- First published on this blog in February 2016
In terms of its reputation among non-believers, the past 15 years must rank as some of Islam’s worst. Every since the planes of 9/11 carved into New York glass, the international media has barely missed a beat in making known the faults of Islamic theology, tradition and social policy. The UK Daily Mail, once the grumpy advocate of small government and Victorian morals, is now better defined as The Daily Islamophobe. The Telegraph, Sun, WSJ, NYT and Star have likewise reshuffled their priorities to place a greater and more critical eye on the Islamic World. The result of this is that every Muslim wrong-doing the world over is reported as international news. Every honour killing, beheading, murder-by-explosion, corrective rape or stoning (though all common enough before 9/11) is now given headline treatment. One can only wonder what this has done to the average Muslim mindset.
It is fair to say that most Muslims sincerely believe Islam is the best religion for mankind to universally adopt; that Islam is a better recipe for peace, progress and happiness than its rivals. Indeed, one cannot be an authentic believer unless one believes this. And yet nobody paying any attention to the contemporary situation can possibly come to this conclusion – or indeed sustain this conclusion – without unimaginable contortions of logic and tricks of the mind. The most visible of these tricks has been to blame the ills of Islam on other forces, whether economic, racial or political. ‘True, Saudi Arabia is a barbaric, undeveloped desert, but it would have been very different were it not for the Zionists’. ‘True, illiteracy and incest are Pakistani specialities, but this would not be the case were it not for the wicked Indians’. And so on.
This self-deception, though ludicrously fake, has held out remarkably well. Apostasy rates from Islam are no higher than in the 1990s. Minority faiths (LDS, Scientology etc…) excepted, Islam remains the fastest growing religion in the world. The impression given is that Islam is the perfectly designed mind-trap; that it has inbuilt defences against criticism and failure that cannot be overcome by reason or reality. But this is unduly pessimistic, I believe. Though strong on the outside, Islamic psychology is substantially weaker in its design that its current reputation might suggest. Inflexibility is being mistaken for strength, disorder for complexity.
The psychology of Islamic belief is best understood as a simple loop of deterrence, aversion and reward. When someone criticises Islam (its truth value, historicity or moral nature), a functioning Muslim will at first rationally process and understand the criticism, perhaps even to the point of agreeing with it. After this, in a state of profound unease, the Muslim will think of the Qur’anic verses drummed into his consciousness since infancy. He will think especially of those passages admonishing the ‘unbelievers’ – those who are bound for hellfire and who stray habitually from the ‘right path’. This then creates a feeling of terror and a desperation to obey Allah (who can perceive thoughts, reasoning, and even inclinations). To get rid of this discomfort, the believer admonishes the critic with harsh and even violent words. How dare he question the perfection of the Qur’an! He must have no soul! The aggression towards the critic is for the eyes of Allah and not the critic himself. The greater the aggression, the more relief will be felt by the believer. He is angry at you because you derailed his circular thoughts. You convinced him of something forbidden, something he tries with every fibre of his being not to think about. The force of aggression you unleash in him is proportionate to how convincing he (almost) found your argument; to how close you pushed him to the edge of reason.
Circular thinking is central to Islamic belief
This process also governs how Muslims integrate (or fail to integrate) the contemporary realities of the world. When viewing the chaos of Quranic rule in Syria, the loop described above prevents the processing of the stimuli into moral judgement and understanding. The believer is not ignorant. He knows everything we know. He just has a disorder of thought which allows him to dispose of un-Islamic stimuli as fast as he imbibes it.
How could one disrupt the loop? This is question best answered by those who have been raised in Islam only to discard it at a later stage. Since I am not from a Muslim background, I will have to go from the accounts of others.
As you’ll be aware, testimonies by ex-Muslims are notable among apostatatic statements by their emphasis on the aspect of ‘fear’; fear of Allah, of hellfire, of divine retribution awaiting them should they fail to live a morally perfect life. To understand why this is so characteristic of Islam, one must first appreciate the system by which human beings are said to be judged in Islamic theology.
According to Islamic tradition, a Muslim has two angels beside him at all times – one to the left, another to the right. One of these keeps a record of the good deeds and thoughts the believer performs and has during his earthly tenure, and the other keeps record of the bad. At the day of judgement, the two records are ‘weighed’ to see which is more reflective of the human in question, greatly influencing (but not deciding) whether he is to go to hell or paradise.
In a comparative sense, this is one of the more endearing and just-seeming of Islamic concepts. But a side effect of it is that the believer becomes subject to the divine equivalent of thought policing. As I say, the Kiraman Katibin do not only record your deeds, but your inner reflections. They make note of your intentions, temptations, lusts and transgressions, preserving all of them down to the finest detail. A bad deed is never forgotten or forgiven. There is no equivalent of Catholic confession in which one may wipe the slate clean. You sin and you are stained. Black marks last forever.
Try to imagine the effect this concept would have on your psychology were you to believe in it. You would be unable to enjoy a single private emotion without the fear of upsetting an omniscient authority. And since even temptations are recorded, you would be compelled to avoid any environment or stimuli which might lead you astray. This explains why Muslims are so seemingly afraid of female flesh. A girl in a mini-skirt prompts ‘impure’ thoughts in the believer, which in turn upsets Allah. The recorded acts of aggression against such women (Cologne, Rotherham etc…) are attempts to impress Allah, to make up with him for brief deficiencies of thought control. The believer might have been weak-minded for a moment, but he can still be a soldier of Islam by punishing the kafir in question.
You would also avoid un-Islamic knowledge as a matter of course. This explains why Muslims read little other than Islamic texts, and why they remain ignorant of scientific concepts like evolution and cosmology. The Muslims themselves might be intelligent and academically gifted, but their fear of wrong-thinking deters them from building on these gifts. One might posit this anxiety as the reason for the un-development of the Muslim world as a whole.
Islam, as a mindset, is a permanent state of anxiety, never-ending panic attack, perpetual psychosis. This must be understood by anyone who wishes to break through Islamic psychology to where the captive human is being held. One must treat a Muslim in the same way one would treat a victim of OCD or any comparable neurotic illness. Muslim fanaticism is based in fear. Muslim confidence is fake. Muslims do not like their God. They are afraid of him.
Convincing (or trying to convince) a Muslim that their religion is axiomatically false must necessarily be a perilous operation. If you do not succeed, he will kill you for trying. But it is not impossible. The best approach is not to impose conclusions on the believer, but rather to ask questions. The most developed, rich and powerful parts of the world are those in which Muslim believers are few. Are these enemies of God blessed by something else? Why are so many Muslims killed by other believers? Why are non-Muslim women happier and more secure from domestic violence and rape than Muslim women? Why are so many claims in the Quran provably false? Why do Muslims seem naturally drawn to non-Muslim societies over Muslim ones? Why do Muslim countries fail at science and technological development? Why are non-Muslims so petrified of Muslims in particular (and not, say, Hindus and Sikhs)? Why do Muslim armies fail to win battles against non-Islamic armies? Why are non-Muslims more plentiful than Muslims? And so on.
The more questions one leaves with a Muslim, the more effort he will have to put into diverting them from his rational mind. True, some believers are superhumanly stubborn, but these are far from typical. Many have never been presented with un-Islamic arguments before. A missile shower of reasonable doubts can severely degrade the conviction of a semi-committed believer.
While Islamic psychology cannot be broken in a society which prohibits un-Islamic concepts from being entertained, it can at least be attempted in the Western world, where no form of speech is (officially at least) off-limits. Muslims shouldn’t be written off as hopeless. It costs nothing to try and liberate their minds. You may be surprised by your success.