During my recent visit to Australia, as I advocated for Project Rozana, the Israeli-Palestinian health mission, I also delivered lectures on Islamism. For many years I have held a publicly anti-Islamist position as an observant Muslim. Islam, I believe, demands I oppose Islamism, as the barest minimum of my faith; Muslims are enjoined to expose injustice and no global force is responsible for more human rights violations than Islamism.
A period of intense national anxiety had preceded my visit, culminating in the raids across Sydney mere weeks before I was in town. For the first time, Australians were confronting the spectre of home-grown Islamism. Australia was on the cusp of an awakening.
Two weeks after I left Sydney, that awakening unfolded on our screens here in New York: ‘Breaking News’, ‘Sydney Siege’, ‘Hostage Situation’. It was depressingly familiar. A black flag bearing the foundational affirmation of my belief, Islam’s shahada, for billions of us an unshakeable symbol of devotion, at the hands of a Muslim once again reduced to a lethal global symbol. These short beloved verses rendered an agent of terror, immobilizing Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
In the age of Islamism, no land, not even continental Australia, remains an island. Everywhere is within reach of Islamism. Secular democracies, including Australia’s, are on the back foot, with no coherent response in view. Instead, we lurch from crisis to crisis, increasingly falling behind, from incident to incident.
What are the causes of Australia’s domestic radicalisation is the first question raised. Even asking the question in 2015 reveals Australia’s disengagement with the global assault of Islamism which has long unfolded across the world. There was no reason why Australia wouldn’t experience its own crisis with Islamism. Bali, while a devastating loss for Australians costing 83 lives, is sufficiently remote in time to seem irrelevant to the average Australian who hasn’t faced the immediacy of an Islamist assault in the way the average New Yorker has absorbed, the average Jerusalemite must grapple with, the stoic Londoner has experienced, the cynical Karachiite must live with or indeed in the way in which citizens in Madrid, Mumbai, Peshawar, Kano, Nairobi and now Paris must walk. Islamism not only strolls alongside, but thrives in democracies which enshrine freedom of speech.
Islamism, and its war on us as secular pluralistic Westerners, is global, is without borders and is coming for us wherever we are. It can’t be droned into extinction. It can’t be water-boarded into oblivion. It can’t be counter-insurgency-ed into decimation. It can’t be air-striked into annihilation. Islamism must be strangled at birth, aborted in its ideological womb, before it wreaks the havoc we have watched unfold. We have to return to an ideological war.
In my time in Australia, an intense debate was raging about Australia’s management of asylum seekers. Australians spoke to me about the shame they felt about off-shore ‘processing centres’, often overflowing with the post conflict dispossessed, and the hardline sentiments taking root in the immigration debate. Yet Australians also fear the rising ghettoization and extremism resonating in the wake of Isis’s ascent in Syria and Iraq. Sydney was a particular concern, Muslims and non-Muslims in Australia remarked to me on numerous occasions. Australians as they talked to me seemed paralysed, nonplussed, at how their land of sun, surf, and sparkling sea had become host to such animus, such incubation for violence.
My answer, Australia? It’s not geography. It’s not demography. It’s not even theology. It’s ideology.
Islamism’s lethal ideological appeal lies in its power over narrative, its mastery of media, including its most recent blossoming in social media platforms. Casting both spell and pall over millions of willing and unwilling Muslims is the power in its seduction, and its grand theft, of the language, images and metaphors of the spectacular faith that is my Islam.
Muslims must acknowledge our terrible ownership of Islamism: while all Muslims are not Islamists, all Islamists are Muslims. Islamism is birthed of Muslims, not of Islam. Islamism shelters from within Islam, but deserves no such protection, least of all from Muslims. Islamism preys on the ignorance of Muslims, and the beneficence of non-Muslims. Islamism exploits the religious privileges accorded to faith in secular democracies while an imposter posturing as a spiritual belief.
Distinguishing Islam, a heterogeneous, pluralistic, spiritual monotheism, from Islamism, an expressly political, totalitarian, religionised neo-fascism reliant on the twin genocidal buttresses of jihadist violence and virulent anti-Semitism is the work of Muslims, and by and large, solely of Muslims. It is only legitimate Muslims who can strangle our deadlyMar-e-Asteen; the viper in our bosom.
The task is monstrous. Islamism has long been nurtured by opportunist Muslim powers. Islamism inspires the lethally anti-Semitic charters of Hamas and Hezbollah, legitimizes the barbarity of Isis, buoys the battle cries of Boko Haram, demands the Taleb assassinate Malala, drives the executioners of Pakistani polio workers, and is the handmaiden of rebel opponents to the butcher Assad. Islamism exploits the mechanics of democracy as it infects the organs of democracy. Islamism alone, under the aegis of the wahabi theocracy of Saudi Arabia, and its eager sidekick Pakistan, has pushed for multiple UN resolutions to criminalise ‘Islamophobia’ while the phobia itself remains undefined, deliberately so.
Citizens approached me about the Australian jihadist whose seven year old son was photographed with a head his father had severed. How could this originate in Australia? Their disbelief mirrored my own anguish – how could Islam birth such sadists among us?
Wherever there is freedom to engage in ideas, we run the risk of rearing Islamism in our midst. Wherever there is cause for social ills, disparities, disenfranchisement, shielded from scrutiny, masquerading as faith Islamism will prey, and breed unchecked. Australia’s awakening today is a reminder we are all, in the free thinking world, caught in the crosshairs of a raging battle. If we are to evade the viper’s strike, it will demand not only an Australian, but an international awakening.