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December 10th 2015 print

Pete Mulherin

The Conversation That Isn’t

Islam-is-violence or Islam-is-peace? Take your pick because there is no third option available to those who would like to see debate and policy based on a rational, informed and unbiased approach to Islam's history and interpretations

gagged speechAs attacks inspired by Islamist ideology continue to erupt around the globe — Paris, San Bernardino, Africa, stick a pin the map and stayed tuned– the tourniquet on the Islam-and-terrorism conversation is tight and getting tighter. The popularity of #YouAintNoMuslimBruv, in response to the London Underground stabbings, bolstered by President Obama’s latest glib insistence that ‘ISIL does not speak for Islam’, highlight just how, since 9/11 and earlier, the West has imposed tacit and active restrictions on what can and cannot be said about Islam and its multiple interpretations.

Browsing the web for perspectives, I came across an article on The Conversation which, at first glance, appeared to promise a refreshing view. Entitled “Yes, let’s have a frank and open discussion about the causes of extremism and terrorism“, the conversation-provoking headline quickly inspired a deep sense of frustration as the limits on that “frank and open discussion” were revealed in the very article itself.

The author, academic Adrian Cherney, presented four causes why Muslims would engage in terrorist acts: personal and collective grievances; networks and interpersonal ties; political and religious ideologies; and enabling environments and support structures. Cherney takes as his starting point the assertion that Islam has been “overplayed” in the West as a root cause of terrorism. This a surprising revelation, considering what amounts to the shunning in the politically correct West of any comment that equates, or even raises, the three-cornered nexus of Islamic doctrine, history and violence.

So, I would ask Cherney, who exactly is ‘overplaying’ the importance of religion as a cause for Islamic terrorism? Groups like the United Patriots Front and Reclaim Australia? Or is it, perhaps, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump with his wild suggestions? Trouble is, between the extremes of ‘Islam is peace’, and ‘Islam is violence’ — the middle ground where most Australians are likely situated — there is no conversation at all. How can it be that Islam is ‘overplayed’ as a motivation for terrorism when there is no real discussion.

Clearly, this overplaying is not the work of a mainstream media. If you want happy-clappy cliches and feel-good feature stories about diversity and tolerance, you’ll find those reports on very nearly a daily basis. When members of the Fourth Estate do venture into the shadowlands of religion, they mostly brush aside its influence as insignificant or drape themselves in the robes of two-dollar theologians. The prolix Michelle Grattan, for instance, has never been known to file ten words when 100 will do, but on the subject of Islam she is the essence of pithiness in asserting, also at the The Conversation, that ‘IS promotes a perverted form of Islam.’ That’s a big statement and it needs evidence. With no proof nor argument to back her case, that statement could be cited in journalism schools as an example of wishful thinking or hearsay, not rigorous reporting. Then again, perhaps not. Having departed the failing Fairfax newspapers, Grattan is now herself a journalism academic.

Grattan could have said that ‘IS promotes a form of Islam that most modern Muslims consider perverted.’ Let us assume her throw-away line was borne of innocent ignorance, rather than a Pavlovian impulse to bark the expected nostrums in immediate response to the latest Islamist slaughters. Whatever the reason, as one of Australia’s much-honoured and most venerable political commentators, her choice of words indicates the poor standard of the alleged “conversation” about Islam and terror.

Here, once again, let us pause to consider the unoccupied middle ground of “the conversation” about Islam. At one pole, the likes of Grattan with their bland and immediate dismissals. At the other extreme, those who insist that ISIS, bin Laden and their ilk represents the only valid interpretation of Islam, that they are the real Muslims and that there are actually no ‘moderate’ Muslims. True dialogue vanishes into the gulf between these diametrically opposed perceptions as quickly as do the rationalisers, such as Waleed Aly, race to the nearest microphone after every fresh massacre. Meanwhile, a highly complex reality goes unexamined. You’ll find no room for disagreement in either extreme camp, only tightly closed minds.

Going beyond shallowness and gross simplification– making genuine and honest efforts to grapple with complexity — is what this alleged “conversation” lacks. If we could get beyond that, all the talk about Islam and violence might actually get us somewhere. Maybe, but don’t hold your breath.

Comments [9]

  1. Jody says:

    Michelle Grattan has never told me anything I didn’t already know. “The Conversation” is about compliant group-think.

    And Comical Aly is banging on about Andrew Bolt and “climate change”, having decided that most of his acolytes are convinced that there’s nothing to worry about now with Islam. His oleaginous style – that of a used-car salesman – is the natural bi-product of a privileged and protected species, courtesy of institutionalized political correctness. With deft skill he airily explains away Islam to a nation of skeptics, on the one hand, and adoring acolytes (like his undergrad students) on the other. Thinking his audience homogeneous and in need of enlightenment he doesn’t vary his approach with either group. This is arrogance on steroids.

    Unlike his cartoon parallel – the hound in Foghorn Leghorn who cannot retaliate against the barbs of the eponymous rooster because he is confined by a “rope limit” – Aly displays all the smugness and certainly of a person whose peers have never questioned his ‘orthodoxy’ and a media which has never provided a “rope limit”. Whereas, he is only too happy for those with different opinions to have their own “rope limit”.

  2. Bill Martin says:

    Much as the conversation advocated by Pete Mulherin would be eminently useful, the very nature of Islam guarantees that it will never happen. A matter that is perfect and complete cannot be discussed and Islam unyieldingly claims that quality for itself. That’s where the conversation begins and ends.

    This totally self satisfied aspect of Islam also renders it impervious to any change or reformation, making it impossible to fight it by advocating contrary ideas, as is proposed by many well meaning/idealistic/ignorant intellectuals. Islam was only ever spread by the sword or the terror of it, never by persuasion or example, which means it can only be defeated by the same means. Unfortunately our refined western sensibilities are unlikely to allow us to accept this harsh reality, which is likely to lead to our demise.

  3. pgang says:

    I find this commentary is itself a non conservation as it assumes that only those in the ‘middle’ can hold a balanced and considered opinion. That is nonsense and bigoted.

    I swing from ‘extreme’ (as this article would have it) to middle ground, depending on the context of the argument. My ‘extreme’ views are held with considerable reservation and contemplation, as are my middle views. I opt for an extreme view based on Islam’s history and its inherent, inescapable theology, and the fact that it is drawing global conflict ever closer. I take a middle view in relation to the majority of Muslims who are peaceful at heart.

    The difficulty rises in working out what happens when these two opposing forces collide, and that’s where the conversation needs to take place. The extreme view of Islam is nested in reality; Islam will try to wipe us out and that will never change. I lurch from extreme to middle when I try to envision how the peaceful majority will react if the extremists gain greater control, or if Muslim populations within the west become politically significant. Which way will it go for Muslims?

    Holding a conversation in the ‘middle’ without including the ‘extreme’ is completely pointless in my view.

    • Bill Martin says:

      It is rather naive of you, pgang, to be uncertain about the attitude of the “peaceful majority” of Muslims in the event of the “extremists” gaining “greater control”. Why, they already have full control in South Arabia, in Iran and pretty much in Pakistan and the majority in those countries are not revolting against it. Should Muslims attain political control in western nations, as is very likely, it will be Allahu akbar all around. Pinning any hope on “peaceful Muslims” is a fallacy. They might recoil from the atrocities of ISIS but they long to live in the ultimate global Islamic caliphate. Of course, once that glorious situation is a reality, the peace of Islam will reign, because it is a religion of peace. Or so the fairytale goes.

      • acarroll says:

        I see where both @Bill Martin and @pgang are coming from.

        If you don’t mind, I’d like to give my take.

        From what I observe, in Islam you have the 3 pillar society: Priests, Warriors, and the rest (the majority).

        The Priests and the Warriors control the society. Reforms happen when they decide they will.

        At the moment it appears that the Warrior class and their cadre of preachers in one place have forced the Priests to preach the warrior form of Islam, i.e. fundamentalist, the importance/imperative of jihad. Given their resources they’ve been able to influence the Warrior and Priest classes in other Muslim countries to move the politics in the same direction. Really here, I’m referring to the Wahabi sect of Islam in Saudi Arabia. They’ve had various levels of success at this. They’ve managed to significantly shift the Overton Window — by analogy — to the fundamentalist and Jihadist side of the religion in places like Afghanistan, Turkey and Pakistan, even if the conversion of the rulers of those countries is not complete… yet.

        My point is that the peaceful majority don’t matter. They will fall into line when shown the brutal punishment metered out to anyone trying to rebel. The battle is not between the peaceful majority and the extremists, the battle is really aimed at the Priest class in these countries, as the Warrior class will, I expect, tend to see the real gain in their own power as in their interest.

        The other thing to note is that scholars of Islam can’t criticise what we’d call the extremists on the ground of religion as their interpretation is valid. It is part of the religion. What you have is a pendulum that swings from a more mild form to its more militant form depending on the environment in which it finds itself.

        The future for us in the West is that while Muslims exist in our countries in large enough numbers we will have to deal with the pendulum when it swings back to jihad.

        That’s not to say that Islam can’t be controlled in the West. The cost of this control is very high, and involves the state essentially taking over the role of an Ayatollah Kohmeini who decides who can preach, and what they preach. In otherwords, government interference in religious practice. Straight away you can see this won’t happen in the West as it’s currently politically orientated.

        Trump by the way is hinting that this is the path that needs to be taken, as have Jewish groups in France who’ve suggested that the state pays for and polices Imams.

        It would all be a lot easier if Islam was simply deported from the West.

        • Gogs says:

          Of course peaceful muslims don’t object to the views of the radical. They would get their heads chopped off.
          Spare a thought for those who think it through, and work out that gods are fantasies. They can’t leave Islam without risking death.
          I can safely say there are no gods, and Christianity is piffle, and be confident of seeing the week through. Could a “lapsed” muslim say the same of Islam?
          The threats of the radicals ensure there will be no discussion and no change to Islam.

          • acarroll says:

            Correct — not only is the community enforcement of good Muslim practice/behaviour strictly enforced, you also need to factor in the massive degree (relative to the west) of inbreeding and the significantly lower IQ (relative to Europeans and East Asians) of essentially all Muslim communities. It’s a big ask of these people to expect a significant number of them will conclude that gods are fantasies. Of course some will, but the bulk will not be able to think for themselves on this issue.

            Another thing you need to remember and I think isn’t given much weight at all is that for 1400 years the middle eastern conquerors — jihadis — were the most successful at reproducing, so 1400 years later you have a concentration of people with an aggressive disposition that rise to the top of their societies: Jihadis have been selectively bred!

  4. Jody says:

    Today El Tupe (Trump) is being pilloried throughout the world, particularly in the UK, because he claims parts of London are No-Go zones now. I guess it’s not the kind of thing one normally associates with a Presidential candidate, but his claims are backed up by comments I’ve often read on “The Spectator” website comments section!!