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In the midst of grief, still confusion

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In the aftermath of yesterday’s dreadful terror attack on the Palace of Westminster, which has so far left four victims dead and around 40 people injured, many of them seriously, the Prime Minister Theresa May today addressed the House of Commons.

Among other remarks by Mrs May which struck the right tone of steely calm, there was however this exchange. A Conservative MP, Michael Tomlinson, said:

“It is reported that what happened yesterday was an act of Islamic terror. Does the Prime Minister agree that what happened was not Islamic, just as the murder of Airey Neave was not Christian, and that both were perversions of religion?”

To which the Prime Minister answered:

“I absolutely agree. It is wrong to describe what happened as Islamic terrorism; it is Islamist terrorism—a perversion of a great faith.”

To which one can only groan, head in hands: here we go again. Since 9/11 the British political establishment has refused to acknowledge that the jihadi terrorism being conducted in the name of Islam is actually inspired by… Islam. Islamic jihadi terror has instead been called “un-Islamic” or even “anti-Islamic” or “ a perversion of Islam” or “a warped ideology”. Everything but what it actually is: terrorism inspired by a fanatical but legitimate interpretation of Islam.

Mrs May’s statement was in this risible vein. Yes, “Islamist” is a reasonable neologism – I use it myself – to describe political or jihadi Islam and thus necessarily differentiate it from the un-extreme, pacific interpretation of the religion to which millions of Muslims subscribe.

But to assert – as Mrs May did – that Islamism is therefore not Islamic is demonstrably ridiculous. Does she think the concept of jihad is not Islamic? For sure, jihadi Islam is an interpretation of the religion to which many Muslims do not subscribe. But it is a genuine interpretation, solidly based on religious sources and is the historic inspiration for centuries of bloody Islamic conquest. It is as absurd to say it has nothing to do with Islam as it would be to say the Inquisition had nothing to do with Christianity or ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews have nothing to do with Judaism.

The claim that identifying religion as the problem would demonise all Muslims is a non-sequitur. Yes, many Muslims are not extreme; but a terrifyingly large number are. In an opinion poll of a sample of British Muslims last year, only 34 per cent said they would report to the police anyone they thought was involved with jihadi extremism; 38 per cent blamed either the US or the Jews for 9/11; four per cent – which would amount to around 100,000 British Muslims – sympathised with Muslim suicide bombers; and 23 per cent wanted Islamic sharia law to replace domestic English law in areas with large Muslim populations.

The denial of the religious roots of this problem undercuts the defence of the country against attack. Although the sources of radicalisation may often be on-line and thus fiendishly difficult to deal with, and although single-handed perpetrators may be responding to Islamic State instructions to hit western civilians everywhere, such propaganda doesn’t work in a vacuum.

To put it another way, Isis would not galvanise an atheist to commit mass murder. In certain individuals such calls to jihad catalyse beliefs, which to some extent or other are already in their mind, rooted in Islamic religious doctrine about the division of the world into the house of Islam and the house of war, the requirement to conquer infidels to rid the world of evil, or the resulting paranoid belief that the west’s aim is to destroy Islam altogether.

As I wrote in my 2006 book Londonistan: “The real problem is the continued refusal to confront the domestic context in the UK in which the jihadis operate and recognise that there is a continuum of religious thought which acts as a recruiting agent for violence too much of which has been allowed to take root in the Muslim community.”

Denying that Islamic terror is Islamic also underwrites the disturbing refusal by the Muslim community to acknowledge any responsibility at all for what is being perpetrated in the name of their religion. Yes, its members spring to denounce atrocities and terrorism; but these are meaningless bromides. What they need to condemn, but fail so conspicuously to do, is not just the atrocity but the belief system which has caused it.

This total abdication of moral responsibility is exacerbated in turn by the grossly irresponsible cry that goes up immediately from the liberal intelligentsia that “our main concern must be to protect the Muslim community from demonisation”. What kind off warped priorities are these? Yes, we should indeed take care not to vilify or attack Muslims in general. But surely our main concern should be to prevent such atrocities from happening again? Equally we should not give the Muslim community a free pass and effectively support its members’ outright refusal to do anything to destroy this contagion in their midst by denying it has anything at all to do with them.

It’s also a case of egregious double standards. After the black south London teenager Stephen Lawrence was murdered by white racists in 1993, not only the entire British police service but every British institution was damned (entirely without foundation) as “institutionally racist”. The liberal intelligentsia is so quick to hold white western society collectively responsible for one terrible deed – and yet it refuses to apply anything like the same standard when it comes to misdeeds by Muslims.

Moreover, this totally undermines those brave Muslim reformers who have acknowledged that something is very wrong with their religion which must therefore be reformed. Every time someone claims Islamic terrorism has got nothing to do with Islam this cuts the ground from under these reformers’ feet.

Muslims like other minorities should be welcomed in Britain and elsewhere as long as they play by the same rules as everyone else. Liberal society allows minorities space for their own religion or culture provided they do not seek to challenge, undermine or overthrow the fundamental values of that society, such as democracy or one law for all. If Muslims are to be treated the same as all other minorities that would mean, for example, prohibiting sharia law, banning the Muslim Brotherhood, shutting extremist mosques and stopping all funding of religious institutions or educational facilities, including university Islamic departments, by foreign sources such as Saudi Arabia which export jihad.

Britain, like the rest of the world, has a problem with one religion alone. It does not have a problem with Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism or any other faith. Jihadi terrorism and cultural encroachment are a worldwide menace. But those who refuse even to name what they are up against will be defeated by it.

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