Islamic State and Prejudice
Our news reports quiver with the horrors apparently perpetrated in the Middle East by Islamic State (IS). If even a quarter of these reports are true – the murders, rapes, kidnappings, episodes of genocide, vandalism of world heritage sites, terrible repression of women, and all the rest – then IS is beyond the pale of anything that can be accounted decent or civilized. Systematic inhumanity perpetrated in the name of any cause denigrates both the cause and the perpetrators. When it’s committed in the name of a great world religion it denigrates that religion. No wonder the vast majority of Muslims detest IS. We’re given to understand that IS wishes to present itself as championing “Islam versus the West”. Nevertheless, it appears that some 97% of the people they’ve raped and murdered are Muslims.
Some weeks ago I wrote a blog about the people who are lured into criminal (“terrorist”) activities in the name of a Great Cause, pointing out that “Radical Islamism” is attracting exactly the same demographic as Communism attracted a few decades ago: young people who find themselves marginalized and disadvantaged by western society; and certain groups of young intellectuals, some of them highly qualified. Some European governments, including the government of the UK, is trying to prevent these young people from travelling to Syria to join IS, even making it a criminal offence to do so. The intention is clear – we want to protect these young people from a self-imposed and evil fate, and to protect the rest of our society from the potential consequences – but I fear the prejudice against IS and what it stands for, however justified it seems, will be counterproductive.
A little while ago our prime minister, David Cameron, said of IS “It is not a state and it is not Islamic”. Sorry, Mr Cameron: I don’t like IS’s reputation any more than you do, but you’re wrong on both counts. IS is a state. It isn’t a nation state because it doesn’t have geographical borders – and why should it? After all, the nation-state borders in the Middle East were more or less all imposed by Western powers in times past; few of them are of indigenous origin. But it’s certainly a state. It has its system of law, its economics, its military presence (and how!), its state religion, its leaders, its language – all the criteria of statehood. To deny statehood in the face of this evidence is to deny what is plain fact. Denying plain fact doesn’t help anyone.
As for “not Islamic” – indeed, the policies and actions of IS seem to fly in the face of what most people, certainly most Muslims, would consider Islamic. But think back a few centuries and consider the power of the Inquisition in Europe, particularly in Spain and Spain’s 16th and 17th century colonies. The Inquisition was brutally repressive; it tortured and murdered everyone suspected of even the merest suggestion of “heresy”, particularly if they had money or property that the Inquisitors could confiscate, it effectively wiped out the potential for free and original thought in all the territories over which it held sway – with culturally and economically depressing consequences for those territories – and in general it flew in the face of every virtue most of us would consider Christian. And the overwhelming majority of its victims were Christians. But to deny that the Inquisition was Christian would be perverse. Of course it was Christian – much as we might wish to whitewash over the fact. And by the same token, IS, however horrible it seems, is Islamic.
Our media are conspiring with Mr Cameron in denying facts. Whenever BBC news reporters tell us about events involving IS they speak of “So-called Islamic State” or “Self-styled Islamic State”. What on earth is the point of this phraseology? If these people choose to call themselves “Islamic State” they’re entitled to do so, especially since (as I’ve argued) they can properly be deemed both Islamic and a State. There’s a terrorist group in northern Nigeria called Boko Haram, but our news reporters don’t refer to these terrorists as “So-called Boko Haram”. And we had many years of troubles in Northern Ireland, and elsewhere in the UK, involving the Irish Republican Army (IRA). At no time during that period did our news reporters speak of “The so-called IRA”, nor do they do so today. So why “So-called Islamic State”?
By showing such prejudice, the BBC and the prime minister are acting – inadvertently, to be sure, but effectively for all that – as recruiting sergeants for the IS cause. Anyone tempted by IS policies, anyone within the target demographic, is likely to be tipped over the edge by blatant prejudice of this kind. So it isn’t helping; it’s doing the opposite.
I beg you, government, and I beg you, BBC, to think what you’re saying and consider its consequences.