Who are our enemies?
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks several weeks ago, the threat of terrorism has dominated discussions on both sides of the Atlantic. Specifically, how does the West tackle the problem of the Islamic State (referred to as IS throughout the rest of this posting.) However, I am worried that limiting our focus to IS isn't going to solve the much deeper and more complicated problem of Islamist extremism.
Yes, I said Islamist. This does not mean all of Islam or all Muslims. But it does mean that there is a significant strand within Islam that is effectively a death cult and threatens freethinking societies. Islamism is an ideology that seeks to implement the laws of Islam in society and governments. Islamist extremists, such as IS and Al-Qaeda, take Islamism to an extreme degree where they actively seek an eventual Caliphate to be ruled by an ideology that hasn't progressed much since the 9th century. Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamist who now works to counter Islamist extremism in the UK argues that we must recognize that "Islam is simply a religion and that Islamism is a theocratic desire to impose a version of that religion over society."
Crucially, therefore, not all Muslims are Islamist extremists. Most victims of Islamist extremism are actually other Muslims, as illustrated in recent attacks by IS or IS affiliates in places like Lebanon, Iraq and Nigeria. IS, Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, Boko Haram, Al-Shabab, the Taliban and other groups have all caused horrific suffering for Muslims across continents. How can these monsters be tackled?
First of all, we must acknowledge that Islam is in deep turmoil across the world, and that some interpretations of Islam are fundamentally at odds with the values we hold dear. When President Obama talks vaguely of "violent extremism" and repeats platitudes of Islam being a "religion of peace," our cause isn't helped. Simply proclaiming that IS has nothing to do with real Islam doesn't cut it anymore. Maajid Nawaz notes that when Islamist extremism is not properly identified many people "may well assume that the ideology they must challenge is Islam and all Muslims, ergo the rise of current populist xenophobic trends within Europe and America." Some leaders, such as French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and British Prime Minister David Cameron fortunately seem to grasp this concept and speak accordingly. Dismayingly, President Obama seems utterly hopeless and prefers to spout his platitudes. Others engage in xenophobia and nasty rabble-rousing, like Donald Trump here in the US and Marine Le Pen in France. They also fail to recognize the problem of Islamist extremism, and instead play to voters base emotions and thrive when we don't properly educate ourselves.
Acknowledging that Islam has extremely problematic elements to it that cannot co-exist within a 21st century society should be very basic and non-controversial. Like all ideologies, Islamism should be examined and challenged (and mocked if need be.) Doing so does not mean someone is "Islamaphobic." We have also got to stop with the nonsense of moral relativism, where people lamely bring up the Crusades to say "well, Christians did bad stuff too." Yes, but that was 800 years ago. Islamist extremists haven't had their beliefs challenged by an Enlightenment like Christianity has, and are carrying out atrocities in the name of their faith in the 21st century. By failing to recognize this fact, non-Muslims are also harming Muslims who are actively seeking to reform Islam. Instead of bolstering their arguments, some non-Muslims offer up nonsense (I'm looking at you President Obama) that only benefits the fundamentalists and Islamist extremists. That is simply shameful.
If we develop the correct mindset to tackle Islamist extremism, we can determine what tactics to use in order to defeat Islamist extremism. Soon, I'll have another posting on this subject, including the geopolitical issues concerning the fight against IS.