This is a guest post by Amjad Khan
Over the last few years, entry level Islamist organisations, certain sections of the far-left, and a handful of academics and policy wonks have been advocating a theory, now commonly referred to as ‘Lambertism’, named after it’s most vocal proponent, Robert Lambert. This theory essentially advocates governments building closer ties with non-violent Islamist groups and hard-core Wahabis in an effort to defeat violent Islamist extremists. In essence, let’s work with non-violent extremists to defeat violent extremists. Advocates of this approach would argue that non-violent extremists are best placed to deal with violent extremists. In this article I hope to explore some of the implications of this approach and the motivations behind some of those advocating it.
Firstly, this approach is based on a high degree of moral relativism and those advocating it obviously have very low expectations for Muslims. There are many Muslims who are not Islamists nor Wahabis who can be used to tackle violent extremists and are highly capable of doing so. Why are they being ignored and side-lined? Lambertism assumes that all Muslims are extreme in one form or another so they just pick the best of a bad bunch. It’s as if they think ‘we can’t expect those backward Muslims to live up to universal human rights standards’. Again this completely undermines and alienates genuinely moderate Muslims who don’t view their faith as their primary identity marker and don’t wish to use their religion as a political tool.
Secondly, this approach is very colonial. Fighting extremism is about uniting people under common decent values and challenging those who seek to divide and cause tensions in communities. It is not about playing a chess game, where human rights and common decency are trampled on in the pursuit of short-term gain. This is exactly the game that was playing in Afghanistan in the 1980s and in British India in the 19th century and on both occasions it proved a spectacular failure.
Thirdly, it just doesn’t work. Non-violent extremists in many cases galvanise their violent fringe by confirming their worldview. Let’s not forgot that it is non-violent extremists who spawned violent extremists in the first place. Jihadism is merely a symptom of the failure of Islamists to achieve power. So do we really want to be mainstreaming Islamist thought when we know that there will always be a minority who will seek to achieve the vision through more violent methods? Promoting Islamism increases the pool from which violent extremists recruit.
In short this theory is akin to saying let’s fund and support the BNP because they are best placed to deal with more violent far-right extremism. What Lambertists fail to understand is that the threat we are facing from the likes of al-Qaeda, is not only problematic because it is often violent. Yes that is a key factor and makes most people take notice. We are involved in a battle of ideas. On one hand you have those that seek to suppress and subjugate all others through a theocratic state that doesn’t tolerate diversity of belief or lifestyle. And on the other hand you have those who are seeking to foster pluralistic, liberal and democratic societies. Also this is a struggle that has been taking place in the Muslim world for almost a century now and we in the West can’t afford to lend support to the regressive strand and alienate those moderate Muslims around the world who are struggling for freer, open and pluralistic societies.
So who on earth is advocating this insane approach? Essentially we are dealing with three types of people.
Firstly, non-violent extremists themselves, who are seeking government support and acceptance in the hope of mainstreaming their ideology. Secondly, loonies, sometimes with a background in far-left politics, who in some cases are funded directly by Islamist groups to spout this nonsense. Those on the far-left also believe that Islamists are their bosom-buddies in their struggle against the evil capitalist world order. They obviously don’t realise that they will perhaps be the first to be persecuted under an Islamist state, as happened in Iran in the 1980s. And thirdly, lazy colonially minded civil servants who can’t be bothered to reach out to mainstream Muslims beyond London. Such civil servants generally hold lower expectations for Muslims in general and adopt what has been referred to as the ‘zoo complex’, i.e. they view Muslims as ‘good monkeys’ and ‘bad monkeys’ rather than full citizens. Hence, they feel they should empower the ‘good monkeys’ since we can’t expect Muslims to be normal just like us. They are also generally clueless about this whole area and don’t really care since they will be given a different portfolio in a few months time.
All in all, this approach is racist, lazy, colonial and ineffective. Instead of preventing violent extremism it actually makes it more likely and galvanises support for the far-right and all those who promote the thesis that Europe is being over-run by marauding Muslims. All advocates should hang their heads in shame.
Expect to hear much more about this over the coming months.