By Tanveer Ahmed
January 23, 2015
IT is time to stop calling terrorists cowards. Organised terror is a formidable enemy and to dismiss it as a bunch of weaklings perpetrating senseless acts of violence is complacent nonsense.
People willing to murder thousands of innocents while killing themselves are not cowards. Nor are their acts senseless given they have a very specific aim: to avenge historical wrongs and to bring the West — the architect of the wrongful, weak position of Islamic civilisation as perceived by the terrorists — to its knees.
Calling terrorists cowards is primarily a conservative response. American comedian Bill Maher was famously taken off air for suggesting terrorists were not cowards after the September 11 attacks. But this sort of name-calling is a faux show of strength, a substitution of testosterone for morality. It risks breeding further complacency and falling into the same trap as the Left, whose primary response to terrorism is to do nothing, but in a variety of guises.
Doing nothing can take the shape of stripping away freedom of speech for fear of upsetting Muslims, or opposing military attacks in the Middle East, again for fear of upsetting Muslims and breeding their further radicalisation. Western civilisation, as French novelist Michel Houllebecq warned, is ¬increasingly being organised to minimise hurt to Muslims.
Yet Muslims are equally responsible for deluding themselves. Most people do not live by religious texts. Rather, they absorb a set of beliefs and values through the families they are raised in, further shaped by the societies they inhabit. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful not because of their Islamic beliefs, but because they have absorbed Australian values. They then interpret the texts, often very creatively, to reflect their worldview.
Hence the ongoing denial by the vast majority of practising Muslims that Islam has anything to do with terrorism. This breeds its own complacency about the urgent requirement for Islam and its founding documents to be seen as a part of, and not above, history. Such Muslims, epitomised by Tariq Ramadan, one of the world’s most influential Islamic thinkers, argue the modernisation of the world’s Muslims, particularly those in the West, is already done.
Ramadan argues that Islam is perfectly compatible with both democracy and liberalism yet refuses to condemn stoning as a punishment and argues that the first loyalty of Muslims should be to the Ummah, the international community of Muslims. His contradictions highlight the weakness of moderate Muslims, who often appear soft and deluded compared with the consistency of extremist leaders, such as Osama bin Laden or his intellectual inspiration, Sayyid Qutb. Moderates see Islam as they would like it to be, and not as it is to a significant minority of Muslims worldwide.
The extremists can always point directly to the texts and reiterate that they are the infallible, revealed word of God. Furthermore, the texts indicate that the entire world is ultimately destined to become a Caliphate under Islamic law and the actions of terrorists, while abhorrent to us, will inspire a portion of the world’s Muslims — who would otherwise have not been tempted — to become extremists.
One of Islamism’s great strengths is to give otherwise anonymous nobodies, like Man Haron Monis or the Kouachi brothers, a sense that they are part of a great and just historical project. No ideology better allows the conflation of personal grievances with the political. The resentment underlying the rage is a vestige of the shame-based cultures from which have been largely vanquished in the Judaeo-Christian realm, replaced with a moral axis spanning sin and redemption instead of honour and shame. Suicide bombing is construed within psychology as a pathological commitment to the group.
There is cowardice aplenty in the responses to terrorism and the problem of radical Islam, from the denial of the Left and moderate Muslims to the chest-beating simplicity in sections of the Right. ¬Little of it is from the terrorists and Islamists themselves.
Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatrist.