I’m a very frightened person. Very frightened. I’m basically the Dark Side in human form.
I have direct phobias. Spiders, specifically and primarily. I’m not keen on (read: impressively scared of) flying. I have frequent bouts of hypochondria and what I might call hypochondria-by-proxy (I fixate on other people’s health). I have panic attacks.
Fear is basically my default state. But you know something I’m not frightened of? Not in the least bit frightened of?
I’m just not. On a personal level, when I step outside my front door, the possibility of becoming victim of a terrorist atrocity doesn’t enter my head.
Now, realistically, that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. It might. But then again, I might just as well be struck by lightning or hit by a goddamn rock falling from space. But I don’t worry about those things either. It’s probably orders of magnitude more likely that I may be hit by a passing vehicle or be involved in a crash while I’m at the wheel of my own. And I don’t even worry too much about those possibilities.
But the thought of some random maniac or pretend-religious fanatic shooting me down or blowing me up? Just isn’t a concern. Slightly more worried about some random mugger stabbing me. But only slightly.
Someone out there is already outraged, I’ve no doubt. No, I’m not dismissing the barbarity of these attacks where they do happen. And I’m certainly not attempting to diminish the catastrophic effect they have on the lives they touch. The ability and willingness of humans to behave savagely towards each other is extremely depressing.
Terrorism just doesn’t scare me. But the way we – the ‘western culture’ – have decided to respond to terrorism certainly does.
The thing is, terrorism is a crime. If you shoot someone, that’s a crime. If you set off a bomb and blow someone up, that’s a crime. We know this here in the UK, because we dealt with years of such attacks from the IRA and related groups during the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’. And without exception – barring the militarised policing employed in Belfast and other vulnerable areas, and along the border with the Republic – we treated acts of terrorism as the crimes that they were. Our goal in our approach to terrorism was to bring the terrorists to justice. (I do appreciate, before you say it, that that’s hard to do when the terrorist has died in the act, but that is what it is.)
Now the world’s approach is to launch military invasions, deploy drones, drop bombs, fire missiles, turn whole regions into battlefields, wreck cities, level villages, smash infrastructure, in order to defeat the ‘forces of terrorism’.
Key amongst those ‘forces’ is, of course, Da’esh – the band of murderers that want everyone to call them the ‘Islamic State’, as though they represent the religion of Islam around the world.
Da’esh are a relatively small force. They seem powerful, because a massive amount of military power is being concentrated on destroying them, yet they persist – and, it seems from recent news, that they can still strike out with impunity and hit us at home whenever they choose. The recent string of atrocities we’ve seen in the media shows that Da’esh are strong, doesn’t it?
No, it doesn’t. It shows the very opposite of that.
Think about it. A strong army doesn’t resort to terrorism, because terror is a force multiplier. It’s a way of strengthening a weak hand by confusing, frightening and dividing your enemies. The IRA didn’t bomb hotels because they were in a position to take on the British Army. They did it because they wanted to frighten the British people into turning on their own government and demanding the UK’s withdrawal from Éire. The IRA had no prospect of ever being able to simply push the British out: they had to make them want to give up Northern Ireland.
In the case of Da’esh, only in the most localised terms can they put up a military resistance to the forces arrayed against them – and even then, that resistance has to rely on their concealing themselves amongst civilians. Offensively, they employ terror tactics to bolster their position by creating confusion, fear and division in their opponents’ countries.
And this, good reader, is why by blaming every act of Da’esh-sponsored or inspired terrorism on Islam you’re doing Da’esh’s work for them.
Their approach is two-fold. First, they want to sap their enemies’ will to fight. That’s a two-edged tactic, because by murdering civilians in Europe or Russia or America, they’ll put some in fear and they’ll make others angry (mostly a mixture of both emotions – it’s just a case of which ends up strongest). They’ll weaken the will of some, but harden others.
But most importantly to Da’esh is their ability to recruit – and this is where religion comes in. By painting themselves as Muslim – a faith I’ve no doubt many of their organisers are extremely familiar with, and have probably been brought up with – they can create at least a tacit connection between themselves and Muslims in other countries who may already feel disillusioned and disenfranchised.
If Da’esh can increase the number of such people, they can widen their potential pool of recruits. If only a handful of such people could be pushed into actual hatred of the countries they feel are rejecting them, that serves Da’esh perfectly adequately. The Nice killings, after all, were the work of one man, with no real indication he was acting for Da’esh, yet they were quick to claim responsibility. Why not? The revulsion the act provoked brought a wave of absolutely understandable anger from the people of Europe and the world – but of far more value for Da’esh, it boosted hatred and mistrust of Muslims in general.
The western press and politicians who speak out against ‘Muslims’ serve to create greater division between Muslim and non-Muslim citizens in their countries. This increases the sense of rejection and alienation amongst those Muslim citizens. That is an extremely valuable recruiting tool for Da’esh. Again, most Muslims – because most people – would never consider translating a sense of disenfranchisement or isolation into violence. But amongst thousands, tens of thousands, millions, a few will. And that’s what Da’esh hope for. Every act of terrorism, every random act of brutality, every violent manifestation of a disturbed mind, for which they can claim responsibility serves their ends, because they know that western society – influenced by its press and politicians – will refuse to draw a line between politically motivated extremists fighting a war for territory and control in the Middle East and the normal, law-abiding followers of a widespread, well-established religion around the world.
You may well be sick of hearing complaints about ‘Islamophobia’ when such sickening acts are being carried out in the name of Islam. That’s understandable: it’s a natural, emotional reaction. But it’s precisely because it’s an easy reaction to justify that we need to be extra, extra careful about it. Because make no mistake: that reaction is the very one that Da’esh intend to provoke.
They are making you see them as far bigger than they are. That’s why they resort to terrorism – but every act of terror that they commit is a signal to the world that they are small; that they are weak. They might be dug in hard in the small areas of the Middle East they still infest; and their tactics might be such that they’re hard to get at without harming the civilians amongst whom they skulk – but by relying on acts of terror, and claims of responsibility for others’ independent crimes, they’re only showing their weakness. They know most Muslims hate them – and rightly so, since in the territory they claim they kill far more Muslims than they do anyone else. They’re relying on us, the non-Muslim populations of the world, to push our own Muslim citizens towards them.
Further, they’re relying on our governments to legitimise their claim to nationhood by conducting military campaigns against them, instead of dealing with them as the criminals they are. If we’re fighting a ‘war’ against ‘Islamic State’, then it’s a huge propaganda victory for them, because it shows – to anyone who might be unclear on their status – that we recognise them as an enemy ‘nation’.
They are Da’esh. They are a band of criminals who hide amongst innocents to protect themselves, and who kill innocents – both Muslim and not – to try to create fear and division amongst those who would otherwise stop them. They know they cannot strip us of our freedoms, they cannot directly deny us our way of life – but they certainly can make us surrender our own freedom, and willingly abandon the values we’ve always claimed to hold dear. Each time we submit to a new law for ‘security’, each time we single out our Muslim brothers and sisters and demand that they account for killings committed in the name of Islam, we advance Da’esh a little further towards their goal.
Islamophobia is not a problem because of ‘political correctness’. Islamophobia is a problem because it’s one of Da’esh’s most powerful weapons. And Trump, and Le Pen, and ‘Britain First’, and all those other individuals and groups who make public loathing of Muslims their policy bread and butter might sound ‘strong’ and ‘sensible’ in the face of this undeniable wave of atrocities – but no matter how unwittingly, they are the most valuable assets Da’esh have.
If you really want to fight against Islamist extremism, by far – by far – the most effective way you can do it is to hold out your hand to your Muslim countrymen and women. Offer them your respect as one Brit, one American, one German, one Russian, to another. Show them that you won’t be manipulated, that you won’t allow Da’esh to divide your nation. Oppose anti-Muslim rhetoric from your politicians and your press, and force them to focus instead on the political motivations of Da’esh, and to acknowledge it quickly and clearly when an atrocity is not linked to Da’esh’s terrorism.
Da’esh are a lot weaker than they look. You can help to weaken them further. Or you can choose to strengthen them by talking of a ‘war against the west’, by giving them the recognition they so crave, by presenting them as a far greater threat to you and your society than they actually are, and by treating Muslims in your country as the ‘enemy within’.
I for one will not support Da’esh by accepting the world as they would love me to see it.