Critics of Muslim extremism need to learn – ‘radical’ isn’t the same as ‘terrorist’

This is a guest post by Mehrdad Amanpour

I’d never heard of Brigitte Gabriel nor Saba Ahmed until a couple of days ago when I saw a clip of Gabriel’s impassioned attack on ‘Muslim lobbyist’ Ahmed.

Gabriel’s point is pretty much distilled here:

“Of course the majority of [Muslims] are peaceful people. The radicals are estimated to be between 15 and 25% according to all intelligence services around the world… you’re looking at 180 to 300 million dedicated to the destruction of Western civilisation. It is the radicals that kill, it is the radicals that behead and massacre. When you look at all the lessons of history, most Germans were peaceful, yet the Nazis drove the agenda and as a result 60 million people died… the peaceful majority [of Germans] were irrelevant.”

Gabriel’s tub-thumping delivery of the specific point – that docile majorities become “irrelevant” when faced with a fanatical and determined minority – struck such a cord with me that I found myself nodding in agreement and cheering inwardly.

It was only after I watched the clip for a second time that I saw how Gabriel had got it wrong and why, in doing so, she not only undermined a very good point but unwittingly helped both the ‘radicals’ and their apologists.

Gabriel mistake was to conflate “radicals” with ‘terrorists’ – an error that plagues so many commentators who attempt to raise and challenge the perceived reluctance of ‘moderate’ Muslims to denounce the ideologies that drive Muslim extremism and violence.

I dislike the subjectivity of terms such as ‘radicals’ and ‘terrorists’ and find ‘non-violent extremists’ and ‘violent extremists’ are more objective for labelling the two categories.

But I don’t find it difficult to believe that 15-25% of Muslims around the world believe extreme interpretations of Islam. For example, a poll carried out by Policy Exchange suggested that 37% of young British Muslims would prefer to live under sharia law and a third believe that the death penalty should apply for apostasy. In Pakistan, Pew Global puts these at 84% and 76% respectively.

Pew shows a frighteningly high level of support throughout Muslim-majority countries for implementing sharia as the law of the land, with significant support for punishments such as limb-amputation for theft and stoning for sex outside of marriage (which would include homosexual sex).

Most alarming is the support declared for sharia to be imposed on non-Muslim citizens – this ranges from 19% in Kasakhstan to a staggering 74% of Muslims polled in Egypt.

Polls aren’t a precise reflection on reality. However, it is disingenuous to deny that a significant proportion of Muslims throughout the world do hold views that most people in the West would find very illiberal, unpleasant and extreme.

The common error made by critics of this situation is to ignore the fact that whilst there is overwhelming evidence to show that a significant proportion of Muslims throughout the world hold views most of us would fine hateful and extreme, there is equally a great deal of evidence demonstrating that those who go on to commit violent acts are a very small proportion of that group.

When one compares the outcomes desired by non-violent extremists with the desires of violent extremists, it is clear that both groups have a similar vision of Islamic Utopia – their various interpretations of Islam as the political and legal panacea for governing humanity.

However, when Gabriel claims, “you’re looking at 180 to 300 million dedicated to the destruction of Western civilisation”, she allows the non-violent extremists to say, “I’m not a terrorist! I don’t support terrorism!” and subsequently her statement collapses easily as the hyperbole it is.

To adopt Gabriel’s analogy, the majority of Germans weren’t violent. I’m sure most would never have participated in the terrible atrocities committed by the Nazis. However, the fact that enough of them believed in their supremacism and desired the racially-organised Utopia promised by National Socialism allowed the Nazis to function.

Crucially, it was the lack of open opposition from the majority of peaceful Germans that allowed Nazism to flourish. It could be argued that too few Germans opposed Nazism out of fear. Muslims living in the West have no such excuse.

Yet regardless of the freedom we enjoy here, there’s no doubt that too few Muslims in the West seem willing to oppose openly, hateful and extremist ideas. Indeed, the stock position taken by apologists for non-violent extremism is that there is no correlation between hateful views and hateful actions. All world history has demonstrated the intellectual bankruptcy of that position.

This stubborn reluctance of moderate Muslims to speak out can be seen in a follow up interview where Saba Ahmed so articulately demonstrates her “irrelevance”:

Sean Hannity: “Will you speak out against sharia as it’s implemented…”

Ahmed: “I’m not speaking out I’m just defending my right to wear the head-scarf…”

Hannity: “Will you speak out against those that use your religion to force women to cover, force women to stay home and they can’t drive, force women that they can’t be seen in public without men they’re not related to – you’re not going to speak up for those women’s rights?”

Ahmed: “Er… I think every country has their own traditions laws and cultures. Here in America er… there are right and wrong customs everywhere.”

Ahmed is typical of the ubiquitous self-declared ‘moderate’ Muslim lobbyist. Her entire approach is victim-mongering, whataboutery and weasel words. Whilst Ahmed will certainly admit to opposing ‘terrorism’ she’ll probably never oppose openly the extreme ideas that fuel it.

And Gabriel is typical of the increasingly frustrated critic who allows her anger to turn to essentialism, spin and hyperbole.

So when someone like Gabriel conflates non-violent and violent extremism she hands the Ahmeds of this world the ammunition they need to do what they do best: Deflect the argument.

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