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One man's crime is not enough to sanitise radical Islam

02 August 2011

It is hard to know exactly what motivated Anders Breivik before his appalling massacre of the innocents on July 22nd. His rambling, Mein Kampf style manifesto contains an unbridled assault on Islam, multiculturalism and political correctness. He wants to stop the ‘Islamic colonisation’ of Europe and blames cultural Marxism for all of today’s alleged ills.

His belief in reviving the Knights Templar, with himself as ‘justiciar,’ is a delusion of grandeur, the kind of absurd egomania that drives today’s generation of enraged Islamists.

Yet ideology offers an inadequate explanation for what he did. After all, the political grievances he articulated hardly account for such an insane act of mass murder. Boris Johnson, in a recent article, is probably right to suggest that Breivik is a deranged ‘narcissist’ who, like many Islamists, is fuelled by anger at his own impotence and inadequacy.

Breivik has also been labelled ‘a Christian fundamentalist’, yet there is clearly nothing recognisably Christian about his actions. And so we tend not to blame the faith for this individual’s barbaric crimes. Does it follow that ‘Islam’ should get a free pass in relation to its own brand of indignant murderers? Well, yes and no.

Naturally, terrorists can wrap themselves around any religious ideology and twist it to suit their purposes. Islamism, certainly in the west, is not the predominant interpretation of the faith because many believe it involves a distortion of Islam’s true message. Nor does Islam have any monopoly on religious violence or fundamentalist intolerance. Killing in the name of God has been going on for centuries, and within a multiplicity of faiths.

But Islamist terrorists are more than just disturbed freaks with an opportunist attachment to their religion. They are part of a global movement arising within Islamic civilisation, which is thoroughly embedded in the tenets and concepts of the faith.

Its followers, spurred on by imams, scholars and ayatollahs, are taught that Islam mandates them to kill and subjugate ‘infidels’ as part of a grand scheme for bringing about a renewed caliphate. They attend summer schools, training camps, mosques and madrassas in which jihad is the order of the day. And they imbibe the totalitarian ideas of Islamism day in, day out.

In Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and a host of other countries, millions of Muslims are fired up by a venomous hatred of progressive values, much of which is then exported to the west. Their attitudes towards democracy, Jews, gay rights and women’s equality are medieval and create the space in which jihadism flourishes. Today’s terrorists are therefore fuelled as much by religious ideology as they are by personal rage.

By contrast, with Breivik, there were almost certainly no mainstream churches, Christian summer schools or youth camps openly demanding a religious jihad. No self respecting pastor would have called on Breivik to purge his homeland of undesirables in order to make way for a Christian conquest. Aside from a few rogue elements, modern Christendom is not divided between moderates endorsing the Sermon on the Mount and extremists demanding conversion or death. Whatever its schisms, the faith has turned its back on the religious warfare of previous centuries. Islam needs the same reformation.

Clearly, blaming ‘Islam’ as a whole is wrong because the faith is rich in ambiguity with scope for multiple interpretations. In any case, it would be absurd to believe that a community of over 1.5 billion people all share an identical belief system and moral outlook.

But the opposing view involves implausible denial and is equally unmerited. Bin Laden’s followers are not just reckless adolescents driven by narcissistic rage. They are religious fanatics quoting chapter and verse to justify slaughter. Thus, while it would be reckless to tar all members of a community with the same brush, this is not a licence for political correctness either.

Just because a ‘Christian fundamentalist’ became a loathsome mass killer is no reason to sanitise radical Islam. We owe as much to the victims of that ideology, including Muslim ones.

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31 December, 2013
Sharon the pragmatist

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