There is a tendency to regard extremism and reaction within a part of the muslim community in the west as something intrinsically strange or foreign. In fact it is neither.
I’m not greatly impressed by the argument which seeks to stigmatise criticism of islamist extremists on the grounds that they are no worse than many home-grown extremists. In some forms, that argument goes on to imply that the choice of target betrays, if not the certainty or a presumption of islamophobia, at least the suspicion of it. Its the flip side of the charge – which we do not make on this blog – that criticism of Israel is inevitably racism in disguise.
However, islamophobes – like racists – are certainly often bound together by a common enthusiasm for collecting the trivia which proves their bigotry well founded. Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Noam Chomsky both know that their whatever they say will be repeated by the vilest of racists, and that – if they are to speak at all – there is nothing to be done about it.
There is another kernel of truth in that charge. It appreciates that the islamophobe regards extremism and oppression within islamism as somehow special in nature. Muslim extremists – like the jew or “zionist” of fable – have fantastic powers. They are plotters, dissemblers, manipulators, murderers of children, fanatics. Anti-gay rants in parliament and the press are one thing, but in the mouths of bearded clerics they are something else.
The point is this. There is nothing alien and exotic about islamism, in either its content or its style. The extremists of the islamic and christian/post-christian worlds share a common heritage; they are both self conscious revolts in the romantic tradition against modernism and liberalism. Paul Berman in Terror and Liberalism makes the point well, drawing upon the writings of Qutb, a suffering Jesus of a man who struggled to evict modernity from his skull so that he could reconstruct the glittering palace of what he imagined to be the eternal Caliphate.
Well, we’ve lived through these battles in England and America. We’re surviving their aftershocks, still.