit and listen to hatred and stories about the “filth” of Jews or “kuffar,” this new Nazi-like ideology will grow.