One of the most remarkable commentaries on Salman Abedi’s terrorist attack in Manchester came from Shashank Joshi, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank: “It’s very well known that misogyny is deeply rooted in the radical Islamist worldview,” said Joshi (quoted in the Washington Post, May 23, 2017). The terrorism expert thinks that it is no coincidence that on the stage was Ariana Grande, the 23-year-old U.S. megastar whose lyrics champion female power. Grande presents herself as “Dangerous Woman” and one of her greatest hits is “Don’t need permission.” This is a clear reference to ideology as a motivating factor in terrorist attacks, something that is usually shunned in articles on terrorism in mainstream media. It is not impossible, though, that one of the consequences of Mr. Trump to the Middle East will  be a paradigm shift in the way we look at terrorism.

For the sake of clarity it may be helpful to distinguish between three approaches to contemporary terrorism.

The first position is the most extreme political incorrect one. This goes as follows: Islam is not a religion of peace, but a religion of war. Its prophet is a warlord, not some sort of Jesus-like Woodstock type. Islam has to be conquered the way communism was conquered. We need a “cold war” with Islam, as the murdered Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn (1948-2002) said fifteen years ago. In our time this position is defended by Robert Spencer in the USA, Anne-Marie Delcambre in France († 2016), Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and Oriana Fallaci in Italy († 2006). Among governing politicians it finds no support, at least not yet.

Not yet, because politicians like Wilders and Marine Le Pen do not represent the biggest factions in their countries, but they gain adherents every year, and they are now almost as big as the mainstream parties. So this can change in the years to come.

The second position is that of complete political correctness. An example of this is president Barack Obama’s Cairo Speech (2009). In his 2009 lecture, Obama called Al-Azhar a “beacon of Islamic scholarship and learning.”  That is nonsense, of course, because Al-Azhar is not a university in the American or European sense of the term. The point is: there is no such thing as free scientific research. Furthermore, Obama greeted his audience with “assalaamu alaykum,” on behalf of American Muslims. That is strange, because one of the most important principles underlying the American Constitution is the separation between Church and State. Being a president, one should not speak or act on  behalf of religious communities. Apart from that, Obama spoke about “the relationship between Islam and the West” – a curious topic because he should have acted as government leader of the USA, visiting a government leader of another nation-state, that is, Egypt. And Egypt does not only consist of Muslims, but of Coptic Christians too. Obama overlooked them, despite their need of his support.

Perhaps the most important difference between Trump and Obama is that Obama, in accordance with a long tradition within his administration, in Cairo talked about terrorists as “violent extremists,” who tried to misuse the tensions between different members of society. Obama does not only deny that terrorism has something to do with “Islam” (a religion), but he also denies that it has something to do with “Islamism” (an ideology seeking inspiration from the religion of Islam).

The debate between those who believe terrorists are simply extremely violent criminals (“violent extremists”) and those who think terrorists are inspired by a more or less coherent set of convictions (an ideology, Islamism) may seem trivial. But on second thought that is very important. Since Obama is convinced that terrorists are not an ideological threat, he can only combat terrorism through military means. Those, however, who believe that behind terrorism lies an ideology, will recognize its cultural and ideological challenge. We need some sort of cultural counter-jihad.

The interesting thing about Trump’s remarks is that, although not always consistent (which politician is?), they are pretty coherent on one specific point: Trump does refer to convictions, to a worldview. He speaks of “radical Islam,” “Islamic extremism,” and “Islamism.” Most commentators lump these together as “anti-Muslim rhetoric” or “anti-Islam” rhetoric, but Trump is not of that persuasion. Repeatedly Trump makes clear that his remarks are not about Muslims in general. He also says that he does not talk about Islam but that the talks about “Islamism,” which is an ideology.  In Saudi Arabia he remained loyal to that stance. He mentioned “Islamic extremism” and “Islamism” (although not reiterating his “radical Islamic terrorism,” the reason that most mainstream media concluded he had “toned down” his rhetoric). In fact he was pretty consistent with his previous positions.

With his new third way of approaching the topic of religiously motivated terrorism (or “theoterrorism,” as it is called by some) the American president might be an example for the rest of the world — and other political leaders may follow suit. President Obama’s “violent extremism” concept is clearly wanting. It cannot be denied that contemporary terrorists are motivated by an ideology, by a worldview, by a set of convictions, something most progressive liberal people are unable to see. We may call that ideology “Islamism.” This is not, as the authors of the first politically incorrect stance claim, identical with the religion, but it is also not completely separated from this, in the sense that terrorists use some elements of the religion and give these a new radicalized meaning. Once we know what the central tenets of this ideology are, we can start thinking about a strategy for cultural counterterrorism.

We are beginning to see some mainstream media cautiously refer to ideology. Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post, for instance, refers to the ideological component in the recent terrorist attack by saying that this week’s bombing in Manchester, England, was another gruesome reminder “that the threat from radical Islamist terrorism is ongoing.” And he continues with a report on how president Trump has given Saudi Arabia a free pass and a free hand in the region (“How Saudi Arabia played Donald Trump”, in: the Washington Post, May 25, 2017).

It is certainly correct that Mr. Trump could have been more severe to his Saudi hosts. But there is something at least as important and that is where the American president was in agreement with Joshi and also with Zakaria. The new American president referred to ideology, which was something of a taboo during the previous American administration. In Trump’s written speech we read: “That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires.”

It may well be that one of the legacies of Mr. Trump’s visit to the Middle East is that even liberals start to think in another ​ manner about the ideological roots of contemporary terrorism. But, of course, they will never give Mr. Trump the credit for that.

Paul Cliteur is visiting professor UC Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco and professor of law, Leiden University, the Netherlands. A recent work is: The Fall and Rise of Blasphemy Law (together with Tom Herrenberg).

One of the most remarkable commentaries on Salman Abedi’s terrorist attack in Manchester came from Shashank Joshi, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank: “It’s very well known that misogyny is deeply rooted in the radical Islamist worldview,” said Joshi (quoted in the Washington Post, May 23, 2017). The terrorism expert thinks that it is no coincidence that on the stage was Ariana Grande, the 23-year-old U.S. megastar whose lyrics champion female power. Grande presents herself as “Dangerous Woman” and one of her greatest hits is “Don’t need permission.” This is a clear reference to ideology as a motivating factor in terrorist attacks, something that is usually shunned in articles on terrorism in mainstream media. It is not impossible, though, that one of the consequences of Mr. Trump to the Middle East will  be a paradigm shift in the way we look at terrorism.

For the sake of clarity it may be helpful to distinguish between three approaches to contemporary terrorism.

The first position is the most extreme political incorrect one. This goes as follows: Islam is not a religion of peace, but a religion of war. Its prophet is a warlord, not some sort of Jesus-like Woodstock type. Islam has to be conquered the way communism was conquered. We need a “cold war” with Islam, as the murdered Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn (1948-2002) said fifteen years ago. In our time this position is defended by Robert Spencer in the USA, Anne-Marie Delcambre in France († 2016), Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and Oriana Fallaci in Italy († 2006). Among governing politicians it finds no support, at least not yet.

Not yet, because politicians like Wilders and Marine Le Pen do not represent the biggest factions in their countries, but they gain adherents every year, and they are now almost as big as the mainstream parties. So this can change in the years to come.

The second position is that of complete political correctness. An example of this is president Barack Obama’s Cairo Speech (2009). In his 2009 lecture, Obama called Al-Azhar a “beacon of Islamic scholarship and learning.”  That is nonsense, of course, because Al-Azhar is not a university in the American or European sense of the term. The point is: there is no such thing as free scientific research. Furthermore, Obama greeted his audience with “assalaamu alaykum,” on behalf of American Muslims. That is strange, because one of the most important principles underlying the American Constitution is the separation between Church and State. Being a president, one should not speak or act on  behalf of religious communities. Apart from that, Obama spoke about “the relationship between Islam and the West” – a curious topic because he should have acted as government leader of the USA, visiting a government leader of another nation-state, that is, Egypt. And Egypt does not only consist of Muslims, but of Coptic Christians too. Obama overlooked them, despite their need of his support.

Perhaps the most important difference between Trump and Obama is that Obama, in accordance with a long tradition within his administration, in Cairo talked about terrorists as “violent extremists,” who tried to misuse the tensions between different members of society. Obama does not only deny that terrorism has something to do with “Islam” (a religion), but he also denies that it has something to do with “Islamism” (an ideology seeking inspiration from the religion of Islam).

The debate between those who believe terrorists are simply extremely violent criminals (“violent extremists”) and those who think terrorists are inspired by a more or less coherent set of convictions (an ideology, Islamism) may seem trivial. But on second thought that is very important. Since Obama is convinced that terrorists are not an ideological threat, he can only combat terrorism through military means. Those, however, who believe that behind terrorism lies an ideology, will recognize its cultural and ideological challenge. We need some sort of cultural counter-jihad.

The interesting thing about Trump’s remarks is that, although not always consistent (which politician is?), they are pretty coherent on one specific point: Trump does refer to convictions, to a worldview. He speaks of “radical Islam,” “Islamic extremism,” and “Islamism.” Most commentators lump these together as “anti-Muslim rhetoric” or “anti-Islam” rhetoric, but Trump is not of that persuasion. Repeatedly Trump makes clear that his remarks are not about Muslims in general. He also says that he does not talk about Islam but that the talks about “Islamism,” which is an ideology.  In Saudi Arabia he remained loyal to that stance. He mentioned “Islamic extremism” and “Islamism” (although not reiterating his “radical Islamic terrorism,” the reason that most mainstream media concluded he had “toned down” his rhetoric). In fact he was pretty consistent with his previous positions.

With his new third way of approaching the topic of religiously motivated terrorism (or “theoterrorism,” as it is called by some) the American president might be an example for the rest of the world — and other political leaders may follow suit. President Obama’s “violent extremism” concept is clearly wanting. It cannot be denied that contemporary terrorists are motivated by an ideology, by a worldview, by a set of convictions, something most progressive liberal people are unable to see. We may call that ideology “Islamism.” This is not, as the authors of the first politically incorrect stance claim, identical with the religion, but it is also not completely separated from this, in the sense that terrorists use some elements of the religion and give these a new radicalized meaning. Once we know what the central tenets of this ideology are, we can start thinking about a strategy for cultural counterterrorism.

We are beginning to see some mainstream media cautiously refer to ideology. Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post, for instance, refers to the ideological component in the recent terrorist attack by saying that this week’s bombing in Manchester, England, was another gruesome reminder “that the threat from radical Islamist terrorism is ongoing.” And he continues with a report on how president Trump has given Saudi Arabia a free pass and a free hand in the region (“How Saudi Arabia played Donald Trump”, in: the Washington Post, May 25, 2017).

It is certainly correct that Mr. Trump could have been more severe to his Saudi hosts. But there is something at least as important and that is where the American president was in agreement with Joshi and also with Zakaria. The new American president referred to ideology, which was something of a taboo during the previous American administration. In Trump’s written speech we read: “That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamist extremism and the Islamist terror groups it inspires.”

It may well be that one of the legacies of Mr. Trump’s visit to the Middle East is that even liberals start to think in another ​ manner about the ideological roots of contemporary terrorism. But, of course, they will never give Mr. Trump the credit for that.

Paul Cliteur is visiting professor UC Hastings College of the Law, San Francisco and professor of law, Leiden University, the Netherlands. A recent work is: The Fall and Rise of Blasphemy Law (together with Tom Herrenberg).



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