In light of the ongoing nightmare that is the Islamic State, Foreign Policy, a magazine somewhat reflective of the establishment, has published an article that once again demonstrates why U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is a disaster: because analysts and policymakers, unable or unwilling to grapple with foreign concepts, opt to articulate them through familiar Western paradigms.
Titled “The Islamic State of Sexual Violence” and written by Aki Peritz and Tara Maller—“We both worked as CIA analysts focused on Iraq’s insurgency and counterterrorism during much of the war”—the Foreign Policy (FP) article opens with this telling sentence: “Of the many terrifying stories emerging from Islamic State-occupied Iraq and Syria, the violence directed toward women is perhaps the most difficult to contemplate.”
This is an odd assertion. Of all the atrocities committed by the Islamic State, is sexual violence against women really “the most difficult to contemplate”? After all, deplorable as sexual violence against women is, it is also one of the most common features of warfare since the beginnings of recorded history. It should not be too “difficult to contemplate.”
Instead, one would think that public beheadings and mutilations—with sadistic pictures of the victims posted online—would be more “difficult to contemplate.” One would think herding off 1500 “infidel” men and coldly shooting them in the head to cries of “Allahu Akbar” would be more “difficult to contemplate.” One would think that forcing religious minorities to convert to Islam or die—with Christians crucified for refusing to embrace Islam—would be more “difficult to contemplate.”
But in the very next paragraph we encounter the reason why FP highlights female sexual abuse while ignoring the truly more “difficult to contemplate” atrocities committed by the Islamic State: to exonerate Islam from the deeds of the Islamic State:
IS claims to be a religious organization, dedicated to re-establishing the caliphate and enforcing codes of modesty and behavior from the time of Muhammad and his followers. But this is rape, not religious conservatism. IS may dress up its sexual violence in religious justifications, saying its victims violated Islamic law, or were infidels, but their leaders are not fools. This is just another form of warfare….
That last sentence is what FP wants readers to leave with—“This is just another form of warfare.” The authors chose the most generic atrocity committed during war, one that is common to all cultures and civilizations—sexual violence, enslavement, and rape—to condemn the Islamic State with. The result is that the Islamic State looks like “just another” enemy combatant.
To portray the Islamic State as betraying Islam, the authors proceed to invoke Western standards of “modesty and behavior” without letting readers know that Islamic notions of “modesty and behavior” differ significantly and are wholly based on Islamic law, not “natural” law or anything else.
Thus while the authors are correct in saying that the Islamic State is “dedicated to re-establishing the caliphate,” the follow up assertion, “and enforcing codes of modesty and behavior from the time of Muhammad and his followers” is immensely loaded and misleading. So is the statement “But this is rape, not religious conservatism.”
Islamic law, or Sharia, permits the enslavement, selling, and rape of infidel women captured during the jihad, as they are seen as legitimately gained booty, or in the Koran’s phraseology, “what your right hands possess” (another teaching that might be more “difficult to contemplate” than generic wartime rape itself).
Here is how the late Majid Khadduri, “internationally recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on Islamic law and jurisprudence,” explained the idea of “spoils” in his War and Peace in the Law of Islam:
The term spoil (ghanima) is applied specifically to property acquired by force from non-Muslims. It includes, however, not only property (movable and immovable) but also persons, whether in the capacity of asra (prisoners of war) or sabi (women and children).… If the slave were a woman, the master was permitted to have sexual connection with her as a concubine.
Accordingly, Sheikh Yasir al-‘Ajlawni says that Muslims fighting to topple “infidel” president Bashar Assad in Syria are permitted to “capture and have sex with” all non-Sunni women, including Shia Muslims, Alawites, Christians, Druze, and Yazidis.
Before him, Egyptian Sheikh Ishaq Huwaini lamented how during the heydays of Islam, “You [could] go to the market and buy her [enslaved, infidel concubines for sale]…. In other words, when I want a sex-slave, I go to the market and pick whichever female I desire and buy her.”
Kuwaiti political activist Salwa al-Mutairi advocated for the formal reinstitution of sex-slavery. She said on video that Islam’s greatest authorities from Mecca, the city of Islam, all confirmed the legality of sex-slavery to her. According to the Kuwaiti woman:
A Muslim state must [first] attack a Christian state—sorry, I mean any non-Muslim state—and they [the women, the future sex-slaves] must be captives of the raid. Is this forbidden? Not at all; according to Islam, sex slaves are not at all forbidden…. the free [Muslim] woman has to be married properly to her husband, but the sex-slave—he just buys her and that’s that…. For example, in the Chechnya war, surely there are female Russian captives. So go and buy those and sell them here in Kuwait; better that than have our men engage in forbidden sexual relations. I don’t see any problem in this, no problem at all.
Some years back, when Sheikh Gamal Qutb, former Grand Mufti of Al Azhar, the most authoritative Islamic institution, was asked on live Arabic-language television if Islam permits sex slaves, he refused to give a direct answer, preferring to prevaricate. When pressed for a clear answer by the determined host, he became hostile and stormed off the set.
Moreover, recall that only a few months ago, Boko Haram—a Nigerian Islamic organization that also believes Allah permits sex slavery—made headlines when it abducted nearly 300 “infidel” schoolgirls to be sold on the sex slave market. Its leader declared on video, “I abducted your girls. I will sell them on the market, by Allah….There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell.”
Nonetheless, FP continues casually invoking Western standards to explain distinctly Islamic phenomena:
IS claims to be a group of holy warriors, crafting a new world order. But the rampant sexual criminality exposes its hypocrisy and extreme brutality…. It gives the lie to the group’s claim that they are pure of heart.
The Islamic State’s “rampant sexual criminality exposes its hypocrisy”? “Pure of heart”?
As mentioned, Islamic law makes crystal clear that conquered “infidel” sex slaves are one of the rewards for those waging jihad. It’s not open to debate. It’s in the Koran, was practiced by the prophet of Islam—whom Muslims are encouraged to emulate in all ways—and is a common fixture of Islamic history. Exercising their Islamic right to own and copulate with slaves taken as booty during the jihad is hardly seen as “rampant sexual criminality,” “hypocrisy and extreme brutality,” nor does it have anything to do with hearts, “pure” or otherwise.
The naivety of this FP article is astounding and displays a staggering level of ignorance (or willful blindness) concerning Islam’s rules of war. Of course, that it was written by two former CIA analysts focused exclusively on Iraq, a Muslim nation, helps explain why that country is in the deplorable state it’s in.