On the facts relating to the French riots I’ve come across so far I think David Aaronovitch reaches the right conclusion on whether Islamists are involved.
He’s rightly sceptical:
I do try not to believe things for which there is no evidence, and there is no evidence for Muslim qua Muslim involvement in the ritual car-burnings françaises.
Like plenty of others I read the series of articles in last week’s Spectator to see what the magazine’s take on the low-level civil war in our nearest neighbour would be. Like the Times columnist I found its conclusions wanting. Here’s why Aaronovitch says he isn’t convinced by the Spectator line:
Mr Liddle, who I esteem as a companion, has got on the train or plane to Paris, then on another train to the suburb of Grigny, where — as far as I can tell, and using what he calls his “hopeless, stunted French” — he talks to a woman who asks him for rail directions, and to three “hooded and furtive” black youths, whom he finds in a stairwell. These youths mention “jihad” three times in a brief conversation, and that’s it. This is the hard evidence for “The Crescent of Fear”. It seems to me that there is only one state of ignorance more complete than total lack of knowledge, and that is the one engendered by sending Rod Liddle somewhere for a couple of hours.
What Liddle and co. are doing is just the mirror image of what the ‘anti-imperialists’ indulge in when they confuse Islamist terrorists with the general will of millions of ordinary Muslims – confusing like with unlike. And its a dangerous game.
Constantly you can hear good, sensible people beginning to say stupid things about Muslims. You hear them, at the most basic level, confuse Islamism with Islam, which is like confusing crusaders with Christians.
The vast majority of Muslims are not Islamists. They aren’t militant and they aren’t zealots. They are not anything really, any more than the rest of us. And it is simply wrong to focus continually on the words of the Koran or of this or that preacher, in the expectation of finding something alien or alarming. There are people in the Jewish community who have argued that “marrying out” can be described as a “silent holocaust”. If we chose to understand world Judaism from such sentiments, we would find ourselves in the interesting company of today’s sophisticated anti-Semites.
It’s particularly important for those of us who realised some time ago that Islamism is a real threat to our right to life rather than a potential ally in the battle to have the Kyoto Treaty ratified – or whatever our current pet peeve with the US or Britain happens to be – to be extra careful not to casually apply the Islamist label to all Muslims, particularly where the evidence for doing so is so weak.
Let’s get it right: Islam is a religion and Islamism is a political movement with the features of a death cult in its more dangerous forms.
We need to resist the choice that seems to be offered to us at the moment. On the one hand we have the relativism of sections of the intelligentsia on the one hand, who cannot say the words “Western democracy” without a sneer. On the other there is the notion that we are in an unavoidable clash of cultures with almost everyone who calls themselves a Muslim. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Dialogue and debate can both exist alongside a muscular defence of certain values: freedom of speech, democracy, human rights — including equal rights for women. We should allow — with modesty — that it is precisely because some of these rights have been won comparatively recently, and not in the days of the Athenian Republic, that we defend them so resolutely.