What can we do about so-called terrorism?
Imagine a person wandering into a foreign capital city and shooting innocent bystanders or setting off an explosion while yelling something about God’s will and insisting that his actions (oh, yes, almost certainly his not hers – this would be a young male seeking a sort of insane glory) were being done in the name of Jesus, and his soul will go to Heaven as a result. Survivors of the outrage would have venomous things to say about extreme Christians. Church leaders would distance themselves from the perpetrator and declare such acts to be utterly at variance with Christian principles and values. All Christians – except a deluded, disaffected few who might choose to follow this insane model – would declare such madmen unfit to be included among their number and would feel themselves put on the defensive because of their religion.
Such things have actually happened from time to time. (Remember Waco?) But there’s an immediate contemporary resonance: if you substitute ‘Muslim’ for ‘Christian’ and (perhaps) ‘The Prophet’ for ‘Jesus’, you have an outline of the atrocities perpetrated in Paris during the past three days.
Not unreasonably, we can label the perpetrators of the Paris outrages (and similar incidents) ‘madmen’, wonder whether they are pitiable rather than inherently evil, regard them as contemptible, ask what could cause them to behave in so inhuman a manner… But none of that would address a problem we all recognise to be serious and growing. We can make scathing comments about religion in general, which wouldn’t help either and would offend a lot of people who don’t deserve to be offended. We can define ‘fundamentalist’ as ‘one who talks out of his or her fundament’, which would be reasonable if not useful. Political and religious leaders condemn what has happened, declare they stand shoulder to shoulder, and hold discussions about anti-terrorist and security plans. Right wing, anti-immigration and (increasingly, and worryingly) Islamophobic parties take succour from what has happened. None of this takes us forward towards positive and effective action.
So what can be done?
Here are some suggestions. I don’t suppose anyone in positions of power or influence will listen to me, but I’ll offer them anyway.
My starting point is simple: virtually all Muslim leaders, and ordinary Muslims in the street (including my own Muslim friends) are agreed: the actions of the perpetrators are contrary to the principles and teachings of Islam. I know a lot of non-Muslims are sceptical about that, but if you’re among their number, look back at the first paragraph of this blog and ask yourself the obvious question. We need to take the assertions of the overwhelming majority of Muslims at face value.
The immediate inference is that the perpetrators can’t legitimately be considered Muslims. Oh, yes, of course, they shout ‘God is Great’ in Arabic, and quote the Holy Koran, and call themselves Jihadists (Holy Warriors), and go through some of the motions of Muslim worship, but that’s just hollow rhetoric. Since they’re not Muslims, by overwhelming majority opinion, let’s all – MEDIA, I’M TALKING TO YOU, BROADCASTERS AND NEWSPAPERS AND BLOGGERS AND EVERYONE – stop calling them Islamic Fundamentalists or Jihadists or Muslim extremists. How dare they pretend they’re behaving in accordance with the principles of a great world religion? Let’s even stop calling them terrorists, which is just another way of glorifying them when the last thing they deserve is to be glorified. Let’s call them what they are: murderers. Common criminals. When their perverted acts are reported, let’s see them reported as all other murders and hostage-takings are reported. Don’t accord them any special status. Special status is what they want, and they don’t merit it.
Here’s another inference, though I’m less sure about this because I’m not a Muslim. So I’ll pose it as a question. If these murderers are purporting to act in the name of God, doesn’t that constitute blasphemy? And if they’ve committed blasphemy, wouldn’t it be proper for Muslim leaders to consider pronouncing a Fatwah against them? Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I’ve been led to believe a Fatwah is the proper fate for those who blaspheme in the name of Islam.
Above all, let’s all work together with mutual respect. As Christians (or followers of any belief other than Islam, or no religious faith at all), we need to recognise that the real Muslims in our communities are important and valuable contributors to society. They’re doctors, and lawyers, and politicians, and teachers, and above all they’re decent, law-abiding, morally upright people with whom we should be working to excise the evil being perpetrated in their name.
Those who are recruited to this kind of murderous activity are almost always young, almost always male, and either economically disadvantaged and socially marginalised, or middle-class, educated and deluded. Think of the self-styled Communists in Western countries during the 1960s and ‘70s: the demographic was identical. Today’s self-styled Jihadists are yesterday’s self-styled Communists. It’s the same fad wearing a different mask. The main difference is that because of social media, the fad has now gone global – which makes it genuinely dangerous rather than merely silly.
If we don’t work together, Muslims with non-Muslims, to counter economic disadvantage in our communities and knock some sense into deluded young intellectuals, the danger will grow.