Now that the incident in Paris is a few days old, I’ve had some time to gather my thoughts about it.
I was struck by a tweet sent out by Michael Deacon of the Telegraph. It made me rethink this dreadful incident.
In the end, the terrorists probably didn’t care much about drawings of Muhammad or the insult to Islam. What was more on their mind was attacking something that we in the West hold very dear; in this case, freedom of expression. This was something likely to provoke a response aimed at the wider Muslim community. With the fire-bombings of mosques and the bolstering of anti-immigrant marches, they succeeded in getting the reaction they expected. Our culture holds other things in high esteem: tolerance, sexual freedom, secularism, Christianity, the right to vote. We should expect attacks on them too.
Contrary to some official statements, the jihadi death cults DO have something to do with Islam. But no more so than the Shining Path and the Khmer Rouge were related to socialism, or the Nazi terror emerged from nationalism. It’s not inevitable that religion – even ideology – will create death cults. All they do is to provide a fertile background from which a death cult narrative can emerge. Despite how deep the flaws in the underlying philosophies, we can’t blame all adherents of an ideology for the emergence of nihilistic terrorism from within.
We need to make a very clear distinction between Islam and the jihadi death culture. Jihadism is a narrative, a story that has been carefully concocted to deny its adherents their basic humanity. It’s a story that places themselves as the victim, fighting against a conspiracy of epic proportions, where everyone on the outside is the enemy – men, women and little children. It’s a narrative that appeals to a certain personality and a certain mindset. Even when people are born into the most desperate of circumstances, it is not inevitable that they will radicalise into death cult adherents.
While countering the social circumstances that create fertile recruitment grounds for jihadism, we need to combat that narrative. One way to do this is to show alternatives from within the community itself. We need to celebrate and support Muslim successes and the essential humanism that is as much part of their community as it is ours. Now is not a time to alienate our Muslim compatriots. It’s a time to embrace them. They are as much victims of this horror as we are, if not more so.