“Part of what it is to be courageous is to see reality accurately and to respond well in the face of it." ~ Jonathan Lear

16 November 2015

On ideology and the denial of Islamic terror



An ideology is above all a system of belief into which everything must fit and that therefore assumes a sort of ultimate, absolute knowledge

This attachment to absolute, over-arching knowledge is why adherents so easily slip into authoritarian thought and behaviour. After all, if you know the core truth or the root causes of what is going on, actual truths presenting themselves to you in reality are of relatively little importance; indeed it is surely right to ignore them and concentrate on the more important underlying truth – even (and perhaps especially) if it contradicts what you can see and hear in reality.

From liberal-left practitioners, we can perhaps see this latter tendency most obviously in the reaction to terrorist attacks committed in the name of Islam like those in Paris on Friday night. 

The cry goes out that this phenomenon 'is nothing to do with Islam’ or 'has nothing to do with religion’ even when the killers keenly and openly justify their actions in terms of Islam. This is the most extraordinary double-think you might say, or else simple downright lies. 

But it makes perfect sense in terms of ideology, for in ideology the actual truth is subservient to the real, underlying truth. In this way it commands what ‘is’, so Islamic terrorism ‘is’ nothing to do with Islam, even when it quite patently is something to do with it - albeit not everything.


RIP to all the victims of the attacks in Paris and thoughts go out to everyone directly affected by them. Maurice Duruflé's 'Requiem' here is a lovely piece of work, doing what the best music does in these situations and words alone cannot.


 Maurice Duruflé's 'Requiem' - in seven parts here, but it's the best recording I've found on Youtube. To open in a new window, click here.

15 comments:

  1. I think the philosophical problem here is who says whether Islamists are something to do with Islam? It's probably not up to 'outsiders' to that religion, but up to their scholars and practitioners. Religions of the book have always to negotiate how they correlate the words on the pages of their sacred scriptures with cultural shifts. So you always get more fundamentalist and more progressive interpretations. To say whether or not the terror attacks are the out working of certain core commands in Islam, or just godless violence one would need to read the Koran and converse with Muslims, not just make judgments based on Politicans' pronouncements...?

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    1. Hi Claire, yes, that is the abstract philosophical or theological problem. What I am dealing with is the phenomenon.

      The perpetrators invoke Islam very strongly to justify their actions, so Islam appears very strongly *in the world* as a manifestation (so not abstract). We can debate on the abstracts of the religion, but it rather misses the point that this is how the religion is appearing in our lives here and now.

      However, doctrinally, ISIS in the lands it occupies has been seeking to impose a very strict code of Islamic Law - one not much unlike that found in Saudi Arabia. We could debate whether such codes are 'real' or 'proper', but they are in the world and showing a lot of political strength in the world. If all the scholars in the world were saying it is not real Islam, then the scholars would be showing how irrelevant they are in the real, political world.

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    2. Claire if we took your logic to its full conclusion it would severely limit what any of us are allowed to comment on. Must one be African to comment on Africa etc?

      Moreover your point about 'outsiders' not being allowed to decide what is Islamic ignores the fact Ben is quoting the 'insiders' themselves. It's mostly the 'outsiders' who keep propagating this myth these atrocities have 'nothing to do with Islam' when they very obviously do.

      Finally, it's somewhat insulting to suggest Friday's attack is possibly just godless violence to atheists like myself when the very words 'Allahu Akbar' are screamed at the same time as the trigger is being pulled on the AK47.

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    3. And thus no one can ever have an opinion on anything ever unless they have intimate knowledge of the issue under debate.

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    4. I'm catholic. I find the buzzy energy of evangelicals bizarre and the violence of christian extremists from members of the IRA to Lebanese falangists to be wholly despicable.

      I wouldn't however deny that they had 'nothing to do with christianity'.

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  2. I think the problem with your response is that it neatly divides the theological (philosophical or what you call abstract) and the political ('real') out workings.
    This is typical dualist thinking, from the
    Western intellectual tradition. Religions in general don't divide like this; certainly fundamentalist Islamists don't. Also we need to be careful with terms; so your title, linking the words 'Islamic' & terror, says as much about your own viewpoint as anything else. To a devout (peaceful?) Moslem, it should definitely say 'Islamist Terror', at the very least. And I have some sympathy for that. I maintain 'ad fontes' (going back to sources) is very important before making judgments about anything pertaining to religion, specially what appear to be perversions of religion. Thank you though for a very thought provoking piece.

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    1. I don't think what I was saying is dualism, let alone the typical sort from the Western intellectual tradition (which is of the mind and body variety): it's simply using language to make useful distinctions. I agree the Islamist/Islamic distinction is useful, but I also think it's important to emphasise that Islamist terror arises out of Islam as a phenomenon - in the sense of Islamic communities. Surveys have found that around a third of mosques in Britain display extremist ideology in them, and this material makes copious reference to Islamic scripture.

      The writer Saif Rahman has said for example: ‘Non-believers acc to Quran are apes, beasts, pigs & asses; are losers, diseased, dumb, impure, unjust, liars, cursed & despised by Allah.’ There is a basic distinction there between believers (good) and non-believers (bad). That distinction does not have to be emphasised in practising the religion, but unfortunately it is at the moment, including through 'jihad' (holy war). Unfortunately, Islamism and jihadism are both phenomena of contemporary Islam whether we like it or not (and of course we do not).

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  3. I'm not saying you have to be African to comment on Africa etc (fill in the blanks) but looking at (scriptural) sources is still the best way to evaluate which faction is the 'real Islam). Also, the answer to the question 'is it godless violence?' of course depends on your view of God.

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  4. Good post. Teresa May’s statement is going to make things worse, it reinforces the (probably correct) view that the politicians are out of their depth, haven’t a clue and are simply trying to keep the lid on. I would agree with Tom Holland’s view ‘Salafism today is probably the fastest-growing Islamic movement in the world. The interpretation that Isis applies to Muslim scripture may be exceptional for its savagery – but not for its literalism. Islamic State, in its conceit that it has trampled down the weeds and briars of tradition and penetrated to the truth of God’s dictates, is recognisably Salafist. When Islamic State fighters smash the statues of pagan gods, they are following the example of the Prophet; when they proclaim themselves the shock troops of a would-be global empire, they are following the example of the warriors of the original caliphate; when they execute enemy combatants, and impose discriminatory taxes on Christians, and take the women of defeated opponents as slaves, they are doing nothing that the first Muslims did not glory in.’
    And for an insider’s view, there’s Al Azhar university http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/02/azhar-egypt-radicals-islamic-state-apostates.html#
    I think it shows just how disconnected our governors are that they are unaware of just how irritating the ‘nothing to do with Islam’ meme has become. As for Labour’s response – I supported them at every election up to 2015 but every passing day reinforces my belief that I was right not to vote for them. I have now reached the stage where I may vote against them next time round.

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    1. Fascinating and pertinent stuff Captain, thanks for taking the time to post.

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    2. ''I have now reached the stage where I may vote against them next time round.''

      Ditto. Frankly, I view many of them as a threat to my culture and indeed ethnicity.

      Welcome to the wonders of identity politics - making people think in terms of race, ethnicity and gender.

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  5. It would seem Islam has its own version of Just War theory, which is that followers of Islam can take arms 'against a just cause'. Therein lies a very long tale......

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  6. Here's the link: http://www.islamicwritings.org/quran/peace/does-the-quran-teach-violence/

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  7. Ben, is it possible to send you an email?

    If you do not want to publish your address, could you send a message to philip_duval@hotmail.com and I'll reply. I've written a letter to the shadow equalities minister Kate Green. Thought you might have a look.

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    1. email is on Contact page (link is top right here)

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