I’m not trying to be controversial.
Controversial stuff just keeps happening. And well-intentioned people, out of the goodness of their heart, seem unable to recognise what is happening.
So terrorists in Paris have launched a series of well-coordinated attacks using both guns and bombs (having learned from the 2008 Mumbai attacks that small arms are as an effective a terrorist weapon as explosives). So far at least 128 people are recorded as having been killed, and ISIS have claimed responsibility, and certainly provided the inspiration.
And of course there are a range of public reactions to this. Most of what I’m seeing falls into several categories: some expressing sorrow and solidarity with the people of Paris. Others asking why these things happen. And some (often the same people) express sentiments that these people do not represent “real” Muslims, are a tiny minority, or that this has nothing to do with Islam.
Unfortunately, the last two statements are fundamentally connected. One of the reasons things like this keep happening, and are going to get worse, is because of people’s good-hearted, wishful thinking about what’s really going on.
Radicalism in Islam
Every time something like this happens, both Governments and private individuals claim that this has nothing to do with Islam, or at most involves a “tiny minority”. This is an understandable response, grounded in the desire to avoid any kind of backlash (however hypothetical) against innocent people. Unfortunately there is rarely any attempt to ground this hope in actual details.
Islam of course is a vast religion, with over 1.6 billion adherents. And it is no more monolithic and unified than Christianity is. There are branches of Islam – such as the Ahmaddiya or Ismailis – who are not remotely involved in terrorism, and indeed are actually heavily persecuted (the Ahmaddiya, for example, are regard as ‘not Muslim’ in Pakistan, and so are open to attack). Those who insist that all Muslims are the enemy aren’t correct, and aren’t doing us any favours, since by their logic (namely that the radicals are the ‘correct’ Islam) they’d seem to be almost encouraging all those not involved to join up.
Yet the converse is often based on nothing more than wishful thinking. Islamist radicalism draws upon long-standing strands in Islamic tradition. These aren’t the only strands, true, but they’ve been in place since the beginning of Islam. And at least amongst Sunni radicals – who aim to dispense with what they see as unIslamic bid’a (“innovation” – seen as a bad thing) such as Sufism or Saints and return to the golden age of the four rashidun (“righteous”) caliphs – they are drawing upon some very long-standing strands indeed, including Qur’anic passages and Hadith (traditions/sayings of Muhammad, which form a secondary source of authority for Islamic teachings). It’s why I cringe a bit when some people talk about Islam needing a reformation, since arguably it’s going through one already (the wars of religion following the reformation and counter-reformation in Europe were no picnic, after all).
Some accept that these ideas do come from a Islamic background, but make the claim that Islamic radicals are no more than a “tiny minority”. These needs quantification, because some people simply haven’t thought this through. Even if no more than 1% of Muslims were sympathetic to the Islamic State, for example, we’d still be talking about 1.6 million people.
Unfortunately the situation is much worse.
If we look at surveys of Muslim attitudes, both in the Middle East and in Great Britain, we do not find much comfort. For example, this Pew Research Centre survey from 2013 trumps the fact that a majority of Muslims have unfavourable views of Al Qaeda. Unfortunately that majority is only 57%. 13% had a favourable view, and a further 23% claimed not to know or refused to answer the question. Even if one went with a baseline of 13% of Al Qaeda sympathisers, that still leaves 208 million Al Qaeda sympathisers – three times the population of the UK. Other surveys provide equally comforting information: In 2006 a survey found almost 25% of British Muslims felt the 7/7 attacks on London in 2005 were ‘justified’, 28% wanted Britain to become an Islamic fundamentalist state, and that 78% supported the punishment of those who printed or re-printed the Muhammad cartoons. A 2015 ComRes poll found that 27% of British Muslims sympathised with the motives behind the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine, and 11% said that such magazines “deserved to be attacked”. A 2007 survey found that nearly a third of Muslim 18-24 year olds in Britain “believed that those converting to another religion should be executed”; apparently it is good news that amongst those over 55 ‘less than a fifth’ believed the same. It is little wonder that there are more British Muslims fighting for ISIS than there are serving in the British Army.
My own anecdotal experience more than bears this out: while pursuing my Masters in Islamic Studies, my fellow students were very prone to voicing their support for Al Qaeda and its tactics, their belief that the Mumbai attacks were a conspiracy by India to make Pakistan look bad, or claims that “the Jews own the BBC”. I remember one class vividly where one teacher (who was fairly young – other teachers included the old Shia Imam who taught Qur’anic hermeneutics who was very vocally opposed to Al Qaeda for all the right reasons) started referring to “martyrdom operations” (the preferred radical term for suicide bombings), and all the other students around me were nodding along. Amongst young British muslims, radical opinions are far more widely held than most people realise.
Based on the surveys, however, I think a reasonable conjecture is that a minimum of 10% of Muslims worldwide are vocal sympathisers with the most extreme Jihadists, and that in some demographics this is much higher. There’s a further percentage who at least sympathise in part, and who are unlikely to counteract the actions of the radicals. There are also some positions that Westerners would consider radical (such as attacks on those deemed to ‘insult’ Islam, or the death penalty for those who leave Islam) that enjoy even higher support, and may even be considered mainstream positions amongst many Muslims. Even if we take are bare minimum of 10%, we are left with over 160 million Jihadist sympathisers. We are not talking a tiny fringe here, on the order of the Branch Davidians. Rather we’re talking about something that (in proportionate terms) is comparable to Protestant Evangelicalism in Christianity. No one would refer to them as a “tiny fringe” or “completely unrepresentative” of “Real Christianity”. For the Latter-day Saints among my readers, perhaps this may put it most vividly: for every single Latter-day Saint, active or inactive, I estimate that there are at least ten ISIS sympathisers.
So yes, this is something to do with Islam. Not all Muslims, certainly, but enough of them that this is a serious problem. A minority of the people of Northern Ireland were involved in terrorism too, but no one would have claimed that the IRA or UVF “had nothing to do with Ireland”. Anyone whose first reaction to yet another of these attacks is to try and claim that this is nothing to do with Islam is – however well intentioned – only trying to put their head in the sand and pretend this isn’t a problem.
And so I come onto a particularly controversial symptom of that blinkeredness, namely the current mass immigration into Europe, particularly from Syria and other portions of the Muslim world.
It’s understandable that people would want to help.
Indeed it’s right to help those driven out of their homes.
But – as I pointed out speaking in an ecclesiatical and familial context – misguided mercy may end up being very merciless to others.
The following points should be considered:
- The people currently travelling through Europe are not refugees. They ceased being refugees the moment they moved past Turkey. This is reflected in the demographics: the UNCHR’s own data indicates only half of these people are from Syria, and that 65% are men. By the time we get to Hungary and Croatia, the proportion that are males of military age are even higher. This is less of a refugee crisis, and more of a 21st century völkerwanderung.
- The issue has become tangled with Europe’s own unwillingness to reproduce at a replacement rate, and their need to have young workers because their welfare systems are predicated on a healthy demographic structure. Of course, deciding to simply import millions of young workers rather than ‘grow you own’ has its own consequences, particularly on the wages of those in low paid and unskilled labour.
- Those who are most vulnerable from ISIS – such as the Christians or Yazidis who are subject to a convert or die policy – are not being helped. Western governments have done precious little to help them, while these groups actually avoid the UN refugee camps because of mistreatment and persecution by the Muslim residents of the camps. Of those Christians who do make the journey, they are at threat of being murdered by the fellow “refugees”, and even when they are “safely” in Germany, of suffering persecution at the hands of Islamists in refugee centres. Russia has done more in the past decade to protect Middle Eastern Christians than the United States has!
- The majority of actual refugees remain in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. If someone wants to help them, they should direct help there (although be very careful of whom they are dealing with).
We are therefore engaged on a public policy of allowing into Europe millions of people (nearly a million in 2015 alone), of whom I’d estimate at least 10% are terrorist sympathisers, a figure that may likely be considerably higher in view of the demographics. We do not adequately screen those passing our frontiers, and at the same time those who are suffering most are abandoned to the wolves, even when they make it all the way to Europe!
And then we wonder how events in Paris can happen, and why they keep on happening!
Nor is this just a matter a public policy. I know of at least one person amongst my past acquaintances who (out of a misguided sense of compassion) is planning a trip out to Greece this December to help personally move immigrants onto the mainland. Let’s say they manage to help ten people make the trip. While percentages never quite work like that, it would easily be within the bounds of probability that one of those people is a supporter of radical fundamentalist Islam. Who this good person helped to mainland Europe.
And it’s only going to get worse: A German prediction of their demographic change suggests it is likely that with the recent influx and those that will follow that Germany could have a population of 20 million Muslims by 2020, a proportion of roughly 20%. Even if that doesn’t happen by 2020, relative demographic differences (i.e. who’s having children) will make that happen in time. This effect across Europe is undoubtedly going to mean substantial societal change – and in the present climate, considerably more radicals to commit terrorist attacks.
It’s a policy born of madness and wishful thinking. I imagine the hope is that somehow Europe will be able to defeat radical ideas through counter-extremism policies and all the new immigrants and their descendants will happily integrate rather than join the existing parallel societies. I find this extremely unlikely. You can’t fight something with nothing, and the modern West increasingly offers little but empty materialism and creature comforts. Instead I see two options as far more likely: either this continues to happen, until Europeans states increasingly resemble the Near and Middle East (the so-called Eurabia), or a counter-reaction will happen, which like all human things will overreact in a horrible way. In either case, the prospects of free societies and an absence of this sort of violence are slim. And the possibility that we end up with something like a continent-wide Yugoslavia is far higher than it ever should be (and were the Government inclined to take my advice on preparing for the worst-case scenario, it’d begin setting up secret caches of small arms and ammunition in the countryside – rural areas being far more likely to remain in loyalist hands. But I say stuff like this, so they won’t.).