Making excuses for Islamism
Why do Conservatives like Dan Hannan fail to get the point about Islamism and Islam? Theirs is a different kind of denial from the Left's but it is still based on deep-seated flaws. There's also an unholy alliance between the Left and some on the Right on Islamism
Claims that Islamist violence has nothing to do with Islam normally come from the liberal/Left, the usual suspects in Britain being the Guardian and the Independent.
Lately however there have been somewhat similar claims made or suggested by the conservative Right, for example by Daniel Hannan, Conservative Member of the European Parliament, who is very well known for his general concerns about the European Union and the future of Europe.
Writing at CapX, a free-market online news service, Mr Hannan claimed that the Charlie Hebdo murderers were social “losers”, young men who were alienated from wider French society and were in no way representative of Islam or of Muslim beliefs.
So, like many on the Left, the Conservative Mr Hannan seeks, in a sense, to contextualise the Charlie Hebdo murders by blaming wider French society. The killers were social rejects, he says; educational failures, welfare addicts etc, and in frustration at French social injustice, they hit out in the only way they knew.
Even when such explanations come from the Right they are not convincing.
Mr Hannan’s claim might make some sense if Islamist violence were a rare commodity. But in fact it is not. As Samuel Huntington put it in his book, The Clash of Civilizations, “Wherever one looks along the perimeter of Islam, Muslims have problems living peaceably with their neighbours.”
The truth is that Muslim violence cuts across the entire planet. Huntington gives examples, from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines in the Far East, to India and Kashmir, to Israel and the Lebanon in the Middle East, to the Caucasus and Russia, to the Balkans, to the Sudan and Nigeria in sub-Saharan Africa. In all of these places, Islam is in serious violent conflict with its neighbours.
Why is this? No doubt Islam is not always and everywhere to blame. But the fact remains that almost everywhere that Islam abuts a non-Islamic culture, there is violent conflict. And now, after sixty years of Muslim immigration into Europe, so too is Europe experiencing Islamist violence.
Mr Hannan’s “social losers” explanation cannot explain any of this. It cannot explain such world-wide and extreme geo-political violence. In fact, it does not even begin to explain the Islamist violence in France or Britain.
For example, one of the Islamists who drove into the terminal at Glasgow Airport in 2007 was a well-educated medic. No social deprivation there. Indeed there are many examples of well educated middle-class Muslims involved in terrorism, so Mr Hannon’s social deprivation model of terrorism ends up explaining absolutely nothing.
So why do so many otherwise intelligent people blame society rather the rational terrorist for terrorism?
We know why the Left relativises Islamic violence -- knee-jerk anti-Westernism and anti-Semitism about Israel -- but why are so many conservative-minded people refusing to face some obvious truths about Islam and violence?
Partly, the answer has to do with security. Conservative leaders such as Mr Cameron and Mrs Merkel insist Islamist violence has nothing to do with Islam because of concerns about a public back-lash.
It’s a politician’s “noble lie”, as Douglas Murray calls it in the Spectator, “provoked by a fear that we are all a lynch mob in waiting.”
The public understand all of this, of course, and know political mood-music when they hear it. In truth, people are not really expected to believe what the politicians say on Islamist violence, and most people don’t. But they are expected to play along and pretend.
The problem is that Islamist violence has gone on too long and the “noble lie” is now low-brow dishonesty. Nobody wants to pretend anymore.
While Mr Cameron’s concerns about Islamist violence are immediate, there are others on the political right, such as Mr Hannan, whose concerns I suspect are more long-term. Will Europe’s ever growing Muslim population continue to respect Europe’s political values and free-market capitalist system?
Mr Hannan assures himself on this point. Mediaeval Islam, he says, was “relatively liberal and capitalist”, as well as “tolerant and enlightened.”
Presumably, Mr Hannon wishes to believe that Europe’s growing Islamic culture can and will be tolerant and capitalist in the future.
Well, I’m no expert on mediaeval Islam, but here is Ernest Renan, in his day one of Europe’s greatest experts on Middle Eastern civilizations:
“Those liberals who defend Islam do not know Islam. Islam is the seamless union of the spiritual and the temporal, it is the reign of dogma, it is the heaviest chain mankind has ever borne. In the early Middle Ages, Islam tolerated philosophy, because it could not stop it. It could not stop it because it was as yet disorganised, and poorly armed for terror.
"But as soon as Islam had a mass of ardent believers at its disposal, it destroyed everything in its path. Religious terror and hypocrisy were the order of the day. Islam has been liberal when weak, and violent when strong.”
That’s a 19th century expert’s view, and may not be relevant to today’s Muslims. Renan had some strange and contradictory views on matters of race, religion and nation that were a product of his time, as did contemporaries such as Marx and Engels.
But what we in Europe do know for certain is that Europe today is suffering increasing Islamist terror, just like many other parts of the world where Islam is found, and it seems to be growing as the Muslim population grows.
It may be expedient for politicians and the media to dissemble about the true nature of Islamist violence, but political realists looking around the world understand that, at the very least, extremist violence seems to be the tail wagging the dog.
Mr Hannan is right to be concerned about the future of Europe. He just needs a sharper understanding of where some of those concerns should be located.
Vincent Cooper is a regular contributor to The Commentator
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