Permissible Arms

Today you killed me, but remember.

Posted in iraq, islam by Karaka on 10 November 2009

Right now, I’m reading Richard Engel’s A Fist in the Hornet’s Nest, which is his account of being an American journalist in Baghdad before, during, and after the initial US invasion of Iraq. It’s something of a mediocre book, where the events are more compelling than his ability to write about them, but he certainly does have an understanding of the Middle East/Central Asia borne of a decade of being there.

However, this passage stood out to me today.

I tried to back away, but found myself surrounded by people cheering, “Allahu Akhbar!” Arabic for God is greatest. The phrase is the heart of the prayers pious Muslims perform five times a day. It embodies everything Muslims believe, which is fundamentally that God–Allah–is greater than human existence and that a Muslim–a word that literally mean in Arabic a person who “surrenders”–must submit to God’s greater power.

Calling out Allahu Akhbar was a way for the crowd to try to overcome the tragedy–which they were powerless to prevent–by drawing strength from their faith. To call out Allahu Akhbar meant–perhaps subconsciously–that they would not be defeated because God’s power is greater than what had just happened, greater than death or American bombs. I’d seen Palestinians react similarly to death many, many times. Allahu Akhbar! Today you killed me, but remember, God is greatest.

Page 118.


15 Responses

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  1. th3cow said, on 10 November 2009 at 01:25

    Another grammatically correct (perhaps the correct one) translation of Allahu Akbar is “Allah is greater”.

    This is what Muhammad’s militants shouted when they attacked the Jewish settlements of Khaybar.

    Muhammad, in promoting his new religion, had to argue that his god, Allah, is greater than anyone else’s god.

    • Karaka said, on 10 November 2009 at 10:39

      Good point! It’s a complex phrase, with a significant and varied meaning.

  2. Alec said, on 10 November 2009 at 10:35

    What event were they responding to?

    • Karaka said, on 10 November 2009 at 10:40

      The bombing of civilians in a marketplace in Baghdad, early in the American thrust into the city. At the time, Bush had declared that American troops wouldn’t sustain Iraqi civilian casualties, and after the marketplace bombing that promise was broken.

      • Alec said, on 10 November 2009 at 13:48

        There is more enough about Bushtail’s attitude and approach to pick holes with, and I don’t know enough – indeed, anything – about Engel’s writings to comment there, but my gut thought was that this was no more significant than a crowd in our countries crying “why God?”.

        Engel would potentially have been seen as representing the country which had delivered this disaster on their families, but similar and more carnage had been caused by the Ba’athists or the Iranian military and, now, the jihadists and sectarian murderers; the people were simply grieving, without validating a profound cultural insight.

  3. Karaka said, on 10 November 2009 at 13:54


    but my gut thought was that this was no more significant than a crowd in our countries crying “why God?”

    Indeed, which was part of my impetus for posting it. I've been seeing many different (Western) folks writing about Maj. Hasan's possible shouting of the phrase, and using it to fuel a particular line of argument. The passage from Engel's book struck me as representing the grave complexity of the phrase itself. It has several meanings, and to presume understanding of but one of them seems hubris.

    • Alec said, on 10 November 2009 at 14:06

      Ah, I’m seeing the “caveat follows” in invisible ink now!

      As for Hasan (whom I’m no more inclined to call a Major as I am Harold Shipman a doctor), further details – not least his acquaintence with Anwar al-awlaki – will come out (and al-awlaki’s association with British Islamists who’re in desperate limitation mode). Hasan does appear to have been operating from a sort of greivance-based jihadism – the son of immigrants, who himself received the manifold benefits of the society, and was paid through medical school, only to blame his less than stellar preformance on others’ prejudice rather than his conduct.

      I gather there are about 15,000 Muslims and/or Arabs in the American armed forces, and he has betrayed them all.

      For unremarkable reasons, he’s unlikely to have encountered other Muslims at Fort Hood. After the attempted car-bombing at Glasgow Airport in 2007, however, footage of fleeing women in hijabs was shown… they could just as easily been victims.

      • Karaka said, on 10 November 2009 at 14:56

        Yeah, I didn’t really want to paint opinion on the excerpt itself; but that was my train of thought.

        I’m rather inclined to refrain from developing a firm opinion on Hasan until I have more verifiable facts, and not tabloid fodder. But I do rather agree with you on this:

        I gather there are about 15,000 Muslims and/or Arabs in the American armed forces, and he has betrayed them all.

        How’re you connecting the Glasgow Airport bombing and Hasan? Funny thing, I flew out of Glasgow a short time before that bombing occured, and it threw me for quite a loop. That was a terrible summer.

  4. Alec said, on 12 November 2009 at 15:18

    There is, of course, no link between Glasgow Airport and Fort Hood. I mentioned the former only ‘cos it was something directly relevant to me: I was out and about in Edinburgh on the day, and saw the city go into lock-down, including an armed Police sprawled over his car-bonnet at the local airport with his finger on a sniper rifle trigger.

    My point was that such attackers don’t have any concern for Muslims – indeed, world-wide, they’re the principle victims.

    • Karaka said, on 12 November 2009 at 15:44

      Yes, you’re absolutely right. It’s one of those strange bits of jihad I can never quite figure out: if you become a suicide bomber, or a jihadist, to further your Islamicist agenda, but you kill Muslims in the process, against the tenets of Islam, how can you justify the act? I’ve read that they classify those Muslims as non-believers, but it seems a mode of utter denial, because clearly they were Muslims.

      not the higher-ups in groups like al-Qaeda and LET and Hezbollah, mind. But single-action suicide bombers, trigger pullers, and suchlike. The cognitive dissonance must be strong.

      • Alec said, on 12 November 2009 at 16:33

        Well, Hezbollah and Hamas’ principle aims involve Jew-murder. Part of the Camel Corps argument for their normalization is that if we don’t bring them into the fold, we will end up with people like A-Q who may want to kill anyone.

        If Muslims are of an abherent confessional, they may not be considered ‘true’ Muslims. Irony is an oft mis-used word when unfortunate coincidence or paradox would be more appropriate, but I once heard a *hugely* ironic argument from a Saudi cleric that suicide terrorists were worse than polythesist, like Hindus… worse even than Shia.

        It’s just I didn’t feel like laughing.

        Then there’ll be Muslims who’ve ‘strayed’, as we saw with the more and more horrific acts in the Algerian Civil War which ended up with the former chicken farmer, Antar Zouabri and his few remaining followers deciding that all of Algerian society was corrupt and only they represented Islam.

        When LET was gunning down passers-by in Bombay, many were Muslims, but Muslims who had ‘collaborated’ with the enemy.

        A-Q and the like may love death, but Muslims in general love life as much as anyone else (which is why I’m all for A-Q in the Magreb taking-on China).

  5. Karaka said, on 12 November 2009 at 18:10


    I agree, and it was something of a sweeping statement, but you sharpened it nicely. Do you read John McCreary’s intelligence briefing? He had something very interesting to say about this the other day.

    Al Qaida: Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman al-Rashid, leader of al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, said Iran and Shiite militants are a greater threat to Islam and its people than are Jews and Christians, Agence France-Presse reported, quoting an audio recording carried by U.S. monitoring group SITE. Al-Rashid said the Yemeni Shiite al-Huthi militants were against Sunnis. He also said Shiite militants “are being driven by a greed to take over Muslim countries, and they are full of a wish to annihilate Sunnis.”

    This statement is a call to internecine warfare within Islam. Might be time for Christians and all others to step back and watch for a change.

    Now, the Western privilege snark set aside, that is an interesting statement. There’s so many layers of complexity within the community of believers that is Islam, and this speaks to an odd balance of power that’s reflective of how the power map has changed in Southern Asia in the last ten years.

    but Muslims in general love life as much as anyone else

    I honestly think Western people, in general, don’t comprehend that, though you are of course correct.

    • Alec said, on 13 November 2009 at 07:21

      >> I honestly think Western people, in general, don’t comprehend that, though you are of course correct.

      Most Muslims in Western states are living their lives quietly and quite happy of the benefits life offers them. It’s the ones who grab media attention, being funded by nut-job foreign states who cause the difficulties.

      At least in the USA, there’s a willingness to investigate and gaol such people, as with the Hamas-front Holy Land Foundation.

      And what a delight it is to have read this:,0,7257417.story

  6. Alec said, on 13 November 2009 at 07:15

    I hadn’t read that particular comment, but I do see the sense in it. Not out of a lack of compassion for the poor sods caught in ther cross-fire, but ‘cos this is no longer the Imperial age – much as the Leninists may like to claim otherwise – when modern European/American forces were against lightly armed states.

    On of the myriad failures of Iraq, which were apparent beforehand, was simply not having a coherent end game in mind, and seeing the inhabitants as one homogenous mass of “Muslims” without their own social tapestries. A certain British MP was asked for his advice by Downing Street, simply ‘cos he had done his National Service there in the 1950s!

    There is a major insurgency brewing in the SE of Arabia, with Yemeni villages under similar assault by the Saudi forces to that experienced in Gaza or southern Lebanon from Israeli forces, and Saudi civilians experiencing a similar level of bombardment from insurgents as Israelis experience from Gaza and southern Lebanon. Funnily, though, there’s no public opposition to it.

    Across the water in Somalia (discounting the relatively stable and prosperous statelet of Somaliland), there have been American Muslims encouraged to go and fight with A-Q groups. By whom?

    Anwar al-Awlaki of course.–the-powerful-online-voice-of-jihad

    My word, it’s been satisfying to watch British Islamists scurrying for cover after his blog-post.

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