The Algerian feminist Karima Bennoune has written of the importance of talking about 'it'. That when we talk about Islamic fundamentalism, that is what we need to talk about.
So often debate and discussion rapidly moves away - backwards to the invasion of Iraq, or sideways into talk of 'Islamophobia,' Donald Trump or the government's Prevent strategy. A core response by some to the Paris attacks by Islamic State was not to talk about 'it,' but to complain that victims of the group's attacks in Lebanon the day before did not receive the same publicity as those in France. What could be a debate about 'it' instead becomes one where the core focus is the perceived racism of the western press.
I characterise this as the 'pivot' response. Those who are uncomfortable with accepting Islamist actors may be bad news, or do bad things, quickly move onto discussing the issues they are comfortable with. This is frequently seen in some responses to particular terrorist attacks - a one sentence or one paragraph condemnation of the bombing or massacre, then a much lengthier dissemination on what the author concerned really wants to discuss. Here's examples from the Stop the War Coalition after 7/7, (scroll down in the link) and more recently the Australian National Imams Council (pdf here) - merely two of many.
This month I have a short letter 'Brush Strokes' in the Winter 2015 New Humanist, critiquing this tendency. We do have to talk about 'it'. If there is a problem, you need to analyse the problem, not solely focus on deficiencies in the responses to 'it'. Whether those responses are correct, flawed or indifferent, the problem itself is the primary issue. Below is the text of my letter:
It was great to receive the New Humanist and read its clear, unequivocal support for the Bangladeshi bloggers targeted by religious extremists. What is disappointing is the unsigned piece on David Cameron’s Birmingham speech (“Age of Extremes”, Autumn 2015). This says nothing of the Islamic extremism which has been an issue in the UK since calls for Salman Rushdie’s murder.
The author complains of Cameron’s “tendency to tar all Muslims with the same brush”, thus switching debate away from problems of ideology and belief, to actual or perceived discrimination. Here, New Humanist risks unintentionally feeding into Islamist narratives, where the problem is never Islam or Islamism, but how everybody else responds to it. If only the Prime Minister said nothing, if only the Daily Mail could adopt the discourse of the Guardian. Everything would be alright, wouldn’t it?
Dr Paul Stott, via email