The West is at war with Muslim terrorists, not Muslims, let alone Islam. That has been the mantra of the states waging war on terrorism. But much of the Muslim world doesn’t buy that, believing instead that the war on terrorism is part of a broader war to control oil and geo-political interests.
A related assertion is that terrorism by some Muslims does not mean that all or even most Muslims are terrorists. But a growing number of Europeans and North Americans don’t buy that. Equating terrorism with Islam, they are suspicious of Muslims, including fellow-citizens, whom they hound and whose faith they denigrate on a scale not seen since past shameful episodes of bigotry against Jews, Japanese, blacks and others.
But our leaders must stick to their mantras, as part of the propaganda to rationalize wars and unholy alliances with autocratic Muslim client states.
Barack Obama may, in fact, believe what he says in separating faith from terrorism. But his Western allies, Prime Minister Stephen Harper included, let it slip once in a while that they have doubts about what they are parroting.
On Monday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, said in a speech on security: “I’ve often heard Western leaders describe Islam as a ‘religion of peace.’ I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often, and mean it.”
He is skeptical of fellow Western leaders as well as Muslims. The latter don’t assert the ostensibly peaceful nature of Islam enough and what little they do say is insincere.
Harper and his MPs have learned to say that Muslim terrorists have perverted peaceful Islam. Last fall in New York, he even acknowledged that those “who become radicalized and go off to fight in foreign places or sit around plotting attacks in Canada or the United States” have only an “extremely tangential connection” to Muslims and mosques. Many “have no background in Islam whatsoever . . . Our Muslim community has actually really helped to identify a lot of these threats . . . because they are anything but aligned with this kind of thinking.” Yet last month, when he made jihad on jihadists his re-election platform, he changed his tune. Canadian mosques may, in fact, be incubators of terrorism — he would crack down on terrorist ideas hatched “in a basement or a mosque.”
Last month German Chancellor Angela Merkel unexpectedly reached out to Muslims (“I am chancellor of all Germans”), yet she added this: “Most people in Germany are not enemies of Islam — they are uncertain in their verdict, even perplexed.” They want to know “how we can still follow the often-repeated sentence that murderers who cite Islam for their deeds have nothing to do with Islam. I think it’s important and urgent for these questions to be cleared up by Islamic clergy.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron wants British Muslims to prove that Islam belongs in Britain. Last month he agreed with Eric Pickles, minister for local government, who wrote to more than 1,000 Muslim religious leaders: “You have an important responsibility in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity.”
So, terrorism is not Islamic. Muslims and mosques know little about Western wanna-be jihadists. Yet Muslims — clergy, in particular — must prove their patriotism by condemning the terrorism they already have, and help in ferreting out the jihadists they don’t know.
This strange combination of treating a community as a fifth column, yet pleading for its help speaks to the confusing, contradictory and at times stupid approaches to the war on terror.
Terrorists hate us for our values, including free speech. So we curtail it — as in Harper’s Anti-Terrorism Act; as in cutting off Parliamentary debate on it; as in prohibiting the media from interviewing the jailed Omar Khadr; and as in turning Ottawa into a walled fortress from where little information can seep out.
Terrorists hate us because of our freedoms. So Montreal blocks the opening of a new community centre by a controversial imam; Outremont cancels an Islamic graduation ceremony; Shawinigan rejects a mosque application; and Quebec’s third party, Coalition Avenir Québec, proposes a new body to vet all new Muslim institutions that may violate Quebec values, whose definition we do not know.
And Ottawa refuses the right of a woman to wear the niqab at a citizenship ceremony, and will spend millions of dollars appealing a court ruling in her favour.
There’s misogyny in the Muslim world. So we emulate it here by assuming that niqabi women are incapable of independent judgment and must be ordered, mostly by men in authority, what to wear or not and when.
We dread the sharia. So we copy it — Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right, calls for the return of the death penalty, and Harper gets tougher and tougher on crime.
The best antidote to terrorism is democracy. So we crush it in Muslim lands, by cozying up to autocrats there.
We have been losing the war on terror — witness the expanding number of groups and the territory they control. Less understood is that we have also lost our capacity to think straight — a grievous self-inflicted wound on democracies.