February 21, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
We’re going to have to get used to this, you know. We may find, over the next year or two, that it all gets rather predictable. In each country in Europe, an Islamist attempts to kill as many people as possible connected with free speech that they don’t like and then walks to the nearest place they can find Jews and tries to kill as many of them as possible too. Obviously, I hope this doesn’t happen, but, especially when it is a ‘lone wolf’ attack like the one in Denmark over the weekend, there isn’t much the police or intelligence service can do about it. Well, I say that, but I don’t mean it. There is plenty they can do, but much of that are not things we would accept in our liberal democracy and some of that might actually worsen the problem.
Melanie Phillips is not my favourite polemicist, being to me as extreme as George Galloway (if not more), and similarly unable to see another point of view on issues regarding Jews, Islam and various other right-wing positions. But she has written something rather interesting this week that at least made me think about the angle from which she comes.
Phillips takes a look at Omar El-Hussein’s actions in spraying bullets into a meeting on free speech attended by a Swedish man who had once drawn a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad as a dog before walking to the nearest synagogue and shooting dead the Jewish Security guard who challenged him there before being chased off. She argues that these attacks are not about the boundaries between free speech and giving offence. She excoriates the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf for opining that those who insult Islam are responsible for any explosive consequences. She then argues that “this is a war being waged to conquer the free world for Islam.”
Having said that, she then suggests that we are on the position we are now, with it being almost certain that a similar attack will happen in the UK, because the security services made a calculation a few years ago that the way to stop them, by, for example, searching mosques for weapons, would cause so much violence in response that community outreach would be better.
This reminds Phillips of the line taken by Conservative Home Secretary in 1971, Reginald Maudlin, who, having been given responsibility for tackling the Troubles in Northern Ireland, said that he would “settle for an acceptable level of IRA Terrorist violence.” This, aimed at not provoking further IRA violence, instead, according to Phillips, encouraged further violence, because they thought the Government would have to surrender to that violence. Phillips feels that the lack of any desire to take strong action against the Islamic threat is simply encouraging further attacks, as successful terrorist atrocities makes a Jihadis think a wider victory is within reach, and the lack of any type of fierce response brings closer a feeling that abject surrender is nigh. Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is attracting so many young people from around the world precisely because there is so little chance of a coordinated international response to them actually materialising.
This all began, according to Phillips, with the response of the UK government to the fatwa issued against the author Salman Rushdie for his writing of the book “The Satanic Verses” in 1989. Not a single person who endorsed his potential murder was prosecuted. It was the 25th anniversary of this affair that was being commemorated in the Copenhagen meeting on free speech that was attacked. Both ended up being not about free speech, but about, Phillips insists, “a religiously-based attack on a society that showed it didn’t even understand the threat.”
Which is why, Phillips concludes, it is a big mistake for world leaders such as David Cameron, Francois Hollande and Barack Obama to claim that Islamic terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. Far from helping to keep the peace, she says, it instead “fans the flames of Jihad.”
This is why Phillips supports Egypt’s President Sisi’s assertion that an Islamic reformation is needed, because it seems unthinkable to him that 1.6 billion people want to kill the other 5.5 billion people in the world. How can you solve Islamist terrorism if you can’t have the option of reforming the religion that it claims to stem from and represent? Phillips thinks this reform is the only way to keep terror from becoming unacceptable, and reform will start by correctly naming the threat we face.
The (barely) unwritten central thesis of Phillips’ writing (and the writings of fellow politically-aligned Douglas Murray) is that even if Israel ceased to exist, there wasn’t a single foreign soldier in any Muslim land, and not a shred of Islamophobia shown anywhere in the world, the problem of Islamists wanting us all to live under Sharia law in a global Caliphate would still be there. The problem isn’t how everyone treats Muslims, but that everyone isn’t Muslim.
I would hope that Melanie Phillips is wrong, but I do know that something has to be done differently from what is happening now. This is personal for me, because every few months I stand on security at the gates of my synagogue. Therefore, Je suis Dan Uzan (the man shot at the synagogue in Denmark). But remember, I would therefore be a victim of the second part of the attack. The first part would be on free speech, and that could be anybody.