May 2, 2007
The real darkness at the heart of Islamist terror
Listen to any Radio 4 discussion on what motivates terrorists, and the same consensus is usually reached – it’s foreign policy, stupid. Bush and Blair, Iraq and Afghanistan, the West’s misguided interventions in the Muslim world, that’s what inflames young hearts with righteous anger, an anger which our leaders have allowed to become a killing rage.
Pay attention to the conversation of intellectuals, commentators and many self-proclaimed community leaders and the same message is amplified and elaborated. William Dalrymple warns us that ill-considered interventions provoke those who have hitherto been pious and peace-loving into taking up arms. John Humphrys tells the Prime Minister, as though it were an established fact, that the 7/7 bombings took place “because of Iraq”. The Muslim Council of Britain greeted news of the plot to bomb British tourists out of the sky last summer with an open letter to the Prime Minister asking him to “change our foreign policy”.
The degree of consensus is impressive. What a pity it’s not supported by the facts.
The reporting of the Operation Crevice trial has revealed much more than just the failings of the intelligence and security services. It has also reminded those with eyes to see of the real darkness at the heart of Islamist terror. Were the targets they chose symbols of Western foreign policy adventurism? Or was there another reason for their choosing to fantasise about mass murder in a shopping mall and a nightclub? Why did they choose to single out not our foreign ministry but the Ministry of Sound? And why, when they were enjoying the thought of murder on the dancefloor, did one of their number say, “No one can turn around and say, ‘Oh, they were innocent’, those slags dancing around. Do you understand what I mean?”
Unfortunately, all too many do not understand what Jawab Akbar did mean. Because so many of those who choose to comment on terrorism, its roots, motivations and methods, fail to understand the ideology that drives and justifies these actions. I have explored that ideology, Islamism, in a book, Celsius 7/7, which has just been republished. And in the course of my exploration it became clear that the ideological motivation for the terrorist threat we face is an austere and pitiless twisting of Islam that offers young men redemption through violence, and the opportunity to exalt themselves by purging the world of the impure.
Just as the ardent young followers of Hitler in 1930s Germany were offered membership of an elite, a sense of special self-belief and a tempting opportunity to give vent to their resentments and frustrations through violence against those who were “impure” in racial terms, so today’s Islamist extremists are offered the same bewitching path, with the focus of violence being those who are “impure” in ideological and cultural terms. The impure, the targets for slaughter, we now know, are not just “apostates” who mock Islam, such as Salman Rushdie or the Danish cartoonists, nor are they even the architects of foreign policy adventures – the Bushes and Blairs, Reids and Rumsfelds, they are the clubbers and shoppers of modern Britain – in the eyes of the Islamist killers we are all slags, none of us innocent. That is the ugly, and troubling, truth which there should be no dancing around.
And yet, and yet. Few of those who rush to provide explanations for why these young men act as they do have troubled to study the thoughts and writings of their guides and mentors. The works of the founding fathers of Islamism, such as the Egyptian activist Sayyid Qutb, lay bare an antipathy towards the West, its culture, its freedom, its sexual liberties and the very idea of equality between the sexes. For Qutb and other Islamist thinkers the ideal goal is a world in which every action is governed by submission to an impersonal and unforgiving god. As his fellow Islamist ideologue Abul Ala Mawdudi argued, the goal is “a state [where] no one can regard any field of his affairs as personal and private. The Islamic state bears a kind of resemblance to the Fascist and Communist states”.
And because those who follow Islamism are in thrall to a totalitarian world-view, like Fascism and Communism, the actions of others are always viewed through the skewed perspective of a narrow faith. And so whatever we do, unless it’s in conformity with their extremist vision, is provocative. If we support the right of women to choose what they wear, we are not respected for our tolerance towards all, we are damned for allowing licentiousness. And when it comes to foreign policy, when we choose not to intervene, when we decide that we shan’t get involved, whether in Bosnia, Chechnya or Kashmir, we are not respected for our modesty and restraint on the world stage. We are damned again, for not acting in accordance with Islamist ambitions.
Against this challenge there really is only one appropriate response – a determination to do what we know to be right in defiance of the demands of men and women who exalt in slaughter. If we changed our society to make ourselves less offensive to the extremists that would not be prudent politics. It would be submission.
Man U critics should concede defeat
round this time nearly two years ago the consensus among sporting commentators on the future of Manchester United was as stiflingly conformist as the consensus among terrorist commentators has been on foreign policy. And events have now proved it just as wrong.
For two years ago, when the Glazer family was mounting its takeover bid for Man U the near-universal view was that these Yankee asset-strippers were bringing nothing to Old Trafford but a barrel-load of debt and the inevitable consequence of their arrival would be a fire-sale of gifted players and a lack of adequate investment.
Now that Man U are on course for a Premiership triumph, I haven’t noticed any significant recantation among commentators. But I do hope that, over time, we’ll come to recognise that the commentating consensus, which has been so sceptical of new money and innovation in football, acknowledges that globalisation has been good for our national game.
Children of hype
Belting along the M4 the other day, I saw a massive poster stretched across a tower block advertising the new “Tolkien” novel The Children of Hurin. It’s clear the publishers believe that they’ve unearthed a goldmine. But the key question as to whether or not his book is a success is not how big the ad spend is, but how many people will be happy to be seen with that iconic book cover under their arms, or on their laps, on our buses and in our parks. And my guess is that there won’t be many people this summer who’ll be happy to be seen toting around a volume which will mark them out as The Children of Hype.
Michael Gove is Conservative MP for Surrey Heath.