A friend of mine recently became very agitated over this story: a non-binding UN resolution has been passed against ‘defamation’ of religions. This measure, though of little definite impact in itself, is part of a broader drive towards legitimising blasphemy laws in various countries which are already being used to suppress social progress.
So I have no particular issue with criticising this measure. Nor do I have any issue with pointing out that Islam is disgusting, at a philosophical level, a moral level, and a political level. Whether we call it islamism, political islam, islamic extremism, or islamic fundamentalism, it is, as a set of ideas, a steaming pile of poo.
I do think, though, that there is an important point that sometimes gets blurred over, and that is this: it is often suggested that an analogy can be drawn between political Islam and secular far-right movements like Italian Fascism and neo-Nazism. Similar rhetoric of fighting totalitarianism and standing up for our freedom before it’s too late is employed in the two cases.
Now that may well be a reasonable parallel to draw, in many respects, in majority muslim countries. In places like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia, the struggle against islamism may well bear a great resemblance to the struggle against fascism in 20s and 30s Europe or wherever else. Different islamist groups differ in different ways, but in at least some cases the analogy may hold.
But the same just isn’t true in that community, national, cultural, and linguistic, that I and my friend inhabit – what might roughly be called ‘the West’, or ‘the Anglosphere’. In these countries, muslims are and will for the foreseeable future remain a minority of the population, and a marginal one at that. There is thus no prospect of political islam entering government.
That’s not to say that there is nothing to worry about. Political islam has a presence and can potentially do a number of bad things. A strand of it poses a public safety risk – in the USA, for example, about 3,000 people have been killed by political islam in the last decade or so. This compares with about 400,000 from motor vehicle accidents, and about 5,000 killed trying to cross the US-Mexico border illegally.
But a public safety risk is not the same as a political threat. If the fascists are never going to hold power, their political role is profoundly different. Indeed, if they are liable to be, for the foreseeable future, opposed by those in power, wrongly arrested, held without trial and tortured in secret prisons, or used to generate support for foreign military action, then their political role bears really very little resemblance to that of fascism.
Moreover, to suppose that they do pose the same kind of threat, makes sense only on racist assumptions. To fear that the government of the UK or France will be taken over by islamists makes sense only if we attribute to muslims a supernatural ability to 1) carry out amazing secret plots and schemes, and 2) breed so fast that they come to outnumber everyone else. It makes sense only if we suppose that the mere presence of a muslim community has the potential to erase everything non-muslim in the UK – its culture, its government, to make everyone speak Arabic and eat halal food, etc. These kinds of ideas are exactly the sort of racist ideas that are used to argue against open borders – they msut be controlled, because if they are given any opportunity, they, not through any normal method but by the corruption they carry in their hearts like a disease, will ‘swamp us. The concern with breeding, the feeling of a culture ‘under threat’, the unrealistic fear, etc. are all traditional racist tropes.
I don’t think my friend is remotely racist, by the way. But I think if you blur over the difference between 1) a minor public safety risk in western non-muslim countries, 2) a political threat in muslim-majority countries, and 3) a supposed political threat in western non-muslim countries, you are propounding fears that could only be substantiated and made rational by introducing implicitly racist ideas.
Learning about and writing about political situations in countries which are geographically or culturally or historically remote is fine and cool. But insofar as political speech is liable to have much effect, I think that effect will be mainly on audiences within my own country/community, people familiar with the same things I’m familiar with, people situated similarly. Where I and most of the people I know are situated, islamism is a nasty set of ideas but is not a mortal political threat to freedom – moreover it is not obviously a greater threat than ‘anti-islamism’, the idea that islamic terrorism must be fought by any means necessary.
That is all.
P.S. Jesus Christ. Looking for an illustration, I google-imaged ‘islamic terrorist’ (eventually decided against illustrating) and result number one is an arab woman in skimpy underwear and a veil with her boobs out. *sigh*. Internet.