It has to be the most facile comment on Australian television this year. The reference is to Andrew MacLeod, a visiting professor at Kings College, London. On the ABC’s Q&A last Monday, MacLeod initially played to his audience by bagging Tony Abbott as being “too emotional” with respect to terrorism and for engaging in “slogans”. Soon after, MacLeod decided to answer his own question.
After asking whether the terrorists who murdered scores of civilians in Paris were “true Muslims”, he responded: “I don’t care how much a terrorist proclaims ‘Allahu Akbar’, he is not a Muslim by the very actions that he is undertaking.”
For starters, the Paris murderers know more about their own faith than does MacLeod. Moreover, one interpretation of Islam is consistent with the actions of the Islamist terrorists who have carried out attacks in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, North America, Europe and Australia in recent decades.
This was made clear by Mohammed El-leissy on ABC News Breakfast on the morning after the Q&A night before. El-leissy acknowledged that there was a causal link between at least a part of the Islamic faith and violence: “You’ve got Islam as a religion. Then you’ve got the Sunni-Shia (divide). And … within the Sunni faith, you’ve got various schools of thought … called Salafi or Wahhabi … (which) preach a black-and-white world view”.
Earlier, when commenting on Tuesday’s newspapers, El-leissy took up the report inThe Australian concerning the initial response of Australia’s Grand Mufti, Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, to the French terrorist attacks. The Grand Mufti’s statement rationalised “the recent incidents” by reference to “causative factors such as racism, Islamophobia, curtailing freedoms through securitisation, duplicitous foreign policies and military intervention”. In short, according to Abu Mohammed, the Paris terrorists had merely reacted to what they regarded as unfair and wrong domestic and foreign policies. This despite the fact millions of Muslims have settled willingly in France.
On News Breakfast, El-leissy responded to the Grand Mufti’s statement by saying “there is too much of a victim mentality in the Muslim community”, describing this as a “toxic culture”. He also criticised Abu Mohammed for identifying a problem without providing a solution.
Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamist who became a co-founder of the anti-extremist Quilliam organisation, set out the problem in his book Islam and the Future of Tolerance (Harvard University Press, 2015), which he co-authored with Sam Harris. Nawaz maintains that of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, about 25 per cent are Islamists. He distinguishes between political Islamists “who seek to impose their views through the ballot box, biding their time until they can infiltrate the institutions of society from within” and revolutionary Islamists: “revolutionary Islamists seek change from outside the system in one clean sweep; militant Islamists are jihadists”. Interviewed on the ABC’s Lateline last month, Nawaz acknowledged that “the Islamists … and the jihadists have a plausible reading of scripture”. In short, a terrorist can be a “true Muslim”. Obviously, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not terrorists but some are and a few of 1.5 billion is a big number.
These days it is intellectually fashionable to compare Muslim jihadists with the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Last week on Sky News, Derryn Hinch argued that no one ever claimed there was justification for terrorism in the Catholic faith just because most IRA terrorists had been baptised Catholics.
This simplistic argument overlooks the fact the IRA’s terrorism was condemned by the overwhelming majority of members of the Catholic hierarchy and the IRA was a secular, nationalist organisation. It did not want to establish a Catholic theocracy.
The Sunni Muslims who support revolutionary Islamism wish to establish a caliphate. Now. Primarily because they oppose the cultural, religious and sexual liberties that prevail in Western-style “unbeliever” democracies. The so-called Islamic State is intent on imposing its particular brand of Sunni Islam on Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Shia Muslims, atheists and more besides, hence the recent attacks in Israel, Lebanon and Turkey.
As Sajjan M. Gohel and Jacqueline R. Sutherland point out in the Asia-Pacific Foundation’s recent report: “(Islamic State) has now proved itself to be a global terrorist actor with transnational capabilities, acting on a seemingly limitless battlefield”. But Islamic State is not the only Sunni Islamist terrorist group. In 1998 al-Qa’ida attacked US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the following year bombed the USS Cole in Yemen. The Middle East Forum’s Daniel Pipes supported the view that, since what Americans call 9/11, there have been 27,000 attacks connected to Islamists and done in the name of Islam. Monash University academic and commentator Waleed Aly maintained this week that Islamic State was weak and asserted that its intention was to make “countries like ours reject and vilify their Muslims”. In 2013, following the Boston Marathon bombing, Aly said terrorism was a “perpetual irritant”. But Islamic State’s ability to close down cities such as Paris is a sign of strength.
This week, Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali argued that European leaders should recognise “that jihadists have been at war with the West for years” and should “learn from Israel” how to handle Islamic extremists intent on destroying Western democracies.
She pointed out Israel had been dealing with this threat since its creation by the UN in 1948. Israel has survived because it cannot afford to regard attacks on its existence as a mere “irritant” and because it has not been in denial about the intent of jihadist Islamists to drive Israeli Jews into the sea to create an Islamic state.