Trump will now be president. Thanks a lot, regressive leftists.
Whatever you do, decent progressive people, when terrorism comes up, don’t be “Islamophobic” and mention Islam! If Islam comes up anyway, do draw false equivalencies and hobble yourselves, citing Western imperialism as a moral hamartia disqualifying you from taking critical stances about the faith of a beleaguered minority. Studiously ignore freethinkers in that same minority, and, of course, those facing persecution in Muslim-majority countries. And definitely throw ex-Muslims — especially ex-Muslim women — under the bus. After all, they’re inconvenient, defenseless, relatively few in number, and often so harassed and threatened by their own communities that they surely won’t object. Remember, after all, you have the gunmen, machete-wielders, and honor brigades on your side.
In fact, you know that all too well. Might that be why you refuse to recognize Islamist ideology as the cause of much of the world’s present mayhem?
The above is a preamble to my discussion of the proximate cause of today’s essay — an article published by the Washington Post purporting to provide “guidance” in understanding the current plague of terrorism.
— Post Opinions (@PostOpinions) December 21, 2016
Yet another unedifying, wrongheaded piece of this sort finding its way into print is perhaps par for the course and possibly should be ignored, but unfortunately the blood being spilled on the streets of Europe, the United States, and, most recently, Turkey, won’t allow that. But before turning to the essay, I’ll make one more prefatory observation.
The ongoing Islamist terrorist onslaught against innocents (among them, Muslim innocents) has laid bare, for all to see, the intellectual muddle, preening masochism, and sweaty-palmed cowardice characterizing the response to it from people who call themselves, often quite ostentatiously, progressives or liberals, but whom we may accurately categorize as “regressive leftists” (or hypocrites, for short). Formerly just a hindrance to rational discourse regarding Islam and human rights, regressive leftists have now morphed, with the election of Donald Trump (and the prospect of other polls to come in Europe), into a dire threat to West’s faltering liberal order.
This is not hyperbole. The data show that the “politically correct” regressive-leftist refusal to speak forthrightly about Islamist terrorism played a powerful — in fact, probably decisive — role in sending Trump to the White House. Last summer, a Pew Research Center survey found that eight out of ten registered voters considered terrorism “very important” in their decision about how to vote in November.(The economy was slightly more important to them, but since the starkest difference between the two candidates concerned terrorism, it is not unreasonable to conclude that issue swung the vote in Trump’s favor.) Hillary Clinton’s stubborn obfuscation and puerile remarks on the subject surely did nothing to assuage their fears. Trump easily (and crudely) exploited this issue — indeed, made it a signature issue of his campaign — and defeated her.
Now to the Washington Post essay (which originally ran in The Conversation) “All terrorism attacks are not connected. But terrorists want you to think that they are,” by Dr. Natasha Ezrow, undergraduate director and a senior lecturer at the University of Essex. We may dispense straightaway with the title’s assertion: Ezrow nowhere offers evidence that terrorists hope we think one thing versus another. Published just after the recent Berlin Christmas Market slaughter, the piece purports to offer an overview of terrorist attacks worldwide and a presumably rational way of assessing them. It reads, though, as if authored by Hillary Clinton (or one of her regressive leftist advisors).
Ezrow begins by telling us that “In just one weekend in December, a series of terrorist attacks killed nearly 200 people in five countries. All of them claimed the lives of civilians, and all were claimed by different terrorist groups.” She then runs through a litany of the atrocities committed in 2016 in places as diverse as Yemen and Turkey, and Cairo and Maiduguri, and also includes a couple of bombings perpetrated by Kurdish (secular) militants.
“This is a horrific spate of attacks,” Ezrow declares, “and it should disturb us all.” But not too much, really, as she would have it. It turns out that “speculation” (no source cited) that “the attacks were somehow connected or coordinated” is unfounded. “All the attacks occurred in countries facing very specific challenges. Rolling them into one ‘wave’ of violence is misguided, and misunderstands the very real nature of global terrorist threats.”
Which gives us to think Ezrow will now enlighten us as to the “real nature” of the menace. Why are so many people blowing up themselves and others in so many places? Given that the assailants frequently shout Allahu Akbar! in flagrante delicto, justify their killing with verses from the Quran, and publicly profess allegiance to the Islamic State, might their deeds have at least something to do with Islam?
Not according to Ezrow, who opines that, “The nature of war has changed; most of victims of conflict are civilians, and more of the tactics used are unconventional.” She has discovered that even “insurgents” use terrorist tactics. And “70 percent of all terrorist attacks” are committed by lone wolves, often “in zones of conflict and instability.” Moreover, the “conflicts are rooted in grievances of inequality and exclusion” but “each event is not linked to the other. . . . [A]n act of terrorism in Cairo has nothing to do with the bombings taking place in Somalia.” In sum, bad-vibe zones and injustices spontaneously generate terrorism, in the same way that swamp air was once mysteriously thought to cause malaria.
Ezrow skitters away from the question of motive to tell us that all this bloody mayhem isn’t truly as bloody as we thought. In 2016, she writes, until the date her article was published, 15,320 people “are known to have been killed in terrorist attacks,” down from “28,328 deaths in 2015 and 32,763 in 2014,” and most of those in “countries that are unstable and troubled by war or insurgency — Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria.” The death toll, thus, is “decreasing.” The real problem lies in our own deficient cognition: we “underestimate just how deadly other forms of violence are. From 2001 to 2013, 406,496 people on American soil were killed by firearms, while during the same period 3,030 died because of a terrorist attack.” In 2015 guns killed “2,000 fewer [in America] than the global terrorism death toll.”
She closes with a banality and a flourish of faulty reasoning. The banality: “Terrorism’s preeminent effects are psychological rather than physical; it has a way of skewing our perceptions, meaning that we perceive a bigger menace than actually exists.” The faulty reasoning: “To fight it, we need to fight back against these psychological tricks.” The problem, again, rests with us, with our erring “perceptions,” with our falling for “psychological tricks,” which include “assuming that terrorist attacks are connected and trying to link them to a global extremist threat looming on our doorstep.” Hence we “misunderstand the unique problems facing each country — and what’s needed to defang them.”
Finis. And with nary a word on “what’s needed to defang” terrorists.
Ezrow’s “guidance” in effect boils down to: get a grip, gullible simplifiers, and, by implication, you “Islamophobes!” The religion she fails to name as the wellspring of almost all the above-mentioned killing has nothing to do with anything here; it does not even merit citation. The noun “Islam” appears nowhere in her nine hundred words; the adjectives “Islamist” and “Islamic” only once each. And besides, we have so much gun violence in the United States, why worry about terrorism? (Is there a regressive leftist who does not deploy this dodge?) And if you needn’t worry about terrorism, then why even bother searching for connections between terrorist acts?
Reason, honesty, and a decent respect for reality posit a counter-argument to this evasive pseudo-analysis. Since 9/11 Islam has been the principal motivation for terrorists across the globe. The FBI, as of May 2016, was tracking almost a thousand potential Islamist radicals in the United States, with 80 percent of them tied to ISIS. In Europe, the scale of the Islamist threat has overwhelmed the French security services, and that country, as a direct result of a spate of ghastly Islamist attacks, labors through its second year under a state of emergency.
In Austria’s case, crime committed by mostly Muslim migrants has been pushing politics to the right — the far right. (The Italians, though, have had enough and are set to ramp up expulsions.) With the defeat of ISIS on the battlefield looming, the Islamist threat to the continent looks set to worsen still. Fear of fundamentalist Shiite Iran acquiring nuclear weapons prompted the P5+1 countries to conduct nine years of negotiations with the Tehran regime to forestall a potentially apocalyptic eventuality. And again, with Islamist terrorism now affecting the outcomes of elections on both sides of the Atlantic, it is essential to protect our democracies and speak frankly about the ideology behind it.
The progressives’ reluctance to address Islam derives in part from the erroneous liberal notion that “all religions are the same” (if that is the case, where, then, as Sam Harris has asked, are the Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers?) and from outright ignorance about the doctrines of Islam — mainstream Islam — that can generate violence; namely, those concerning jihad (holy war) and martyrdom. Muslims waging war against “infidels” are carrying out God’s orders, and those who die doing so win immediate entry into paradise. (Of course proportionally few Muslims turn to violence, but those few are forcing this conversation upon us.) Other factors — say, Ezrow’s “grievances of inequality and exclusion” — may or may not be present. But belief in, and a willingness to act on, the doctrines of jihad and martyrdom are determinative and motivate the terrorist violence. Just as the terrorists themselves tell us.
Perhaps the most misleading and ultimately damaging (for the progressive cause) argument Ezrow advances consists in her attributing our alarm about the terrorist threat to “psychological tricks” and our “skewed perceptions.” Lesson No. 1 from Terrorism 101: terrorists do not have to kill many people in order to influence public opinion. They need only occasionally (and horrifically) disrupt order in our lives to prove that a government is incapable of carrying out its first, most fundamental duty — to protect its citizens. Telling people they are wrong to fear and then clumsily stifling talk of the provenance of the fear reeks of cowardice and even creates the impression of collusion with the terrorists — a proven loser’s strategy, as the recent U.S. presidential elections have just demonstrated.
Let’s put Ezrow’s essay behind us. Shillyshallying, doubletalk, and outright lying about Islam should give way to frank discussion about the faith’s troubling doctrines of jihad and martyrdom and their propensity to incite bloodshed. Such clarity is especially important now, as the Age of Trump dawns, and would help progressives restore their reputations after having effectively given in to regressive leftists — thereby losing the U.S. to Trump. Well-intentioned but useless online grandstanding and virtue-signaling — for example, the proclamation by the filmmaker Michael Moore, a professed Catholic, that “We are all Muslim” or the tweeted willingness of non-Muslims to sign up on a future Muslim registry — might be abandoned in favor of actual street demonstrations in favor of First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and religion for all citizens, including Muslims and — critically — former Muslims and atheists.
Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion; free (critical) speech about religion has the effect of freeing people from religion. Today’s believers can be — and increasingly are becoming — the secularists of tomorrow, even in the Arab world.
Let the progressive movement return to the right side of history. Now that would be the best answer to Trump.
Jeffrey Tayler is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. His seventh book, Topless Jihadis — Inside Femen, the World’s Most Provocative Activist Group, is out as an Atlantic ebook. Follow @JeffreyTayler1 on Twitter.