Thursday, 3 May 2007

The perils of trying to 'understand' the motives for terror

That's the great thing about a liberal newspaper like The Guardian, I suppose. If something they publish makes you want to fling the paper across the room, you don't usually have to wait long before another item comes along to provide a blistering riposte. Catherine Bennett's column in today's G2 section, headed 'Why should we have to justify ourselves to the people who want to bomb us?' is a coruscating attack on those who seek to 'understand' Islamist terrorists' disaffection from western society. Bennett's piece is the perfect antidote to the 'blame the west' attitude of Steve Bell's cartoon the other day, and also a much-needed dissection of the kind of unconscious western fascination with the values of political Islam that I noted in this post.

The whole article deserves to be read, but here's a taster. Bennett quotes the 'thwarted terrorist Jawad Akbar who fantasised ... about slaughter on the Ministry of Sound dance floor: "No one can turn around and say, 'Oh, they were innocent', those slags dancing around. Do you understand what I mean?" She goes on:

Some people do. Ed Husain, author of a revealing and alarming account of his experiences inside radical Islam, said of the "slags" comment: "That was me, man. That's classic Hizb-ut-Tahrir rhetoric." In his new book, The Islamist, Husain identifies a professed horror of western decadence as the next, infinitely promising excuse for Islamist murder. "When the political pretexts of Palestine and Iraq have been dealt with," he writes, "Wahhabi-inspired militants will turn to other social grievances. Drinking alcohol, 'impropriety', gambling, cohabitation, inappropriate dress - these and a host of miscellaneous others will become excuses for jihad, for martyrdom, feeding the tumour of Islamist domination which grows in the Wahhabi and Islamist mind."

Since - as Husain suggests - there can never be enough modesty, celibacy and sobriety to placate Islamist critics of our national slaggishness, you might consider their complaints on this score no more worthy of investigation than the precise adjustments that might make our free and easy voting system more acceptable to paternalist fundamentalists, or the amount of tweaking that would bring the British legal system into line with that of, say, Saudi Arabia.

But where Islamist complaints about immorality and women's sexual behaviour are concerned, there are calls for self-examination, for all the world as if we brought the stash of weedkiller on ourselves. On the Today programme yesterday, Patrick Mercer, formerly the Tory homeland security spokesman, said: "We have got to understand why we look offensive to those who choose to suborn our society." Why have we got to? It's like an innocent woman asking what she did to incite her rapist. Was it the short skirt?

We heard it before, after 7/7. "I feel a growing sympathy for so-called 'radical' Muslims who reject western civilisation," Norman Lebrecht wrote in the London Evening Standard that summer. "It does not take much to see where things have gone wrong. Binge drinking is accepted as a teenage norm, promiscuity as preferable to chastity, and wealth as something to be flaunted in the face of the poor." Around the same time, Bel Mooney, displeased by a bikini advertisement, sought a kind of enlightenment from the acts of sociopathic Islamist fundamentalists (who would certainly have disapproved of her having any views at all). "Surely," she wrote in the Mail on Sunday, "it would be useful if we could use the current crisis to train a searchlight on the way we live now."

Leave aside the disgustingness of taking moral instruction from the advocates of mass murder, or those from the Saudi Arabian school of sexual etiquette, and there is still a problem with their qualifications. For some reason their very outrage seems to confer authority. Writers whose suspicions would be instantly aroused by, say, a smarmy TV evangelist who seemed obsessively interested in fornication, or a politician who relied on divine inspiration as a justification for war, seem to have no difficulty listening to the strictures of angry young men whose primary moral interest appears to be in telling women what to wear on their heads.

Bennett is surely right to see signs, in these expressions of sympathy for Islamist disgust, of a backlash against feminism: the same kind of thing was evident in some of the responses to Faye Turney's imprisonment by the Iranians a few weeks back. Incidentally, Ed Husain's book The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left , mentioned in the article, is published this week and has already received glowing reviews. Looks like compulsory reading.

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