Friday, February 10, 2006

The wondrous weapon: Islamic violence

What a weapon! What an army! You can't outgun it - it's bigger than any weapon ever made. You can't sabotage it - it has no vital parts. You can't protect its targets - there are as many targets as it decides. It needs no special ammunition. Its strikepower is infinitely adaptable. When it strikes it never misses because even if its target remains standing, in striking it has replicated itself by inspiring others. It has no structure to be crippled nor supply lines to be disrupted. It needs only air to breathe, words to focus it and a brotherhood to recognise it.

The creation of the modern terrorist must be one of the most curious cases of social pathology in history. To have turned the self-disgust of the flagellati outwards and to have propagated like a computer virus so that there are no fences facin' surely marks a unique phenomenon. The rage of the political revolutionary turned back to its religious sources and magnified like AIDS returning to Africa. And it is a rage that is forever fuelled - by the feelings of cultural inadequacy before a world so shaped by the great adversary that even its victims depend completely on the very structure that humiliates them.

What a weapon! It can be put to so many uses. If Amir Tahiri is right, and what he says makes sense, this latest worldwide tantrum was egged on by Iran and Syria for very immediate and strictly political purposes. Iran because it is about to be reported to the UN Security Council; Syria because the UN is wants to question Bashar al-Assad, his relatives and aides about the Hariri assassination and the Security Council will soon decide how to bring this about. And ... the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council is about to pass to Denmark.

These two only saw their chance after the first well-scripted shouts were hurled in the streets. For several months, Sunni-Salafi groups from Denmark and other European countries had been trying to spark 'mass Muslim anger' into a conflagration, but had had only limited success. Damascus and Tehran were able to offer offended Muslims on demand.

The resentments and anger conjured for various reasons into street violence is different only in degree and application to that which puts bombs in market places. This wondrous weapon can create instant icons of victory and it can also bully and intimidate, strike repeatedly locally and internationally to crack and crumble its enemy's self-confidence. Which brings us to ... us.

Thankfully, there has not been unanimous pusillanimity this time round. But reaction among the usual appeasers is instructive and illustrates beautifully the immense power of the wondrous weapon. They use phrases such as 'common sense', 'a sense of restraint', 'respect' and 'compromise'; all laudably adult and reasonable. Is it not reasonable to give a little in order to get a little? We agree not to do or say certain things and they agree not to burn down buildings or chop our heads off. That's fair, isn't it?

No. Because it is giving in to intimidation.
No. Because it means one rule for a them, another for us.
No. Because it would not be a compromise but a surrender; it would be submission.
No. Because it would be the first of many such demands.

Tony Blair said today at the opening of the Labour Party Conference,

Freedom of speech is an ancient British liberty, but it should be exercised with responsibility because if it isn't, another ancient liberty, the right to life, is put at risk, and that cannot be right.
Now I would hope that he is referring here to what certain mullahs say in their mosques. But maybe not. Maybe he's got 12 cartoons and a handful of newspaper editors in his mind. In any case, this is the sort of thing that many other commentators have muttered with regard to the cartoon fuss. And what does it actually mean? That we must only say that will not cause us to be threatened. Who decides what that is? The ones doing the threatening. The lot who believe in the subjugation of civil society to religious authority, in the inferiority of the female, and the further inferiority of non-believers.

Freedom of speech is a political right exercised in order to control political power, both constrained by the law. The limits placed on freedom of speech cannot be decided on the streets according to who is most willing to dole out violence. They cannot be decided by a minority whose fundamental political position is a negation of that freedom.

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