News continues to roll in of the horrific attacks in Paris. Seven coordinated attacks, at least 128 feared dead, eight suicide bombers were involved in explosions and a hostage situation involving three terrorists became the slaughter of those inside. Truly we live in a broken world.
Those who simply wish to tie the attacks to nothing other than nebulous conceptions of hate are thoroughly naïve. Though hatred may play its part, countless others from across the religio-socio-politco-economic spectrum, from all tribes, tongues and nations, of all religious stripes and none, who harbour hatred in their hearts are not busy coordinating suicide bombing campaigns and violent hostage situations to inflict as much damage on as many people as possible. To write such attacks off as nothing more than hatred lacks explanatory power and fails to address the heart of the issue.
Those who want to argue this is solely a problem of extremism also miss the mark. The world is awash with extremists of one sort of another, some more palatable than others. You can find people with what many consider extreme views in almost any walk of life. But those with extreme, or to be more accurate often merely unorthodox, views are also not engaged in such nefarious activities. One may view the Orthodox Jew or the Fundamentalist Evangelical as extreme but neither pose any physical threat to anybody. One may find the politics of Democratic Socialism or hardline Libertarianism extreme but neither are usually found advocating for death and destruction. As has been noted here, here and here et cetera, the term extremism is being bandied around far too readily and applied to almost any and all cultural dissent. Frankly, there are thoughts, views and actions that, although culturally unorthodox, harm nobody. There are even those who hold troubling and pernicious views (for example, the likes of the BNP) that do not necessarily work out in violent rampage and illegal activity. It is simply not the case that all cultural dissent is the same, it is certainly not the case that all those the government wishes to brand as extremists are of equal danger or concern to public safety and it is not the case that all extremism – in whatever form it may take – is necessarily against the rule of law nor should be prohibited. Those who want to brand the Paris attacks as solely ‘extremist’ are using a nebulous term that misses the mark to describe a specific problem.
Like it or not, there is no escaping the fact that this sort of attack is a fundamentally Islamic problem. To pretend otherwise will mean an outpouring of grief followed by a totally ineffective response and the almost certain probability of repeat actions. We must accept the fact that this is an Islamic issue. This form of coordinated terrorist attack is not the result of other religious or non-religious views, it is not the result of political ideology nor is it a socio-economic problem. The perpetrators self-identify as Muslims and adhere to teaching that can be found readily within the Quranic texts (whether we choose to debate hermeneutic principles or not).
It is no good trying to argue this is not an Islamic problem but purely one of extremists who aren’t really Muslim. That would be like those who abhor the prosperity gospel (as I do), knowing that teaching condemns people to Hell whilst claiming it is not a Christian problem. It is the work of a certain group, from a particular denomination, within a particular branch of Christianity who call themselves Christians. We can denounce them as unbelievers (and we certainly should do that) and say they neither speak for us nor correctly handle the word of God but it doesn’t stop it being a Christian problem. It doesn’t mean all Christians are responsible for health and wealth teaching nor does it mean all Christians should be targeted in order to solve the problem. It simply means if we do not understand it as a fundamentally Christian issue, any efforts to resolve it will fail. We will either target the wrong people or, if we do focus on the right people, we will misunderstand how to address the heart of the issue. In either case, our response will not work.
In exactly the same way, those who desperately seek to avoid the conclusion that the Parisian attacks are an Islamic problem will fundamentally fail to address the root issue. Most British responses to these sorts of problems have, I can only presume for fear of being labelled Islamophobic, gone for a scattergun approach targeting all religions (e.g. here). Frankly, this fails to stop the problem and consistently targets the wrong people.
At the same time, we must have more nuance than merely seeing it as an Islamic problem. For clearly, not all Muslims are sold-out Salafists or into hardline Wahabbism. To tackle the root of the problem we must first acknowledge where the problem lies. It is not in politics, society or economics. It is not in 5 of the 6 major world religions. It is, first and foremost, an Islamic problem. It must be recognised that it is not a universal Islamic problem. It is a Sunni Muslim issue. It is not a problem amongst all Sunni Muslims but those of the Salafi-Wahabbi jihadist school of theology. We cannot pretend such people are not Muslim any more than we can pretend that Pentecostals or Brethren are not really Christian. Just as Pentecostal and Brethren theology is drawn from the Christian scriptures and is directly based thereon, so too are Salafism, Wahabbism and Jihadism drawn from Qur’anic texts and directly based thereon.
The answer lies not in targeting all religions nor tarnishing all within one religion with the same brush. However, it equally does not lie in pretending this is not a religious problem nor pretending it isn’t tied to one particular religion. The question to ask is this: why are we so scared of extremism? Is it because some people refuse to eat pork? Clearly not. Is it because some people’s views are different to our own? Certainly that should not be concerning. Is it because of the events in Paris and similar events like these? Absolutely yes. If such is the case, what value is there in formulating legislation and response targeting people who are not inclined, involved or considering such actions?
If we can identify the perpetrators as belonging to one particular strain within one particular religious group, surely our efforts to respond must start there. We can pretend for the sake of offending sensibilities that this is a wider problem seen in society at large if we like. Such will only lead to further attacks as our responses fail and innocent people are increasingly harassed by valueless regulations. Alternatively, we can address this as a particular problem within Islam and seek to find appropriate responses toward the people committing these acts. At least that way, less people will die and the only thing likely to get hurt are the feelings of a few naïve souls more concerned about offended sensibilities than the lives of real people.