The Making (and Unmaking) of a Jihadist Mind
(Tawfik Hamid, December 12, 2018)
Transcript available below
About the speaker
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is a thinker and reformer who was at one time an Islamic extremist. While still in medical school, he was recruited as a member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the most violent Jihadi group in Egypt. There he became acquainted with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahri, who later served as second in command to Osama bin Laden. Zawahri is now the leader of Al-Qaeda. After being radicalized Dr. Hamid experienced an awakening of conscience, recognized the threat of Radical Islam, and started to teach modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts.
In a seminal article, “The Development of a Jihadist’s Mind,” he described the process of his recruitment and explained how the appeal of jihadi ideas works. In 2015, Dr. Hamid published a book on how to defeat these ideas: Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works; Why It Should Terrify Us; How to Defeat It. Ayaan Hirsi Ali remarked that, “Reformers such as Tawfik Hamid … must be supported and protected. They should be as well known as Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov and Havel were in the 1980s.” (Dr. Hamid’s book will be available for purchase at his talk.)
Dr. Hamid’s Facebook page (in Arabic), Modern Interpretation for the Quran, provides a peace-promoting commentary on and understanding of the Quran. The page has garnered over 2,000,000 “Likes” from an Arabic speaking audience since it began in May 2013. In addition, Dr. Hamid recently launched a YouTube channel (in Arabic) to Counter Radicalism. His channel has more than a quarter million views and more than 1,200 other channels subscribe to it. Furthermore, Akbar Al-Youm, one of the Arab world’s most reputable and widespread newspapers, recently published a major article by Dr. Hamid, in Arabic, wherein he suggests ten major, novel principles for re-understanding the Quran in a peaceful way to counter radicalism.
Dr. Hamid has appeared on shows spanning the spectrum from CNN to Fox News and C-SPAN. He has also appeared on Aljazeera TV Channel (Arabic) more than 60 times in the last couple of years, and his articles and op-ed pieces have appeared in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, the New York Daily News, VOA, France 24, RT (Russia Today), and the Jerusalem Post. Dr. Hamid’s comments have also appeared in the Washington Post, Foreign Policy magazine, USA Today, The Huffington Post, the National Journal, and Wired magazine.
He has spoken and testified before/with: the U.S. Congress (House Armed Service Committee); the Future Summit at the invitation of President Shimon Peres; numerous Department of Defense (DoD) offices at the Pentagon; the Special Operations Command; the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI); the National Security Agency (NSA); the European Parliament; the New York Academy of Science, and many others.
He previously spoke at Westminster on the subjects of:
Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works, and How to Defeat It (December 13, 2015)
The Psychology and Ideology of Islamic Extremism (September 6, 2013)
Robert R. Reilly:
Well, it’s a tremendous pleasure to have our long-time friend, Dr. Tawfik Hamid with us this evening and his lovely wife, Maha. Where are you, Maha?
Dr. Tawfik Hamid:
Robert R. Reilly:
Dr. Hamid has spoken at Westminster before but several years ago before we began taping these presentations. I thought it was very important for Westminster to have Tawfik back here so we could record his words of wisdom because they grow even more timely. Now, you’ve all read his introduction, so I’m not going to repeat what you’ve read here but you know that he was a member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the most violent Egyptian jihadist group, which he had the wisdom of leaving soon thereafter and it led him at a certain point to write an article or a monograph called, The Development of a Jihadist’s Mind, which I believe the Hudson Institute published at first.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid:
Robert R. Reilly:
I remember when that came out. It had a big impact on me. I thought it was terrific. I didn’t realize at that time that I would later have the pleasure of meeting Tawfik and later having a friendship with him. And it was such good news that he eventually developed what he had in that brilliant monograph into a longer book called “Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works, Why it Should Terrify Us, How to Defeat It.” It’s available on the table outside for sale. I’m sure Tawfik would be happy to sign copies for you after his presentation tonight, which as you know is on The Making and the Unmaking of the Jihadi Mind. Just mention also how popular his online presence is. He’s had more than two million likes on his Arabic-speaking page as well as a huge YouTube channel audience. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Tawfik Hamid.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid:
Thank you. Thank you for being here tonight and thank you so much Bob for this great introduction.I just want to make sure that everybody can hear me clearly in the back. Okay? Yeah.
The title, The Making (and Unmaking) of a Jihadist Mindset, I believe is extremely important simply because if you can’t or we can’t understand the mechanism of any process, we will not be able to solve it. So, I think digging deep in this mindset and understanding what can make someone a radical and why others do not become radical and why some radicals continue, what can bring radicals back to become moderate and reasonable people, how this can happen.
So, let me start with my personal experience with this. I joined the GI. I was brought up in a very secular family. My father was a Marxist and agnostic and my mother was not much into religion. I became interested in religion through the DNA molecule initially. I thought about the creator and I started to think about him and through this enthusiasm – I was young and enthusiastic – it just happened in my life.
In the medical school I was invited by the Gama’a al-Islamiyya. They realized some capabilities. They found me speaking and knowing the Qur’an, other phrases, speaking poetry, so they tried to- They actually invited me to join them.
If I started to recall what happened to me and I’m doing this so that the next generations do not face the same outcome of radicalism because I was lucky that I didn’t continue them. If I continued with them, I would be now in Afghanistan, fighting you instead of being speaking here, believe me.
So, just imagine the difference. So, let me just tell you what happened to me in person and then I will reflect on different aspects in relation to this topic.
What happened to me was simply the first day I met with a leader in the Gama’a al-Islamiyya. His name was Mukhtar Mukhtar. I remember him very well. He was the amir or prince of the Gama’a al-Islamiyya of the fourth year in the medical school.
They really have this classification, amir Gama’a al-Islamiyya. They have this classification. And the first day we went together to pray at the Gama’a al-Islamiyya mosque.
By the way, joining the Gama’a al-Islamiyya is very easy. It’s not sophisticated. You just put your name in a piece of paper – I believe they threw it immediately after – and you are in.
So, it’s just by starting praying with them, just being part of them, learning about the Qur’an more, learning about theology and the books. That’s being part of them. It’s what is needed to make you part of them.
So, I went with him. We met in front of the anatomy department and we started walking together to the first day for me in the Gama’a al-Islamiyya mosque. It was inside the medical school.
Mukhtar was on my right side and he said to me, “Tarek” – my real name is Tarek. Tawfik I use for media and other stuff for security reasons. He said to me, “Look, Tarek. The most important thing that you need to learn when you are with us is the following,” and I listened. He said to me, “Al fikroo Kufr.”
Whomever here knows Arabic will realize what this means. Al Fikr means to think. Kufr means to become an infidel. So, for Mukhtar, the message was clear for me. I should stop thinking. I should follow blindly.
And he felt in my eyes that I’m a bit hesitant because my upbringing was not that kind. We used to have arguments, discussions in the house, so I was not that kind of people who can easily, like, go into this direction.
So, he added some- for me back then it was logical. He said to me, “Look, Tarek or Tawfik, your brain is just like a donkey. A donkey in the Arabic word Humar is a big insult. Ask anyone here. When someone says your brain’s like a donkey, it’s an insult because it represents stupidity in general.
He said to me, “Your brain is just like a donkey that helps you to reach the palace of the king, Allah, almighty, Islam. Once you enter the palace, you are in Islam. Will you take your donkey,” or my brain, “inside the palace? Or leave it outside?”
I said to him, “I will leave it outside” because now it’s with Allah, almighty. I couldn’t take it. And he welcomed me for the first prayer in the Gama’a al-Islamiyya. I will never forget it.
I started waiting for the prayer and it took them twenty minutes to make sure our shoulders were touching one another and our feet were touching one another. You have seen [this].
And I was bit surprised because I used to pray in other places but I never had this persistence and this insistence to make sure that the shoulders were touching one another and the feet also.
I understand the shoulders, yeah, that’s common, but feet also? Why was it not enough to have your feet wide like this with no gap at all? You can’t have this gap. You have- It has to be like this, so you have to have your heel outward and adjust it exactly to the other foot to- standing like this. And they took twenty minutes.
And I had a biochemistry lecture. I was so annoyed because of that delay. Twenty minutes just to make sure that we are standing shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot. This was the first time, really, to see something like that. I followed because – I mean the prayer, I couldn’t just leave.
So, after the line – they came and made sure every line is standing like this. Then the leader of the prayer or the imam, said it very clearly the reason for this. He actually quoted a verse from the Quran that said, “إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِهِ صَفًّا كَأَنَّهُمْ بُنْيَانٌ مَرْصُوصٌ,” which means, “God loves those who fight for his cause as if they are one wall together, no gaps, no separation, one wall.”
So, he wanted us to feel that we are in the stage of fighting already for Allah for the jihad. We are standing together with no gaps between us at all because this is what God will love, to see us standing as soldiers for the jihad process.
And I have to tell you honestly, when he recited this verse with the enthusiasm, with the whole atmosphere, I felt I am at war, at war with you, with the world of freedom, believe me, and civilization and human rights. This was our real enemy, and al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya, the real enemy for us was human rights because in al-Jama’a al-Islamiyya we used to teach, for example, killing apostates, and with human rights, you have freedom of religion, for example.
We used to suppress women. With human rights, it was freedom of women, so when you have this, we certainly have hatred also to other religions and faiths because we believe they are inferior to us and they have to be subjugated via jihad, so the hatred was overwhelming and I’ll come to this later, but once this happened, I started to go into the process gradually.
The gradual process was simply – after this stage I cannot forget at all how they used the concept of hellfire very effectively to make me unable to think. Imagine if someone suppressed your critical thinking and someone made you so scared to think outside of what they teach you. You can’t dare to think differently, you can’t dare to reinterpret anything or think outside their box.
And the third factor that affected me was the suppression of my human conscience, which I believe was the worst thing that ever happened to me during this period of time, and you’ll be surprised that this suppression came from the concept of halal and haram.
The concept of halal and haram was simply if something is halal – halal means permissible in Islam. Haram means not permissible, not allowed. This concept by itself made me feel that I can do anything as long as it is halal. For example, for them and for me at that time, stoning women to death is okay because it is halal. You see, beating women is fine because it is halal. Declaring jihad and killing some innocent people because they didn’t subjugate to our religion – back then – is halal.
I started to suppress my human conscience and that was a real crime I believe so they suppressed my critical thinking, they suppressed my human conscience as a human being, so there was nothing left, really, in my humanity when they did both of them.
When you see something that’s halal and you give your self full permission to do it and without using your human conscience, that can end in disaster. The third mechanism or the fourth mechanism was they made me unable to see anything about the literal understanding of the meaning and unable to see outside it.
So, for example, they used to bring a verse from the Qur’an that said, “kill infidels wherever you find them.” And for me, this verse created major trouble for me, so I took this verse to some friend of mine called Adail Saif. He was Salafi. Salafi is a form of radical, regressive radicals. And I gave the verse to him because I had a conflict within my human conscience. What can I do with this verse? Shall I attack my fellow Christian neighbor, for example, or what shall I do?
So I took this verse to Adil Saif. Adil, the Salafi, said ah, of course, you have to fight these people, and he brought a lot of books, Ibn Taymiyyah and others, to prove his point of view, and Abul A’la Maududi. If someone is from the Afghanistan-Pakistan area, you will understand how powerful this man was.
He has translations in Arabic, so he convinced me that this is, yes, the mission is to fight, it’s just we need to be organized nothing more than this. I couldn’t take it, so I went back there. I took it further to some Sufi scholar. You know Sufism is a form of mystical style – many of them, I can’t generalize because some of them now are very mixed with the Salafi teaching, so without generalization, some of them, including this Sheikh, he was a peaceful person.
I went after Friday prayer, showed the verse to him, “Sheikh Shaban, what can I do with this verse? ‘Kill the infidels wherever you find them’.” And Sheikh Shaban was sitting in front of me. He patted me on my shoulder and said to me, “My son, just be a good human being and love every human being and god will be happy with you.”
I said to him, “But Sheikh Shaban, it is written in the Qur’an.” He said to me a verse in the Qur’an which means, in the Day of Judgement, not now, you will be able to understand the meaning of the verse. And as I always say as I was not that patient to wait for the Day of Judgement, I want something now to start the process.
So what happened because the Sufi was a peaceful guy, but he did not provide any theology to reinterpret this verse in a different way. It know it is complicated, it is not that easy, but at least he did not give any way of theology which I can address later how this can happen.
But without theology – Adil Saif was giving the theology, so I was paralyzed. What can I do? I want to follow Allah, follow God, follow the religion, so I followed the path of the radicals. The lack of some theological understanding that provides some peace is a big problem here within the Islamic culture overall.
Another factor that I believe played a major role in my radicalism was what I call sex deprivation syndrome. And let me explain how this happened. When you start attending high school and you start puberty around fifteen let us say, you still have the high school and then medical school, seven years, then three years residency. Then after that, you do a Master’s degree for another three years. After that you travel to some Gulf countries to collect some money to return back to Egypt. You know what I mean? It was a very costly process to marry.
This is on the one hand. On the other hand, there was no chance, and it is so difficult culturally to have any extramarital relationship or even friendship or whatever, so it was very difficult. Plus the more you become religious, the more they deprive you of looking at women when you speak to them. I used to look down like that. You cannot shake hands with them because hand skin will create electricity they imagine.
Believe me, the more I am suppressed on this side, the more this whole thing gets even more and more, and not only that, many, not all but most of the Islamic scholars prohibited any physiological release for sexual desires without going into details, but they stopped any physiological release even for sexual desires. So, you have this suppression, then you want to become religious. You go to the traditional books to read, so when you read about these descriptions in details of the women waiting up there in paradise, and the 72 [virgins], and how people will have the ability to have sex a thousand times a day, it is terrible, and the kiss will continue 37 years, and crazy things.
You have extreme suppression on one hand, [and on the other hand you have an] inability to have any sexual release. Plus, you read in the books, the more you become religious, the more your brain imagines things continuously waiting there. As I always say it, I used to have no reason to stay on Earth, and 72 reasons to go up there to paradise. Believe me, this happened exactly [like this]. I remember this day, and I can imagine it. It is painful, really, to remember such [an] experience because I was just lucky [that] I did not continue.
What brought me out of this? What brought me out was I could see a reversal of some of these elements. One of them was when they asked me to help them kidnap a police officer in Egypt. Did you know? The Jama’a Islamia always have five between the police and intelligence, so they wanted to dig a grave for the man beside the mosque, I will never forget, and bury him alive. This was too much for me. Really, it was too much for my human conscience to tolerate, and I started to think.
The moment I started to think, it was the beginning of the reversal of the whole process. Critical thinking [started the process]. That is why I always advocate how critical thinking can be crucial in solving the problem. You cannot rely on one tactic only. No single tactic can solve it, but critical thinking and making them think critically [are] important [tactics] in solving this problem. I felt with the returning back of critical thinking [that] I was outside the prison that they put me in.
They put me in a mental prison, really, for my thoughts and ideas. And now I started to think. Once I started to think, I started to think things differently. I remember some of the words that, for example, I read when I was young in the Bible, when I was reading at some stage the words of Jesus to criticize it with the debates with the Coptic Christians in Egypt. So, I learned, I have to tell you, some of the beautiful meanings, like, for example, when he stopped the stoning of women by simply having people raise their human conscience instead of following literal words. So, he took people outside literalism, so I remembered this. This helped me.
What also helped me was the upbringing. My father used to teach me things, strange things. He [brought] us a pyramid, and [told] us [to] look to this pyramid. From [beneath it], is it triangular or square? And I said oh, it is square. Then he showed it from the side. Now, how do you see it? Triangle. Now, if someone [looks at it] from above, [they] will see the difference, so he wanted to teach me without religion. He was agnostic. He wanted to teach me that we can differ, but our difference does not mean that I have to hate you. You might be just seeing it from the other side, you see?
It just happened, and my father also taught me how not to be judgmental. He taught me a real story, for example, that happened to him. Some guy came and attacked him in the hospital. He was a surgeon and high-level management, also. And he said bad words to him, and my father gave him the worst punishment, one month decline of his salary. Three days [later], the man came dead in an ambulance. He had renal failure, metabolic encephalopathy that affected his brain cells, and that is why the guy became very angry. So, I started to see [that] we humans can be very judgmental to one another.
So, I studied the concept of being judgmental because one of the tactics Jama’a Islamia uses is making you judgmental to the other. When you are judgmental, you start to say oh, Bob is bad, let me [judge him]. And once you start to hate the person, you go into a process like, for example, if someone from JI came to me and said to me, look to this guy, Tawfik, and go and kill him, someone standing there. I will just say to myself, why should I do that? Then, first of all, he has to teach me how to hate this individual.
This number one step in this whole process of radicalism and terrorism starts with hatred.
When they teach hatred, judgmentalism, hating the other because he is just different, even though he is peaceful, but you have to hate him because he is a Christian or a Jew or a Buddhist or a Muslim from a different angle, seeing things differently from you. The concept of rejecting the other and hating him irrespective of whether he is peaceful or not, this is the very first step toward the actual terrorism and radicalism. And once I hated this individual or that individual, if he told me [to] kill him, then I may move to kill him. While I am moving, my human conscience can tell me, Tawfik, this man did not do anything to you, why should you go and call him?
So, my human conscience, if it is still alive, can stop me. But the typical teaching suppresses human conscience, so gradually you go, and you reach the level of the last moment. If you start to kill some human being, your hand may shake, and you may become hesitant when you see his eyes, looking into your eyes. But if they make you desensitized to the use of violence, then you can reach this final stage and kill a human being. So, it goes into a process of hatred, suppression of human conscience, and then desensitization to the use of violence.
And we need to understand all of this because each component here can be actually challenged or suppressed or countered at different levels from the theological component, from the suppression of human conscience, from suppression of critical thinking, from the hatred because hatred sometimes can be built on the unscientific way of thinking, for example.
When you give me information, and I follow you blindly without even basic analysis for it, when they teach us that, for example, America, let us say, the U.S. is against Muslims. Against Muslims? If someone thought for a moment, as I always say, we have thousands of mosques and Islamic schools that were built inside the United States. Let me know how many churches or synagogues were built in the Muslim world during the same period of time, and I can tell you who is discriminating against the other.
This is how people should think, but they suppress your ability even to think logically, so let us help them to create and to spread hatred. That is why a scientific way of methodology of thinking can make people at least challenge or question what the radicals are putting to them on their table.
Regarding the approach to deal with this problem, I always try to put it at three levels. One of them is to deal with the pre-radical, someone who is not radical yet. What can we do to them to vaccinate them, to give them an anti-radicalism vaccine? Through education, through changing the ways of thinking, through teaching them the scientific way of thinking, through teaching them about the other correctly instead of making hatred spread, this is one component. The other component is to deal with those who are radicals but not militant yet. They need a specific approach.
And the third group are the militants. If we are dealing with the militants, we know what to do, we have to fight them. Okay? If we are dealing with radicals, I have to be honest with you, education and all this wonderful stuff can work, but it will not work that well with someone who is a real radical. A real radical needs negative psychological deterrence that tells them, look, you do this, you are actually achieving the opposite of what you want to achieve. And that is a very complex process because when you deal with radicals, they do not care about their own deaths.
Death was a deterrent in human history to stop wars. Like, the Emperor Japan, why did he stop a war? He did not want to die. He did not want all of his nation to die. In Europe, what stopped the Nazis? The military leaders realized also they would die if they continued. No one wants to die, but the radical Islamists and jihadists want to die, so threatening them by [saying] we will kill you, really, it does not make much sense for them. It does not make much sense. There are other ways, really, to deter them. It is just difficult to discuss this in public, but there are other ways, I can assure you, that make them think a million times before attacking us.
When it comes to the pre-radical, and my approach here is what I call [a] polio eradication approach. You know poliomyelitis, polio, the disease? How did we eradicate polio? Was it because we treated the sick ones or we worked well at the periphery of the citizenry, on the normal people, to vaccinate them to prevent the spread of infection? Here we need to prevent the spread of radicalism by providing different, alternative interpretations. That is part of what I do in the Modern Qur’an Commentary that I created, [which] has two million followers now.
The other part is changing the ways of thinking. So, some of the ways are absolutist, when I see things only from my side, and I consider all your views wrong. So, if you have a photo, now, from this side, and I have a photo, I will challenge you, [and tell you that] you are wrong. But you are not wrong, and I am not wrong. In fact, if we came together, beside one another, we would be able to see this room in a better way. You do not see what is on your back now. I see it. I do not see what is on my back. You see it.
So, I think human differences can come [together] to a [place] where people start to understand that absolutism is wrong. And [for those who are absolutists, I] have some program that I created called One Humanity Education that specifically works on this one area of the thinking process, absolutism, judgmentalism. For example, when you judge other human beings of being bad, for example, because they are not following your [ideas], you can work by showing that this person is good because he does this and that.
And also, you can change the thinking process itself that makes me judge others. I will give you an example. I have an educational example here. I call it the river of the truth like a righteousness. At the end of the river, righteousness is at point one hundred. Okay, so if we see one guy at point ninety-five, many people say oh, he is good, he is very close, [he is at] ninety-five and righteousness is at point one hundred. He is perfect. And some guy at point five, we say oh, he is too bad, and we start to judge this person. And this is how I put it in my teaching, the whole process of not being judgmental. But if we realize the guy at point nine five has started at point one hundred, and he is moving backwards, but the guy at point five actually started at zero, and he is trying his [best] to move forward, then who could be better?
The concept of absolutism and the literalism, the literal way of thinking [is the issue]. For example, the same verses that they taught me (kill the infidels wherever you find them), I have to tell you [that] it was problematic, how to deal with such a verse. I took it in this modern commentary, and [I] put it at five different levels of interpretation. The first level is who are those infidels. Is it generalized to anyone who is not Muslim? Okay, because what I want is when someone reads this, he does not go and kill you or me or someone else or explode some other place beside him. I want him to just take him out of this rigid way of thinking, so the first level is who are those infidels. I came to the answer in the book. They are the ones who fought in the early stage of Islam, only those ones [who fought then].
The second level [is] based on [what do] you assume this is limited to this group and not limited to anyone else today? Based on the fact that it uses a [prefix] ‘the‘ at the beginning of the word infidels. The use of ‘the‘ [is important. For example], if I am talking to [you and I ask], ‘are you going tomorrow to a white house?’ it is different from going to the White House tomorrow. I wish to go to the White House, but I believe going to a white house is different completely, so when you define by ‘the,’ then you limit the meaning to certain groups in human history.
Then the third thing. What was the problem, why was there such reaction against those infidels back then? If according to the Qur’an – I know Islam is not only the Qur’an, the issue is much more complex than this, but let me just focus on simple things. The early believers were kicked out of Mecca. That is the third level of discrimination, this war because some people kicked them out of Mecca when they were weak at the beginning.
The fourth level of interpretation on which basis they kicked them out and what is the rationale? It was a form of religious discrimination against a small minority who did not believe in what the majority believe. Then today what can we learn from this is not to discriminate against a small religious minority because otherwise we will be exactly like those infidels, so here are two ways. Someone reading a verse, having traditional interpretation, goes and explodes a nearby church or synagogue or kills some people because they are different from him in religion or faith. And someone reading this interpretation will at least not do this harm, and do no harm is a priority for me. Do no harm, at least I can teach someone not to do harm to others.
So, this is an example of the theological interpretation, the use of cognitive psychology and educational techniques to provide a system that can be through education, can be through media, can be on the internet to change the way of thinking itself that can lead to radicalism, to teach them to stop absolutism and literalism and judgmentalism, to start having some form of a scientific way of thinking. All of this can contribute to the bigger solution of the problem.
Finally, before the questions I would like to utilize the opportunity to share [a] few words from my heart to a wonderful human being who was the very first victim of Islamic radicals in Afghanistan. His name was Daniel Pearl. I am sure you who he is. Daniel Pearl died years ago. I was in New Zealand, actually. And I remember very well when I saw his photo and his smile. I felt this is not a normal smile, this man has a wonderful heart. He was a wonderful human being. And I know that his baby was still in the womb when he died, and she was unable to see her father forever. I knew that the last word he said was yes, I [am] a Jew.
Back then I just could not sleep that night when I saw this, and I started to write a few words. I just took a few of them, just some sentences. I will share it with you in Arabic first, and then I will translate into English because I gave a promise to myself and to his father that wherever I can mention his name, I will do [it]. And I am just keeping my promise, so I said in these words to the soul of Daniel Pearl the following words. I said to him, “I swear that I will never ever let your name be erased from the memory of history. And I will write your name with my tears, and I will carve your name at the top of the mountains so that everybody will see it. They never ever killed you, but they killed the meaning of love, the meaning of the truth, and the dreams of the coming generations. I swear with your groaning pains, when they beheaded you. And I swear with the tears of your child when it was still in the womb that I will never ever forget you, Daniel. If they have killed you because you are a Jew, then I am a Jew from now on.” God bless you all. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your experiences with us. It is very generous.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid:[It is my] pleasure and honor. It is my honor to do so, thank you.
You talked about different stages of development of radicalism. In the pre-radical stage – not knowing you very well, just listening to you, [I get the sense that] you were brought up in a comfortable family?
Dr. Tawfik Hamid:
Yes, very comfortable, yeah.
Your father was a… ?
Dr. Tawfik Hamid:
You called him agnostic. What was it about what he and maybe your mother and [unintelligible] that was not enough and that drove you to the other side?
Dr. Tawfik Hamid:
That is an excellent question. I will tell you: the vacuum of religion. Religion was part of the culture, but it was not provided at all in our house in any way. For example, my wife, Maha, she is sitting just here. Her father was a Sufi, and he was a very kind human being. God bless his soul. He was a very kind human being. Maha used to give him some of the teaching of the radical groups. They were all over the medical school every day. They gave us lectures [and] she was my colleague in the medical school. She used to tell her father about these books that teach this and that interpretation. And her father was like Sheikh Shaban, telling her no, no, no, this is not good, just follow your heart, and be a good human. He was able to give some form of theology, also, ways of understanding select verses from the Qur’an, for example, to counterbalance the other verses, at least to have some balance.
But in my case, I was [an] empty cup, empty cup to some extent, so it was easy to fill me. I think my father was agnostic, so I did not know anything about God, anything about religion. And it was personal trials, so with personal trials you sometimes succeed, and you sometimes fail, and I have to admit, I failed initially, but thank God, I believe I am on the right direction now.
And that is not the solution, by the way.
When we talk about reformation of Islam, reformation is not the only solution. It would be very primitive to think in this way. It is part of the solution. Some people need it. Some others will need psychological warfare. Some others will need different ways of understanding. To solve this issue, you need different tactics. But if you asked me what was missing, it was maybe an alternative religious teaching in the house that could have counterbalanced what they taught me. So, for example, if I came to my father and said to him – let us say he was religious, and I gave him this verse, and he showed me other verses, he tried to bring different understandings, telling me, oh, focus on the suffix ‘the’ because it limits the meaning. If he had said this, I would not have been radicalized, believe me, but this was not existent, sadly. Thank you for the question.
I work in Afghanistan, and I run a network, and I deal with young kids all the time. And at the end of the day, most of the kids who are joining the bad guys have no job, no future. When you have no future, you have no hope, you tend to migrate to those who give you a sense of purpose.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid:
Yeah. I fully agree with you, but I would like to add one important component here. And I remember the Prime Minister of France at some stage was here in America, and she said the same [thing], it is lack of jobs [that causes people to turn to extremism and terrorism], but I have some command here. I would love that all would listen to it. Yes. I do not disagree that when you do not have a job, when you lack hope in life, that can really drive you into radicalism, [there is] no doubt about that, but I am going deeper than this. In Afghanistan, if people themselves started to learn that through a very powerful campaign the lack of jobs and the poverty and the problems they are having is to a great extent related to the terrorism they are doing, [they would alter their behavior].
I always give the example, in Egypt for example, in the 1990s remember the Al Aqsa massacre, of course. What happened in the Al Aqsa massacre? They killed several tourists, so what happened to [the] tourism industry in Egypt? It declined. The poverty level increased. It became easier for the radicals to recruit more people. Where are the egg and hen here? We know. Here is terrorism and this ideology, and the radicalism, and terror that can bring more poverty and can make people lose their jobs or [leave them] unable to find jobs.
I think people need also to understand [that] if you try to focus on creating jobs without solving the problem of radicalism itself, then you are wasting a lot of time and effort because you can succeed in creating some jobs, [but] when terrorists attack, [it] will make investors unwilling to invest in this area, will make many people unwilling to visit it as tourists, and then the economy can collapse again. If we are [looking] into a real solution, you have to have a strategic approach that includes, yes, the jobs, but people have to learn when they stop their radicalism, when they stop their terrorism, when they stop these violent, crazy things that are happening, their economy will improve, and their standards of living will improve, the poverty level will go down.
They need to know this as well because as long as we are telling them it is your poverty, then why are the poor Christian people in other parts are not doing the same? Why are the poor Hindus and [others] not doing the same? You see what I mean? If it is poverty, there are many countries and nations that have poor people. They do not go and explode themselves in other [countries] or kill with no purpose, so I think it is important to address this issue, I am not saying it is not. However, it has to be part of a big strategic approach that sees the whole, big picture. One part is lack of jobs, but the other part [is ideological]. One of the causes of [the] lack of jobs is radicalism, so let us fight this radicalism. This is how I see it. I am happy to discuss [this] further anytime.
Hi, thank you for your speech. I have a question. You said the verse qatabuleh-
Dr. Tawfik Hamid:
فَاقْتُلُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَيْثُ وَجَدْتُمُوهُمْ, kill the infidels wherever you find them.
In the teaching of Islam, Qur’an is for every time and everywhere, and you said that only was [referring] only to Muhammad’s time when people in Mecca kicked [the Muslim community] out of Mecca. Why then in this verse still in the Qur’an if it is for every time and every place? Second, why [is it that] the scholars in Islam interpreted [Islam this way] for more than 1400 years? Is that a new interpretation from you today?
Dr. Tawfik Hamid:
This is a completely modern interpretation, yes. I have to admit that, yeah.
What about these scholars [who] for 1400 years interpreted [Islam in this other] way? It is to kill infidels, ‘infidels’ is very clear.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid:
Infidels or ‘the’ infidels, that is the different part I am raising.
I studied Islam for more than twenty-five years. It was very clear to me when I read them. It said infidels, [and that means] anyone who is not Muslim. Then the verse in the Qur’an says the religion to God is only Islam. He does not accept any other religion, only Islam, so what do we do with those verses which are still in the Qur’an?
Dr. Tawfik Hamid:
Thank you for the question. [Those are] very, very important points. I like to be pragmatic in doing things. Trying to remove parts of books that have been seen by a billion [people] as holy is practically not that easy. The only way you can [make] do is provide other understandings, so if some people follow the other understanding, then you have [lower] levels of radicalism. Being pragmatic simply means that I am a doctor, [but] imagine if I am a surgeon – I am in internal medicine, but if I am a surgeon and I have [a patient with] an inflamed appendix, some people may say that the appendix is a rudimentary part from the tail. And I will explain to you why I am giving you this example. [It is] from the tail of human beings in evolution. Some people think the appendix is a remnant of a tail. Some others believe that it is a useless part of the body. Some others recently discovered there is some lymphoid tissue, immune cells around it, that can help with the overall immunity of the body. But for me, the appendix is inflamed. All of the theories really are wonderful for academic debates and discussions, but for me, I am an operative guy, who is seeing the problem is there, there is an inflamed appendix, [so] let us remove it.
Let me try to diminish radicalism, that is the point. Dealing with these verses is a complex theological issue, but to give you an example, there is not a single verse, I am not defending, believe me, I am not talking about the truthfulness of the religions, I am talking about the practical application. I really do not care about anything but your practical application of it. Are you going to burn others alive like what ISIS was doing, and kill gays in such brutal ways, and stone women to death or are you going to have peaceful existence with me? This is what I am dreaming about, to have peaceful coexistence.
The theological debates have [their place], but at least at the end there must be some way of putting an understanding that at least when someone remains [a Muslim], he has an understanding that prevents him from becoming radical. Okay? You said you read the Qur’an. For example, there is not a single verse that talks about jihad or war without using the suffix ‘the’ or al-latheena, which is [a] defining article. There is not a single one, and if you find [one], I will come here next time and declare I was wrong, but there is not a single one.
I am talking to you about my personal experience. If I read this verse back then and someone pointed out to me that this is not generalizable to everyone, this is only at that time, historical only, I would not have continued in [my path towards] radicalism. This is a simple example. I think this is part of the solution we need to address, and the other theological debates are very complex, but there are ways. Do you speak Arabic? I think you read Arabic. Do you read Arabic? Okay, I would be delighted to share with you my email when you have specific points because it is a big theology. I am talking about hundreds of verses that we can go into. It is very exhausting. I try to do my best to provide at least some reasonable understanding that prevents a person from going to kill his fellow human being, so my target is to make peace on earth, and I hope that is a good one. I hope so.
Hello, I have two questions, one psychological, one philosophical.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid:
The psychological one: you said they tried to destroy your conscience. I wonder is that the right description or do they try to take over for themselves the control of your conscience? We have the ego, the id, the superego in our psychology, our simplified psychology in the West. The superego belongs initially to society. And my great professor Louis Foyer talked about the alienation of the superego when radicals take over being the custodians of other people’s conscience. I am wondering if that is what is going on rather than simply destruction of your conscience. Could I get to the philosophical one as well?
Dr. Tawfik Hamid:
I was going to answer this [question] and wait for the philosophical one, but you can ask the philosophical question as well.
The philosophical one is mental traps, as you said, which we also call vicious circles in the mind. There is a huge amount of Western philosophy that deals with this and deals with other Western philosophers who are creating those vicious circles in the mind to a very sophisticated level. What you gave us was that the mental trap on the most basic level if you do not believe, and believe as we say, you go to hell, [but] if you do believe and believe as we say, you get the 72 virgins. It is rewards and punishments, and it is true because of the rewards and punishments.
Western philosophy begins in the Renaissance and the early Enlightenment with John Locke, the last chapters of his essay on human understanding about the vicious circles of religious enthusiasm, much more sophisticated than that primitive level than Hume [unintelligible] distinction, John Stuart Mill, that you cannot say you must believe this because it has good consequences for the world because the truth or falsity is the first thing you have to look at to see if the consequences really would be good. And it goes on from there. In other words, there is a sophisticated body of thought that creates vicious circles in the West, and a sophisticated body that debunks. Is this also present in Islam or is it almost all basically on the most simple level?
I will start with the last question first. It is at the simple level, okay, very, very primitive, very simple. We did not have that level of sophistication in the process. I know Western civilization has a lot of like Greek philosophy, it is very deep in Western civilization. We did not reach that level yet. It was very primitive. But regarding the first question about the psychological one, if you could just rephrase exactly what the point is you want to [make], the first question. Just summarize it briefly.
Yes, very briefly, your formulation [is that] they destroy your conscience.
Yes, I got it now. In my case, I can say I consider it suppression of my human conscience because I had at that time some level of human conscience, so I can say it was suppression for it. I used to resist my conscience. For example, my human conscience was telling me do not do this, [when it came to fighting with others, do not do this. But I used to suppress this and say, oh, Islam is telling me this, the teaching is telling me this, [so] let me go into this direction, so it was a battle within my human conscience. It is hard to describe if it was fully replaced. Yes, after some time, you become fully replaced and you can actually start to just defy it, and forget completely about your original human conscience, and have a new one that is very different from [your own]. I can say I was another person, like if you compare [me] to the same Tawfik when he was radical or before that or after that, I was a different person, so I can say it starts by suppression, then replacement.
Thank you very much. We read about radicalized jihadis who are returning to their country of origin after the dissolution in some places of ISIS and equivalent organizations.
Yes, a lot of them.
Is there any country in the region that is doing a good job of deradicalizing those hundreds and thousands of young jihadis who are coming home?
No. The answer is [no]. Yeah. I can give a more elaborate [answer]. Yeah, no. The answer is no because if you just focus on some group of people returning back and you try to deradicalize [them], as I explained, when someone is radical, it is not that easy to deradicalize them. You have to use sophisticated methods, like psychological warfare, and they are not doing it effectively. And number two, some of them should be under continuous surveillance, evaluation, and the intelligence [services] should keep an eye on them. You cannot just leave them like that. It is not that easy, but now with technology, you can do a lot of things. Some of them must be, probably, isolated when they are very radical in their way, so you cannot wait for them to really do the harm.
And that is a problem with European countries. You are talking about the Middle East. I think even within the European countries, there is a big problem of many of these people returning back through immigration and [as] refugees to Europe. And they will start causing troubles. These people are intelligent enough. They realize that everyone is focused on them now, and so the best way for them is just to be quiet for some time. But as long as their ideology is the same, they will come back with more sophisticated attacks in my view that can be very evil because with technological advances you can do a lot of things. You can do damage through the internet. You know about this, cyber-attacks. You can use chemical weapons in your attacks.
And they have no human conscience, so the concept that this will kill young kids does not really work. [It has] no meaning, it is meaningless for them. Actually, it is not meaningless, it makes them happier because when they cause you more pain, they feel happier. I can see that dealing with the radicals [is difficult]. They claim that they have deradicalization and all these sorts of things, but look, sir. As long as the Muslim world, and its scholars, and leaders do not change their religious textbooks that teach violence, and replace them with some understandings, new understandings and whatever you call it, interpretations, whatever, that clearly and unambiguously stand against what I call the ABCs of radical Islam, [you will have this problem.] [The ABCs are] A for apostate killing, B for barbaric treatment of women like beating women and stoning women to death, C, calling Jews pigs and monkeys, D, declaring jihad on non-Muslims to spread the religion and offer people Islam or jizyah or to be killed, E enslavement of female war prisoners and raping them like what happened with ISIS. This is traditional Azhar teaching, so it is not an ISIS invention. They are actually practicing [what has been preached]. Look, the scholars are teaching, and ISIS is practicing it. So, who to blame? Both, so as long as the teaching there does not stand clearly and unambiguously against this, they will still play with the words [and] deceive all of us.
And I can tell you [that] one day I was speaking in Dearborn, Michigan in front of more than a thousand people, and while I was speaking, saying the ABCs of radical Islam, some imam from Senegal stood up and moved toward me, and he said to me, why Dr. Hamid [did] you mention these ABCs? I am a moderate imam, for example, and I participate in interfaith dialogue, and in fact, I have many Jewish friends here in the society and the community.
I said to him, look, imam, instead of telling us how moderate you are, would you mind proving this to me and the audience right now? Everyone was like this, silent. I said to him, would you mind, imam, to invite me and some of our Jewish friends and brothers and sisters who are sitting with us tonight to your Friday prayers [at] your mosque? And stand up in front of your congregation, and instead of telling us how moderate you are, just stand up and say clearly, loudly, unambiguously that Jews are not pigs and monkeys, just that. Would you do this, imam? He did not say a word. He did not utter a letter. Okay?
People really were [wondering] just what is going on here, so as long as we do not define radicalism, [we have a problem]. I am a medical doctor, by the way, I am a scientist, so if we are working on something with no parameters, and no metrics, and no definition, we can go forever, so we are fighting radicalism without even defining what radicalism is, so everyone now can come. Bin Laden may come, or Al Zawahiri now may come and say, oh, I am fighting radicalism. Well, there is no definition. As long as no definition [exists], we can go forever like this. That is why I believe when you asked, the answer was no because if you are serious about fighting radicalism at the ideological level, you have to do specific and certain things within the educational system, within the media, within the society. You have to empower reformers.
You at least have to make those people who promote hatred accountable when crimes occur. When you tell people going and killing Christians is okay, and their lives are worth less than Muslims’ lives, for example, when someone goes and kills his fellow Christian in Egypt or in this other place, then this imam has to be held responsible for the crime. He is part of the crime because this young kid, who is full of enthusiasm, follows this imam, this mullah. When people start to say, oh, we are fighting radical [Islam], fighting what by definition? I put the definition. Tell me what of these elements are you fighting, please. None. There are people who are trying, I am not denying this, okay? There are several people who are trying on the internet, which is good, but still, at the big level as you mentioned, I do not see that they are doing an amazing job at all there.
There is a program in Sudan, right now, as we speak. They have transformed thirteen ISIS terrorists. These thirteen individuals are now proactively speaking about the depravities and the problems that when they were ISIS terrorists [they saw and experienced]. And they are now good, and they are in the chatrooms as we speak right now, teaching, formulating future possibility guys and gals who want to join, not to join. That is happening right now.
Okay. Thank you for the point. I am aware of this program, but I do not know enough details to judge if it is effective or not to be honest with you. The second point here I believe is important [is] I would like to invite them, if you are connected with them, to clearly and unambiguously stand against these ABCs. I see my wife is nodding like this.
Okay? Before describing them as okay for me, I will not be able really to accept that they are true moderates, okay, because there is a difference between trying to counter radicals, saying oh, do not go to do terrorism, but as long as you teach these ABCs, it creates a violent mindset that ultimately dehumanizes other human beings and justifies killing [them], then that is not a real solution. It is like treating the symptom of the disease, but without working on the disease itself. But when these people – and I am inviting them, okay, I am inviting them. Tell them Dr. Tawfik Hamid is sending you an invitation from Washington, D.C., okay, to declare on your websites and media outlets.
And at the government level, if the government is serious about this, let them stand against the roots of radicalism and terrorism. When you justify killing a human being because he does not believe in what you believe in, then you justify killing many others, believe me. When you teach someone to stone a human being until death or to kill a gay in such brutal way, then you are creating a mindset that can likely become radical, so continuously working on terrorism without working on radicalism is really not sufficient. I am inviting them, and I will salute them if tomorrow they put on their media outlets – I see you smile, you know what I mean – if they put on their media outlets that they are against these ABCs. I will give you my email. I will send them to you. But if you cannot find them, just write ABCs of Radicalism, and hundreds of things will come up in front of you. Okay?
I have a smaller, less cosmic question, which you may not be able to answer, but Bob Reilly in his announcement said that you had known Ayman Zawahiri.
Yes, I met with him.
I note that he also was from a very prominent family. He is a doctor like you. In fact, you seem sort of alike.
I am in trouble now.
You developed in one lane, and he developed in another lane.
Yes, and we are both doctors. Can you imagine? He was in the same medical school, but he was older than me. He was ten years older. I met with him a few times in my life, just five or six times in the mosque of Jemaa Islamia. He used to come occasionally. Everyone would say oh, Dr. Ayman is here. We called him Dr. Ayman, Al Zawahiri. And he is from a very prominent family. And yes, that is an amazing situation in human history, that both are doctors from the same medical school, both are from a medical family, his father was also a doctor like my father, and we are two poles apart. I would have been with him, believe me. That is why I am trying to find and have a complete strategy and solutions for the whole phenomena of radicalism, not just simply terrorism, radicalism itself, that hopefully can prevent and protect many young people from going into this path because I lived it, and thank God, I am with you here.
You changed, he did not.
He did not, sadly, sadly, yeah.
Robert R. Reilly:
If I may have the host advantage of asking the last question – thank you very much, Tawfik.
Robert R. Reilly:
You mentioned that critical thinking was an essential antidote to this, but as Max just asked, Zawihiri was educated in medicine and to think critically in certain ways. And we know that architects, engineers, and so forth are jihadis. They were 9/11 [terrorists]. They continued to participate, so it does not seem that scientific critical thinking is the antidote. It would appear more likely that it is moral critical thinking, to be able to think critically, morally. In my study of the Arab Islamic world, that is in many ways haram.
Ah, to question anything, yes.
Robert R. Reilly:
Jihad, but not ijtihad.
They suppressed ijtihad in the Sunni world.
Robert R. Reilly:
I know, but the point to me, do the universities in the Arab world have moral philosophy on their curriculum? I think in Morocco, you could find them. But where is that?
They do not.
Robert R. Reilly:
It is not there, and that is why there is a fatwa industry in your country and elsewhere, if you need a fatwa to know what to do because you are not authorized to think morally, critically, on the morality or the immorality of what you are undertaking.
Yes, that is a very good point. Thank you so much, Bob, for the very deep question. I fully agree with you. There is a lack of any teaching about morals as morals. At least if they taught them one basic principle, a very simple principle, do unto others [as you would have them do unto you]. If they had this in their heart and mind, believe me, a lot of things would change. Sometimes less is more if you teach people just basic things. They do not [teach them anything right now]. But when it comes to critical thinking, let me add some dimension here to the whole thing. Dr. Ayman Zawhiri was a great doctor. He studied very well. He memorized facts, but it does not mean that he thinks critically.
Thinking critically in medicine – actually, many terrorists are doctors, as you know. We are the source, actually. Why is this? Partially, because in medicine when I learn something like the dose of XYZ medication is one thousand milligrams per day divided four times or six hours, every six hours. I cannot think. I have no right even to question. I just study and apply this. A person with abdominal pain in this area has this, yes, has this, has this, so we became like robots. We just learn, but we were incapable of questioning the information. We did not learn how to put this [information to the test]. How [we] can challenge this, we did not learn this. It is not a creative form of work where you have to see your mind. And I see people who play music, for example, when they were young, may have a different mindset, or [people] who create art. You see what I [mean]?
I believe the concept of critical thinking is not by the level of education. And in fact, engineers, for example, think in mathematics and in a rigid manner, so there is no flexibility. One plus one equals two. There is no other possibility, so the concept of critical thinking in some studies even though it looks huge in medicine, [is not actually huge]. And the way of teaching it is different like in the U.S. MLE examination in medicine, I passed it years ago, the questions are done now in a way where they make you have to think. They bring you a case, and you have to think, and you diagnose.
But wrote learning is the problem there. You have to just memorize and put [the answer]. It is not critical thinking. When I am capable of saying no, I am not happy with this idea or suggestion, I have another way of looking at it. I cannot say this to my medical professor. I cannot [say that. If] he is saying the dose is 1,000 milligrams, then the dose is 1,000 milligrams. I have no way to really think critically, so even though medicine looks huge in education, in reality, it is not critical thinking. Critical thinking is a different way [of thinking] that we can discuss maybe at another [lecture] for sure. Thank you so much. Thank you.