Whenever an Islam-linked – and I use that expression in the loosest-possible sense – terrorist atrocity occurs, like that involving the barbaric murder of an off-duty soldier in Woolwich two days ago, among its more predictable features will be claims, by both perpetrators and commentators alike that it represents an inevitable consequence of our foreign policy. Nor is this confined to commentators inclined by their own political leanings to be apologists, rather than disinterested observers. We have, we are told, brought this on ourselves by our “war on Islam and Muslims”.
The most populous Muslim country in the world is Indonesia. So far as I am aware, we have neither declared nor prosecuted war on it. In fact our foreign policy military commitments in the past 23 years have included: protecting Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Holy Places of Mecca and Medina from invasion by the nominally-Islamic but actually secular Ba’athist Sadaam Hussein: liberating Arab Kuwait from Iraqi invasion: and protecting the Muslim populations of Bosnia and Kosovo from ethnic cleansing by fascistic Christian Serbs. Hardly an anti-Muslim foreign policy.
Those who quote operations in Iraq since 2003 and Afghanistan since 2006 in support of their thesis also conveniently overlook that the majority of Muslim deaths in those unhappy places have occurred at the hands of their more extreme co-religionists. It is not accidental casualties from drone strikes which execute, or cut off the noses of, tribal and village elders who wish their daughters to receive education.
But as well as an incoherent reference to current events, the Woolwich killers expressly proclaimed allegiance to an underlying ideology – the same ideology which, in earlier form, perpetrated, amongst other atrocities, the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, three years before the US-led operation in Afghanistan, and five years before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Going further back, the ideology was behind the 1997 massacre of tourists at Luxor, Egypt, and, even further back than that, the New York World Trade Centre bombing of 1993.
That ideology is political Islam, or Islamism. Terminology is important – the word “Islamic”, meaning pertaining to the religion of Islam, must not be confused or conflated with “Islamist”, meaning pertaining to the totalitarian political ideology derived from a perversion of the harshest interpretation of the most uncompromising verses of the Koran and the Hadiths. Islamism is not merely the religion of Islam under arms: to assume so is to insult, unjustly, the millions of Muslims throughout the world who do not subscribe to it. It is an explicitly political creed which betrays Islam, just as communism betrays democratic socialism.
Nor is it, as many assume, a recent development. Islamism or Political Islam is closely linked with the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1930s and 1940s. It was primarily seeking, in an excessively austere, ascetic interpretation of Islam, an antidote to both the perceived corruption and apostasy of the Farouk regime and other contemporaneous rulers of Muslim lands in allowing themselves to become dupes and clients of exploitative Western powers, and the frustration at the perceived relative backwardness of Islamic nations compared with the perceived ungodly West. In the minds of its original thinkers, the roots of decline lay in the abandonment by their then rulers of a pure form of Islam unpolluted by secular or non-Muslim influences.
Its principal early theorists were the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan Al-Banna, and Sayyid Qutb, in Egypt, and Abu Ala Mawdudi in Pakistan. A pupil of Qutb’s, incidentally, was Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who went on to become Osama Bin Laden’s deputy in Al-Qa’eda.
Qutb’s “Milestones” or “Signposts Along The Road” should be required reading for anyone seeking to understand the theocratic-ideological underpinnings of Islamism: in essence, it postulates a global Caliphate, under a totalitarian form of Sha’ria. It is a specifically political movement, which sees the answer to every social, cultural, political and moral problem contained solely in the implementation of a political programme derived from the strictest interpretation of the harsh Wahabbi-Salafist strain of Islamic thought and jurisprudence.
The attempted linking of Islamist terrorism to individual aspects of foreign, or even domestic, policy, is a blind, but one in which too many in the West appear happy to acquiesce. Islamism does not hate us in the West for anything specific we have done, or not done. It hates us, quite simply, for what we are – liberal, democratic, tolerant, secular.
With this knowledge, political Islam’s antipathy to secular democracy and the democratic process, for example, becomes easier to understand. If you believe that all the laws necessary for the ordering of human affairs are contained exclusively in the verses of the Koran revealed and/or dictated by God to his terrestrial Prophet in the 7th century, then a societal system in which men and women, chosen by the people from among their number, meet to argue, debate and decide what the laws for the ordering of human affairs should be, is itself a grievous heresy, and something to be despised and fought.
Nor does Islamism recognise a space where alternative ideas for society may flourish. In Islamist thought, those nations not currently under Islamist sway are regarded as part of Dar-Al-Harb, the House of War, or Hostility, who are presumed, by virtue of being non-Islamic, to constitute a threat to Dar-Al-Islam, the Caliphate. Much in evidence in recent days has been UK Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary, notable for informing BBC Newsnight in February 2006 that “England belongs to Allah”. He much approved, it seems, of Michael Adelbolajo, one of the men now under arrest for the Woolwich murder.
The on-camera rant of one of the assailants was nowhere near as deranged or “mindless” as anodyne, vote-hungry, paranoid-about-causing-“offence” politicians, assisted by apologist commentators, have rushed to claim. Incoherent it may have been, but it explicitly referenced one of the Koranic verses quoted in Islamist justification of violence against non-Muslims:
‘Surat at-Tawba through…many, many ayat throughout the Qur’an that…we must fight them as they fight us…’
a direct link to Sura 9:5 “..fight and slay the infidels or unbelievers wherever you shall find them.”
This is important. It is vital to understand that exiting from Afghanistan, or muting our recognition of the State of Israel, or remedying whatever the next grievance articulated will be, is merely the overt justification for Islamist terrorism, uttered because of the knowledge it will be so eagerly swallowed by so many. In truth, the underlying, and ultimate nature and aims of Political Islam are such that there is little we could do, short of abandoning our liberal, tolerant, secular democracy and submitting to Sha’ria-governed theocracy, which would sufficiently assuage its combatants. Islamism’s demands of us are absolutist and permanent, not individual and specific.
“Understanding” or compromise, or accommodation cannot work. It is the product of logic derived from Graeco-Roman philosophy and The Enlightenment, where we elevate reason above atavistic emotion. But a belief system predicated on the inevitable and uncompromising triumph of a theocratic millenarian totalitarianism is unlikely to be susceptible to it.
Indeed, it sees accommodation and compromise as a sign of weakness, not strength. The conclusion that Islamism draws from hesitant response or attempted appeasement is that the West lacks sufficient self-confidence in, or attachment to, its own culture to want to defend it robustly: in Islamist eyes that merely emphasises its inherent rottenness and ripeness for conquest and replacement.
The solution to this absolutist objection to the way we organise our society, rather than specific objection to one aspect of it, does not lie in the cavilling hesitancy of politicians in public denial of the true nature of what confront us. Neither, even more so, does it lie in the ugly and inchoate antics of the far-right street. It does lie, though in a much more assertive proselytising of the merits of our liberal, tolerant, secular democracy and our determination to uphold it.