Having never been a Muslim or a believer of any other religion, when the Islamic State justified the mass murder of Yezidi men and the sexual enslavement of Yezidi women in August 2014 with reference to Mohammed’s genocidal campaigns against non-Muslim communities, I had no reason to question my own moral philosophy. Those atrocities, however, did cause me to critically reflect on my place, both as a human being and a man, in a world in which such crimes continue to be committed.
What I found no less disturbing than the acts of mass murder and sexual enslavement was the reaction of the Muslim community at large, which seemed most concerned with denying Islam’s culpability. The Yezidi tragedy should have finally triggered public debate on the ethical credibility of religious texts that condone and at times call for mass murder and sexual enslavement. Islamic authorities should likewise be held to account for their refusal to condemn the crimes committed against Yezidis. There can be no excuse for religious institutions that shamelessly intervene in every imaginable detail of individual lives but dismiss the most barbaric of crimes in the best cases and directly support them in the worst cases.
The refusal of Islamic authorities to condemn massacres carried out against minority communities in the name of Islam has long been the norm. Of course, this is no surprise given that even today there is no critical discussion of the earliest genocidal campaigns in Islamic history. On the contrary, stories of Mohammed’s ruthless attacks on non-Muslim tribes, such as the Jewish Bani Quraidha, are circulated as a testament to his incomparable leadership qualities. It was his order during the Bani Quraidha campaign to execute all male captives who had reached puberty and to enslave children and women, keeping a fifth of female captives for himself and his fighters, gifting some to tribal leaders in Arabia, and selling the rest in slave markets, that underlay the Islamic State’s treatment of Yezidis. There is also a chapter in the Quran called Al-Anfal (“The Spoils of War”) that urges believers to behead “infidel” men and was the name Saddam Hussein chose for his genocidal campaign against Kurds in the late 1980s that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. The Al-Anfal campaign, too, escaped official criticism from Islamic authorities and even enjoyed direct religious support domestically.
Moving further back, the Armenian genocide by the religiously-sanctioned Ottoman government starting in 1915 marks the worst documented campaign against minorities in Islamic history. Even a century later, the world remains hesitant to recognize the more than a million victims, while Islamic authorities deny the genocide altogether. Untold numbers of young Armenian girls and women were enslaved as part of the Ottoman campaign, and Armenian civilians were publicly beheaded, crucified, and starved to death in numbers much greater than the victims of the Islamic State. Failing the Armenian victims paved the way for more acts of genocide against other silenced peoples.
Indeed, the subsequent Turkish Republic was a genocidal project from the beginning. The state’s systematic aggression against groups of people based on their ethnicity and/or religion, be they Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, Alevis, Jews, or Kurds, has continued virtually without end. To make things worse, in Erdogan’s Turkey Islamist fascism has been reunited with Kemalist fascism, so the elimination of the Other has become both a religious and nationalist duty. Even as Erdogan systematically targets Kurdish civilians through military campaigns and supports Islamist groups that target the Kurdish population in Syria, he remains arguably the most popular political leader in the Islamic world.
It is one thing for the so-called spiritual leadership not to fulfill its ethical duties but quite another to directly or indirectly give justification to mass murder and enslavement. Islamic authorities cannot be trusted to take an ethical stance because their fascistic views are not a form of divergence from or exception to the religious foundations of Islam but at the heart of those very foundations. Islamic authorities have not even been apologetic for their support of Hitler, and thus labeling them fascist is accurate even in the historical sense of the term. The moderation or fanaticism of Islamic authorities means little more than the passive allowance versus active praise for acts of genocide and the enslavement of non-Muslims, as well as those who are considered failed Muslims.
Until the day comes when imams are judged as unforgivingly as Nazis were judged, it is up to individuals to use their own faculties of understanding to question a God that orders mass murder and enslavement. Until that day comes, I am ethically obliged to uncompromisingly take the side of the victims of Islamist fascism, precisely by disrespecting every political, moral, and religious authority that, whether implicitly or explicitly, justifies crimes against humanity. It is precisely “sacredness” that must be scorned so that the illusionary “sacred” entity that has caused so much death and destruction loses its sanction and thus its sociopsychological power.