Abdullah X’s Cartoonish CVE Failure

“We are failing, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise” in an anti-jihadist ideological struggle, stated Farah Pandith, President Barack Obama’s former special representative to Muslim communities, at a Washington, DC event in 2015. She should know, given her affiliation with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and its Abdullah X project, an online animated character who demonstrates Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)’s miserable failure against jihadists.

Little in Pandith’s or ISD’s history of promoting CVE programs such as ISD’s Strong Cities Network (SCN) indicates their suitability for an ideological counter-jihad. Launched in New York City in conjunction with the Obama Administration the day before Pandith’s September 30, 2015 McCain Institute appearance, ISD’s SCN suffered from the same ideological vacuity afflicting all CVE efforts. Pandith’s previous appearance at a February 2015 Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) panel in conjunction with a Washington, DC, CVE summit was no better.

Produced by a former jihadist recruiter and addressing British Muslims in particular, ISD’s Abdullah X, meanwhile, does not fulfill its promise of winning a battle of ideas. This Muslim Londoner character left one online British Muslim hardliner unimpressed; he dismissed the “insipid graphic novel” of “Abdul Neocon.” This critic noted in particular that ISD founder George Weidenfeld was an ardent Zionist who expressed his pro-Israel sentiments in conjunction with “Islamophobic” groups such as the Gatestone Institute.

Abdullah X’s Twitter account appears to confirm this Muslim blogger’s opinion as to Abdullah X’s unpopularity among the wider Muslim community. The moribund account has merely 1,175 followers. Its latest tweets appeared in November 2016, with lamentations over Donald Trump’s presidential election.

Abdullah X’s Muslim philosopher in the city is also unconvincing as a counter-jihad figure, particularly given his superficially benign treatment of Islamic doctrine. He has tweeted that the “most significant proof of that Islam is a religion of peace and security is that God has named it as Islam.” Yet despite this being a common falsehood, “Islam” derives from the Arabic for “submission,” not “peace.”

In one video, Abdullah X proclaims that “I would love to live in a state of Islam, where Islam was able to be the foundation upon which we would be living.” Another video bases such enthusiasm on dubious claims that Islam’s prophet Muhammad founded in seventh-century Arabia a Medina city-state that protected freedom of religion and minorities. Similarly, Abdullah X has tweeted that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria or “ISIS act in the complete opposite way to the teachings and spirit of Islam,” despite scholarly evidence to the contrary.

Abdullah X’s video against jihadist recruitment invokes Islamic canons against groups such as ISIS, but his case is not as clear-cut as meets the eye. The video quotes Quran 5:32’s prohibition against killing, without, as is often the case, omitting the actually deadly exception for those “spreading disorder in the land,” a phrase that can encompass any “enemy” of Islam. A quotation from the book Kitab al-Kharaj also forbids Muslims from “consuming their [non-Muslims’] wealth illegally,” but ignores the legal exactions Islamic doctrine has imposed upon subjugated non-Muslim dhimmis. The book’s author, Abu Yusuf, was the chief jurist for the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid (ruled 786-809) of Arabian Nights fame, and both individuals manifested how past Islamic rule could be just as brutal as ISIS.

The video also quotes Umayyad Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz (Umar II, ruled 717-720), a man often lionized in Islamic history as the “fifth and last caliph of Islam” after the four “rightly guided caliphs” following Muhammad’s death in 632. “Do not demolish any church, cloister, or Zoroastrian temple that were extant during their reign,” states a video text, without saying what happens to non-Muslim houses of worship after this reign (of the rightly guided caliphs?). The video leaves out Umar II’s sharia-based support for oppressing non-Muslims that follows logically from the Pact of Umar that is usually attributed to Umar II’s great-grandfather, Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab (Umar I, ruled 634-644).

When not opposing jihadists with questionable results, Abdullah X often directs his efforts towards promoting Muslim victimhood, as one of his videos on “Islamophobia” indicates. He has tweeted about his simultaneous “defensive jihad against Islamists and Islamophobes,” along with typical leftist-Muslim condemnation for the Iraq war film American Sniper. Another tweet generalizes that “[i]f a Muslim expresses any loyalty to his/her way of life…he/she by default is an extremist.” Meanwhile, an Abdullah X video attacks the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote as “using democracy to mask the prejudice of ages,” just as British “haters…are blaming us [Muslims] for their own system’s failures.”

Abdullah X’s sense of Muslim grievance also extends to his ambiguous relationship to free speech concerning Islam. One tweet states that “[f]ree Speech became hate speech a long time ago for some.” His “Freedom of Speech vs Responsibility” video following the 2015 jihadist Paris massacre of Charlie Hebdo satirists similarly spends more time admonishing unrestricted speech than condemning the cartoonists’ murderers.

Thus the Muslim Abdullah X, supposedly focused on extremism, directs his accusatory questions not towards Muslims who are considering violence, but rather towards non-Muslims who are criticizing Islam and Muslims. “Can I incite hatred and anger and use things like satire to justify it? Can I intentionally target those I don’t fully understand and say that it is my inalienable right to do so?” he asks in the video. “Freedom depends on how you use it. If you use it to hurt me, you are wrong,” he states sternly, and concludes with the self-censoring moral that “I am free to be able to think carefully about my freedom and how I use it.”

Abdullah X’s victim mindset easily turns to the conspiracy-mongering that afflicts many Muslims worldwide, as indicated by his tweeting “War is deception,” a phrase that is actually a hadith, or canonical saying of Muhammad. In one of his videos, he states that the Islamic State “sounds like something a Westerner would call it,” as if non-Muslims created these jihadists. “Some political chess players were toying with the idea of creating a physical enemy within Islam to occupy our minds,” he feverishly imagines. “Any ‘alternative’ to the pathetic global reality is seen as a threat,” he has likewise tweeted, while channeling Noam Chomsky; “Islam is just the most well publicized. It’s all part of the plan.”

No Muslim victimhood would be complete without lamentations for the Palestinians and pillorying of Israel. “While Palestine remains in this hell…there will never be and can never be peace,” he has tweeted, without any assignment of responsibility to Israel-hating Palestinians for their plight. Abdullah X has also tweeted messages including “FREEDOM4GAZA,” without any mention of the region’s ruling Hamas terrorists and their ongoing intentions to destroy Israel.

Israel’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge military campaign against Hamas forms the backdrop for one Abdullah X video that combines conspiracy theories with incongruous praise for Islam as Gaza’s hope for peace. “Those regions, states, and lands where there is an absence of leadership based on the Sunnah invariably create the climate for the death, suffering, and displacement of innocent people,” he states with unquestioned confidence in Islamic norms. Meanwhile, the “chessboard of the Arab world is silent on Gaza” because “they live in the shadow of their paymasters” (Zionists, Western imperialists?) who “are not those who practice the Sunnah.” “A true Muslim ruler would never allow Gaza to end up in this mess, and a true Muslim ruler would never resort to terrorism or selling out to achieve it,” he vaguely and haughtily concludes.

Abdullah X’s armchair musings on Gaza show that more often than not he acts as a defender of the Muslim faithful and not as any self-reflecting critic. He has approvingly tweeted an article from the deranged Israel-hater Max Blumenthal condemning Muslim apostate Ayaan Hirsi Ali for supposed fabrications. Yet she has good evidence for her statistic that conflicts involving Muslims are responsible for 70 percent of global conflict fatalities.

Likewise, Abdullah X’s opposition to the Islamic State does not mean that he opposes all Muslims fighting against Bashar Assad’s dictatorship in Syria’s multifaceted civil war. “Yes, there are 70,000 moderate opposition fighters in Syria,” he has gushingly tweeted, in agreement with a 2015 claim by British Prime Minister David Cameron. Yet about 30,000 of these “moderates” are actually non-Islamic State jihadists aligned with rival groups including Al Qaeda, an assessment that is actually highly optimistic compared to other detailed studies.

Jihadists of whatever background in Syria or elsewhere, but not human rights defenders, would certainly embrace Abdullah X’s tweet that a “united Islam is the only goal worth attaining.” While Abdullah X’s creator may be remorseful about jihadist ideology’s ultimate brutal consequences, he has apparently not fully scrutinized this ideology’s doctrinal basis. He has instead embraced CVE’s false premises promoted by groups such as ISD, that jihadist mayhem derives not from Islamic spiritual claims, but rather “root causes” societal deprivations like poverty. Trump’s scrapping of CVE’s failed initiatives including Abdullah X has come none too soon.

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