Sunday, May 26, 2013

We need to study Islamic terrorism as a malignant sub-set of Islam

Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Great Britain has said that the vast majority of Muslims would say that the Woolwich murder had "nothing to do with Islam" and were the “action of a minority”. Few would wish to question the sincerity of his statement – but surely we should point out its internal inconsistency? There seems to be no doubt that the perpetrators of this evil act were doing it, as they saw it, in the name of Islam. Indeed that is what one of them said “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you.”

So acts of this sort and all the many Islamic terrorist acts over the years are of course something “to do with Islam” and it is wrong, even dangerous, to deny it. That Islam does not condone such acts was rightly emphasised by the Prime Minister when he said it was “…a betrayal of Islam and of the Muslim communities who give so much to our country. There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act.” But any proper investigation of the crime and its causes has to start with an acknowledgment that the start point was the Islamic faith of the killers. It may be uncomfortable for many peace-loving decent Muslims to recognise this – but it is none the less true.

Belief in any long-established ideology probably follows a Bell curve of commitment/fanaticism. The vast majority of believers will be in the around 95% that sit within two standard deviations of the median. But at the extremes will be the ultra-fanatics whose devotion to their Faith is completely dominant in their lives. This can be, and often is, comparatively benign. Haredi Jews, for example, live lives at the outer fringes of orthodoxy and whilst many Jewish people would not wish themselves to be members of a sect with such strict behavioural rules it is hardly a threat to anybody. Among Christian believers the Amish Mennonites are similar. All three of the big monotheist religions have huge variations of belief and behaviour systems and history of course teaches us that an over- zealous belief can sometimes be dangerous.

To argue that those who adhere to the more extreme forms of Islam (or Judaism or Christianity for that matter) are not acting in line with the true teaching of the Religion is subjective. The infamous call for a fatwa against Salman Rushdie came from the effective leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, not from a madman in a cave. And the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an Islamic State which has Sharia law including the Death Penalty for Apostasy - it is not the only Islamic country to do this by any means. Fatwas and death to apostates may be rejected by Muslims in the West – although as we have seen recently some of our citizens like Anjem Choudary, the radical Islamist, want Sharia in Britain! As Atheist ideologue Richard Dawkins has said “Most of the faithful are nice, harmless, decent people. But beware the minority who are sincere and take their faith seriously”!

I would not agree with Dawkins that you need to beware all sincere and serious religionists. But from within this predominantly harmless group, who tend towards the more extreme application of the rules (as they see them) of their Faiths, are those who distort science (the Creationists) - which is intellectually dangerous - and those who preach violence in the name of their Religion. That violence may be against people (as with Al Qaeda and its ilk) or against institutions – like the Christian anti-abortion fanatics who set fire to hospitals and surgeries.

So in investigating and countering Faith-based terror it is unhelpful to start from the premise that this terror has nothing to do with the true core of the Faith. As I have said this is subjective anyway. Each of the three monotheist faiths has a wide variety of applications of its tenets and huge internal differences – the Sunni/Shia or Catholic/Protestant divisions have historically been as lethal as the higher level Muslim/Christian ones. If we see Islamic terror not as a phenomenon separate from mainstream Islam but as an extreme expression of Islam on the fringes of the Faith (albeit a grotesquely distorted one) it is likely that we will understand and counter it better.


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