One week ago, a series of terrorist attacks by ISIS-linked jihadist took place in Paris, with more than 130 casualties and scores more being injured. In the wake of these attacks, media commentators and pundits have debated, analysed and discussed the event at great length. Unsurprisingly, much of the commentary relating to the Paris attacks has been partisan and lacking in nuance.
For instance, many commentators on the Right, as well as conservative politicians, have used the attacks to denounce Islam as a whole, as well as to voice opposition to accommodating Syrian refugees. This is despite the fact that all of the jihadists in last weeks’ attacks were born in Europe as opposed to having immigrated there from Syria or another Middle Eastern country. The opposition to Syrian refugees has been particularly pronounced among Republican presidential candidates. The most pronounced voice of opposition has been Donald Trump, who has gone so far as to float the idea of creating a database specifically for American Muslims. Such rhetoric, apart from being at odds with the American Constitution and its principles of religious freedom, is incendiary and ultimately not a realistic option in terms of ensuring security.
Many Progressive and left-leaning commentators, from the opposite angle, have also lacked nuance when discussing the attacks. Many commentators, under the goal of trying not to demonise all Muslims when addressing the terror attacks, have been unwilling to mention at all the link between Islam and the Islamist ideology being the attacks. Instead, these commentators, and even some world leaders such as Barack Obama, insist that the attacks have ‘Nothing to do with Islam’. The problem with this line of thinking, however, is that it distorts the uncomfortable truth of the matter, which is that Islam does ultimately have some link with the ideology behind the Paris terror attacks. Islam, of course, is the religion; Islamism on the other hand, is the desire to impose a version of Islam over society, contrary to the secular, liberal values that are the bedrock of Western civilization.
Progressive, left-leaning commentators and politicians, in their desire to appear compassionate and accommodating toward Muslims, have often neglected to acknowledge the realistic and appropriate questions and concerns in terms of security. The Paris attacks, after all, were one of the most deadly terror attacks against a Western nation since 9/11. In order to be able to deal with the threat of Islamist terror, these politicians will need to implement the necessary policy decisions, even if this means the occasional compromise of freedom. A secure state, after all, is a traditional liberal principle, even if this often goes forgotten or is under-valued by liberal-minded politicians in modern political discourse.
In the ongoing war against Islamist extremism, it is imperative that free discussion and debate of this ideology can occur in order to intellectually combat it. By creating an environment of free speech and debate around these issues, alternative visions and interpretations can be heard and can counter an extremist, Islamist interpretation of the Muslim religion. It is equally important that the distinction between Islamism and the religion of Islam is clear and distinct, in order to ensure that Muslims are not uniformly blamed for Islamist terror attacks. A balanced response, which does not shy away from the necessary, uncomfortable debate around Islamism’s influence in Western societies but also does not over-react and inadvertently divide Western society between Muslim and non-Muslim lines is necessary.