You would think that looking back in history we would have learned a lesson from the horrendously high body count that fanatical fascism yielded, but apparently the only lesson we learn from history is that sometimes we really don’t learn from history – today fascism is alive and well and thriving. Perhaps we don’t recognise it because it has a different name and wears a different mask, but there under the covers rests the same basic radicalism that is quite sure it holds the truth, and is determined to impose that “truth” upon all by force regardless of the cost in human lives. We might not recognise the name, but behind the mask the same brutality and thuggery rests.
If you are still not sure what I’m on about, I’m of course talking about Islamism.
I’m using that word carefully, and note that I did not use the word “Islam”, but rather the specific term “Islamism”. That is done by choice to draw a line between those who simply have a religious belief, wish no harm to anybody, and have no desire to impose that belief by force, and those who are motivated to impose their specific variation of fanatical Islamic belief upon all, and to slaughter any, be they Muslim or non-Muslim, who dare to voice an objection.
Perhaps the classic example of this distinction is illustrated by the tragic and rather brutal murder of Salman Taseer. He was the governor of the province of Punjab in Pakistan from 2008 until his assassination in early 2011. Because he publicly declared opposition to the utterly insane blasphemy laws, and supported a Christian Pakistani woman, Asia Bibi, who was facing charges of Blasphemy, he was slaughtered by a fanatic. This Muslim man was acting as a decent honourable human being, and was taking a stand against the oppression and slaughter of minorities, and so in response to this, the grinning fanatic, Malik Mumtaz Qadri, his own bodyguard shot him 27 times with an AK-47 sub-machine gun.
The response to it all then magnifies that dividing line between Islam and Islamist even further. More than five-hundred clerics of the fanatical Islamist Dawat-e-Islami movement voiced support for the crime and urged a general boycott of Taseer’s funeral, but regardless of that call and the implicit threat it carried, hundreds turned up, and many more also attended the prayers. I note with interest that the chief cleric of the Badshahi Mosque, who had initially agreed to offer prayers, backed off at the last moment, saying he was going out of town, so we now know which side of the line he resides on.
This is not simply a story about Pakistan, but rather is the observation that this line between Islam and Islamism snakes its way though many nations and also transcends several variations of Islam as well.
Ahmed was in despair about Bangladesh. Islamists had not only murdered her beloved husband, but two other atheist bloggers. As Bangladesh’s ruling party is officially secular, and as Islamists have opposed the state ever since Jamaat-e-Islami death squads collaborated with the Pakistani army in committing crimes that came close to genocide during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence, the naive might assume that the government would be keen to fight her husband’s enemies.
Not so. After one prominent Jamaat activist was sentenced to death for his part in the 1971 war, Islamists responded by demanding that dozens of secularists who had allegedly “insulted” their famously thin-skinned religion be tried for blasphemy and condemned to death. The state did not reply that Bangladeshis had the freedom to believe what they wanted. It said the authorities would prosecute blasphemers under repressive laws that date from the British empire.
Liberals in Bangladesh are therefore on both Islamist death lists and police arrest lists. If killers with meat cleavers don’t get them, cops with warrants will. To Bangladesh’s shame, the state has threatened friends and allies of Ahmed and Roy with prison for the crime of “hurting religious sentiments” and jeopardising “communal harmony”.
Lenin said: “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” Islamists must feel the same about the “moderate” governments they want to destroy. Instead of taking extremists on and upholding human rights, Bangladesh justifies extremism by turning on the liberal critics of religion and treating them as criminals. In one of the most pathetic interviews you’ll ever read, Sajeeb Wazed, the son of Sheikh Hasina told Reuters that his mother had found it prudent to offer only private condolences to Roy’s family after his assassination. Although “we believe in secularism”, the wretched man explained, the prime minister could not make a public stand “because our opposition party plays that religion card against us relentlessly, we cannot come out strongly. It’s about perception, not about reality.”
Now step back and remember your history – a time when there was a rising tide of fear and violence, a politician determined to negotiate with the fascists, and after doing so arrives back and declares “Peace in our time” … and so I do indeed feel that Mr Cohen nails it when he writes …
Avijit Roy lost his life because he wanted to change reality, not perception. He knew the dangers, but knew too that there are fights that cannot be ducked. “Those who think victory will be realised without any bloodshed are living in a fool’s paradise,” he wrote before his death. “We risk our lives the moment we started wielding our pens against religious bigotry and fundamentalism.”
Compare the bravery of Bangladeshi intellectuals with the attitude of the bulk of the western intelligentsia. Whole books could be written on why it failed to argue against the fascism of our age – indeed I’ve written a couple myself – but the decisive reason is a fear that dare not speak its name. They are frightened of accusations of racism, frightened of breaking with the consensus, frightened most of all of violence. They dare not admit they are afraid. So they struggle to produce justifications to excuse their dereliction of duty. They turn militant religion into a rational reaction to poverty or western foreign policy. They maintain there is a moral equivalence between militant religion and militant atheism.
On occasion, they drop even that spurious attempt at evenhandedness and seem to suggest, as Professor Craig Calhoun, director of the London School of Economics, did recently, that the real menace facing universities is not students heading to Syria to rape and behead but secularists whose calls for free speech “challenge the faith and beliefs of religious students” and disrupt “campus harmony”
I’d recommend you go read all of Mr Cohen’s article, it is well worth the read.
We need to come to a realisation that there is a rising tide of fanatical Islamist fascism with which there can be no accommodation. This is not our choice because the only options they offer is to either adhere to their fanatical beliefs or die, and so the attempts by some to offer appeasement and peace in our time is destined to fail; the very nature of such fanaticism guarantees that outcome.
Where do we start?
We fight this war of ideas, not with more blood, but with paper and ink, and expose not only the moral and ethical bankruptcy of the Islamist fascists, but also the willingness of some to attempt to accommodate such fanatics.
For those that hold an Islamic belief, the choice is simple – will you be a Muslim or an Islamist?
This is a war that is being fought, not for land, but for the possession of human minds, and so the choice being faced by millions is to either embrace this fanatical fascism or to instead be a decent human being – it is mutually exclusive, you don’t get to pick both.