Since declaring its Caliphate in June 2014, the infamous Islamic organization ISIS carried out dozens of atrocious terrorist attacks in the world, killing and injuring thousands of both civilians and non-civilians in the process. Although it must be conceded that most of the incidents have hit Middle East and North African countries so far, it also true that the ‘made in ISIS’ Islamic terrorism has been successfully exported to countries around the European continent and to a lesser degree in North America.
Thanks to the support of the local European and North American ISIS supporters, the severity and the frequency of the terrorist attacks have been gaining ground. But the damages caused by the new Islamic Caliphate cannot simply be calculated in just civilian casualties. It can also be felt in the general atmosphere now when crowds gather for sporting events or concerts and utter panic follows the inoffensive detonation of a firecracker; the recent stampedes in Malaga and Turin being prime examples of that climate of fear. It can also be felt in the tourism industry as the number of visitors traveling to Europe for leisure has declined by 5% in 2016, which accounts to about $80 billion in losses.
While there is no sign of a slow down in the number of attacks perpetrated within the Western world, the local politicians who still refuse to label the terrorist attacks that struck their nation as ‘Islamist’ continue to declare that diversity is their greatest strength and urge the population to just carry on with their lives as if nothing was happening. Hundreds of innocents have been killed in the last years by Islamists who often happened to be holding passports of the very country they decided to carry attacks in, but the political class is still caught in wishful thinking and seem to be more worried about the impact of these attacks on the national sentiment about Islam than anything else.
In civil society and in the media, openly criticizing the religion of Islam is still a very difficult business. On one hand, multiculturalist ideologues won’t fail to call anyone who talks about Islam in a remotely negative way a racist or an ‘Islamophobe’. And on the other hand, it also highly probable that some Islam fanatics issue a fatwa on you.
Firsthand, Islam is not a race. It is a set of values, ideas and laws that are interlaced in a way that tends to often lead the societies where it is dominantly followed to a social structure mixing together religion, justice and politics. Even though Islam is not applied along the exact same set of rules across the Muslim world, it tends to produce quite similar political beliefs, social behaviors and justice systems. For instance, it is often a place where politics and religion are intertwined, where women and men have different rights and where gays are persecuted. For anyone who is a supporter of the separation of Church and State, democracy and human rights, Islam should be open for debate as it is arguably in its most important part a political ideology.
Although it is true that of course all Muslims are not radicals and that most victims of Islamic extremism are actually Muslims, it is also true that some of the values adopted by the followers of Islam translate into toxic public policies and behaviors. The Muslim world is an area where extreme views like supporting suicide bombings on civilians and the punishment by death of apostates are widely held. Youssef al-Qaradawi for example, a popular theologian followed by 60 million Muslims, defended the practice of suicide bombing against Israeli women and children, the death for apostasy, female genital mutilation and wife beating. A partial cross-country survey of the Muslim world conducted by Pew Research showed that at least 25% of the Muslim population in Palestine, Egypt, Bangladesh, Lebanon and Tanzania thought that suicide bombing targeted at innocent civilians was justified to defend their religion. Another survey conducted by Pew Research in 2013 revealed that a majority of Muslims actually supported Sharia to be the law of their country; a law that supports corporal punishment for theft and death for apostasy. More than 50% of Muslims supported both these practices in Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Bangladesh and Malaysia. And it is no surprise to anyone to say that some of those types of individuals who share extreme views are now living within the Western world.
The Muslim world has long been a place where the voices of moderation have been silenced by the voices of barbarians, who call for violence in the name of their ideology. The most important aspect to look at with Islam is the kind of societies it produces. There has been a pattern in recent history with the rise of ideologues who take power and turn the society into a totalitarian regime or to a very close version of one. It is what has been happening in Iraq and Syria with ISIS, it is what happened in Lebanon, Iran, Afghanistan and many others in the last few decades. And there is no indication it won’t keep on happening.
This subject is what respected intellectuals and public figures like Salman Rushdie, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens or Bill Maher have been talking about for years now. Salman Rushdie, the successful Muslim author on whom a fatwa has been issued, made a public statement last week calling out the West’s current attitude towards Islam as “blind stupidity”. Christopher Hitchens spent the last years of his life criticizing Islam (and other religions) and saw in Britain and other European countries the threat of groups preaching extreme versions of Islam. He noted that authorities allowed Islam to spread in the name of multiculturalism and gave special rights to the Muslim community out of fear that not doing so would offend them. As of now, the situation in European countries and North America has escalated from social tensions within civil society to violent terrorist attacks.
The key here is to recognize that Islam is a subject that can and should be debated. There is nothing racist or wrong for that matter in criticizing an ideology which when applied to a nation produces a system that goes against the concept of democracy, civil liberties and human rights. Unless we acknowledge as a first step that Islamism too often creates regimes producing barbaric societies, the threat of its spreading across the West will only grow greater. Maajid Nawaz, a British Muslim who courageously criticizes the problems of Islam and defends the idea that Muslims in the West should assimilate more to the culture, puts it this way: “No idea is above scrutiny. No idea whatsoever. To criticize, to scrutinize and to satirize my own religion [Islam] is not Islamophobia”.