What, it should be govt policy to defeat 'Islamism'? Why? #bbcqt
— rachel shabi(@rachshabi) May 23, 2013
It's somewhat alarming that anyone should still be asking entry-level questions at this late date, let alone an experienced broadsheet journalist who specialises in Middle East commentary, but there it is. More alarming still, Shabi's perplexed tweet was sent during a discussion on BBC Question Time about the implications of Lee Rigby's horrifying murder the previous day, apparently at the hands of Islamist assassins.
On the afternoon of 22 May, Rigby, a 25 year old drummer in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, had been knocked down by a car in broad daylight, stabbed with knives and hacked with a meat cleaver. An attempt was then made to decapitate his corpse before it was dragged into the middle of the road and displayed for all to see. His alleged killers, whose hands were still wet with their victim's blood, then remained at the scene until they were finally shot and taken into custody by the police.
The day after the Question Time broadcast, Shabi trailed her own appearance on Sky News to discuss the Woolwich atrocity with a series of tweets, including this one:
Told Sky: if woman in #Woolwich brave enough to ask armed killer why he did it; we need to be brave enough to hear reply
— rachel shabi(@rachshabi) May 24, 2013
For reasons I'll come back to, I find Shabi's comparison to be fantastically ill-judged. But I happen to agree that we ought to listen to the alleged perpetrators in a crime of this kind. Not least because it will help to determine whether this is a simply a meaningless if spectacularly savage act of random violence, or whether there is an ideology underpinning it which means it qualifies as a political act. Because if it's the latter, a strategy needs to be formulated aimed at defeating such a toxic ideology and protecting society from the barbarous fanaticism of its adherents.
The brave woman to whom Shabi refers is Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, a passer-by who confronted one of the men and was allegedly informed that Rigby had been killed because, as a British soldier, he had killed Muslims. Further rambling testimony was delivered into the cameraphone of another bystander by his alleged co-conspirator:
… Sura at-Taubah — many, many ayat [Qur'anic verses] throughout the Qur'an that, we must fight them as they fight us, an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth. We, I apologize that women had to witness this today, but in our lands, our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don’t care about you.Over at zenpundit.com, commentary on Sura at-Taubah or Sura 9 is cited as follows:
It should also be mentioned that this surah does not start with ‘Bismillah’ as do all other surahs in the Qur’an, because ‘Bismillah’ is an assurance of protection and mercy and as per report of Ali (RAA) this surah was revealed with a sword in its hand, and thus could not have the assurance of peace and mercy for the disbelievers.The author also points out that Sura 9 contains the notorious so-called "verse of the sword" or Sura 9.5 which instructs the faithful to:
...fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war).Relevant, I would have thought, all things considered. But Shabi seemed curiously reluctant to acknowledge any of the above during her Sky News interview. Instead, she strongly implied that the real victim of this attack was not a young father and his surviving family, but rather Britain's Muslim Community. Nor were the true aggressors the agents of a radical religio-political ideology as conventional wisdom supposed; if we look deeper, Shabi pressed, we will discover as she had that responsibility for the carnage in Woolwich actually lay with the foreign and domestic policies of Western democracies.
She didn't allow herself to be detained by condemnation of the bloodstained suspects even as they threatened her own life and safety and demanded the removal of her democratically-elected government. Presumably she felt that, as members of an embattled minority, they had enough on their plates. Indeed, Shabi had even gone so far as to publicly chastise others on the day of the Rigby murder for expressing condemnation of their own. She could do this because she had grasped something that others apparently had not: context.
What was of paramount importance, she explained, was that we do not use this incident to misrepresent Islam by conflating "terms such as Islam, Islamist, Islamism and terrorism so they all come to mean the same thing". This, she declared, as her sense of perspective deserted her, would be not only "nonsensical" but "offensive"and contribute to rising levels of anti-Muslim bigotry.
Shabi was then shown a picture of the victim and his young son and was invited to share in the revulsion that the anchor suggested was uniting others. But Shabi appeared unmoved. Instead she made some perfunctory remarks of the "yes, yes, of course but..." variety, before continuing:
I think we need to be really careful not to single out or make the Muslim community in Britain responsible or somehow accountable; put the onus on them and kind of "You sort it out" because, y'know, this is a collective problem and we need to have a collective shared approach. And one of the things we can do in this shared approach is actually to own up to the obvious correlation between British foreign policy and the violence that we've seen on our streets in the last few days. And British security officials have been for some time warning about the consequences of British foreign policy in the Middle East and the kind of repercussions it would have on British soil. And I think it's really important that we have this conversation openly and honestly because if we don't then that conversation will go elsewhere and it will be used as fuel by extremists."But," protested the anchor, "Is now the time to have this conversation? The government has made it very clear that nothing justifies an attack like this." Unfazed, Shabi replied:
Well, there's a very big difference between justification and understanding. There is of course no justification for any sort of act of terror, but, y'know, we do need to listen to the justifications. And if a woman in Woolwich is brave enough to stand and talk to an armed killer and ask him why he did it, then we need to be brave enough right now to listen to what his answer is.The difference between "justification" and "understanding" is indeed big. Or can be. That is, until or unless one realises that the understanding Shabi urges in this case refers not to the murderous ideology the alleged criminals voluntarily espouse, but to their ostensible grievances. Grievances with which, as it so happens, Shabi has considerable sympathy.
I say "ostensible grievances", because Islamism's intellectual founding fathers Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb and Abul A'la Maududi made it quite clear that their aggressively politicised brand of Islam was not a liberation theology in any progressive sense, but a deeply reactionary, supremacist theocratic imperialism which sought to establish the unchallengeable global primacy of Islam and the subordination of men and, especially, women beneath the totalitarian authority of the Sharia. As Ghaffar Hussein of anti-extremism think-tank the Quilliam Foundation, reminded us back in 2008:
Grievances are viewed [by Islamists] as opportunities because they can be exploited and manipulated for the sake of furthering the cause. The grievance argument also gives Islamists the chance to cloud their political agenda in public and use it as something to hide behind when they feel the heat. Therefore, to suggest that grievances cause radicalisation plays into Islamist hands and allows them to present a more acceptable version of their position in public discourse.I have no reason to suspect that Rachel Shabi has any genuine sympathy with totalitarian religious ideologies, or indeed extremism of any kind. And yet the arguments she advanced on Sky News with respect to the role of UK foreign policy in this terrible crime are barely distinguishable from those offered by Anjem Choudary when he had appeared on Newsnight the previous evening. The dissonance produced by the collision of her liberal beliefs with her ad hoc reactionary reasoning had entangled her arguments in an incoherent bind, forcing her to firstly claim there was no justification for Rigby's murder, before immediately claiming there were justifications plural, and that we ought to be listening to them with a view to reassessing our nation's foreign policy. How has an intelligent, liberal person like Shabi managed to talk herself into such a position? And why?
Pondering European hostility to Israel in his 2003 polemic Terror and Liberalism, the American liberal essayist Paul Berman made an interesting and, prima facie, counter-intuitive observation. He noticed that European outrage at the behaviour of Israel tended to rise and fall, not in accordance with the brutality or otherwise of occupation policy and the corresponding level of suffering experienced by Palestinians, but in correlation with incidences of Palestinian terrorism. He theorised the following explanation for this odd phenomenon:
[Palestinian] suicide bombings produced a philosophical crisis among everyone around the world who wanted to believe that a rational logic governs the world - a crisis for everyone whose fundamental beliefs would not be able to acknowledge the existence of pathological mass political movements. The protests against Israel, by putting the onus for suicide terror on Israeli shoulders, served a rather useful purpose from this point of view. The protests explained the unexplainable. [TaL, p. 143]Six years later, the conservative American journalist Christopher Caldwell reappraised Berman's theory in his own polemic Reflections on the Revolution in Europe and found that he concurred. "Without quite realising what they were doing," Caldwell wrote, "Europeans tended to blame Israel for the terrorist violence committed against it":
Suicide bombing had to be about an unbearable injustice. If it was not, it was a mere homicidal death cult. For a continent scarred by the homicidal cults of the twentieth century that was an unbearable thought. Europeans became more interested in the causes of terror than in terrorism itself. The more Israelis the bombers killed and the more ruthlessly they did it, the more public opinion shifted against Israel....Berman's view sounded eccentric when he advanced it, but he has been vindicated. European hostility towards Israel has diminished since the building of a secure wall between Israel and the West Bank - which has not altered the justice or injustice of Israeli occupation, but which has dramatically reduced the level of suicide bombing. [RotRiE, p. 216]I would add that it is not just the scars of totalitarianism which make Europeans recoil from the idea of irrationalist ideologies. The idea that such pathological ideas are embedded in the hearts and minds of the wretched of the earth capsizes the entire post-colonial narrative, the desperate defence of which has forced its apologists to take refuge behind increasingly ludicrous arguments from cultural relativism and moral equivalence. It is for this reason that they reserve a particularly vicious hatred for plain-spoken, clear-minded dissidents such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Mona Eltahawy and Maryam Namazie who expose their hypocrisy by testifying with passion and clarity to the moral turpitude of many of the so-called resistance movements lionised by the Anglo-American Left.
Shabi believes herself to be a far more honest and courageous speaker of truth to power than any of the above, and it is her nobility and bravery we are enjoined to emulate. It is she who possesses the necessary perspicacity, the developed appreciation of nuance and the empathy for the plight of the dispossessed which she implies is lacking in her chauvinist opponents. But when one strips away the rhetoric, what her arguments actually recommend is the antithesis of courage; it is appeasement. Objectively, Shabi wishes to give anyone with the inclination to use violence to intimidate the West's electorates and their governments the final say when it comes to policymaking.
Berman had some interesting things to say on the subject of appeasement as well, finding a useful parallel between the contemporary anti-war left's refusal to correctly identify pathological Islamic fascism and the corresponding unwillingness of the French Socialists' Paul Faure faction to understand the true character of National Socialism as the Nazi threat gathered.
The Paul Fauristes, Berman reminds us, were no fans of Hitler. They were, after all, at opposite ends of the political spectrum; as far apart one might think as Rachel Shabi and Anjem Choudary. Nevertheless, at the same time they were terrified by the prospect of further European conflict. They concluded, like contemporary Europeans, that they were not prepared to accept the notion that Nazism was a cult of mayhem, and that a rationalisation of Nazi rhetoric and policy - any rationalisation - would have to be constructed to explain what was happening to Europe. And so in Berman's words, the Paul Fauristes "grew thoughtful".
After all, they wondered, was it not unfair and morally reductive to demonise the Nazi party in monochromatic terms? Hadn't Germany been badly treated at Versailles? Weren't the German people suffering? Wasn't it important to locate common ground? Wasn't conciliation a price worth paying to avoid another continent-wide bloodbath? And although this hysterical stuff about the Jews was rather distasteful, was there not a difference between the legitimate criticism of the ways in which some - or even most - Jews behaved and outright anti-Semitism? Weren't some of those who favoured a confrontation with Germany Jewish? And as wealthy financiers, did some of them not stand to benefit from such a conflict? And on and on and on. And yet:
The anti-war Socialists of France did not think they were being cowardly or unprincipled in making those arguments. On the contrary, they took pride in their anti-war instincts. They regarded themselves as exceptionally brave and honest. They felt that courage and radicalism allowed them to peer beneath the surface of events and identify the deeper factors at work in international relations - the truest danger facing France. This danger did not come from Hitler and the Nazis, not principally. The truest danger came from warmongers and arms manufacturers of France itself, as well as from the other great powers. [p. 125]Mutatis mutandis, when Shabi used the word "lunacy" in connection with Woolwich two days later, it was not to describe those who had pitilessly butchered an innocent man in a crowded London street; she used it instead to describe the opinions of The Observer's Nick Cohen, who had written a hawkish article on the subject to which she took exception.
There is of course no question that the two individuals suspected of Lee Rigby's revolting murder present anything like the threat to Western democracies presented by Nazi Germany. The fact that Salafi Jihadis are reduced to the kind of squalid crime committed in Woolwich is, I suspect, an indication of the parlous state of disrepair into which the campaign for global jihad has latterly fallen. But as the controversies over the Danish cartoons and the Innocence of Muslims showed, it can still be mobilised to inspire fear and cowardice in those, like Shabi, predisposed to submit to its illiberal demands.
Other countries are not so fortunate. As the Middle East and North Africa see their secular despots fall to popular revolutions, Sunni Islamism is rising in its place. Pakistan and Afghanistan are in danger of being torn to pieces by jihadi violence. Nigeria, Somalia, Iraq and other countries across MENA are trying to cope with Islamist insurgencies of varying kinds. It is looking increasingly probable that when the dust finally settles on the Syrian catastrophe, that country will find itself governed by Islamists. And in Iran, a deeply anti-Semitic and oppressive Shia theocracy is defiantly pressing ahead with nuclear enrichment. Even Turkey, previously staunchly secular, is moving in an increasingly conservative direction under Erdoğan's AKP.
So what of the Shia, Ahmadis, Copts, atheists and secularists, and the gays and women who are finding themselves increasingly threatened by theocratic reaction in the Middle East and beyond? What scars have they inflicted upon their Salafist oppressors that explains away their persecution? If the Jews have brought Islamist hatred upon their own heads through the occupation of Palestinian land, then what have, say, Muslim women in Gaza and Iran done to deserve their subordination?
Alas, the ideological pacifism of the Paul Fauristes, so deeply embedded inside the heads and hearts of today's isolationist Anglo-American liberal Left, provides no intelligible answer. Instead, perversely fortified by the gory horrors religious fanaticism and violence have visited upon the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of their botched liberations, the pacifists declare themselves vindicated. And their demands for appeasement only escalate with every bookstore firebombed, every embassy torched, every innocent victim of fascistic terror and every blood-curdling threat uttered.
Liberals like Rachel Shabi and the new Paul Fauristes are able to advocate surrender to fascism because they refuse to recognise it for what it is. Instead they re-describe it as justice and simply screen out any evidence to the contrary. Having once been unwilling to identify and confront unreconstructed medieval savagery, they are now apparently incapable of doing so, even when it is staring them in the face. "Enough!" they cry. "Let them have what they want!"
* * *
PPS: It's worth noticing that in neither her Sky interview, nor her Op-Ed piece does Shabi attempt to present any evidence for the causal link between Western policy and Islamist terror she alleges, and on which the entire 'blowback' argument depends. It is instead the result of an intuition that insists such a link is self-evident. Even if it did exist, I still don't believe it would justify the kind of capitulation Shabi demands. But as it so happens, there is some fairly persuasive evidence to the contrary. On that score, this closely argued and well-supported post over at the Anonymous Mugwump blog makes for thought-provoking reading.