As you may have come to realise, very little impresses me, especially politicians; and especially so when they are talking about, or more often avoiding the issue of Islam as a route to extremism. However, today with David Cameron’s speech there was a great deal to be encouraged by, even if as it stands, it is just rhetoric.
I have already written an essay here about how more candidness needed to be displayed about the clear connection between Islamism like ISIS and Islam itself. So I was encouraged to see that Cameron has finally and unequivocally echoed this notion by saying:
“In the past, governments have been too quick to dismiss the religious aspect of Islamist extremism… But simply denying any connection between the religion of Islam and the extremists doesn’t work, because these extremists are self-identifying as Muslims. The fact is from Woolwich to Tunisia, from Ottawa to Bali, these murderers all spout the same twisted narrative, one that claims to be based on a particular faith. Now it is an exercise in futility to deny that. And more than that, it can be dangerous. To deny it has anything to do with Islam means you disempower the critical reforming voices; the voices that are challenging the fusing of religion and politics; the voices that want to challenge the scriptural basis which extremists claim to be acting on; the voices that are crucial in providing an alternative worldview that could stop a teenager’s slide along the spectrum of extremism.”
It was very encouraging to me to see Cameron make one of the most crucial points of my argument, that the biggest people we let down by ignoring this connection are actually the moderates we wish to empower. However I also strongly identify with the bigger point made, that it is irrelevant whether or not we acknowledge ISIS as Islam, because they will continue to draw their justifications from the Qu’ran all the same. To ISIS what they are doing is Islam, and with the Prime Minister’s comments, it seems that part of the discussion will now focused on the clear connection between scriptural interpretation and terrorism; a much welcomed move.
Alongside this, I was also buoyed by the way the Prime Minister indirectly attacked the Liberal position of apparent indifference to actual abuses of Liberal values by Islamists, in favour of laballing those close to home as racists and bigots who raise the connection between Islamic cultural traditions and the practices of FGM and arranged marriage:
“Let’s also recognise that we will have to enter some pretty uncomfortable debates – especially cultural ones. Too often we have lacked the confidence to enforce our values, for fear of causing offence. The failure in the past to confront the horrors of forced marriage I view as a case in point. So is the utter brutality of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)… We can’t expect them [young Muslims] to see the power and liberating force of our values if we don’t stand up for them when they come under attack…
And look what happened in Tower Hamlets, in the heart of our capital city. We had political corruption on an epic scale: with voters intimidated and a court adjudicating on accusations of ‘undue spiritual influence’ for the first time since the 19th century. As the judge said: those in authority were too afraid to ‘confront wrongdoing for fear of allegations of racism’.”
This was an argument I have already fleshed out in another post, that attacking Islam and passages some use to promote illiberal practices such as death for apostasy, stoning for adultery and so on can be demolished as ideas, without having to directly attack Muslims as people. In fact they must be tackled, if this threat is to be met head on.
In short then, I find myself pleasantly surprised by the direction of the Prime Minister’s anti-extremism message, and I’m sure it is no small part down to the influence of Maajid Nawaz; whom I have long championed as the best voice of reason on this issue.
Time will tell if the Prime Minister’s ability to follow through with the policies here will be successful; and ultimately how willing we are as a Liberal society and particularly myself as a Libertarian, to hand the government the powers it asks for to implement these principles. Yet, I am sure that given how much thought I have put into this particular issue, that Cameron certainly has the right strategy to build on.