In an item published in the Daily Mail, Melanie Philips continues the damage control over the association between anti-Islamic ideas and the ideas of Breivik. Saying that, “the atrocity has produced a reaction among people on the political Left in Britain, Europe and the U.S. that is in itself shocking and terrifying.”
Which is interesting? The argument seems to be that by directly addressing clear and identifiable links between the things Breivik wrote, both in his manifesto and elsewhere, and the anti-Islamic agenda of some, that this is an attempt to smear ’right wing thinkers’. To me this very much seems to be a case of ‘right wing thinkers’ wanting their cake and eating it.
For years the anti-Jihadists have been determined to classify all Muslims as somehow complicit in the actions of Al Qaeda, and the Taliban. No distinction between, Shia and Sunni Islam, no distinction between Quran only Muslims and others, no recognition that even the supposedly most orthodox and numerous Sunni sect, is not a homogenous whole.
It seems very often that the anti-Islamists are only interested with trying to define Islam according to the most unpalatable actions of the most deranged and confused people who would describe themselves as Muslims, omitting the vast majority of Muslims who are undoubtedly more interested in living peaceful lives in freedom.
The problem for the anti-Islamists at present seems to be that now the same arguments are being directly applied to their own ideas that they are crying foul. To their eyes it is legitimate to claim Islam is Evil because some lunatics claim it as their inspiration, but not legitimate to criticise their ideas because a lunatic claims them as his inspiration.
Later in her piece Philips says: “As soon as the atrocity happened, people on the Left saw a heaven-sent opportunity to smear mainstream conservative thinkers and writers by making a grossly distorted association between Breivik’s attack and their ideas.”
This to me seems quite disingenuous, from what I can tell the majority of commentators have been making a very similar case to my own, I.e. Breivik is a psychopath, who used anti-Islamist ideas to justify his actions in exactly the same way that middle eastern Terrorists use Islam to justify their actions. Yet it seems that Philips and others find this a hard message to hear. Like the student in an exam, who fails to reads the question correctly, they are writing fine answers to a question they have written themselves.
In her article Philips answers the question this way: “They claimed that anyone on ‘the Right’ who had spoken out against multiculturalism or Islamic extremism was complicit in the atrocity and therefore had a moral duty to stop writing about such things.” Which to me seems to be a misrepresentation, rather there is an exhortation that the anti-Islamists answer the question, which they seem singularly unable to even recognise. For my part I am happy for them to write, and to argue, but I think it is beholden on them to address the issues rather than dodge them by claiming that ‘smear campaigns’ are underway. For my part I am most concerned that a double standard is in operation: logic applied in one context is seen as invalid in another. Either the logic is sound or it is not, it cannot be both, according to whim.
Philips also does something else which seems odd to me, she appears to take criticism personally. To be fair she does identify commentators who might well have singled her out for criticism, and if they did that might have been unfair, to be honest I don’t have the time or energy to find out one way or another. Philips makes great play that Breivik only mentions her twice, and doesn’t directly discuss things she has written about Islam, only immigration apparently.
The problem with this seems to me to be that Breivik does mention several anti-Islamist writers many times, and yes Breivik does also mention a lot of other people too, including Locke, Churchill, Shakespeare, John Stuart Mill, ect, but it is the anti-Islamist agenda he follows, and anti-Islamist writers he uses to align himself with, and to support the arguments he constructs.
And it is this that Philips singularly fails to address, I find myself concluding that this is in order to keep away from the important question the so called ‘left‘ is looking for an answer too, which is: why can’t the same logic the anti-Islamists apply to acts by Terrorists claiming to be inspired by Islam, be applied to acts by Terrorists claiming to be inspired by anti-Islamist writing. Philips quotes a Guardian reader: “following Milne’s contemptible attack, the fact that he had deliberately blurred the distinction between reasonable political opinions with which one might disagree and the actions of a terrorist meant he was creating hysteria and polarisation.” Which is entirely reasonable, but isn’t that what the anti-Islamists do with Islam?
Towards the end of the piece Philips says, “I’m always careful, for example, to draw distinctions between individuals and causes, such as the ‘human rights’ agenda, and I have always stressed the distinction between peaceful Muslims and Islamic extremism.” I have no immediate knowledge whether this is true or not, but perhaps a better agenda for her article, might have been to highlight where she has done this, perhaps showing where she differs with other anti-Islamist writers who do seem eager to stereotype all Muslims as following a particular ideology, and who are keen to demonise Islam as an ideology.
One thing about her article I find particularly worrying is her reaction to the former Norwegian Prime Minister, current chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize committee Thorbjorn Jagland suggestion that Politicians choose their words carefully.
Philips response to this hints that in common with other anti-Islamists, she doesn’t really understand, that with freedom of speech comes responsibility, both for what is said, and how it is said.
Phillips says that to associate Breiviks “abhorrent ravings with Cameron’s comments is simply grotesque.” which implies that rather than looking at what is true, she is campaigning to an audience.
Elsewhere she says: “this is treating Breivik as if his words deserve to be taken seriously and at face value.” Which again seems to me to answer a different question, than the one posed. Rather I think she should be considering, that whilst Breivik is clearly off his head, so are a lot of people who will be reading what he wrote, and what other people write and say. It seems obvious to me that this is what Jagland was pointing to.
Yet to emphasise her point Philips says that “the former Norwegian premier is treating Breivik as if he is a political terrorist whose words have the authority of a sane and coherent creed.” which is one of the most confused statements I think I have ever read. For one thing I don’t think that the creeds of political terrorists could ever be accused of being coherent. For another it again operates a double standard, somehow Political Terrorists are coherent, but Breivik is not. And thirdly she seems incapable of imagining that there are those who will take what he has to say seriously, since it will serve their own distorted agendas, in exactly the same way as there are those who take Terrorists who justify their actions through Islam seriously.
There are various other things Philips says, but in her efforts contributing to the anti-Islamists damage control agenda, she seems to fail to answer or address the important questions, and slips into claiming that the nasty Liberals are being mean to her.
I can‘t help thinking that her last paragraph is the one that damn‘s her most: “Indeed, those who have exploited the killing of innocents in Norway to provoke such an eruption of distortion, demonisation and irrationality should disgust and alarm all decent people everywhere.”
This is so very much what the anti-Islamist agenda appears to be doing, claims that Islam is evil abound. Islam is itself blamed for the agendas of the terrorists, democratic Muslim movements are demonised just as much as Terrorists, because they integrate their religious beliefs into their political agenda, (Hmm Socialism + Methodism = British Labour party.) Conflict and Political unrest in the middle east is the fault of Islam, not the fragmentation of authoritarian political elites and uncertain futures.
If I were cynical, . . Oh ok I will be cynical: It is not difficult to imagine that the Anti-Islamists want to get the agenda well away from the difficult questions they find hard to give an adequate answer to, and back onto how nasty the liberals and leftists are, who keep unconscionably pointing out the flaws in their arguments.
And there is a bigger perspectives to this as well, in which Breivik is a rather minor player, tragic as the outcome of his actions were. For many Muslims the disproportionate Muslim death toll in the various wars the west is engaged in in the middle east is a huge issue of concern. Perhaps there are those who would paraphrase her last paragraph, “Indeed, those who have exploited the killing of innocents in Muslim Lands to provoke such an eruption of distortion, demonisation and irrationality should disgust and alarm all decent people everywhere.”