In 2006, Christopher Hitchens warned against confusing the “gigantic power” of militant Islamism around the globe with “a cringing minority whose faith you might offend”.
In a world where ISIS have since declared a Caliphate over parts of Iraq and Syria, and where Islamists in Bangladesh hack secular bloggers to death, and Raif Badawi has been publicly flogged, and remains imprisoned, for running a secular blog in Saudi Arabia, the oppressiveness of militant Islam towards anyone who thinks differently should be obvious.
Sadly, many among the radical left still fail to see this, instead casting the Islamists themselves as an oppressed group. In the so-called “student movement”, the latest such individual is one of the LGBT+ Officers, Noorulan Shahid, who expressed solidarity with violent protests against allegedly accidental Qu’ran burnings in 2012.
While calling the post sympathetic to the Taliban is arguably a stretch, it seems overtly sympathetic to protests which killed dozens, calling their anger “right”, and expressing sympathy “because [the protestors] are Muslims”.
The implication seems fairly clear: that because the protestors are Muslim, they should be sympathised with. This raises the immediate question: why should protests which killed dozens of people evoke sympathy not for the dead, but for the protestors as a group, with no condemnation of those deaths? Why, also, should we be expressing sympathy for those who burned down Danish embassies across the world in 2006 over cartoons of Muhammad, rather than standing with Denmark, whose embassies and nationals were under attack?
In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Pope Francis made the absurd statement that “If my good friend… says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch”. The obvious reply to His Holiness is that your friend would still have every right to file a Police report, and you would go to jail regardless, precisely because offence, even to your deeply-held religious beliefs, is not an excuse to be violent.
Yet, when it comes to condemning Islamist violence, the modern identitarian Left (and the student left in particular) seems to turn a blind eye at best, and at worst openly support it. Shahid’s close ally in the NUS, President Malia Bouattia, whose anti-Semitic statements ensured her election led to disaffiliation votes in multiple universities, shamelessly falls into the latter category.
In 2014, while speaking in an official capacity as NUS Black Students’ Officer, Bouattia argued that we have a duty to support violent struggle, and even appeared to argue that Islam was a violent religion, with peaceful Muslims suffering from “internalised Islamophobia”.
More recently, the current Black Students’ Officer was pictured speaking this year at Al-Quds Day, a Khomeinist demonstration which routinely features the flying of the banner of illegal terror group Hezbollah.
How did we get to a situation where far-left student leaders, including LGBT+ representatives, are sympathising with, or even openly supporting, Islamist groups? The short answer appears to be precisely Shahid’s justification for sympathising with murderous protests: “because they are Muslims”.
However, it’s not quite as simple as that. They are also the right “kind” of Muslims, not liberal Muslims like Usama Hassan or ex-Muslims like Maryam Namazie, both of whom have faced opposition from the regressive left on campuses, but rather “authentic” Islamists spouting theocratic fascism, all as a result of “Western foreign policy”.
Yet what this narrative, the same narrative which simplistically cast the 2001 intervention in Afghanistan as “the world’s richest country bombing the world’s poorest one”, ignores is that the Islamists it defends are not an oppressed group. Rather, they subscribe to one of the most oppressive ideologies of the modern era.
In Afghanistan, this manifested itself in fervent opposition to women and girls receiving an education, regular flogging, and public executions as half-time entertainment during football matches. Hardly likely to be the best thing to happen to the country in 25 years as Moazzam Begg, unofficial frontman of the NUS’s anti-Prevent efforts, would have us believe.
In northern Mali, all music barring Qu’ranic recitation was banned in spite of the prominent place of music in Malian culture. In Iraq and Syria today, this Islamism has found its Platonic Form in ISIS, which perfects ever more gruesome methods of execution, from burning alive to dissolution in acid and boiling in tar.
It would appear self-evident that the kind of totalitarian ideology which stands against many of the freedoms that we now take for granted in the west, including the long fought-for rights of women and LGBT+ people, can hardly be said to render its adherents “oppressed”.
Yet the ideology of the identitarian left, which seems to see the entire world through the paradigm of the “oppressive” West against everyone else, does not admit that Islamists are just as capable of creating oppression as anyone else, and in fact have created some of the most oppressive regimes in the modern world, such as in Saudi Arabia. Nor does it admit that Islamism is a force with its own vitality, even in the face of ISIS declaring that they hate the West primarily because we are not like them in the August issue of its magazine ‘Dabiq’.
Until the regressive, identitarian left realises that oppression can be committed by any group or any ideology, very little will change on the inside. But on the outside, we must still challenge the narrative presented by Bouattia and her allies, and say clearly: Islamists are not oppressed.