Melanie Phillips in her column in The Times today argues “It’s pure myth that Islam is ‘a religion of peace” because, she asserts, “Islam has a history of violent conquest.”
Phillips criticises the PM, David Cameron, saying he “regrettably regressed to claiming once again that this was “not in the name of Islam” which was “a religion of peace”. This is utterly ludicrous. Islam has a history of violent conquest.”
She goes on to argue that ISIL “subscribes to the fanatical Salafi school of Islam dating from the 13th century [and which] is motivated by the desire to return to core Islamic doctrine and example. Its belief in the caliphate and the imminent global apocalypse, as well as its ghastly beheadings and crucifixions, are all drawn from Islamic religious texts.”
Phillips does not, of course, elucidate the “Islamic religious texts” on which she bases her assertions nor does she tease out the causal relationship she claims to exist between Salafi practice and a “belief in the caliphate and the imminent global apocalypse”. Absent is the nuanced understanding of Salafi movements and their contribution to counter-terrorism initiatives as detailed in research by Dr Bob Lambert and based on his time heading the Muslim Contact Unit at the Metropolitan Police after the London bombings in 2005.
No, instead Phillips repeats dubious research by the, as formerly known, Centre for Social Cohesion about “Opinion polls suggest[ing] that no fewer than one third of British Muslim students support the notion of a caliphate — a global empire based on sharia, in which all Muslims owe total allegiance to the caliph; a similar shocking number support killing to defend, promote or preserve religion.”
In fact, the question posed to Muslim students in the online survey conducted by YouGov in 2008 stated the following:
How supportive if at all would you be of the introduction of a worldwide Caliphate based on Shari’ah Law?
Very supportive 15
Fairly supportive 18
Not very supportive 12
Not at all supportive 13
Not sure 41
Is it ever justifiable to kill in the name of religion?
Yes in order to preserve and promote that religion 4
Yes but only if that religion is under attack 28
No it is never justifiable 53
Not sure 15
As to the “shocking number [who] support killing to defend, promote or preserve religion,” it is clear from the answer options that students were not answering in relation to “Islam” but in response to a generic question about “religion”. It is also clear that the responses refer to a religion being “under attack” which is not the same as saying they “support killing to defend, promote or preserve religion.”
Moreover, the survey does not offer further details about what students may understand from religion being “under attack”.
Spinwatch in the report Cold War on British Muslims focus on the misrepresentation of the survey findings stating:
“The findings, as presented, make it impossible to tell how far the support for religious violence the study found correlates with Islam specifically, rather than with religious adherence generally. We are not told what percentage of Christian, Jewish, other religious or non-religious students believe religious violence is acceptable.”
But Phillips’ quotes from the survey, disregarding caveats and nuances, for a purpose. She states, “It is not for us non-Muslims to say which interpretation is the true Islam. Our task is instead not just to destroy those carrying out these terrible deeds but also to defeat the beliefs that motivate them.”
She goes on to support “reform” saying those who claim “Islam is a religion of peace” undermine reform “For if there is nothing wrong with Islam, it follows there is no need to reform it.”
Mehdi Hasan in a guest column some weeks ago gave a cogent response to those who forever lament the absence of a Muslim “Luther”.
As for the general thrust of Phillips’ column, that Islam is a peculiarly violent religion, one is reminded of the blog by Professor Juan Cole on religions and terrorism in which he notes, “It takes a peculiar sort of blindness to see Christians of European heritage as “nice” and Muslims as inherently violent.
“Terrorism is a tactic of extremists within each religion, and within secular religions of Marxism or nationalism. No religion, including Islam, preaches indiscriminate violence against innocents.”
As Giles Fraser put it in a column in yesterday’s Observer, “Yes, the language of violent jihad may borrow its vocabulary from Islamic theology – it’s a useful marker of shared identity – but root motivation is as it always is: politics.”
If there’s one thing missing from Phillips’ analysis, it’s the consideration of politics as a causal factor in radicalisation.