The first guest on this edition of the Radio 4 discussion programme was the egregious Bruce Everiss. He asserted that IS support is motivated by hatred of Assad, thinks the root causes of the problem are Sykes-Picot and Tony Blair, and found no difference between jihadists fighting for ISIS and Britons who fought for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. He proved too much even for Giles Fraser – and you can read his latest silly piece here – who described Everiss’s contribution as a ‘shocking form of relativism’ (37:24).
Professor Anthony Glees, by contrast, was robust in his condemnation of IS. He thought we should do our best to prevent those under 18 from joining IS, but that our attitude to older supporters should be ‘good riddance’. He asserted that IS was driven by ‘ideology’ rather than ‘faith’, ‘a way of wanting to order society’ (18:40). Of course some would argue that Islam does – or can – include just such a political vision.
This point was picked up by the next guest, Tom Holland. He asserted that there are ‘aspects of Islam that are profoundly alien, and indeed hostile, to liberal democracy’ (22:10), and said that government ministers should stop saying IS has nothing to do with Islam. Yet he also fully accepted that Islam can manifest itself in other ways, some perfectly compatible with secular values.
Predictably Ajmal Masroor didn’t agree that the rise of IS might have something to do with Islam, though he did think it had a great deal to do with the West. ‘The genuine interpretation of Islam would abhor as well as reject this politicised interpretation that we see coming out of some Middle Eastern countries’.
The programme, as always, concluded with the panellists summing up and evaluating the views of their guests. Anne McElvoy made an interesting point about Tom Holland’s contribution, suggesting that underlying what he said was ‘a very elegant counsel of despair’. His exchange with the more optimistic Sunder Kutwala is well worth listening to (22:30 ff).