Far-right insults to Islam, and demands for crackdowns, help drive a wedge between Muslims and the Western societies they live in.
If you want to defeat ISIS, listen to former ISIS hostage Nicolas Henin. The group is “heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia … [and] drawn to any examples of ugliness on social media,” the French journalist wrote in November 2015 in the wake of the Paris attacks. “Central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned towards finding supporting evidence.”
Get that? Islamophobia plays right into the hands of ISIS. Wittingly or unwittingly, anti-Muslim bigots have become recruiting sergeants for a group they profess to hate and claim to want to destroy. The Islamophobes, to borrow a line from Lenin, are ISIS’s useful idiots.
Consider their reaction to the latest terrorist atrocity: Monday’s suicide bombing at a concert hall in Manchester, England, which killed 22 people, including an 8-year-old girl. Could ISIS, which claimed the horrific attack, have asked for a better response from its useful idiots on the British right?
MailOnline columnist and talk radio host Katie Hopkins — you might call her the U.K.’s Ann Coulter, except with a much lower IQ — has a long history of demonizing Muslims and took to Twitter in the hours after the bombing to demand a “final solution” (she later deleted her Nazi-esque tweet after being reported to the police). Hopkins, who once called Islam “the problem” because it is a “backward religion,” also tweeted that “Western men” should: “Stand up. Rise Up. Demand Action.”
Allison Pearson, a columnist with Britain’s biggest-selling broadsheet newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, who has in the past described Muslim immigrants as coming from “some backward culture,” chimed in too. “We need a State of Emergency as France has,” she tweeted in response to the Manchester massacre. “We need internment of thousands of terror suspects now to protect our children.” Innocent until proven guilty? Please.
Then there is Tommy Robinson, former leader of the far-right English Defence League (think of a British Richard Spencer but, again, with a lesser intellect and a long history of criminality and violence). Robinson arrived in Manchester on Tuesday to accuse British Muslim residents of that city of being “enemy combatants.” They want to “kill you, maim you and destroy you,” he told his YouTube audience of fellow far-right bigots.
You can almost hear them cheering in Raqqa. ISIS wants to drive a wedge between Muslim communities and wider Western society; it wants to pit Muslims against non-Muslims. Nor is this a secret: The group’s leaders have admitted as much in their own publications. More than two years ago, in February 2015, the ISIS online magazine, Dabiq, made clear that one of the main goals of the group’s brutal attacks in the West was to destroy the “gray zone” — of peaceful co-existence between Muslims and non-Muslims — and provoke a backlash. “The Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize and adopt the [infidel] religion … or they … [emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.”
This ISIS grand plan has always required the (perhaps unwitting) support of the group’s useful idiots in the West, the Islamophobes, whose harsh rhetoric and actions help drive marginalized and alienated Muslims into the wide open arms of the jihadists.
The purveyors of anti-Muslim hatred are, of course, unwilling to admit to the central role that they play in the radicalization process. “The terrorists couldn’t give a stuff what I tweet or write or say,” insisted Hopkins in her MailOnline column the day after the Manchester bombing. “They couldn’t care less if we stand divided or pretend to be united.”
If only that were true. Forget Dabiq. Consider instead what Arie Kruglanski, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland who studies radicalization, said after the Paris attacks in November 2015. A growing climate of Islamophobia is what ISIS is “aiming for — to provoke communities to commit actions against Muslims,” he told the Washington Post. “Then ISIS will be able to say, ‘I told you so. These are your enemies, and the enemies of Islam.’”
Another psychology professor who studies Muslim extremists, Jocelyn Bélanger of the University of Quebec in Montreal, agrees. “When people feel a loss of significance — when they are humiliated — that propels them to join a radical group,” he told the Post.
The Islamophobes see themselves as politically incorrect truth-tellers; as bold and blunt opponents of the radicals and the extremists. The reality is that they are the accomplices, the unpaid agents, of those very same radicals and extremists. Every terrorist needs a Katie Hopkins. It is one of the great ironies of our time — those who shout loudest about the threat posed by ISIS are often the biggest propagandists for ISIS.
As my colleague Murtaza Hussain has observed, it is “perverse and counterproductive to lump [the West’s Muslims] together with ISIS and blame them for the group’s actions.” To do so is to “grant the Islamic State a propaganda coup, implicitly endorsing the group’s narrative of Muslims and Westerners collectively at war with one another.”
When ISIS claims that it represents “true” Islam, or depicts Islam as a violent religion, or suggests Western Muslims owe their loyalties to the group and not to the West, the Islamophobes fall over one another to endorse each and every one of these points. Shamefully, the latter don’t pay any attention, for example, to the Muslim cab drivers who ferried survivors home from the Manchester Arena for free, or to the Muslim hospital doctors who worked through the night to treat the wounded. That there must have been young Muslim fans of Ariana Grande who also happened to be attending her concert in Manchester on Monday night when the bomb exploded is perhaps also beyond their comprehension.
The fact of the matter is that ISIS wants to sow division and discord in Western societies, and its useful idiots in the West are only too happy to help it do so. “Cohesion, tolerance — it is not what [ISIS members] want to see,” pointed out former hostage Henin back in 2015. “What they fear,” he concluded, “is unity.”
We should let science and evidence prevail while recognizing that science, like other disciplines, is shaped by competing interests.