Why is critic of Islam advising Britain’s military?

A “cultural advisor” to UK troops in Afghanistan suggests that Islam is a “danger facing the West.”

Jane Sweeney/Robert Harding Newscom

It has been revealed that a British Ministry of Defense advisor — who helped write the “religious engagement strategy” for troops occupying the Afghan province of Kandahar — believes Islam might “be the rod of God’s anger,” raising disturbing questions for the military and the UK government.

Patrick Sookhdeo, who teaches at the UK’s Defense Academy and has served in the role of “cultural advisor” to troops in Afghanistan and southern Iraq, is also a regular speaker at events held by churches and Christian organizations internationally.

Speaking in a Washington DC church in 2007, Sookhdeo wondered if “[there is a] danger facing the West, particularly with Islam, might Islam be the rod of God’s anger?” (“Understanding Radicalization and Islamicization,” Capitol Hill Baptist Church)

In a 2009 interview, he said: “I think we need to understand that there is, in the very nature of Islam itself and its followers, an inherent sense of superiority.” He also said, “everything about the West is inimical to Islam” (“Clash of Cultures,” Australian Presbyterian [PDF]) .

More recently, at a talk organized by the Family Research Council — a right-wing organization noted for attacking gay men and lesbians — Sookhdeo said that the West had removed Muammar Gaddafi in Libya only to replace him “with a political ideology rooted in a religion that wants our destruction” (“Responding to Islam: Lessons from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, and Bishop George Bell,” Family Research Council, 26 January 2012).

Training role

In recent years, Sookhdeo has developed good relations with the British military. He is a visiting fellow at Cranfield University, “the academic provider and partner to the Defense Academy,” and, at conferences organized by the latter, Sookhdeo has spoken on topics like “theological and psychological drivers of contemporary terrorist violence”(“Countering Insurgency and Terrorism,” Global Defense Forum, March 2008 [PDF]).

In a 2006 Defense Select Committee meeting in the British Parliament, it was revealed that “pre-deployment training” for the purpose of “familiarizing UK soldiers with the culture and conditions” in Afghanistan included “a presentation from Dr. Sookhdeo” as part of “additional higher level training … for commanders” (“Third memorandum from the Ministry of Defense,” Select Committee on Defense).

Sookhdeo’s book Global Jihad features on a 2011 recommended reading list for the Ministry of Defense’s higher command and staff course, and was endorsed by the retired Major General Tim Cross — who had been a commander of British troops in Iraq from 2004 to 2007 — as providing “stunning in-depth analysis” (“Higher command and staff course 2011 - reading list,” Ministry of Defense).

The blurb for a book to which Sookhdeo contributed (Toward a Grand Strategy Against Terrorism), describes him as having been a “cultural advisor to British and/or international coalition forces in Iraq and regions of Afghanistan: Basra, Kabul, and Kandahar” between 2007 and 2010. In the aforementioned Family Research Council talk, Sookhdeo himself has claimed that he helped “write the religious engagement strategy” while “out in Kandahar.”

Sookhdeo has also shared his analysis with the US military. In either 2006 or early 2007 (a report of the talk in a military magazine makes the precise date unclear), he spoke at US Special Operations Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, invited by Colonel Raymond Palumbo, then “chief of J-5 Plans at USSOCOM.” According to an account of the lecture, Sookhdeo “surmised al-Qaeda plans to establish the caliphate beginning sometime in 2016” (“Understanding Jihad,” Tip of the Spear, January 2007 [PDF]).

“Islamic Britain” warning

Sookhdeo has not just written about international “jihad;” he has also expressed concern about dangers from within the British Muslim community, wondering if there could be up to “thousands” of “potential suicide bombers” (“How television creates terrorists,” The Spectator, 31 May 2003). He has claimed, too, that “we are faced in Great Britain with an Islamic Britain” (“Religious Freedom for All? A Critique of ‘A Common Word between Us and You’,” Ethics and Public Policy Center, 25 January 2008).

Sookhdeo has warned of the prospect of Britain experiencing “Muslim secessionist violence” as seen “in Kosovo, the Philippines, Thailand and elsewhere,” describing the Muslim community as “form[ing] a spine running down the center of England from Bradford to London, with ribs extending east and west” (“7/7 A Response,” Barnabas Fund, July 2005).

For Sookhdeo, the danger extends to “sharia-compliant finance” (as offered by such banks as HSBC), which he says is “in effect, an economic jihad that succeeds in mobilizing Muslims who are not yet ready to participate in the fighting-type military jihad” and is “a key and integrated part of the larger civilizational jihad.”

Even the “birth rate of Muslim communities in the West” — which he claims is “often deliberately” higher “compared with their host communities” — is cited as one of the “methods” being used to turn our societies into “Dar al-Islam” (a “house of Islam”). (These quotes are taken from his books, Understanding Shar’ia Finance and Global Jihad.)

These sorts of opinions have made Sookhdeo popular in the so-called counter-jihad movement. In 2007, Sookhdeo took part in a significant conference in Brussels, where other speakers included Robert Spencer, co-founder of Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), an organization described by the Anti-Defamation League as “promoting a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda” (“Counterjihad Brussels 2007: European conference resists Islamicization,” The Brussels Journal, 19 October 2007).

Praise from Geller

Sookhdeo’s talk was described as “the most compelling presentation” by Pamela Geller, a prominent blogger and co-founder with Spencer of SIOA (“Brussels: Counter Jihad Resistance,” Atlas Shrugs, 19 October 2007).

In an interview with Geller at the conference, Sookhdeo concurred with her suggestion that the “train has left the station” in Britain (“Counterjihad conference in Brussels,” Tundra Tabloids, 21 October 2007).

Sookhdeo contributed a chapter to a book edited by Spencer called The Myth of Islamic Tolerance, as well as joining him and others as signatories to the so-called Coalition to Stop Sharia in the US. Another book Sookhdeo has contributed to is Muhammad’s Monsters, co-published by the Ariel Center for Policy Research, which is based in Shaarei Tikva, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

Sookhdeo — along with Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders — endorsed a book called Modern Day Trojan Horse, on “the Islamic doctrine of immigration.” The book’s author, Sam Solomon, appeared alongside Sookhdeo and others at a “major training day for Christians on Islam” last year (“Greater understanding of Islam,” Anglican Mainstream, 8 March 2011).

In January this year, Sookhdeo was a guest speaker for the Northern Virginia chapter of ACT! for America, giving a talk on his new book (“Islam in our midst: the challenge to our Christian heritage,” ACT! for America, 25 January 2012).

The nature of Sookhdeo’s views and his relationship with the British military raises troubling questions. Has the Ministry of Defense, which failed to reply to requests for comment, been aware all along of Sookhdeo’s teachings on Islam in Christian contexts? Would the UK military employ individuals who said equivalent things about other religious groups? And what does it say about Britain’s armed forces’ approach in Iraq and Afghanistan when such an individual is providing “cultural” advice?

Sookhdeo defends his work

Sookhdeo responded to a number of questions from The Electronic Intifada.

He said that the idea of Islam as the “rod of God’s anger” was “developed by the leadership of the Syrian Orthodox Church about 75 years after the death of [the prophet] Muhammad. Faced with the fact that most of the lands that had constituted Christian territory had been lost in the Arab invasions, the church leadership posed the question why this had occurred. Instead of laying the blame on the Muslims and the Arab invasions, they concluded that it was their own fault because they had sinned and gone away from their faith in God by neglecting to be truly Christian in terms of love and compassion, to be humble and not to be motivated by money and power.”

Sookhdeo said that he had used the “rod of God’s anger” concept to ask if Christian churches today are now being punished for their “lack of faithfulness to God.” He added: “Could it be that Islam, which is now seen to be the dominant religion that may well replace Christianity in the future, can be seen as God’s instrument? This is not a negative comment of Islam, but a negative comment on the Church with her intrinsic weaknesses and failures.”

Sookhdeo confirmed that he remained a cultural advisor to the British army. But because he was 65 years old (the retirement age in many European countries), he did not expect to hold the position for much longer. While he had initially supported the military invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, he said that he had major reservations about how both wars had been fought. He claimed to have been “lulled into believing the evidence presented by the US and UK governments relating to weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. Yet once he realized these weapons did not exist, he argued that the war was illegal “at an early stage,” he said.

“The presence of British and Western forces [in mainly Muslim countries], coupled with their foreign policy decisions, have, I believe, contributed substantially to the growing terrorism emanating from Islamic contexts,” he said. “I have long argued that the Western military involvement in Muslim countries constitutes a form of neo-colonialism and imperialism and is simply creating new hatreds for the future. It is time that British and American forces left Muslim countries to manage their own affairs in whatever fashion they choose.”

Sookhdeo nonetheless defended his work in Afghanistan, arguing that he had addressed the practical aspects of issues relevant to the Islamic faith. Such issues included ensuring that power cuts did not occur at certain times of the day, so that Muslims would be able to have hot meals between fasts undertaken during the holy month of Ramadan.

“Developing a religious engagement strategy essentially is to get the military leaders to recognize the existence of the religious leaders so that they will relate to them, to get the religious leaders to outline what they want, and then to get the military leaders to supply wherever it is at all possible,” he said. “For me this has been immensely rewarding as I have been able to work with some of the most senior Muslim leaders in the south of Afghanistan. I think that another plus has been the linkage made between the Muslim leaders in Afghanistan and the leaders of the British Muslim community; this has led to the Muslim leaders in the UK getting actively involved in Afghanistan and visiting and working with the communities there.” 

Ben White’s latest book Palestinians in Israel: Segregation, Discrimination and Democracy is published by Pluto Press.