From top: Chair Of The Irish Muslim Peace and Intergration Council Shaykh Dr Umar Al Qadri addressing an Anti-racism rally at the GPO last year; Dr Julien Mercille
It’s time reach out to Muslims in constructive and peaceful ways to counteract ISIS propaganda.
Dr Julien Mercille writes:
And here we go again. Another terrorist attack on Europe claimed by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS), on Brussels this time. This post explains the strategy that ISIS employs and two types of reactions in the media and commentary.
The first, and dominant, response puts oil on the fire. It is xenophobic and Islamophobic. And in fact, it plays into the hands of ISIS because it is exactly what the terrorists want: a divided people.
The second type of response, in a minority unfortunately, is to react by rejecting the black and white view that ISIS seeks to propagate and to reach out to Muslims.
The strategy employed by ISIS is simple:
1. Create chaos where there is calm (for example, by hitting unsuspecting targets in cities like Paris and Brussels).
2. Use vicious methods to polarise populations. Most Muslims live happily in secular societies. They live in what ISIS calls the “grey zone”. The objective is to drive them toward extremism either by attracting them through displays of power or by instilling fear in them or by scaring non-Muslims into taking revenge on them: in short, the “grey zone” needs to be transformed into a black and white world of “Good” versus “Evil”.
We can react in two ways to ISIS attacks and propaganda: either we support their Machiavellian plans, or we counteract them.
The first option is to fall into their trap and put more oil on the fire and thereby help ISIS spread chaos and boost their recruiting drive.
That’s what politicians like Donald Trump are doing by claiming that there is some sort of divide between the “fanatical Muslim world” and the “reasonable Western world”.
In the wake of the Brussels bombings, Trump said: “I would close up our borders” to prevent dangerous Muslims from getting into the US. Previously, after the Paris attacks, he had called for a temporary ban on all Muslims who wish to enter the US. He also promised to use waterboarding and even go beyond that when interrogating terrorists.
Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister who was a strong ally of George W. Bush in the invasion of Iraq, is also of that mindset.
He wrote an article this weekend in which he declared that. “We are at war with Islamist extremism” and need to be, “preparing for a conflict that is longer than anything we have seen in modern times”.
Because what we face are extremist Muslims of which there are, “many millions… across the globe”.
Blair says that we need to be ready to send Western military troops on the ground in the Middle East. In short, we must “rediscover our muscularity”.
And we must also use our allies.
But who are they?
Blair says: “Saudi Arabia is our ally” and “Israel is also our ally”.
The fact that Israel and Saudi Arabia are two extremist forces spreading chaos in the Middle East is irrelevant for Blair.
In Ireland, some commentators seem also to have fallen into ISIS’s trap.
For example, Carol Hunt, who is running for the Seanad for the NUI panel, wrote in the Sunday Independent that we shouldn’t be scared of criticising Islam and all its problems.
After all, we have “to protect Western values” of openness and plurality against the bad Muslims. She asks suggestively: “Can we be unambiguous in our belief that some cultures are indeed superior to others”?
And: “Can we admit that a culture which espouses universal human rights is indeed superior to one which treats some individuals as lesser beings because of gender, sexual orientation or religious belief?”
In short, Western culture is superior to Muslim culture.
However, this assertion works only if you remove the part that there is a big culture of militarism in the West in which a lot of people are cheering on their militaries to invade other countries; and if you remove the fact that Western governments don’t care about “universal human rights”; etc.
But there is a second option: reach out to Muslims in constructive and peaceful ways to counteract ISIS propaganda.
For example, Juan Cole, the professor of history who specialises in religion and Islam, wrote an excellent piece in which he made the following remarks on how to react to the tragedy in Brussels:
1. “Stop suggesting that there is something wrong with Muslims that they keep producing terrorists. All the major world faiths produce violent people. In the Rwanda genocide of the 1990s, Christian Hutus murdered between 500,000 and 1 million other people, and the Christian churches were deeply involved in enabling this slaughter.”
2. “Muslims are a sixth of humankind and hail from all sorts of backgrounds, ethnicities, and languages. There are 40 million Chinese Muslims. There are 23 million Russian ones. Ethiopian Muslims and Senegalese Muslims have little in common despite being African, and neither has much in common with Bangladeshi Muslims. To tag all of them with the actions of some violent Brussels slum-dwellers of North African heritage is weird. It is exactly like assuming that all American Christians want to kill Tutsis, just because Hutu Christians did.”
3. “Show your Muslim neighbour some love. ISIS does these horrible things to get people of Christian heritage to be beastly to the Muslims in their midst, spreading hatred and anger and a sense of victimization. ISIS is hoping to use *you* to drive other Muslims into their arms. They want to make you a recruitment officer. They want you to hate and they want you to fear. There is only one way to combat this tactic of sharpening contradictions. Refuse to hate and refuse to be afraid. Bend over backwards to be nice to Muslims.”
So we must choose: Do we want to be on the side of ISIS by supporting Islamophobia and throwing oil on the fire?
Or are we ready not to fall into their trap and reject their ridiculous black and white view of the world?
Julien Mercille specialises in US foreign policy and terrorism and is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Follow him on Twitter: @JulienMercille