Editor's Note: Robert Fulford writes that if we are to effectively fight Islamic terrorism, we can’t stifle the discussion with a term like “Islamophobia,” which implies that anyone who has concerns with Islam is clinically ill. Whether of not one agrees with reformist imams who say that violent extremism is forbidden by Islam, one should be allowed to marshall one’s arguments and make one’s case. Motion M-103, passed by Parliament in March, 2017, threatens to “quell” this very necessary discussion about Islam.
In response to successive terror attacks on Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May said that things could not continue as they were. By “things” she meant the systems set up by democracies, particularly Britain, to prevent atrocities like those experienced recently in Manchester and at London Bridge. The systems of defence have proven inadequate. It seems likely that many people, in many countries, agree with her. We must somehow avoid letting these crimes by fanatic jihadis become so frequent that we view them as more or less normal. Few will be willing to settle for the insouciant view of London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, that terrorist attacks are now “part and parcel of living in a big city.” In these circumstances, governments will likely step up the extent of their warfare against ISIL and its equivalents in their home bases. Security services in many countries will intensify their surveillance and prosecution of the jihadis who live among them.
Private citizens, and private media companies, can take on an equally important task. Individuals cannot hunt down or shoot the terrorists but we can work toward a society in which terrorism is recognized by everyone as irredeemably evil. We can change the climate of opinion in our world so that random killings are regarded as a sure sign of viciously deranged minds. Maybe we should begin by retiring the word Islamophobia in the interest of a franker attitude to terrorism. A word invented in 1997, Islamophobia shelters some dubious ideas: it implies that anyone who criticizes any aspect of Islam is clinically ill. A letter from a reader, referring to my column last week on the murders of Christians, mentioned an argument Pope Benedict made a few years ago. He said that Islam is flawed by fanaticism and its intolerance of other religions. “From that point on,” my reader recalled, “the resulting uproar silenced the world in spite of the rise of ISIL with its kidnappings, beheadings, and persecution of all non-believers. The world owes Benedict an apology.”
A good point. Any great institution deserves and needs criticism, and needs it most when it affects millions of lives and can be used as an excuse to kill humans and disrupt societies. The idea of self-criticism is slowly becoming acceptable among Muslims, perhaps especially the clergy. A report from London says that hundreds of imams and other Muslim religious leaders refused to perform funeral prayers for the London Bridge attackers. A statement from the British Muslim Forum said mosques will “challenge, robustly and precisely, the perverted interpretation of Islam that is put forward by ISIL and other extremist groups” and will ask that anyone expressing sympathy for the terrorists be reported to the authorities.
Qari Asim, a Leeds imam speaking for the Forum, said the group aimed to broadcast the message that violent extremism is “forbidden” by Islam. “If you follow this path you are stepping away from Islam to a dark and godless place,” he said. It’s clear that many young Muslims have not heard this message, or have ignored it. ISIL, recruiting by the Internet, convinces an impressive number of young people in the West to leave their homes and join in a world of bigotry and terror. Or they can serve as distant warriors in their own countries. In Canada, we should have an independent, non-government organization to recruit anti-terrorist Muslims who will express themselves persistently, in company with non-Muslims. It should be an NGO in order to avoid the compromises that come with government.
The issue calls for community as well as religious participation. James Malizia, assistant commissioner of the RCMP, said in a recent interview with the National Post, “It’s a social issue where families, social networks, need to get involved.” That’s the only way potential recruits can be reached, and persuaded to reject ISIL and its questionable promises. Paul Berman, a first-class American political writer, this week summed up in Tablet magazine the reality of those who are trying to disrupt civilization: “I do not think that terrorist acts are expressions of sociological anguish, nor are they expressions of psychological anguish, nor are they the malign by-product of British imperialism, or of Zionism. The terrorist acts are the expressions of their own doctrine, and of nothing else. They are an existential choice, which is loathesomeness itself. An uglier movement than Islamist terrorism has never existed. More powerful movements have existed. But uglier ones, no. Islamist terror is the ultimate in repulsiveness.” Repulsive, certainly. But also clever and determined. It will be hard to defeat, but it’s vital that we succeed. This article was originally published on June 9, 2017 on the National Post website, and can be viewed on their site by clicking here.