On Friday November 13, 2015, three teams of armed Salafi jihadists did what soldiers are supposed to do in a war—they attacked the enemy. The targeted enemy, in this particular case, happened to be the defenceless civilians of Paris. Latest estimates at the time of writing are at least 128 murdered, with as many as 300 wounded, many critically.
French President Francois Hollande has declared this latest atrocity in Paris to be an “act of war”, although many in the West are not sure to what war he refers. Ever since the Salafi jihadist attacks on America on September 11, 2001, the political class in basically every Western nation has been keen to play down the notion of an emerging civilisational war between the apocalyptic millennialism of Sunni revivalism and the democratic and secular sensibilities of modernity. President George W. Bush addressed himself to “Global War on Terror”, a deeply ambiguous expression at best, while President Barack Obama’s use of the term “Overseas Contingency Operations” is not so much evasive as downright obfuscatory.
President Hollande has accurately portrayed the events of Friday 13 as “an abomination and a barbaric act”. He pledges that France will be “determined, unified and together” and “ruthless in its response to Islamic State”, and yet the question remains—for both the political class and the intelligentsia in most Western countries—what, exactly, is the Islamic State and how can it be fought?
The first problem is that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s would-be caliphate in Mesopotamia constitutes but one manifestation of the concept of “Islamic State”. The terrorist organisation Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement), according to its own covenant and propaganda, seeks to fashion “an Islamic state”; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hell-bent on transfiguring the Republic of Turkey into his own neo-Ottoman version of an Islamic state; Nigeria’s Boko Haram has an African model in mind; the Nusra Front has a Syrian rendering; Jemaah Islamiyah is a South-East Asian adaptation—and the list goes on.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 there was some attempt by the mainstream in the West to comprehend—without demonising—the phenomenon of latter-day Islamic revivalism. Bernard Lewis’s What Went Wrong (2002) and The Crisis of Islam (2003) made it to the top of the New York Times best-seller list. Lewis, a giant in Middle East scholarship, recognised that a three-cornered struggle existed in the Greater Middle East, between autocrats (tribal or otherwise), secular-minded reformers and Islamists, each battling in its own way with the existential challenges of modernity. Lewis’s brief reign as a public sage soon faded as the PC brigade, often influenced by the anti-Western theses of characters like Edward Said, regained their position as gatekeepers of what is permissible in civic discourse. There would be no more talk—at the political centre, at least—of things going “wrong” with Islam, or Islam experiencing any kind of “crisis”. Self-delusion on the grandest scale ensued as a result.
W.H. Auden spoke about the “low, dishonest decade” of 1930s appeasement, and yet I fear our political class, not to mention our intelligentsia, have engaged in something far worse. During the terrorist frenzy in France that culminated in the January 7 Charlie Hebdo slayings, so many “experts” made so many preposterous announcements it proved impossible to keep track of them. Even many of those who momentarily designated themselves members of the Je suis Charlie camp expressed a concern that the writers and cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo had committed the “sin of provocation”.
Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the Independent, declared that France’s role in Algeria—which concluded fifty years ago—“provides a fearful context for every act of Arab violence against France”. Is he still making these mad pronouncements after the Friday 13 massacres? The Kouachi killers of January 7 were, admittedly, of Algerian heritage, but does “identity”—of any kind—provide an excuse or reason to murder people in cold blood?
Unfortunately, the politics of identity both facilitates and justifies aberrant behaviour. Identity politics encourages us to see ourselves as a member of a group based on our sexual preference, gender, religious affiliation, and so on. For the modern-day Left, at any rate, it is through our group identity, rather than the sovereignty of self-determination, that we are expected to act and be judged in the public domain. A case in point, for instance, is the forty Muslim children in a Victorian school who were excused from hearing the national anthem because of the sensitivities of their group identity. Here, in a nutshell, is the foolishness of acquiescing to group identity—sectarianism by another name.
When Tony Abbott appeared on The Bolt Report recently, he proudly pointed to his record on national security during his two years in power. He correctly noted that his Operation Sovereign Borders had brought an end to irregular maritime arrivals, and that European countries would be safer if they were in our position. He also argued that Australia was safer for the five bipartisan pieces of legislation on national security that are now in place. There had also been extra money put into the various security agencies, and Australia’s jet fighters were playing their part in the war against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. All of this is necessary, I would argue, but not sufficient.
On a number of occasions during the interview Abbott referred to “our team”, an echo of his statement in mid-2014 that all citizens, regardless of their respective group identities, had to get behind Team Australia. At the time of his original announcement, we might recall, Tony Abbott was lambasted from every direction. The central complaint was that the prime minister of the day was exploiting the fear of domestic terrorism to improve his standings in the polls. It might be right that Abbott never had the charisma or universal appeal to unite the country behind the kind of enlightened patriotism that allows us to remain individuals—and, if we must, identify with our various social groups—but at the very same time be united in a core set of democratic values that make us Australians. If I could change one line in the song “We Are Australian” it would be “We are one, but we are many” to “We are many, but we are one”. Obviously the rhyme and the rhythm would be wrong but the message would be great.
There were three detonations at the Stade de France, which was hosting 80,000 people for a football game between France and Germany. Two of the blasts were the result of suicide attackers. In the end, luckily, the death toll at the stadium did not rise above three. Although the explosions shook the crowd, reports suggest that the spectators did not panic and, in the end, left the stadium singing the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise”. Is that not just another way of saying, “We are many, but we are one”?
Frazer Egerton bases his book Jihad in the West: The Rise of Militant Salafism (2011) on real research and authentic case studies. He comes to the commonsense conclusion that religion, or more specifically religious culture, is crucial in shaping the outlook of a militant jihadist born and raised in the West. Of course, there are many Muslims who are proud to be Australians, and a number of them I count among my favourite friends. Nevertheless, to keep insisting that Islam per se is “the religion of peace” and that is the end of the matter does not serve the best interests of anyone, except those who do not believe in the possibility of enlightened patriotism.
The ultra-Right in France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front, might well experience a boost in popularity because of these latest acts of terrorism. She was already tipped by some to win the first round of the 2017 French presidential elections, and now there is every chance she will go all the way to the Élysées Palace. The political centre or political mainstream in France only has itself to blame by refusing to face up to the reality of Islamic revivalism and addressing the problem with liberal—but nevertheless genuine—policies. Hiding behind political correctness was never going to be an answer.
Daryl McCann blogs at darylmccann.blogspot.com.au