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Free Speech and Terrorism – Whatever you do, don’t mention Islam!

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.

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.


  1. Anonymous says

    “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.”

    This. 1000 times, this.

  2. The good thing is that people in the West have woken up and will vote for parties that defend them. Elections coming up in many EU countries in 2017. The tide is turning .

  3. This may well be nothing but a side note. But with regards to the piece in the WP, I find it extremely cynical to point to the fact that 2016 fewer people have died from terrorist attacks than say 2015 in order to make the scewed case that this issue is somehow mainly just in our heads. The – still sickening – number of civilian casualties we ended up with is the result of national and international intelligence foiling many, many terrorist plots. Just look at the case of Dschaber al-Bakr in Leipzig, Germany. The damage he could have caused with the amount of explosvies he had is almost unthinkable. How an allegedly well educated person can then go on to proclaim something this arrogant and stupid is beyond me.

  4. As demonstrated by this article a sure way to lose elections is to shit the blame of a terrorist attack to other sources than the actual ideology behind the attack, namely Islam.

  5. Pingback: Jeff Tayler takes apart a mushy WaPo article on the supposedly diverse causes of terrorism « Why Evolution Is True

  6. Jason Sutton says

    Islam is the excuse but not the prime motivator. Religion is often (always) used to allow moral relativism; to see people as ‘other’ and lesser. It is the great lubricator of conflict, genocide and slavery. To misquote Sam Harris, if Islam is the motivator where are the legions of suicide squads from Malaysia, India and especially Indonesia (the most populous Musim nation)?

    Now look at the states that are home to most of the Islamist terrorists. Do those states share any other factors? Perhaps there are other causal correlations

    And while you’re there, look at which country killed most foreign civilians over the past few decades. Why is that not terrorism?

  7. John Lord says

    The Left tends to be culturally blind as it has been primarily concerned with economic injustices. It has had trouble coming to terms with issues caused by mass migration which are often non economic. It instinctively takes the side of minorities whether they merit it or not. Being a minority is seen almost as a moral state of its own. The actual believes or practices of favoured minorities are often strangly not looked into too deeply, or certainly not judged with the rigour the Left would apply to subjects that displease it. It has perversely, turned its back on what was once its core constituency: the indigenous working class. And there are more of them, even after mass migration, getting more annoyed by the day.

  8. Jason says

    So you appeal against tribalism with an appeal to tribalism?

  9. Jason says

    But yes, I agree with your analysis, if not your conclusion

  10. Evan says

    Terrorists obviously want to terrorize; telling people to be very, very afraid does amplify the effect. “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.” Yes, because media and fearmongers amplify the effect, not because terrorism is a significant risk to most people. So don’t fearmonger; don’t spread panic.

    Also, far-rightists are responsible for far-rightism.

    It’s impossible to guard every point or stop every lone shooter. Security theater is probably the only realistic way to reduce panic and terrorization.

  11. multi io says

    There are many more Islamic terrorist attacks in the West today than there are terrorist attacks rooted in any other religion or ideology. That would indicate that Islam has something to do with the current wave of terrorism.

    OTOH, there many more Islamic terrorist attacks in the West today than there were 20 years ago. That would indicate that something other than Islam ALSO has something to do with the current wave of terrorism, unless you want to propose that Islam itself or the interpretation of the Quran has changed in some fundamental way in the last 20 years, which I’m pretty sure it hasn’t.

    So what would you suggest those OTHER factors are? It would seem to me that the activities of Western nations in the middle east since 2001 are one of those factors.

  12. Tamara says

    This argument is based on a tautology. In that ‘regressive left’ is seemingly defined as those that don’t speak out against Islamism.

  13. King Dave says

    History has shown, holy war and genocide ends in one of two way. Foreign intervention or when one side is exterminated, as in Rwanda. I understand the left political reasons for doing nothing to help, but not the morality…

  14. “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?)” Dunno, but if you’re looking for Buddhist violence, you can find it here, for example: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22356306

  15. BillyJoe says


    It’s not really a tautology. The argument is that most on “the left” of politics have decided to “not speak out against Islam” (actually it goes a bit deeper than that) which has earned them the label of “the regressive left”. In other words, while “the left” has usually been seen as “progressive” as compared with conservatives, in the case of Islam they can be characterised as “regressive”.

  16. derek lambada says

    Terrorism, while awful, is not even in the top 3 of reasons to be concerned about Islam.
    Appalling treatment of women, appalling treatment of non-Muslims and disastrous economic performance are all bigger problems of Islam than terror (and of course contribute to the terror).

  17. Richard says

    “, there many more Islamic terrorist attacks in the West today than there were 20 years ago. That would indicate that something other than Islam ALSO has something to do with the current wave of terrorism, unless you want to propose that Islam itself or the interpretation of the Quran has changed in some fundamental way in the last 20 years, which I’m pretty sure it hasn’t.”

    Well one other factor is Saudi-Arabian money funding mosques that preach the Salafist interpretation of Islam.

    Islam has always had a violent version – from the time of its founder. Historically it has only been peaceful when it was either too weak (as the period from WW1 till oil money started to revive it) or in places where it was completely in charge (as in Saudi-Arabia today). However those peaceful places have only ever been peaceful if you submitted to the Islamic authorities.

    So, in short, what has changed is Islamic self confidence boosted by oil wealth.

    As for western involvement – well what we have done is to remove or weaken secular dictators, unleashing the forces that they previously constrained. This was a blunder but not for the reason that you think.

  18. the thought offender says

    Show me one spiritual religion where temples, synagogues or churches double as arsenals.

    Show me one spiritual religion whose allegiance demands violence.

    Show me one spiritual religion that engages in perpetual sedition. that plots to repress, supplant and replace all host cultures. That sees generosity and tolerance as flaws provided by the their Almighty to lend advantage to His warriors.

    Splashed upon the internet I see masked young serial murders and rapists waving assault rifles like over-sized dildos proclaiming the supremacy of their Divine Sponsor.

    It is our right as a democracy to set our demographic content as we see fit. That includes an Islamic content of zero.

    • b.a. freeman says

      they cannot show U any such religion but one, and it is depraved, not spiritual: islam.

      we must remain a nation ruled by laws, not men, and allow all muslims who are citizens to remain; all non-citizen muslims must be immediately expelled. muslim citizens must be watched, and as they reveal themselves to be traitors, they must be stripped of citizenship and permanently expelled (along with all family; don’t want to break them up!). saudi arabia, qatar, kuwait, iran, and other rich muslim-majority nations must be militarily and economically blockaded; let them suck oil-soaked sand and eat paper money. poor muslim-majority nations must be watched closely, and should they stumble upon natural resources that would make them wealthy, they, too, must be militarily and economically blockaded.

      this is war. we didn’t ask for it, and we don’t want it, but they started the war, and they do want it, so we need to act, because we are currently more powerful than they are. wars should not be long drawn-out affairs; we need to strike fast and hard. it will mean that the blockades will likely have to go on for a few hundred years, but in the past 14 centuries, muslims have murdered between 180 million and 220 million victims, or maybe even 270 million, as one estimate i recently saw had it, so we must have patience. this evil disease must be excised from the human race.

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  20. Justin A Gann says

    Islamophobia includes holding Muslims to a different standard, which is a stance of inequality and special persecution. It is indeed discriminatory to “pick on” Muslims for the mainstream teachings of their faith that lead to violene while IGNORING the exat same teachings with the same potential, in the mainstream scriptures of the other Abrahamic faiths (Christiniaty, Judaism, etc.). The Old and New Testament contain many verses promoting violence, which are still used to this day to justify violence. The activities of David Koresh in Texas in recent times come to mind. If all Muslims are to be held accountable for the action of jihadist terrorists, then why are all Christians not to be held accountable for the actions of their violent cultists and child-molesting priests? Why does this article nowhere even mention the parallel problems?
    And isn’t part of the problem that these terrorists are coming from countries where separation of church and state have eroded? Why is it not being pointed out that the violent militarism and biogtry so prevalen in modern America are being catalyzed by the New Christian Right? A movement which imposes certain Evangelicals’ beliefs onto American foreign policy to blindly favor Israel in every instance and wage war with Muslims at the drop of a hat, with many Christian adherents hoping to being about the Rapture and Armageddon? Why is a belief system leading to terrorism worse than one leading to warmongering with the goal of hastening the END OF THE WORLD?

  21. Chris Jowett says

    Most of this comments section is Americo-centric. The rest of us don’t think that way. We have been very fortunate to have public officials and artists of Palestinian descent; unthinkable in the USA. We have more Muslims than Jews in our society, albeit less powerful, but we lack your dominant bigotry. Consequently we lack your paranoia and tend to focus more on actual threats than falsely perceived ones.

  22. Pingback: Jeff Tayler on Sarah Haider, Islam, and the betrayal of liberal values by the Left « Why Evolution Is True

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