Yes, I’ve had to add a new category of post: “terrorism.” It’s sad. When I wrote about the Nice attack yesterday, I suspected that the perpetrator, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, might have religious motivations, or at least be working for an organization like ISIS, but there was little information. This morning I learned from CNN that ISIS has now claimed credit for the murders:
In an online statement by the terror group’s media agency Amaq and circulated by its supporters, it said the person behind the attack is an ISIS “soldier.”
Five others, including Bouhel’s wife, have been arrested: the CNN piece gives more detail. It’s not clear whether Bouhel was actually sent by ISIS to do the deed, or was a sympathizer working under their direction. Or, I suppose, ISIS could be lying, but I’m not aware that they’ve falsely taken credit for an attack.
Yesterday Maajid Nawaz weighted in on the attacks, even before any information from ISIS came out. I thought this was a bit precipitious:
But Nawaz’s main point holds: if this were a Catholic movement acting with the approval and direction of the Vatican, and Catholics engaged in repeated acts of mass murder in the name of their faith, nobody would have a problem calling it out, and blaming, at least in part, that faith. Imagine, for instance, that hospital after hospital that performed abortions was blown up, attacked, and its doctors murdered, all by Catholics, and in both Europe and the U.S. Can you imagine for a minute that the media would avoid mentioning Catholicism?
Islam, of course, is special: liberals have to go easy on it out of both fear—Islamists retaliate—and a misguided feeling that terrorists might be acting as members of an oppressed Group of Color. In the case of Islam, we can always refrain from comment out of liberal guilt, usually a salubrious emotion—but not in this case. Liberal journalists that refuse to even name the religion are derelict in their duty, and reprehensible cowards.
Nawaz has expanded his tw**t into a piece in the Torygraph, “Please stop saying the Nice attacks have nothing to do with Islam.” The first part of his article is taken from that tw**t, but then he limns the solution he’s always offered: name the phenomenon for what it is—Islamist terrorism—and then try to make the faith less extremist:
All we can do is stop the supply of recruits – and there are far too many of those. No terrorist represents the values of all Muslims, of course, but we have allowed hardline Islamism to permeate our communities and mobilise the vulnerable.
To stop it we have to make it less attractive, and that is a long-term struggle, similar to the those against racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism.
Campaigns like Families Against Terrorism and Extremism and the #MyIslam campaign are a start, but we will need the help of every element of society.
So please stop denying the nature of jihadism. Please stop ignoring the narratives which drive these attacks. Instead of aiding extremists who insist Islam today is perfect, perhaps you should aid us beleaguered reformist Muslims who are attempting to address this crisis within Islam against all the odds.
Some #solidarity, please. Because if you want to stop this, you need us.
The more I think about it, the more I think that Nawaz’s solution is the only one that’s viable in the long term. You can’t bomb militant Islamism out of existence, and national security can never stop all attacks. The only solution is to encourage all Muslims to reject the militant version of their faith, and that, of course, involves not only action on the part of Muslims themselves, but an explicit recognition that much of the problem is connected with religion.
But I despair that this solution isn’t working now—how effective have liberal reformers like Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali been?—and, if it works, will take centuries to do so. The U.S. and European “solution”, however, is just to beef up security and to avoid naming religion at all costs, and that won’t do anything. This is why reformers like Nawaz, Hirsi Ali, Maryam Namazie and others are so precious: they are, at least in theory, the only nucleus for a reformation of Islam. But instead of recognizing this, liberals demonize these moderates. We’ll see in a minute how lame the Liberal European Solution really is.
At any rate, if militant Catholicism and Christianity can be tamed, so can Islam. All it takes is an embrace of Enlightenment values. But don’t expect to see that in our lifetimes.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is making piously liberal noises about the problem. In an editorial published yesterday, “Our best defense against terrorists,” the Times editorial board says that the solution lies in—wait for it—holding on to our democratic values:
But whoever struck the blow, whatever its malevolent purpose or toll, the response cannot be to abandon the respect for human rights, equality, reason and tolerance that is the aspiration of all democratic cultures. Though it has become almost a cliché to argue that the goal of terrorists is to bring their victims down to their moral level, it is also a truth, and it must be reaffirmed after every attack.
. . . As Mr. Valls and many others have warned, there will be more terrorist attacks. More innocent lives will be lost. There is no way that the police can track every vengeance-seeking potential killer or neutralize every weapon as commonplace as a truck. What threatened nations and their leaders can do is to firmly instill the idea that the only sure defense is to stay true to what democratic societies really stand for.
The editorial also attacks the jingoistic, right-wing statements of the French National Front and Newt Gingrich’s call that we deport all Muslims who support sharia law. And yes, that’s right: we would be lost if we suddenly got involved in Big Brother-like scrutiny of everyone, or in the demonization of Muslims who want only to live a good life in the West.
But none of that will solve the problem! The Times editorial is, in fact, an exercise in virtue signaling, and says nothing substantive. Maybe they should consider mentioning religious motivations for murder and the need for Islam to be reformed—from within. But that, of course, is verboten at the Good Gray Times.
If you really want to see a bunch of Western liberals ineffectually offering “solutions” to Islamist terrorism, check out the Times‘s “Room for Debate” editorial feature, in which five well-intentioned “experts” give short answers to the question, “Can we just ‘live with’ terrorism?” I’ll spare you a detailed description of their take, and just summarize what each expert said (the experts’ credentials are taken from the article).
- Amos N. Guiora (former commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ School of Military Law and a professor at S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah). His solution is to continue with counterterrorism measures and do what Israelis do: “. . . the most effective societal response to a terrorist attack is to continue living. Sitting at home, with a ‘woe is me’ attitude is to give in to terrorism.” Yeah, a lot of actions are said to be “giving in to terrorism,” but I’m dubious. At any rate, this has worked for Israel, but it took them years of being attacked to work out a way to deal with it. And of course it won’t stop the killing by Islamist radicals. Further, the U.S. doesn’t have an “Iron Dome” to stop missile attacks, either, for we aren’t attacked by missiles. Israeli domestic security is, by and large, able to stop (not completely!) the kind of mass murders we have in Europe and the U.S.
- Paul Rosenzweig (a principal at Red Branch Consulting and a former deputy assistant secretary for policy at the Department of Homeland Security). Rosenzweig says we need to think more about terrorists’ methods, like using trucks, reinforce the perimeters of attackable areas, and, yes, install metal detectors at baseball stadiums. In other words, accept that terrorism is here to stay and learn how to deal with it better. That’s pretty much worthless advice.
- Michael B. Mukasey (U.S. attorney general from 2007 to 2009, and then a United States district court judge for the southern district of New York from 1988 to 2006). At least Mukasey admits the obvious: “[Terrorism] results from the purposeful conduct of people who are motivated by two things: a twisted reading of Islamic scripture, and success.” He’s the most hawkish of the respondents, saying not only that we need to gather intelligence better (duh!) but “go on the offense.” I think he means pre-emptive strikes, but it’s not clear. At any rate, this doesn’t seem like much of a solution, either.
- Noura Erakat (a human rights lawyer an assistant professor at George Mason University, and a co-founder and co-editor of Jadaliyya). Erakat is the Apologist, who says that terrorism should be placed on the doorstep of Western Colonialism, and ending terrorism requires us to admit that violence against civilians in Palestine, Afghanistan, and Yemen should also be counted as terrorism. The implication is—as always with apologists—that if the West just gets the hell out of the Middle East, or apologizes for having intervened there decades ago, terrorism would end. I don’t buy it. The Brits made a mess out of India with the Partition, as well as years of oppression, but we don’t see Indian citizens committing terrorism all over the planet. Erakat winds up by saying this: “Our ability to protect humanity, literally and figuratively, depends on our ability to draw connections between the terrors inflicted on all civilians and to stem those attacks without a counterproductive and inaccurate framework of ‘just vs. unjust uses of force’ based solely on the perpetrators’ identity and status.” Now there’s a solution!
- Liah Greenfeld (professor of sociology, political science and anthropology at Boston University and author of “Mind, Modernity, Madness: The Impact of Culture on Human Experience”). Greenfeld touts her own speciality as the solution: we need to reduce the incidence of mental illness, which she sees (along with any convenient enabling ideology, like Islam) as a major cause of terrorism. I quote her:
The great majority of “homegrown” or “lone-wolf” terror acts are committed by people with a known history of mental illness, most often depression, which counts social maladjustment and problematic sense of self among its core symptoms. Severely depressed people are often suicidal, they find life unlivable. As a rule, they cannot explain their acute existential discomfort to themselves and may find ideologies hostile to their social environment – the society in which they experience their misery – appealing: such ideologies allow them to rationalize, make sense of the way they feel. Any available ideology justifying their maladjustment would do: Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel might have been inspired by radical Islam, but Micah Johnson, who killed five police officers in Dallas, had a different inspiration.
Of course another solution is to tame the enabling and radicalizing ideology. After all, there are plenty of mentally ill Catholics and Protestants in this world, but they don’t commit frequent mass murders! Could it be that the nature of the faith makes some religions breed terrorism—even among the mentally ill—more than others?
The Times’s whole useless discussion shows how impotent we are before those willing to die in the service of their faith. Is there any solution beyond Nawaz’s: infusing Islam with a titer of Enlightenment values, leading its adherents to reject extremism? If there is, I don’t see it.