It’s absolutely unprecedented: Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) has become the first notable member of the Democratic Party to depart from the Obama administration’s official line and admit the obvious. Sherman has admitted that the Islamic State — ISIS, or ISIL, as Barack Obama insists on calling it — is in fact Islamic, and that its appeal among Muslims is rooted in its claims to be the quintessential expression of Islam.
Sherman did not say this directly, of course. But his quote nails it — the implication is clear, rational, and unmistakable. Said Sherman:
We have a State Department with people who think that you can show the evil of al-Baghdadi if you can show him personally executing a defenseless Yazidi.
We need people who understand that if you can just get a picture of him eating a ham sandwich, that would undermine ISIS and its recruiting ability.
The State Department persists in working under the assumption that the people who are candidates to join the Islamic State will be turned off by its brutality. This is based on the further assumption that the potential ISIS recruits share the values and perspectives of contemporary non-Muslim Westerners.
State Department wonks can’t seem to conceive of the notion that anyone might not hold those values. Worse, they are bound as a matter of policy not to consider Islam in evaluating Islamic State recruitment. They cannot consider the possibility that a young man who reads that his god wants him to kill or subjugate unbelievers (cf. Qur’an 2:191, 4:89, 9:5, 9:29, etc. for starters) might be attracted rather than repelled by the sight of the caliph “personally executing a defenseless Yazidi.”
Sherman is not correct about his next assertion, however. Would a photo of al-Baghdadi eating a ham sandwich really undermine the Islamic State?
Sherman’s reasoning appears to be that such a violation would classify al-Baghdadi as not worthy to be the emir al-momineen, the leader of the believers. Sherman is to be commended for saying analysts dealing with the Islamic State should study Islam — a refreshing departure from the prevailing denial and willful ignorance — but he also reveals that he doesn’t know much about Islamic jurisprudence himself.
One hadith depicts Muhammad saying:
You should listen to and obey your Imam (Muslim ruler) even if he was an Ethiopian (black) slave whose head looks like a raisin.” (Bukhari 9.93.7142)
Muhammad is attempting to give what he thinks is an outlandish example in order to make his point that Muslims should obey the ruler even in extreme circumstances. Those circumstances include even if the ruler is sinful.
Another hadith depicts Muhammad saying:
There will be leaders who will not be led by my guidance and who will not adopt my ways. There will be among them men who will have the hearts of devils in the bodies of human beings. … You will listen to Amir and carry out his orders; even if your back is flogged and your wealth is snatched, you should listen and obey.
Is there ever a circumstance in which Muslims should not obey the ruler? Yes — only when he commands something sinful.
In another hadith, Muhammad says:
It is obligatory upon a Muslim that he should listen (to the ruler appointed over him) and obey him whether he likes it or not, except that he is ordered to do a sinful thing. If he is ordered to do a sinful act, a Muslim should neither listen to him nor should he obey his orders.
If al-Baghdadi was seen eating a ham sandwich? That wouldn’t do the trick.
But if al-Baghdadi was seen forcing another Muslim to eat a ham sandwich, that just might.
In his comments, Sherman also remarked:
We need State Department people to [have] an understanding of Islamic jurisprudence. That’s not the kind of knowledge that you can get at Princeton. Woodrow Wilson did a great job. He did not memorize the Koran.
What he means by dragging Woodrow Wilson into this is unclear, but Sherman is spot-on in declaring the obvious: if State Department analysts hope to have any chance of defeating the Islamic State and other jihad groups, then — at a minimum — a good knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence should be a prerequisite for the job.
Of course, no one at State is going to heed Sherman’s advice.
Admitting that the study of Islam might give insight into ISIS motives and goals violates Obama administration policy.
The official fantasies will remain in place, and continue to lead us to disastrous domestic and foreign policy mistakes. But maybe, just maybe, Sherman’s ham sandwich quip represents a slight acceptance of reality happening outside the administration.