Those who have read this blog over the last few weeks - or indeed, before that, during the "Golden Age" - will likely already have guessed my take on David Cameron's anti-terror speech in Birmingham today, but regardless, I feel it necessary to briefly share a few thoughts on what we heard. The speech can be read in full here.
Say what you will about Dave, but he does seem to have a firmer grasp than any other Western leader of the weaknesses of the term "moderate" when it comes to describing those in the Muslim community. It's something that I've come across regularly over the years. In short, there seems to be a very simplistic dichotomy in the minds of the political class, as well of those of many ordinary folk, between what is perceived to be an extremist, and what is perceived to be a moderate: those Muslims who are killing people, or calling for people to be killed, are the extremists; those who aren't killing people are the moderates.
The Prime Minster doesn't accept this, and neither do I. In his speech, he commented:
But you don’t have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish. Ideas which are hostile to basic liberal values such as democracy, freedom and sexual equality. Ideas which actively promote discrimination, sectarianism and segregation. Ideas...which privilege one identity to the detriment of the rights and freedoms of others.
And ideas also based on conspiracy: that Jews exercise malevolent power; or that Western powers, in concert with Israel, are deliberately humiliating Muslims, because they aim to destroy Islam. In this warped worldview, such conclusions are reached, that 9/11 was actually inspired by Mossad to provoke the invasion of Afghanistan, that British security services knew about 7/7, but didn’t do anything about it because they wanted to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash.
And like so many ideologies that have existed before – whether fascist or communist – many people, especially young people, are being drawn to it.
To say that this ideology resembles fascism and communism is an especially impressive observation.
I also liked the section where Cameron discredits the various tired "explanations" given for Islamic violence, which hinge on blaming Western foreign policy or poverty, and denying the religious element:
Some argue it’s because of historic injustices and recent wars, or because of poverty and hardship. This argument, what I call the grievance justification, must be challenged.
So when people say “it’s because of the involvement in the Iraq War that people are attacking the West”, we should remind them: 9/11 – the biggest loss of life of British citizens in a terrorist attack – happened before the Iraq War.
When they say that these are wronged Muslims getting revenge on their Western wrongdoers, let’s remind them: from Kosovo to Somalia, countries like Britain have stepped in to save Muslim people from massacres...
Now others might say: it’s because terrorists are driven to their actions by poverty. But that ignores the fact that many of these terrorists have had the full advantages of prosperous families or a Western university education...
No – we must be clear: The root cause of the threat we face is the extremist ideology itself.
His defence - and delineation - of Western values, and why we must stand up for them, is also pretty good.
There is, of course, a big "but".
As he has done before, the PM is quick to affirm that "It cannot be said clearly enough: this extremist ideology is not true Islam. I have said it myself many, many times, and it’s absolutely right to do so. And I’ll say it again today." Thus, when he later calls on us to encourage Islamic reformers, it is more than likely that he will rely on alliances not with those few brave souls who genuinely admit that Islam has a problem, and that it needs to be resolved by going back to the foundational texts and moving away from Qur'anic literalism and the emulation of the example of Muhammad (a terrible role model for any human being), but with those Muslim "moderates" who deny that there is any problem within traditional Islamic thought, and call everyone who says otherwise an Islamophobe.
That cannot be conducive to real reform.
There is also a strange zeal in the speech to constantly harp on about the "far-right", who Cameron variously describes as "despicable" and "poisonous". Even in this speech about solutions to Islamic radicalism, he can't help bringing them up, and accusing them of wanting to blow up mosques. But who are they?
The Prime Minister defines them as those who "try to suggest that there is some kind of secret Muslim conspiracy to take over our Government, or that Islam and Britain are somehow incompatible."
Where are these people? Who is making these arguments (the first in particular)? What relevance do they have? For it seems to me that if anyone is actually saying these things, it is only because Muslims have articulated them time and again throughout Europe and America, and the "far-right" are just noticing that fact. Why "stand up" to these "false" views when, if we stood up more effectively against the Muslims who utter them in the first place, they would likely evanesce?
Then there is Dave's attempts to explain why Muslims are drawn to this ideology, which do not really explain anything at all.
There is also the question of identity.
For all our successes as multi-racial, multi-faith democracy, we have to confront a tragic truth that there are people born and raised in this country, who don’t really identify with Britain – and who feel little or no attachment to other people here. Indeed, there is a danger in some of our communities that you can go your whole life and have little to do with people from other faiths and backgrounds.
So when groups like ISIL seek to rally our young people to their poisonous cause, it can offer them a sense of belonging that they can lack here at home, leaving them more susceptible to radicalisation and even violence against other British people to whom they feel no real allegiance.
All well and good, but WHY don't these "people" (Methodists? Hindus? Hari Krishnas?) feel any sense of belonging with Britain? Islam teaches brotherhood with other faiths and adherence to the laws of the land in your host country, doesn't it? And all mosques in Britain teach that Muslims must integrate into the societies they call home, don't they?
Cameron doesn't have an answer to these questions precisely because he refuses to understand Islam, and its innate hostility to non-Muslims, and its refusal to accept any code of law other than its own. And so, he spins in circles trying to grasp at explanations that disipate in the wind between his fingers.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So as per usual with Dave, it's Some Good, Some Bad. But I think there is a deeper issue here.
Whatever he says that is good, and coherent, and valuable, I simply don't believe him.
David Cameron is a soundbite Prime Minister. He talks tough, but he does not follow through and deliver on his promises. He promised to reduce net migration to Britain to tens of thousands, but it surged under his leadership to over 300,000.
He claimed that his tough talking had pursuaded the EU not to force us to pay bailout money to Greece, but it looks like we're going to have to pay it anyway.
He used his speech today to blast "extremist" Islamic causes that he and his government have supported in the past.
He has criticised sharia law, while simultaneously championing those who support it in the Islamic world.
Some of what Cameron said today was impressive. But it was just a speech. He won't do many of the things he says he will, and most of the things he does carry through will fail at halting the Islamic terror threat.
Islamic jihad has plagued the world for over 1400 years. David Cameron is deluded if he thinks that - with his pretty words - he's going to defeat it in the next five.