In his new home at the Spectator
, Stephen Pollard
has taken issue with David Cameron's Observer article
about Islam and terror. Entitled Cameron plays into terrorists' hands
he suggests that David Cameron's words, above, should be put on posters and plastered at the scene of any future Islamist murder
, implying that Cameron will somehow be responsible for the murder.
Cameron's point is that, just as the IRA were not referred to as 'Catholic' terrorists, but as 'Republican' terrorists, neither should terrorists who commit outrages in pursuit of a political objective be characterised by a religious term. Ah ha, you might say, but the political objectives of the Islamists are inherently about their religion. Surely therefore it is fair to refer to them in religious terms. Besides, you might add if you were particularly disingenuous, everyone knows that there's a difference between Islam and Islamism.
Well, the first point is a fair one, and I more or less agree with it. Since the political basis behind the modern terrorists is rooted in Islam (whether theologically correct or not) it isn't necessarily wrong to refer to it as Islamism. What it is, however, is unhelpful, and for the reasons that Cameron identifies. By using the word 'Islamist' to describe the threat, we actually help do the terrorist ideologues' work for them, confirming to many impressionable young Muslim men that to be a 'good Muslim', you have to support their evil campaign.
What Pollard, through agreeing with Melanie Phillips
, is arguing is that Islam is distinct from Islamism
, and that those like David Cameron or the British police who refuse to use the term ‘Islamist terrorism’ are doing far more than merely sanitising the language; they are actively conniving in the lie that enables this horror to replicate itself
So Phillips and Pollard believe that Islam and Islamism are two different things: that it is perfectly possible to be a Muslim who derives spiritual solace from the faith in a way that threatens no-one — and that it is essential to distinguish such Muslims from Islamists and protect the former, along with all of us, from the latter. Cameron believes that the use of the phrase "Islamic terror" is different, because it is important to distinguish between the faith and the terrorists.
To me these positions are wholly reconcilable. Islamism, though definable as different from Islam, is essentially used interchangeably with Islam. This is counter-productive if your intention is to keep the Muslim population of this country on board. This is, of course, a different objective to stamping out extremism, by banning Hizb-ut-Tahir for example. What Cameron is doing is drawing attention to this - that what might be a coherent philosophical or etymological position may have unfortunate and avoidable social consequences. To leap up and down virtually accusing Cameron of pre-emptive culpability in any future terrorist atrocity is both ridiculously over-the-top and unpleasantly inflammatory.
UPDATE: Stephen has retracted the bit about plastering the poster etc. thus taking some of the heat out of the thing. The indispensable Daniel Finkelstein
sums up the point at issue: that 'Islamism' is not a particularly helpful term, but that neither he, nor Cameron, can come up with a better one. Which is more or less where I was.
Labels: Cameron, Islam, politics