In the comment thread of another post, a former student of mine who has completed a thesis for the National Defense Intelligence College. For an abstract and table of contents, see here. Below, a discussion of a critical issue in the world of intelligence in both senses of the word, the Muslim principle of Taqiyya.
Do Arab Muslims lie on the same order of magnitude and for the same purposes? Are they prohibited by tradition from lying in all the same circumstances as Westerners? Although there is overlap in the two cultures’ approaches to lying, there is also great divergence. During brief service in Iraq in 2004, for instance, I noticed most of the translators working for a particular unit were not Muslim, as one would expect, but Assyrian Christian—an Iraqi minority whose dwindling percentage is in the single digits. When the author asked why this was so, a unit interrogator explained that, based on experience, they had determined the Christian translators were more reliable and less prone to deceit. Why did the Muslim translators lie? Moreover, why did they lie to protect individuals associated a regime despised as much locally as internationally?
In this case, as in many others, the answers at least partially rest in the religious duties of all Muslims. According to the faith, it is anathema for Muslims to be ruled by or even allied with non-Muslims. Koran 3:28 clearly states, “The believers should not make disbelievers their allies rather than other believers….” As discussed in a previous section, it is doctrinally vital to protect a fellow Muslim before aiding non-believers, no matter how hateful the Muslim’s character or reputation. Although it may seem counter-productive to the Western mind, it has also been traditionally accepted that Muslim tyranny is better than anarchy or disorder. Thus, in the Iraqi context as in many others, the honorable end of community defense legitimizes and necessitates deceiving non-Muslim employers.
The practice is effectively codified in the Shiite doctrine of taqiyya, or dissimulation. Most Islamic doctrine that allows for dissimulation finds its roots in Koran 16:106, “Any one who, after accepting faith in Allah, utters Unbelief, except under compulsion, his heart remaining firm in Faith… theirs will be a dreadful chastisement.” The Shiites developed this historically defensive (though that aspect clearly varies) practice over the course of many persecuted generations, and their Sunni brethren often deride them for it. The Sunni, however, are by no means purists when it comes to truth-telling. One classical Sunni jurist stated, “If anyone is compelled and professes unbelief with his tongue while his heart contradicts him, in order to escape his enemies, no blame falls on him….” In at least the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence, it is considered prudent to lie for an honorable objective when telling the truth would be detrimental to the cause.
… Scholars say that there is no harm in giving a misleading impression if required by an interest countenanced by Sacred Law that is more important than not misleading the person being addressed, or if there is a pressing need which could not otherwise be fulfilled except through lying.
According to the same school, one is not encouraged, but required to lie if the honorable objective cannot be achieved by telling the truth. Honorable objectives can include smoothing over relations with one’s wife, settling disagreements, or most honorably, defending Muslims against unjust (infidel) authorities. Interestingly, one may also lie if the particular sin, such as fornication or drinking, affects only the individual and is known only to him and Allah.
…if a ruler asks one about a wicked act one has committed that is solely between oneself and Allah Most High ([if] it does not concern the rights of another), in which case one is entitled to disclaim it, such as by saying, ‘I did not commit fornication,’ or ‘I did not drink.'
There is a seemingly inexhaustible supply of anecdotal evidence demonstrating the prevalence of Muslim lying, particularly in the midst of war, some of which will be explored in chapter seven. The analytical quandary, of course, is that one can easily say the same about Western lying. Those feeling uncomfortable with a comparison between the two cultures will again assert that, “we do it too,” and again, this is at least partially true. Sissela Bok explores the Western aspects of the practice in great depth. She recounts the absolute philosophical positions of Immanuel Kant and St. Augustine, both of whom believed all lies are abhorrent but differed in their practical approaches, and she contrasts them with the ethics of Machiavelli and Nietzsche, where “violence and deceit are portrayed with bravado and exultation.” She notes a well-known Catholic textbook that advises doctors to deceive seriously ill patients, and she describes numerous other pragmatic examples paralleling the Islamic positions outlined above. Even Martin Luther rhetorically asked,
What harm would it do, if a man told a good strong lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian church[…] a lie out of necessity, a useful lie, a helpful lie, such lies would not be against God, he would accept them.
I believe there is a difference in the volume of lies between the two cultures, but it is impossible to systematically exhaust the supply of anecdotes on either side. Additionally, any quantitative studies of deception—if there are indeed any—run the risk of being corrupted by the very phenomenon they seek to explore.
An honest intellectual must therefore consider two qualitative points. Is there a difference in societal approval for the lies? Is there a difference in the philosophical or religious sanction for the lies? Societal derision for Yasser Arafat’s frequent and profound lies about peace with Israel was virtually non-existent in the Muslim world, while a U.S. president was impeached for lying about a personal affair (examples of Arafat’s tactics in the context of cognitive warfare will be given in the following chapters). In contrast, even Bok noted in an updated preface to her book, that a raging debate about the ethics of lying and dishonesty had erupted in the U.S. during the 1980s.
I can no longer subscribe, therefore, to the claim I made in the Introduction, that [the issue of lying has] received extraordinarily little contemporary analysis. Questions of truthfulness and deception are now taken up in classrooms as in the media and in scholarly literature. Codes of ethics, such as the 1980 “Principles of Medical Ethics” of the American Medical Association, have incorporated clauses stressing honesty.
The simple fact that these issues figure so prominently in the public, accepted, Western discourse should be some indicator of the difference in volume, even if there are gaps between philosophy and practice. It is conceivable that the cultural upsets associated with scandals such as Watergate and Iran-Contra stemmed from ignorance or wishful thinking about the true nature of day-to-day political life. It was a shocking realization, delayed by cultural naiveté, that trusted agents of all stripes had been ritually dishonest despite staunch moral prohibitions against lying. Such shock may have even helped drive Bok to publish her book as a corrective measure; other thinkers may have followed suit in spirit. It is clear there are differences in the respective society’s reactions to lying. As for cultural or religious sanction, one can find some Western, philosophical approval for lying when there is a hard moral dilemma. In a classic scenario—hiding Jews from the Nazis—several Western philosophers, St. Augustine included, might be inclined to lie for their protection. Yet, figures such as Machiavelli and Nietzsche hardly enjoy universal celebration as paragons of moral virtue. They are often taken as examples of cold, perhaps even amoral, philosophers.
The Islamic sanction for lying seems more explicit and closer to the core of unimpeachable sources: the Koran and Hadith. It also appears in a greater variety of situations, and, perhaps more realistically, with lower thresholds for acceptance in Muslim society. Depending on one’s perspective, this could be chalked up to advanced, pragmatic thinking in the medieval, Muslim philosophical tradition. More relevant to intelligence analysts, however, is the sharp in-group out-group distinction that only one of the two cultures draws when it comes to warfare and lying. First, it must be recounted that this chapter has established Islam as essentially hard-wired to view outside cultures and faiths as enemies needing subjugation, whether or not individual Muslims act on those precepts. Second, it has established that, in relation to those outside cultures, Islam emphasizes intense societal cohesion. Third, it has established that there is religious sanction for lying if the cause is sufficiently just.
Deception in war and intelligence are tentatively accepted in the West as necessary practices, but they are conducted with the fear of losing long-term credibility in mind—whiffs of government deception tend to discomfort Western publics. It was discussed in chapter four that Westerners do not typically see themselves in a state of perpetual conflict. It would follow, then, that the need for lying in inter-societal relations depends on the state of conflict. If Islam, however, is in a state of perpetual jihad, and jihad is clearly just, then perpetual lying to non-Muslims may also be just so long as it advances the cause.
Western analysts might be inclined to highlight the similarities they see between Western and Eastern moral systems, but they may miss the fact that some of the highlighted values apply to intra-Muslim relations and not necessarily to Muslim-non-Muslim relations. There are several Hadith vividly demonstrating the permissibility of lying to non-Muslims. In at least three separate Hadith, Mohammad explicitly stated, “war is deceit.” Given the widely acknowledged, pervasive sense of a siege on the Muslim world, the accepted importance of jihad, and the sanction for lying in honorable struggles, it is reasonable to conclude that deceiving Westerners is commonplace. As will be demonstrated in the following chapters, the skill a society develops in lying can essentially weaponize a cultural trait and have a profound effect on the course of its cognitive war.
 When recounting this anecdote, I have been reminded that Tariq Aziz, infamous for outrageous lies on behalf of Saddam Hussein’s regime, is in fact Christian as well. He was operating in an overwhelmingly Muslim construct, however, and under an oppressive regime.
 The Qur’an, trans. M.A.S. Abdel Haleem (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 36.
 The Holy Qur-ān: English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary (al-Madinah: King Fahd Holy Qur-ān Printing Complex, 1989/1990), 764-765.
 Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, under “Takiyya.”
 Reliance of the Traveller, 748.
 Reliance of the Traveller, 746.
 Sissela Bok, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life (New York: Vintage Books, 1989), 29. Cited hereafter as Bok.
 Bok, 47.
 Bok, xiii.
 Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Publication 3-13, Information Operations (Washington, DC: GPO, 13 February 2006), under “MILDEC as an IO Core Capability.”
 Sahih Bukhari, “Vol. 4, Book 52, Number 268,” in USC-MSA Compendium of Muslim Texts, trans. M. Muhsin Khan, URL: , accessed 13 June 2007.