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Sunday, 10 March 2013

“…violent extremists who happen to be Muslim...”

Josh Russell: “… it's unfair to address these issues [of Muslim extremism and Islamic terrorism] as having anything to do with the Muslim faith…. These men are violent extremists who happen to be Muslim…. Religion is just yet another in a long list of excuses.”

It’s as if religion, by (his?) definition, cannot – or even must not – have anything to do with “violent extremism”. But this is strange because no one would argue the same about all ideologies or even about a specific ideology. No one would say that Nazism or Trotskyism had nothing to do with “violent extremism” or even that mild ideologies can’t sometimes encourage certain forms of violent extremism. 

What is it about religion, specifically Islam, that makes it the case that it’s impossible for it to cause or encourage violent extremism? I just don’t see the logic here. If Islam, by definition, cannot cause violent extremism - then there’s nothing we can say. Or at least that’s the case if we accept this writer’s definitional point about Islam’s complete lack of violent extremism. But, of course, it isn’t the case that we must follow this man’s (implied) definitional point about Islam. Indeed his position is ridiculous in the extreme.

The point also seems to be - or at least this point is implied - that these men were “violent extremists” before they committed acts of violent extremism in the name of Islam. They were violent extremists regardless of Islam. But that’s simply untrue. There have been legions of men who were non-violent before they embraced Islam, or at least radical Islam, and then they became violent extremists. In other words, otherwise peaceful and harmless individuals became violent extremists because of Islam (or because of “how they interpreted Islam”).

These violent extremists don’t “just happen to be Muslim”. Islam has made them into the violent extremists that they are.  I’m even prepared to prefix this with the statement that they are violent extremists because of the way they have interpreted Islam. But even in this case Islam is factored into the account. It’s still the case, even in spite of their supposed definitional misreading of Islam, that Islam – their version of Islam? – caused them to become violent extremists. 

So whether or not they get Islam right or wrong, they aren’t violent extremists “who just happen to be Muslim”. They are Muslims who have been turned into violent extremists because of either Islam itself, or their (mis)reading of Islam. In both cases, Islam itself is an issue.

Again, Islam is not “just another excuse”, as this commentator puts it. No one would ever say that someone’s Nazi or Trotskyist beliefs were “just another excuse” for violent extremism. So why say that same for Islam? At least, why the absolute - but implicit! - assumption that Islam can never have anything to do with violent extremism? How can their Islam be a simple “excuse” because, as I’ve said, in very many cases otherwise peaceful and harmless individuals have become violent extremists, as well as terrorists, because of Islam – whether or not their reading is definitionally wrong (which I don’t think is the case).

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