“Rehman’s point is that if you call it Islamic State you are playing their game; you are dignifying their criminal and barbaric behaviour; you are giving them a propaganda boost that they don’t deserve, especially in the eyes of some impressionable young Muslims. He wants us all to drop the terms, in favour of more derogatory names such as ‘Daesh’ or ‘Faesh’, and his point deserves a wider hearing.”
Can Boris Johnson or Rehman Chishti or anyone else who advances this view point to even a single “impressionable young Muslim” who was moved to support or join the Islamic State because some non-Muslim called it “the Islamic State”? Can they point to even a single “impressionable young Muslim” who was moved to reject the appeal of the Islamic State because Boris Johnson or David Cameron or John Kerry or some other non-Muslim said that it wasn’t Islamic?
The problem with refusing to call the Islamic State what it calls itself is that it is a manifestation of a greater unwillingness to examine its motives and goals, and to devise ways to defeat it based on that examination. Refusing to understand your enemy is a recipe for defeat.
“Islamic State? This death cult is not a state and it’s certainly not Islamic,” by Boris Johnson, Telegraph, June 28, 2015:
If we are going to defeat our enemies we have to know who they are. We have to know what to call them. We must at least settle on a name – a terminology – with which we can all agree. And the trouble with the fight against Islamic terror is that we are increasingly grappling with language, and with what it is permissible or sensible to say.
When a man sprays bullets at innocent tourists on a beach, or when a man decapitates his boss and sticks his head on the railings, or when a man blows himself up in a mosque in Kuwait – and when all three atrocities are instantly “claimed” by the same disgusting organisation – it is surely obvious that we are dealing with the same specific form of evil. This is terrorism.
But what are the objectives of this terrorism? Is it religious? Is it political? Is it a toxic mixture of the two? And what exactly is its relationship with Islam? Many thoughtful Muslims are now attempting – understandably – to decouple their religion from any association with violence of this kind.
The excellent Rehman Chishti, MP for Gillingham, has launched a campaign to change the way we all talk about “Isil”. He points out that the very use of the term “Islamic State” is in itself a capitulation to these sadistic and loathsome murderers. They are not running a state, and their gangster organisation is not Islamic – it is a narcissistic death cult.
Rehman’s point is that if you call it Islamic State you are playing their game; you are dignifying their criminal and barbaric behaviour; you are giving them a propaganda boost that they don’t deserve, especially in the eyes of some impressionable young Muslims. He wants us all to drop the terms, in favour of more derogatory names such as “Daesh” or “Faesh”, and his point deserves a wider hearing.
But then there are others who would go much further, and strip out any reference to the words “Muslim” or “Islam” in the discussion of this kind of terrorism – and here I am afraid I disagree. I can well understand why so many Muslims feel this way. Whatever we may think of the “truth” of any religion, there are billions of people for whom faith is a wonderful thing: a consolation, an inspiration – part of their identity.
There are hundreds of millions of Muslims for whom the word “Islamic” is a term of the highest praise. They resent the constant association of “Islam” with “terrorism”, as though the one was always fated to give birth to the other. They dislike even the concept of “Islamic extremism”, since it seems to imply a seamless continuum of Muslim belief and behaviour: from liberal to tolerant to conservative to reactionary to terrorist.
Their point is that terrorist violence is alien from Islam, and that is why they argue so strenuously that we should drop all references to “Muslim terrorists” or “Islamic terrorists”. They say that any use of the word Islam or Muslim in such a context is actually offensive and derogatory, and helps to alienate the very people we need to win over.
As one Muslim friend put it to me, “you wouldn’t talk about Christian terrorists would you?” And there is some truth in that. We don’t talk about “Christian terrorism” even in the context of the sectarian violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Why do we seem to taint a whole religion by association with a violent minority?
Well, I am afraid there are two broad reasons why some such association is inevitable. The first is a simple point of language, and the need to use terms that everyone can readily grasp. It is very difficult to bleach out all reference to Islam or Muslim from discussion of this kind of terror, because we have to pinpoint what we are actually talking about. It turns out that there is virtually no word to describe an Islamically-inspired terrorist that is not in some way prejudicial, at least to Muslim ears….
Indeed. You’d think that Boris Johnson would wake up to the game being played here.