How to talk about extremism

Talking about Muslim extremism is difficult. Any criticism of Islam or even radical Islamism is considered Islamophobic and gets the speaker labeled as a bigot.

So the non-Muslim world seems to be divided between those who will not say anything negative at all against any form of Islam — the US Homeland Security officials who have banned the word ‘jihad’, for example — and those, like Geert Wilders who can deal with being called racists or ‘Islamophobes’. The latter, like Wilders, often end up associating with real racists, because they are among the few  publicly opposing Islamic extremism.

I’ve found it hard to discuss these issues myself, particularly with people who have been educated since the civil rights movement of the 1960’s (that’s the majority these days). The taboo against anything perceived as racism is huge in America, which I think has been traumatized by coming to understand the true dimensions of the injustice committed against African-Americans from its beginning until just recently. Insofar as consciousness of racist attitudes reduces racist behavior, this is a good thing, but the taboo limits discourse about any inherent differences between members of ethnic, racial or gender groups. Just ask Lawrence Summers.

One of the taboos is that ‘profiling’ is forbidden. An example is the recent case of four Muslims in Newburgh NY who planned and tried to carry out attacks on Jewish institutions and military installations. They were arrested as a result of information provided by undercover FBI informants in their mosque, a practice which has prompted complaints by some Muslims.

One thing which is not productive is trying to explain violent extremism by what is written in the Quran, as Wilders does in his controversial film, Fitna. If you want to understand why, Google ‘Talmud’ and see what antisemites do with passages taken out of context. Perhaps the Quran encourages violence, perhaps not. And there are cultural factors, particularly in Arab culture, which come into play as well.

On the other hand, is it reasonable to try to talk about terrorism in the world today without mentioning Islam, or without using the word ‘jihad’?

A friend, who knows much more about Islam than I, some years ago said this: don’t look for answers in the Quran — look at what Muslims do.

In that connection, here’s a picture from the local media of a sign held up by a participant in a demonstration here against the war in Gaza last December.

Sign at Gaza War demonstration, Fresno (courtesy KMPH TV Ch. 26)

Sign at Gaza War demonstration, Fresno (courtesy KMPH TV Ch. 26)

The young man holding the sign was interviewed by the TV reporter who asked “do you really mean that?”

“Yes,” he said. “Death to Israel. I really mean that.”

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2 Responses to “How to talk about extremism”

  1. pavelaw says:

    O.K., call me an Islamaphobe, a bigot, racist, whatever you want. I’ll stand with Geert Wilders. I’m proud to be on his side in this.


  2. Vic Rosenthal says:

    I’m on his side in this too, but Wilders seems to be making alliances with some elements that are over the line. My point is that it’s too bad that he can’t find anybody except the extreme right that’s worried about the influence of radical Islam.
    Search Little Green Footballs for ‘Wilders’ to get a lot of discussion about this.