The timid civilized world has found nothing with which to oppose the onslaught of a sudden revival of barefaced barbarity, other than concessions and smiles.
The intelligentsia in an open society are influential in a way that is sometimes poorly understood. Fashionable opinion makers in a democracy are rarely Machiavellian movers and shakers whispering insidious nothings into the ear of the Prince. Their power lies rather in the intellectual climate their ideas help generate. That climate may make it politically impossible for democratically elected politicians to say or do certain things, even if they know those things to be both urgent and correct. In the case of Islamist violence the dogmas of multiculturalism and identity politics have cloaked our discourse in euphemism and made honesty and plain speaking politically costly.
The liberal consensus has moved from wanting to treat all people equally regardless of sex, creed or colour, to treating some people preferentially because of their sex, creed or colour. The sense that it is wrong to criticise cultures outside of one’s own is a deeply embedded manifestation of that. As Islam is mainly a religion of minority groups within the Western world, mocking or criticising its ideas and practices is seen by many to be inherently bigoted. The notion that some of those ideas and practices might be deleterious to members of those minority groups, as well as damaging to those groups relationship to the larger society, is dismissed with horror as cultural imperialism. Break the taboo and you risk being labelled an ‘Islamophobe’ or a ‘racist’. Politicians who rely on popular support cannot afford to ignore that.
The savagery of the threat we face is undeniable; that much has been made abundantly and obscenely clear. The atrocity exhibition that is Islamic extremism is open for all to see. It is the tongue that gives away hesitations and confusions. Horror at the latest Islamist atrocity is barely allowed to register before voices rise up to explain the bloodletting is not quite what it appears to be. Al Qaeda, said President George W. Bush, is not the true face of Islam. ISIS, says President Obama, are not even Islamic. The sexual enslavers of hundreds of Nigerian girls are, we are told, not real Muslims. Neither are the killers of Pakistani school children. Palestinians burn copies of Charlie Hebdo on the Temple Mount, but that is nothing to do with religion. Islam, our great and good keep repeating, is a religion of peace.
After Paris, this situation is plainly intolerable.
Did you see the photos of ISIS throwing homosexuals from tall buildings in Iraq? The Koran and Hadith are very clear when it comes to our homosexual brothers and sisters, and Islamic law mandates a number of punishments, including burning, crushing by stone and being thrown from a high point, all of which have been used by Islamists in recent years to kill people for the crime of loving the wrong person. Given the obvious connection between the letter of the law and its enactment here, how can it possibly be meaningful to say this behaviour is not Islamic? It clearly is an interpretation of Islam, an expressly savage and nihilistic interpretation of Islam, and not the only interpretation of Islam, but an interpretation nonetheless.
I’m constantly amazed at the lengths some people will go to avoid making that observation.
I downloaded a copy of ISIS’ glossy English language magazine Dabiq. It is worth looking at if you haven’t. The magazine is studded with Koranic verses and constant reference is made in the articles to canonical permission for their various rampages. ISIS believe they are doing God’s work; that they are followers in the footsteps of The Prophet, slaughtering and raping their way into Paradise. Islam, you might reasonably conclude, provides more than just a convenient justification for these guys: it is their faith.
The young Muslim men who bring slaughter to our streets share that faith. Indeed, the only thing that connects the 9/11 hijackers with the bombers of London, Madrid, and Boston, the killer of Theo van Gogh with the killers of Lee Rigby and Charlie Hebdo – the only thing – is the ideology of Islamic extremism. Yet the instinct of so many is to turn away from this fact, to talk about almost anything else.
After Paris, the evasions must stop. The religion of Islam is the central organising principle behind a global cult of barbarism. That cult seeks to subjugate everything and anything in its path, and thanks to globalisation and mass immigration, it has reach. People are suffering and dying, across large swathes of the world, because of ideas and concepts that went out of fashion in the secular West centuries ago – blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, theocracy, conquest and holy war. The Wars of Religion that ravaged Christendom in the 16th century are reckoned to have left a death toll in the millions. The wars among Muslim peoples have killed hundreds of thousands in the last couple of decades alone. Who knows how many more will have to suffer and die before this is over?
Trying to verbally cleanse the religious component of this carnage does us no good whatsoever. The link between the religion of Islam and Islamist violence cannot be broken if you refuse to admit such a link even exists. Without a proper discussion of the culture of Muslim minorities in the West, we will never identify what it is about that culture that makes some of its young men believe they have a duty to kill us. If we refuse to look at Islam, its beliefs and practises, and try to shield Muslims from mockery and criticism, we are not helping social cohesion, but actively engineering difference and separation. Illiberal and reactionary ideas about women, gays, and non-Muslims – ideas wider society abhors – remain unchallenged. Liberals and reformers within those groups are ignored. It is hardly surprising that young Muslim men who grow up being told by our intelligentsia they are the victims of Islamophobic and racist societies find it difficult to get on. When internalised, the politics of resentment and victimhood may even leave some of those men susceptible to the Islamist narrative.
The platitudes of Western leaders might be intended to dampen down anti-Muslim feeling, to sound non-judgemental and inclusive, but they leave us all, Muslim and non-Muslim, more vulnerable not less. Without an honest conversation about cultures and beliefs – about religion – we cannot begin to smash the chain of bad ideas that lead those with hate in their hearts and God on their lips to commit terrible acts of violence. In dark times, that is to say, feeble words are an enemy also.
After Paris, we must not be afraid to do better than this.