Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Islamism Appeasement and the Tunisian bloodbath
The reflexive reaction to Muslim terror from the highest echelons of government is always publicly expressed abhorrence at the latest act of brutality and murder. We are all of us reassured that ‘this’ is the madness of an aberrant and wholly unislamic individual or movement.
According to statements Prime Minister David Cameron made to Parliament on the 29th of June 2015, the mass murder carried out at Soussa in Tunisia two days earlier was the action of “a barbaric regime of terrorism and oppression.” The PM had been talking to the BBC “that very morning” about how to stop people associating this ideology with Islam. He said “I personally think that using the term ISIL or ‘so called’ would be better than what they currently do. I don’t think we’ll move them all the way to Da’esh, so I think saying ISIL is probably better than Islamic State because it is neither, in my view, Islamic or a state.” (Guardian Live Blog Transcripts)
And here is the nexus of the problem. Ambiguity serves only to conceal an inconvenient or uncomfortable truth. Its lord and master is the bad faith it serves. The opposing argument is simple enough to explain: we have learnt through history that plain speaking is too often just another word for the prejudice used by demagogues to incite the passions of the crowd. To label an entire community is prescriptive and too often it leads us to discriminate against the targeted community. The dilemma these two sides to the debate create is that from the wholly laudable desire to not offend our friends and neighbours we voluntarily engage in an exercise of self-deception.
So what are the issues and how can we confront them?
Many of the global conflicts in the world today are between Muslim nations and non-Muslim nations. Whether they are non state players acting as stand alone Islamic movements (Somalia’s Al-Shabaab or Nigeria’s Boko Haram) or groups that are protected, trained and financed by Muslim states (Pakistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) the conflict between Islamic players and the rest of us is a war that we can expect to remain painfully active for many years, perhaps decades to come.
There have been voluminous analyses of Al Qaeda and Islamic State, a few simple facts will suffice to demonstrate the growing global threat.
Al-Qaeda in the 1990’s had an annual budget of perhaps $30 million. Daesh (IS) has a budget of $100 million per month. In a single generation the number of foreign Islamist fighters increased from a few thousand to a conservative figure between 25,000 and 30,000. Those fighters originated in over 100 countries. The trans-national dimension of this ideological migration is highlighted by the ease with which people are able to travel and the sympathetic response that many Muslim nations have towards the cause espoused by IS. For instance, Turkey initially refused to allow Kurdish fighters to enter the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani as IS fighters systematically murdered Kurds and destroyed the town. Impending terrorist outrages in Kenya, the Sudan and Nigeria were identified but not acted on by the military.
Tracking militants, many of them radicalized online, is a hugely challenging, complicated task. A person may have grown up in one country, been radicalized in a second, received their military training in a third and ‘settled’ in a fourth while receiving his (or her) orders from a fifth. The social networks which include tens of thousands of Internet sites as well as facebook, twitter (46,000 IS sites were identified as requiring closure) and the mobile phone network are a core communication strategy for both retaining commitment to the cause and spreading the poison. According to one expert, one in seven to one in nine fighters have carried out terrorist attacks in their own country or in a 3rd country.
The British right wing fascist National Front had 17,000 members at its peak - supporters of Islamic State are the Muslim equivalent. But they are more than that. These are people who, for whatever reason, have made an intellectual choice to embrace a philosophy that celebrates beheading, crucifixion, slavery (both sexual and for want of a better word, ‘traditional’ slavery) as a ‘positive’ affirmation of their identity. It may be no more than a grotesque, "life enhancing," lifestyle choice for them but it is this choice that we are reluctant to publicly and without reservation, condemn.
When three young British women take their nine children to Syria, to live in an IS controlled ‘paradise’ all we seem capable of expressing is a doe like, wide-eyed, caught in the headlights puzzlement. Instead, we should be examining, from the sources, how Western educated women could embrace a narrative of pure venom. The Islamists that support Al-Qaeda, Islamic State and so on believe that broader moral questions have invalidated our right to self-defense. They believe that their cause, because it is based on shared religious values, is virtuous. That one word justifies every horrific act committed in the name of their god and their prophet.
In late medieval Europe public disputation between Christian authorities and Jewish communities was used as a means to humiliate Jewish communities. We do not need public debate to deteriorate into a medieval public disputation but anything less than public repudiation of these people and their specific Islamic beliefs amounts to soft support for an ideology of conquest, torture and terrorism.
To allow these people to reside anywhere in the non-Muslim world is the most frightening aspect of this whole sorry saga.
A counter narrative that undermines the radicalizers both at home and abroad must clearly define right and wrong, our idea of right and wrong, not theirs. Australia has recently discussed the introduction of legislation that would ensure anyone with dual citizenship loses their Australian citizenship if they are engaged in terrorism, and they would be deported from Australia or not permitted to return. I would take that one step further. Engage in terror, preach it or provide material support for it, irrespective of status, then that person will be deported to the nearest sympathetic country that will take them in, with no chance of ever being permitted to return.
A recent survey showed that Germans who grew up between the 1920’s and 1945 were mostly unaffected by de-Nazification or other de-radicalization programs. Prejudiced belief can only rarely be eliminated and it takes action over successive generations to succeed. Identities, once set are rarely modified. They simply go underground until the conditions for their re-emergence prevail. Because of this we need to take a stand in favor of our universal western values. Democracy and human rights is the core of our modern society to which I would add education towards tolerance. However, if protecting that society means that we deny those same rights to our enemies then as controversial as it may sound, this course of action is the minimum that we need to debate.
The rules that govern our society (and by this I mean the Western system currently dominated by the USA) constrain us to the benefit of everyone within the unitary system that we inhabit. They are set but subject to ongoing redefinition through continuous modification in order to unify disparate cultural groups. Our thinking and our behavior is molded by the pressures that these changes create and our reactions to those pressures. What limits the damage we inflict on others is that we have a social system that is defined by boundaries. Closed societies, the Islamic world in particular, have little if any possibility for change because they are always defined by looking backwards towards an idealized past. The creation of a single cultural entity means the extinction of any competitors past. This is the toxic essence of Islamism.
If we are unwilling to fight for what we believe in there are plenty of pseudo-academic institutions populated by thousands of radicals in our universities and elsewhere who are always happy to tell us how to behave, what to think and who to hurt. If we are not permitted to even identify those people or groups we believe to be our enemy and then to explain why we believe them to be so, then we are already a partially closed (undemocratic) society on the road to ruin.