If sensible people don’t have a sensible discussion, stupid people will have a stupid one.
The conversations and stories after these all-too-common terrorism attacks are also all too common. They’re chillingly similar to the conversations that follow school shootings in America. On the one hand you have people so deep in denial they could be extras in The Mummy. On the other you have people simplistically blaming.
When it comes to the problem of Islamic terrorism, what follows these events is just as tiresomely predictable. On the one hand you have people deep in denial that Islam is part of the problem, who will not even countenance that the ideology entangled with Islam be part of the discussion and who blame everything on the west in an orgy of self-flagellation. On the other you often do have the kind of paranoid ‘white supremacy’ lunatics and racists who latch on to what isn’t a race issue (Islam being a religion and ideology adhered to by many races).
The Regressive Left will not allow a remotely nuanced or wholly inclusive discussion of the problem, because the problem includes Islam and like their opposite numbers on the far right they mysteriously see that as a racial issue, when it’s an ideological and religious one.
Unfortunately, the chilling effect of the spurious accusations of racism etc means that sensible, intelligent, nuanced people are rendered virtually unable to discuss the issue. Either because they daren’t – having seen what happens to others who do – or because they become so entangled in defending their reputation against people who will not listen, that they can’t progress the conversation.
Even calm, collected and ruthlessly rational people like Sam Harris get ‘greenwalded’ to death. Even former Islamists like Majid Nawaz get the most racist insults (porch monkey) for making more measured and complete arguments for Islamic reform and addressing the fact that the religious ideology is part of the issue.
Because the left is rendered incapable of having this discussion, that means the discussion happens on the right instead. Most especially within those circles on the far right where accusations of racism – spurious or accurate – have no meaningful impact and can’t or won’t silence people.
By not having the difficult, realistic, complete discussions we are ceding the discussion, and power, and popularity, to the right. Much of it to the far right. To the kind of paranoid lunatics who espouse ‘white genocide’ and similar conspiracy nonsense. The ones who are made credible when governments apply pressure to censor Facebook, when the police daren’t arrest rape gangs out of fear of accusations, when the news media isn’t replicating what people are reporting on the ground, then we’ve lost the argument and we lose people to the worst and most extreme elements – and we lose more and more of them.
To fixate on Islam and exclude the other factors is incomplete, but this is true the other way around as well. It has to be acknowledged that Islam is an unreformed religion with a tendency to be interpreted in absolutist and uncompromising terms. It needs a reformation, but that needs to come from within, via people like Nawaz and via more liberal interpretations of Islam as found in the smaller sects and culturally amongst people like the Kurds. The Kurds, rather than the house of Saud, is who should get Western support – they and people like them have a, frankly, more civilised interpretation of Islam that could be the vital seed for a greater reformation.
War will not solve this problem, nor will paranoiac security concerns, but in the short term these may be needed things – applied properly without overreach (which is not an easy thing to do). We won’t solve the problem by ignoring the issues people have around immigration, or treating them as stupid. We won’t solve the problem by conflating economic migrants and refugees, we’ll just help continue to demonise the second. We won’t solve the problem by failing to encourage integration, by creating (or allowing) ghettos or not encouraging or expecting people to integrate and adapt to the values of their new home.
The left, my left, seems unable to cope with Islam. Here is a religious ideology that massively and overwhelmingly counter to everything the liberal left supposedly stands for. It is elitist, repressive, genuinely patriarchal and misogynistic, violently homophobic. Everything we are supposed to be against, yet – apparently – because it’s a religious minority (in the west), largely followed by people who happen to have brown skins it is somehow beyond reproach.
People of any colour are capable of hideous deeds. Ideologies and religions frequently encourage or excuse the worst depths of poor human behaviour. We do not see the same reticence to criticise or attack other bigoted ideologies such as (genuine) neo-Nazism and the double standard on this issue is blatant.
We simply cannot afford to have these conversations only happening on the right and the far right. It’s alienating people. It’s undermining the left. It’s making us look like hypocrites.
The hard conversations need to be had.