I have been following with great interest, and for some time now, the career of Muslim reformer and chairman of the Quilliam Foundation, Maajid Nawaz. For those not familiar with him, he is a former convicted Islamic extremist turned reformer (though still a practising Muslim) and is, without a doubt, one of the most clear-headed thinkers on the subject of extremism. In the very insightful panel discussion embedded below, he uses the term “The Voldemort Effect” (from the Harry Potter character who “shall not be named”) to describe the Western liberal hesitancy to call out Islamism and Islamic extremism for what it is; the most dangerous manifestation of the politically correct tendency to euphemise and obfuscate. I may discuss, in a later piece, how this predisposition came about (a much more complex question) but I believe the most important project at this moment in time is to address how people who have been raised in this kind of fear-mongering mentality, can overcome it, or at least the first step in doing so.
“The Voldemort Effect” is to my mind a very important (if slightly comical) term to be aware of going forward, as we face increasing threats from extremism. It is a tendency that has to be named and identified before it can be overcome. It is important for a mental flag to be planted so that people are able to identify when they are falling victim to it. Europe is enduring a spiralling pattern of violence by religious extremists that many (particularly on the left) refuse to recognise as a pattern, preferring instead to cite “a few crazy individuals” for each incident, without acknowledging that they are connected. The problem, as one of Maajid’s Jewish co-panelists pointed out, is that majorities in liberal societies are very uncomfortable recognising threats when they come from minority communities who they see as deserving of their protection.
Tellingly, liberals have no problem stressing the threat of the rise of far-right and Nazi movements in Europe. Perhaps this is simply because these groups pose more of a “manageable” threat both politically (nobody is going to accuse you of bigotry for calling out a Nazi) and actually. This is not simply an assertion but a fact; the majority of attacks against Jews in Europe come from Muslims and not neo-Nazi groups. Despite the fact that the Anders Behring Breivik example is still trotted out ad nauseum, it is clear where the majority of the actual violence against Jews, many of whom have been murdered in recent weeks, is coming from.
“10 Hours of Walking in Paris as a Jew”
The first thing to recognise is the inherent contradiction in the root of this hesitancy: That the refusal to confront and call out extremist elements in one minority community will ultimately erode a free society’s ability to protect other minorities. It should be no secret that many of the victims of this recent resurgent wave of Islamist violence have been members of the European Jewish community. I say it should be no secret but this is a problem that is getting nowhere near enough attention in the liberal press. In fact, what we really see is a failure to confront the assaults against one community for fear of offending the one with which those committing these assaults are associated. This is often disguised as tolerance for anti-Israeli rather than anti-Jewish sentiment, but when you reach the point where Sainsbury’s is pulling kosher products from its shelves for fear of being attacked, the distinction is near enough non-existent. Many Jews are now wondering if they have a place in Europe anymore. And yet you will notice that, while attacks on Jews, statistically, far outweigh attacks on Muslims, more attention gets paid in the press to so-called “Islamophobia” (a term which has been used to conflate race with religion and which has been very effective in drowning out honest debate in a cacophony of racism accusations) than explicitly murderous anti-Semitic attacks. While there is no doubt that prejudice against Muslims exists (though this is distinct from racism) and one can cite examples of violence against Muslims, this pales in comparison to attacks against Jews. Conversely, the emphasis placed on the severity of anti-Semitism in Europe pales in comparison to concern over Islamophobia.
But despite the seemingly modest and well-meaning intention of liberals who adopt this position, as Nawaz points out in the panel discussion, they are doing decent mainstream Muslims no favours. By refusing to name the danger and acknowledge that free societies in the West face an existential threat from Islamism and expansionist Jihad, the door is left wide open to tarnish all Muslims with the same brush. He cites the example of President Obama who, in a recent speech said, “There is an ideology we must face” and refused to go as far as naming it. As Nawaz pointed out, the average American may not make the distinction between Islamism and Islam more generally. This kind of liberal discourse is, without any permission, making extremists the spokespeople for an entire community.
Thus the first step to overcoming the climate of fear created by political correctness is to identify its internal inconsistencies and inherent hypocrisy. Once this has been identified you are free to (Maajid’s words again) “call a spade a spade”. The difficulty with this project is that political correctness has an in-built rhetorical defence mechanism; if you talk of overcoming political correctness, those who are in favour of it (or rather, still under its thrall) tend to claim that you are proposing free reign for racism and intolerance. In actual fact, bigotry, intolerance, racism (and any other undesirable reactionary predisposition you care to name) are contradicted by the very same rational thought process that you adopt to overcome the dishonesty and obscurantism of the politically correct position. Racism and bigotry are inherently reductive and hypocritical and therefore easily vulnerable to the same kind of analysis.
It is necessary, though not sufficient on its own, to be able to draw these kind of distinctions, and identify this kind of deceptive hypocrisy for what it is. Political correctness in the Europe of 2015 is primarily a doctrine of fear and deception cloaked in a veil of courtesy and politeness, and it does no community any favours to distort the reality of the situation we all face.