After the depraved attack on French civil society yesterday, I knew that I wanted to react in print, but it took me some time to gather my thoughts, and there is little I can say about the attacks themselves that hasn’t already been better expressed by the extraordinarily touching displays of solidarity from ordinary people across the world.
The West does very well when it comes to showing solidarity with victims and upholding democratic values such as, in this case (and most cases as it is expansionist theocracy’s most hated concept), free speech, but I fear Western civil societies are less sure of themselves when it comes to facing up to a real threat.
As such, I thought I would take this opportunity to debunk some persistent myths in the West about militant Islam:
Islamism is not a liberation theology: In the West, Islamism has quite successfully managed to pose as a sort of interest group representing an oppressed minority deserving of our protection and sympathy, subject as they are to prejudice, racism (taking advantage of the all-too-common fallacy of conflating of race and religion) and the injustices of globalisation and neoliberal capitalism. The branding of the movement as a kind of anti-capitalist rebellion has allowed mendacious frauds like George Galloway to jump on the bandwagon which, as Nick Cohen points out in his Book What’s Left, creates a baffling alliance between the left and the openly fascistic ideology of Islamism. The corollary to this, of course, is that it cultivates an impression among liberals that resistance to this fundamentalism and concern about Islamic influence in society is reactionary, right-wing and intolerant.
Further, I have had to have quite a few ridiculous arguments with liberal Westerners who are under the impression that the rise of militant Islam is our fault for our interference in the affairs of “Muslim countries” (surrendering their argument on a liberal basis from the outset by denominating territory on the grounds of religion). These are the sort of people who, when an embassy is burned in Libya or the diplomatic immunity of Denmark is violated, will smugly post snide comments about American imperialism on Twitter tagging “#blowback”. Of course there is historicity to the rise of these groups, but it is a non-sequitur to take the attitude that, as a result of our history we should roll over and give in to these thugs, if anything it redoubles our responsibility to stand firm against this threat. It also embodies a remarkably abject and negative attitude to the free speech they are employing in making these kind of statements, suggesting the these hard-won freedoms we enjoy are not worth defending or, worse, are not universal at least in potential.
Islamism is not some kind of wistful sigh of the oppressed; it is the most reactionary ideology in existence in the world today. It is not a result of poverty and disempowerment; it is the cause of them, it thrives on ignorance, prejudice and hatred. It actively proclaims that it loves death as we “Kuffar” love life – it must be destroyed if the love of life and freedom is to prevail over this foul death-cult.
Appeasement is not the solution: There are those who, as I already mentioned, suggest that the problem is the behaviour of Western civilisation and that the rise of Islamic terrorism is a “response” to our chequered colonial history and, as such, that the answer is to build bridges and make an effort not to upset these people. It has been quite common over the last decade that, when someone in the media criticises Islam as a religion or makes a comment on the roots of Islamism in Muslim society, the response is something along the lines of “you have just offended 1.8 billion Muslims” or “I wouldn’t advise going to war with a billion people”. Not only does this kind of statement make the elementary error of allowing the censorious or fundamentalist elements to speak for the global Muslim population (a far more offensive implication than a critique of religious doctrine), it also contains an implicit threat and an element of emotional blackmail. I would defend the right of someone to hold a worldview if there was only one of them, but the population statistic is clearly intended as a scaremongering tactic. This is the kind of attitude that cultivates the impulse to appease and capitulate. Furthermore, if all of those 1.8 billion were hateful bomb-wielding extremists (an absurd hypothesis), it would mean that even greater efforts were required to defeat them, because the alternative is not worth consideration. If you think the answer is to accommodate these people, then you better be aware of what kind of compromises will be necessary – their goal is the establishment of a global theocracy based on the most reactionary and fascist ideas. The only form of appeasement acceptable to these people would be cultural suicide on a grand scale, total capitulation and the surrender of everything that makes our civilisation a better place to live in than the squalid desert fiefdoms they are carving out for themselves.
Islamism is not a trivial threat: Immediately after the September 11 attacks we seemed pretty clear on the gravity of the situation and the savage determination of the enemy we faced. But in the years that followed, particularly after the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it has become rather unfashionable to admit that terrorism poses an existential threat. I believe this is a side-effect of liberal embarrassment about Western foreign policy – if, in a middle-class London wine bar, you raise the subject of Jihadist terrorism and the need to defeat it, expect to be greeted with rolled eyes and an accusation that you sound like George Bush or some other such casuistry. How have we, as a society, become more afraid of being compared to Dick Cheney than of being blown up or slaughtered in the streets of our own cities?
Whether or not that is the reason for this attitude, there is a hesitancy to see terrorist attacks as an overarching and building threat – every attack is seen as an isolated incident by a couple of fanatics or some crazed individual with a mental illness. This also allows liberals to avoid asking any hard questions about the ideology and beliefs behind these actions, lest they have to face up to any politically incorrect realities. But it also trivialises the threat and empowers the enemy by indicating to them that we do not understand the appeal of their ideas and the psychology of Jihad. It was this attitude which was used to shrug off the butchery of Lee Rigby.
What this most recent attack highlights is that we face a far different enemy. These men are not “crazy” but frighteningly sane – the men who carried out this attack did so in a cold, calm and rehearsed manner. As Robert Fox, the Defence Correspondent for The Evening Standard pointed out, these men were organised, coordinated and well-trained. They knew how to use guns and they knew how to kill without mercy or hesitation, as we saw in their clinical execution of a helpless police officer. It is not mental illness that drives these actions but firm beliefs and convictions. Further, what we understand about this and, increasingly, previous attacks, including that on Lee Rigby, is that they were planned and coordinated and not the actions of a few psychotic vagrants. I am willing to take the enemy seriously to that extent.
The gunmen's harsh cries of “Allahu Akbar”, as they shot at police.
And finally, this may come as a surprise but…
Liberal democracy is worth fighting for: It may have become obvious by now that I am concerned about Islamic Jihad but what often concerns me even more is the attitude of its potential victims, those of us who occupy the societies it wishes to destroy. I even sometimes wonder if some Westerners secretly (or even openly) long for the West to fall. I believe this is an unfortunate negative side-effect of one of the most positive aspects of Western civilisation – the capacity for self-criticism of its societies, the very core that makes it worth defending. But this can, at times, go too far. Our capacity for critical self-reflection sometimes turns to self-hatred and shame. When the Ayatollah Khomeini took to Twitter recently to criticise America for the events in Ferguson, I was astonished to find apparently liberal commenters making the case that Iran is a more pluralistic and free society than the USA. Democratic values have become unfashionable or embarrassing to assert for fear of being accused of hypocrisy of Western imperialism (a subject we have discussed previously). If you think that everything is relative and frequently start sentences on this subject with “who are we to say” then I fear you have fallen victim to this cultural malaise.
Since when did being a liberal become synonymous with being incapable of asserting your values? Indeed “values” are meaningless unless they are assertive. Yes, I object to the treatment of women and homosexuals in Muslim countries. In fact I object to the very idea of a Muslim state, theocracy being the worst and most debased form of tyranny – if that bothers you, allow me to hedge by saying that, by exactly the same standard, I object to the existence of Christian, Jewish or any other kind of religious state. And yet for expressing my disgust at ideas that are opposed to everything liberal democracy stands for, I can be accused of having an illiberal attitude.
Western society is not perfect and injustice exists everywhere, including the countries that are, for all intents and purposes, the most ‘free’. But our freedom to criticise our own civilisation makes it worth fighting for.
Featured Image Credit: The Fall of Rome: Destruction by Thomas Cole (1836) Source: Wikicommons