The Economist has always been the less subtle, more in-your-face anti-Islam publication compared to the likes of the NYTimes, Washington Post, Atlantic, et al. The benefit of this unvarnished animosity toward Islam is that Muslims can see very clearly what the elite Western political and media establishment really thinks about them and their religion, without all the fake political correctness and shallow nods to multiculturalism dripping from the pages of those other outlets.
Their latest piece, “The Little-Noticed Transformation of Islam in the West,” is the perfect example of such truth in midst of barely-masked derision.
Islam frightens many in the West. Jihadists kill in the name of their religion. Some Muslim conservatives believe it lets them force their daughters to marry. When asked, Westerners say that Islam is the religion they least want their neighbours or in-laws to follow. Bestselling books such as “The Strange Death of Europe”, “Le Suicide Français” and “Submission” warn against the march of Islam.
The editors at a more politically correct outlet would have insisted that this paragraph be followed with some assurance that the “version of Islam followed by most Muslims” is nothing to be afraid of and perfectly benign in the same way that a neutered pet is perfectly benign.
But not the folks at the Economist! People are justified in fearing Islam because Islam is fearsome. I tend to agree, but not in the sense that the Economist intends or the sense the poor geriatric nativist with bouts of dementia understands when he is reading, well, the Economist. Islam is fearsome in the way that, to a criminal, justice is fearsome. Islam is fearsome in the way that the truth piercing through the fog of self delusion is fearsome.
However, Western Islam is undergoing a little-noticed transformation. As our special report this week sets out, a natural process of adaptation and assimilation is doing more than any government to tame the threat posed by Islamic extremism. The first generation of Muslim workers who migrated to the West, starting in the 1950s, did not know how long they would stay; their religious practices directed by foreign-trained imams were tied to those of their countries of origin. The second generation felt alienated, caught between their parents’ foreign culture and societies whose institutions they found hard to penetrate. Frustrated and belonging nowhere, a few radicals turned to violent jihad.
First- and second-generation Muslims in the West were really lost, weren’t they? For them, Islam was either a bumbling cultural byproduct or the expression of seething, violent frustration, frustration born from the fact they couldn’t make it in enlightened Western institutions.
Today the third generation is coming of age. It is more enfranchised and confident than the first two. Most of its members want little truck with either foreign imams or violent jihadist propaganda. Instead, for young Muslims in the West, faith is increasingly becoming a matter of personal choice.
For the Economist, Islam doesn’t amount to much beyond foreign cultural practices, at best, terrorism at worst. Islam is only redeemable when Muslims adopt liberal values like personal choice and scriptural revisionism. This openness to transcend run-of-the-mill “foreign Islam” is what makes this new generation of Muslims so promising to the Western elite.
Their beliefs range from ultra-conservative to path-breakingly liberal. Some prominent scholars allow female converts to keep non-Muslim husbands; a few congregations conduct weekly prayers on Sundays, because the faithful go to work on Fridays; there are even women-led mosques. At the same time Western institutions are gradually opening up to Muslims. London and Rotterdam are both run by Muslim mayors. Two Muslim women, one of them veiled, were voted into the United States Congress last year.
So much garbage jam packed into these paragraphs. I wish I could say the Economist was making it all up. But unfortunately, we do have such trash promoted by self-described Muslims in this day and age. Thankfully, the Muslim community has rejected this nonsense for the most part.
What is a problem are the Muslim politicians. It is telling that the Economist ties liberal initiatives like women-led mosques to Muslim political involvement. Indeed, these two phenomena are intertwined because Muslim politicians have proven themselves to be the most liberal and, more importantly, have been the most effective force for introducing liberal tendencies into the mainstream Muslim community.
For decades, self-described “progressive Muslims” have tried to get mainstream traditional Muslims to adopt liberal views on homosexuality, women’s equality, religious pluralism, etc. But figures like Linda Sarsour or Sadiq Khan, through the conduit of political activism, have been able to accomplish more towards that goal in just a few years than all these progressive misfits combined.
It is quite insidious when you think about it. Sad as it is, some otherwise traditionally-inclined Muslims reflexively support and celebrate any Muslim who gets recognized in the Western political or media establishment. But the Western political and media establishment only recognizes and promotes Muslims who are sufficiently liberal. The result is as predictable as it is depressing.
How can Western governments encourage this transition? Their main task is to focus on upholding the law rather than try to force Muslims to change their beliefs. The West is enjoying a decline in attacks by jihadists. The number they killed in Europe fell from over 150 in 2015 to 14 last year. Attacks not only threaten lives and property, they also set back relations between Muslims and those around them. That is why criminality must be dealt with firmly by the law and the intelligence services.
How deliciously coy of the Economist to pretend like Western governments haven’t been forcing this transition with all their might for literally more than two centuries. Or is the Economist not aware of the colonial history of the Muslim world, where Western-backed religious agents in conjunction with their colonial masters, like Lord Cromer, worked hard to introduce liberal values to the average Muslim in order to make him more amenable to Western colonial rule? This project, of course, is still in full swing today.
The colonialists always described Muslim resistance to their genocidal colonial project as “terrorism.” In the same way, the Economist describes “conservative” illiberal Muslims as being more prone to violent terror. So, to suggest that Western government interest in liberalizing Muslims is solely or even primarily intended to curb terrorism is putting the cart before the horse.
The trouble is that governments frequently lump in criminal actions with regressive norms. Germany is leading a drive to curb foreign influence of mosques, train imams and control funding. France wants to cajole Muslims into a representative body. They are echoing the Muslim world, where Islam is often a state religion that is run, and stifled, by governments.
Conveniently no mention of how these tyrants in the Muslim world are doing the stifling of Islam at the behest of Western governments and Israel.
However, the top-down nannying of religion risks a backlash. Heavy-handed interference will alienate communities whose co-operation is needed to identify potential terrorists and abusers among them. Put on the defensive, Muslims will deepen communal identities and retreat into the very segregation that intervention is supposed to reverse.
You see that? Heavy-handed repression of devout Muslims is bad because then they won’t cooperate with us in policing themselves. If only we could somehow get them to cooperate in spite of heavy-handed repression…
The word “abuser” is very conspicuous here. I haven’t seen this pairing of terrorism with abuse in a mainstream media outlet before, but it is significant. Over the past year and a half we have seen this vaguely-defined concept of “spiritual abuse” be introduced in Muslim community discussions by liberal activists who, like the Economist, seem to have a strange animus toward “foreign imams.” For all the self-righteous sanctimony surrounding the concept of “spiritual abuse,” most of what we have seen so far by those deploying the term is the policing of illiberalism. Of course, this has been the prime function of the concept of “extremism” as well. Countering extremism by Western governmental agencies and their Muslim agents has just amounted to countering illiberalism. It appears that countering abuse serves that same end.
Rather than intervene in doctrine, it is better to deal with social conservatism through argument and persuasion. That can make for testy debate. This week Ilhan Omar, a Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, had to apologise for peddling anti-Semitic tropes. The trickiest balance is over how to counter the radicalisation of Muslims, whether online or in prisons. This often involves vulnerable young people becoming more devout before turning to violence. But there are signs of progress. Although young Muslims are conservative by the standards of Western society (eg, on gay schoolteachers), they are more liberal than their elders.
Ilhan Omar is a social conservative? The same Ilhan Omar that is regularly tweeting about her love for cross dressers and sodomites? That Ilhan Omar?
It’s not a mistake that the Economist portrays Ilhan Omar as some kind of radically conservative Muslim. If someone as nauseatingly liberal and assimilated as Ilhan Omar is on the edge of radicalism, then the vast majority of the non-LGBT-accepting, non-faux-turban-wearing Western Muslim community must be ISIS on steroids by that standard.
And as the Economist makes clear here, this conservatism justifies the surveillance and policing of the Muslim community. In the world of the Economist, this is because being devout is the precursor to violence, i.e., terrorism. Socially conservative, i.e., illiberal, Muslims are one step away from committing terrorism. Muslims who criticize Israel are one step away from committing terrorism. Therefore, monitoring Muslims in order to detect the first sign of illiberalism and/or anti-Zionism is critical to fighting terror. This has been the de facto anti-terror policy position in the West since 2001.
Of course, it is irrelevant to the Economist that numerous studies have shown no positive correlation between religiosity and a propensity to commit acts of terror. Even the US Pentagon issued a report in 2004 concluding that the main driver of terrorism is not religiosity. Why should such studies matter when the real intention behind policing religious Muslims is to stamp out their illiberalism? That has always been the goal. Fighting terrorism or curbing “abuse” just provides a convenient justification for that larger project.