by Simon Cottee
Friday, 19
November 2021
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08:10

Our ritual response to Islamist terror

Why is the first step always to genuflect before the Muslim community?
by Simon Cottee

Our responses to terrorist incidents have a ritual quality — they serve what sociologists call a “sense-making” purpose.

One ritualised way of responding to an atrocity is to blame and punish the terrorist’s family and the wider community to which he belongs. We wisely try to avoid this — as well as being counter to our belief in individual responsibility, punitive revenge is usually counterproductive.

Western societies still seem to go down this path if the perpetrator is a right wing white male. Thus when Brenton Tarrant, an Australian Right-wing extremist, murdered 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019, the dominant media narrative was that Tarrant was part of a deeper reservoir of hatred and toxicity that runs through the institutions and culture of his class. Omer Aziz, writing in The New York Times, even sought to suggest that Sam Harris and Jordan Peterson were somehow part of the causal story of the massacre.

In the case of Islamist terror attacks however, our official response is even more convoluted and morally unclear: we condemn the perpetrator and his actions, but we cower before the community from which he comes.

Emad al Swealmeen carried out his attack on Sunday at around 11am, and it didn’t take long for the ritual to commence. On Monday, Merseyside Police (South Liverpool) tweeted out the following message: “Our community policing team has been out today visiting local leaders and faith groups to reassure them of our presence on the streets following the incident outside @LiverpoolWomens. We’re looking forward to visiting other places of worship across the religious spectrum soon.” You could be forgiven for thinking that Swealmeen had attacked a place of worship instead of detonating an explosive device outside a woman’s hospital.

A day later, The Guardian published a story in which Malcom Hitchcott, who, with his wife, had taken in Swealmeen after his conversion to Christianity, was quoted as saying that Swealmeen was “a quiet fellow”, who “impressed” him with the “depth of his prayers” and “knowledge of the bible”. In the same report, Cyril Ashton, a Church of England bishop who held confirmation for Swealmeen in 2017, lamented that despite his grounding in the Christian faith, “the bomber chose a different path for his life”, as though he was some lost soul who ended up in bad company with a drug habit, instead of someone who had spent months coldly planning to murder people in a vehicular bombing attack. This isn’t quite like saying he was a “beautiful young man” (as Cage’s Asim Qureshi evocatively described Mohammed Emwazi, who cut off people’s heads on camera for the greater glory of the Islamic State), but it’s not far off. 

You wouldn’t have caught anyone of any importance saying that Brenton Tarrant took “the wrong path”. I do remember lots of anguished articles saying, in effect, that he was so toxic that we shouldn’t even utter his name, as if by doing so we would contaminate ourselves, and a lot of talk about the global spread of white supremacy and how legions of young white men were at risk of being radicalised by Pepe the frog memes. Also absent were official visits to poor and marginalised white communities by police officers on a mission to reassure them that they’ve got their backs, and that they know that white supremacy is a perversion of mainstream white identity. 

Our response to Islamist terrorism has become so fearful that the police can’t even bring themselves to name the ideology of the terrorists. Senior members of the Metropolitan police last year considered abstaining from using the term “Islamist” when describing terror attacks carried out by self-proclaimed jihadists acting in the name of Islam. (Proposed alternatives included “faith-claimed terrorism” and the less catchy “terrorists abusing religious motivations”.)

Of course the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding, but to deny that a tiny number among them who commit terrorist atrocities are not Muslims or were not motivated by their Islamic beliefs as they interpreted them, is delusion. It is also the height of hypocrisy to try to normalise some terrorists and not others, according to their ethnic identity or faith.

Simon Cottee is a senior lecturer in criminology at the University of Kent.

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Andrew D
Andrew D
10 months ago

When are we going to hear the denunciations of violence from ‘the vast majority of peaceful and law-abiding Muslims’? When will we see them marching in the streets chanting ‘not in my name’?

Last edited 10 months ago by Andrew D
D Glover
D Glover
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Following the appalling death of Englishman Alexander Monson at the hands of the Kenyan police, are we going to see demonstrators insisting that ‘White Lives Matter’?

RJ Kent
RJ Kent
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Never. Not least because a significant proportion of British Muslims agree with violent action towards Islamist ideals here and abroad and contribute financially towards it.

James Joyce
James Joyce
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

We won’t. Don’t hold your breath.
It’s not hard to imagine that some large % secretly admires these individual actions against a society many hate but are happy to benefit from.

L Walker
L Walker
10 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

I no longer believe the vast majority of Muslims don’t support the jihadists. Look at Rotherham for how they really feel about their adopted country.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Do you loudly and publicly condemn Islamists? Perhaps most Muslims, like most others, are a bit scared to do so.

L Walker
L Walker
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

I don’t believe they’re afraid, they think it’s great.

L Walker
L Walker
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

The 12th of never.

Paddy Taylor
Paddy Taylor
10 months ago

We must stop tip-toeing around this issue. Politicians and Policemen insisting “Islam is a religion of Peace” and pretending such attacks have “nothing to do with Islam” is quite demonstrably a dangerous fantasy.
Since the threat of Islamist terror came to our shores, Govts of Western liberal democracies have tried to ignore the fact that these jihadis explicitly commit atrocities in the name of their faith. The state seems reluctant to admit this obvious fact for fear of upsetting Muslim communities. Obviously, the vast majority of Muslims do not condone such atrocities, though it is a real problem so many seem reluctant to condemn their co-religionists publicly.
It pains the ‘progressive’ left to admit such a thing but “Western Liberal Values” are demonstrably better for the people that live under them, than the various other ideologies and regimes elsewhere in the world. The West has lost the confidence to demonstrate to the rest of the world that our values, our laws and our tolerance lead to better outcomes.
There are plenty of people who have concerns that mainstream Muslim opinion on a number of issues is categorically at odds with what the rest of us might deem basic, Western liberal values – but it is an extraordinary leap to go from that evident and demonstrable truth to get to the idea that any such criticism thus constitutes “Islamophobia”. Yet the fear of being labelled such, helped on by useful idiots in the media and our national institutions, means society pretends not to notice what is happening before our eyes. 
Not being free to discuss that point is, itself, a real problem and only provides cover in which Islamic extremism can flourish in our midst, unchallenged.

Iris C
Iris C
10 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

Many of our “Western liberal values” are at odds with the upbringing of most Muslims, eg. immodesty in dress and language; drunkenness described as “a good night out”; lack of respect for those in authority, abandonment of elderly relations to state care, etc.
An open debate would have to accept those differences

Andrew D
Andrew D
10 months ago
Reply to  Iris C

Many of us, not just Muslims, would regard those things as at odds with our upbringing. They certainly don’t represent my idea of ‘Western liberal values’, which are more to do with democracy, a free press, free speech and the rule of law (remember those?).

Last edited 10 months ago by Andrew D
Iris C
Iris C
10 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Yes, the state allows a free press and free speech (within limits) but the editors, producers and presenters who dominate media outlets censor submissions in order to reflect their personal viewpoints. This has been very apparent during the last eighteen months with the lack of debate surrounding Covid.
Unherd is the only media outlet I know which offers a wide debate on the many different subjects which affect out lives….

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
10 months ago
Reply to  Iris C

There was immodesty in dress, drunkenness, lack of respect for authority, abandonment, in Roman Holiday, that lovely Fifties movie starring Audrey Hepburn – but I wonder if it has ever been broadcast on Iranian or Saudi national television since the 60s or 70s.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  Paddy Taylor

The whole issue about whether Islam is a ‘religion of peace’ is a red herring in my mind. It probably isn’t, in any simple sense, but then neither is Christianity, at least if we are going to look at the latter’s long and bloody history. Plus people are quite willing to believe 5 contradictory things before breakfast and have complex motivations. Whether their religious beliefs are going to motivate them to commit violence or support it is quite another matter, and I would say that only a tiny percentage would do so.

We are talking rather about the modern (from about 100 years ago) phenomenon of political Islamism, which draws inspiration for its ideal society from the Quran and the supposed teachings of Muhammad. It was not originally violent but some took up violence especially after a lot of repression by governments in the Middle East, such as in Egypt.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
10 months ago

Of course the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding

Are you sure about that? ISTR a survey that showed something like a quarter of UK Muslims – which is over half a million – thought 9/11 justified.
Furthermore, Islam’s main text calls Jews pigs and monkeys, urges the oppression and enslavement of unbelievers and the murder of apostates, and approves the use of deceit of infidels for the ends of juihad.
Frankly, a Muslim who is “peaceful and law-abiding” has failed to understand the programme, which makes them bad Muslims.
The thought experiment here is to imagine if some murderous foreign death cult – the Aztecs, for example – still existed. Somewhere in South America, suppose there is an Aztec civilisation that rules countries and that murders children and its opponents generally to appease its gods. Followers of this cult then settle – unconverted – in their millions in the UK. Sure enough a number of them start murdering innocents over here, too, and a large minority of them agree the victims had it coming.
How would you go about accommodating such a population, why would you, and why is Islam different?

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Imagine if you had a group wishing to destroy local industries and energy supplies to appease the weather gods.
Never mind, couldn’t happen here.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
10 months ago

Thank god we’re more rational than that!

L Walker
L Walker
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Funny.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

see my comment above

Martin Adams
Martin Adams
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

An excellent analogy, which I shall remember, for use when I encounter the apologists at whom this strong article is directed.
Thank you!

Francis MacGabhann
Francis MacGabhann
10 months ago

There’s really no mystery with this one. It’s quite simple. People on the left are inherently, irredeemably, ineradicably racist. They will not denounce Islamic terrorism because most Muslims are members of ethnic minorities and as such, the left will not accord them the status of thinking human beings with agency and, therefore, with responsibility. Put quite straightforwardly, the left doesn’t expect the same standard of humanity from them as they do from white Europeans, Americans and Australians.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
10 months ago

A very good point, Mr MacGabhann, and a point that I have made to acquaintances only to be “knocked down”. It is infantilising to tell people that the same standards are not expected of them; its the equivalent of saying “there, there, don’t you worry your pretty little head about this”

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
10 months ago

I think that the idea we are all supposed to follow is that this is a generational problem.

Older people, especially educated people, see the ‘truth – A massacres B so A must be bad.

Younger people (including the 40-somethings who want to pretend to be young) see a different picture. A massacres B so we must not have treated A correctly in the past.

So older people have to be ‘corrected’ so that their thought processes are purified. This purification has another name – wokeification.

George Glashan
George Glashan
10 months ago

the Guardian predictably have taken the side of the real victims in all of this, illegal-immigrant, bomb making Muslim men who are being oppressed by Liverpool mothers and their new borns.
Viva La Revolution, bomb the Bourgeoisie babies in their cots!!!

Last edited 10 months ago by George Glashan
George Glashan
George Glashan
10 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

which is some gallows humour as this is such a depressing and predictable subject, glad SIMON COTTEE and the comminity here can see that all is not right.

Last edited 10 months ago by George Glashan
George Glashan
George Glashan
10 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

thought i better end on a positive as this event really got to me, women and children were the target ffs, and still the usual media suspects give them cover. Anyway…
In 2007 some would be deflower’ers of 72 virgins fumbled a car bomb attack at Glasgow airport, all the would be jihadist martyrs were beaten to death whilst burning by average Glaswegians passing through the airport, before the police or ambulances could arrive an stop justice being done.

gillian.johnstone
gillian.johnstone
10 months ago
Reply to  George Glashan

A baggage handler, John Smeaton. was one of the heroes of that day, whose words to journalists were “This is Glasgow, we won’t accept this, we’ll set aboot ye”. Worth mentioning that the terrorists in this attack were both doctors. Glasgow doesn’t really do “woke”.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
10 months ago

Purely thinking aloud here: if Muslims in western countries actually were regularly attacked, would that definitely be bad?
Might the saner ones not persuade the loons that being a loon gets all of them attacked?
At present there are no consequences to Muslims in general from harbouring murderous nutters, or from constructively abetting their crimes through their silence. None at all. Maybe there need to be?

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Answer to your first question – yes it would be a bad thing. It is grossly immoral to harm innocent people as a deterent to others; this is what the Nazis did in occupied counties to deter resistance.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
10 months ago

It’s certainly immoral – but what if it’s effective?
If a few retaliatory attacks on Muslims actually had the effect of preventing worse attacks by Muslims, would it still be immoral? Wouldn’t it be more immoral to tolerate the worse casualties?
It’s akin to the Hiroshima conundrum. Is it immoral to kill 200,000 civilians with one bomb if by doing so you save the lives of a million conscripted civilians?
What’s interesting about Islamist terrorists is that with very few exceptions (actually none that I can remember), they are never turned in by their families before they can do harm. Either their families don’t know what’s going on under the same roof, or they know but their loyalty to Jamal overrides any concern for Jamal’s intended victims.
Well, maybe if Jamal’s actions brought unpleasant personal consequences to themselves, they’d think again. I wonder.

Last edited 10 months ago by Jon Redman
chris sullivan
chris sullivan
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

very useful piece of info thanks

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Interesting to ponder the reverse scenario – ie if ‘my’ minority people were behaving badly in a country I wanted to spend the rest of my life in – I am damn sure I would be contributing to closing those ratbags down !!

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Maybe it would also be effective in preventing attacks on, for example, gays or Jewish people; just pick a few random straights or Gentiles and execute them. Who knows it might be effective.

I do take your point about turning people in before they do harm, if this were done it might(?) be possible to do something about it thus avoiding prison sentences for your loved-ones. I do, however, understand not turning in a son (or daughter) who has committed a crime to perhaps his serving a long prison sentence – I’m not saying it’s right (I hope I would have the courage) but I do understand. Of course there are unpleasant consequences for those who are accessories before or after the fact.

L Walker
L Walker
10 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

People don’t read history, so when some fool tells them the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombings were immoral, they believe it. In the short run, more Japanese lives were saved thanks to those two bombs.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
10 months ago

The bracketing of the mass-murderer Tarrant , self-described “eco-fascist” , with everyone from Scott Morrison to Jordan Peterson was a vile act of political opportunism by the Guardian/NYT sphere. They quickly leapt from blaming “right wing extremism” to “conservative political rhetoric” as if it were all one and the same e.g: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/five-questions-about-christchurch-attack
Why not throw in the misanthropic green parties and activists of the world, with whom he had plenty in common?
Why did they portray the Christchurch mosque as a randomly selected peaceful place of worship, hinting that it was chosen perhaps because of NZ’s comparatively lax gun laws, when it had already been in the news not too long before the massacres as an alleged supplier of radicals to Al-Qaeda?

natalie mckenna
natalie mckenna
10 months ago

I remember after 7/7 a senior police officer – Brian Paddick, if memory serves – announcing that the attack on commuters had been perpetrated by ‘people of no religion’.
I’ve never seen this referred back to. But it was an egregious slur against the invisible bulk of people in this country who are of no religion – a price worth paying, it seemed, to avoid the minimal effort of decoupling violent salafist ideology from the religion followed by most British Muslims.

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
10 months ago

You say that we “wisely” try to avoid blaming and punishing the terrorist’s wider community. Those readers old enough to have been around during the height of the cold war might recall that whenever a Soviet spy ring was uncovered, an appropriate number of Soviet diplomats were expelled, regardless of whether or not each expelled diplomat was directly involved in the espionage. Nobody bleated about the human rights of expelled diplomats being infringed.
We really must start to adopt a similar approach in response to terrorist attacks. Where there is evidence that individuals are a potential danger and nationality can be withdrawn, an appropriate number of expulsions of known radicals in response to a terrorist act seems would be very acceptable, as far as I am concerned..

natalie mckenna
natalie mckenna
10 months ago

I think it was ‘considered’ insofar as a Muslim police organisation requested it be considered. That request apparently cited a paper by a university lecturer and former police officer objecting to any association with Islam. Objections are partly based on a general lack of understanding of the distinction between political Islam and Islam – and between violent Islamism and non-violent Islamism. Yet the more authorities ignore rather than explain that distinction, the more people will associate Islamist violence with the general practice of Islam.
The phrase “violent jihadism” is a reasonable reflection of the ideology professed by most offenders. Who, of course, simply refer to themselves as ‘Muslims’ – in part to co-opt all believers. As that Times article points out, there is a huge dissonance in ignoring the extreme religiosity professed by most Islamist terrorists. We did not shrink from referring to the Irish Republican Army lest all Irish be tainted (or all Republicans) – indeed, IRA violence was and continues to be referred to as “Irish terrorism” to distinguish it from the Islamist variety. ‘Islamist’ itself is a step back from the equivalent term, which would be “Islamic terrorism”.

Claire D
Claire D
10 months ago

Sadly I think the authorities view terrorist atrocities as regrettable collateral damage in our multicultural country. I hope they do all they can to minimise the danger but realistically it’s going to be decades, at least, before it runs out of steam. Perhaps the aim of the ‘never blame Islam’ outright idea is part of the strategy to minimise the danger, but there is a crossover with Leftist aims to demonise anything remotely Right wing, and so the more vocal and hostile Left wing make use of the strategy for their own political ends.

Last edited 10 months ago by Claire D
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
10 months ago

This happens because it is mostly people of non-British descent who control the levers of power.

A Muslim friend of mine warned me years ago that the whole world hates the West and would love to see us subjugated. I thought he was exaggerating, but now I’m not so sure.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
10 months ago

Is there anyone out there in Unherdland who can say, “I am a Muslim and I think……”

Vijay Kant
Vijay Kant
10 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

This is unlikely to happen as all thinking Muslims are fearful of their unthinking brothers. The mob mentality rules Islam; and as such you need a bigger mob to control the unthinking brothers. It is not for no reason that a stable Islamic country is only possible under a dictatorship.

Last edited 10 months ago by Vijay Kant
George Glashan
George Glashan
10 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I’m considering conversion, my son will be going to school soon, the first time a teacher makes noises along the lines of they think my son should be a girl, i will flatty tell them that Allah does not allow it. If its good enough for the Muslim parents of Batley Grammar School then its good enough for me.

Last edited 10 months ago by George Glashan
Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
10 months ago

Labour is still desperate to keep the Muslim vote – the reason for turning a blind eye to decades of rape of underage and vulnerable girls.
Then there is the role that Muslim prisoners will play in establishing the totalitarian socialist state. Any political prisoner will have his or her life threatened in prison by Muslim lifers.

Jim Cooper
Jim Cooper
10 months ago

Has anybody out there ANY IDEA of the extent of the “right wing” threat? Are there any NUMBERS available?

L Walker
L Walker
10 months ago
Reply to  Jim Cooper

Yeah, it’s very, very low imo.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
10 months ago

This is such a weird one. He’s an Iraqi who converted to Christianity, by all accounts seems to have been sincere, was refused asylum 7 years ago(!) and now that he’s blown himself up everyone’s decided he was secretly a Muslim all along, BUT the news reports have had his smiling face plastered all over them, in stark contrast to every Islamist since about 2010, e.g. the murderer of David Amess, haven’t seen a single photo of him, and his conversion’s been heavily emphasised (one of the photos that kept being shown was of him in a church standing next to a Bishop with everyone smiling).
The only phrase I can think of that does justice to the weirdness of the coverage is ‘Schrödinger’s Muslim.’

thewaskwywabbit
thewaskwywabbit
10 months ago

Conversion as taqiya

John Lee
John Lee
10 months ago

“Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist is a Muslim”.
Until every Imam in Britain understands that with every bombing this becomes more and more the prevalent view in the country then there will never be good relationships throughout the community.
It is time for those in the Muslim community in this country to decide whether they want peace or not and if they do, then start turning in those they know to be a danger.

Arnold Grutt
Arnold Grutt
10 months ago

“Of course the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding, but to deny that a tiny number among them who commit terrorist atrocities are not Muslims or were not motivated by their Islamic beliefs as they interpreted them, is delusion.”

This sentence appears to carry a different meaning from that intended, I would say. In my view ‘deny’ should have read ‘claim’ judging by the rest of the article.

Last edited 10 months ago by Arnold Grutt
Keith Merrick
Keith Merrick
10 months ago

Very good piece. It’s a relief that more people are starting to say what Douglas Murray was saying over a decade ago.