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Rod Liddle

Sorry, but you can’t take the Islam out of Islamic State

The unpalatable truth is that they believe what they are doing is theologically right — and a sizeable proportion of the Islamic world would concur

4 July 2015

9:00 AM

4 July 2015

9:00 AM

At last, British politicians have been galvanised into action by the appalling events last weekend in the Tunisian resort of Sousse, in which 38 people were murdered by an Islamist terrorist. Yes, yes, about time, you might be muttering to yourself — but credit where it’s due, please. They may be a little late to the party but at least they have arrived.

A convocation of 120 of our MPs, including Boris Johnson, have demanded strong and forthright action. They have written to the BBC demanding that it stop using the term ‘Islamic State’ to describe the organisation responsible for the attack, because it might upset that seemingly diminishing, if still large, proportion of Muslims who don’t wander around shooting people, or chopping their heads off, or blowing themselves up.

This is an excellent step forward and one would imagine that the BBC will be only too happy to comply. The MPs have suggested that an acceptable substitute for ‘Islamic State’ would be ‘Daesh’, which is an acronym for the Arabic translation of ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’. But crucially, if you just say ‘Daesh’ — go on, try it out for yourself — you can’t hear the word ‘Islam’ in it at all. We could be talking about terrorists who were denominationally Methodists, or Rosicrucians. Also, the term Daesh apparently annoys the Islamic State and they wish we wouldn’t use it, because it doesn’t sound as grand as Islamic State.

Frankly, if we’re going down this route, I don’t know why we should use the term Daesh, either. How about ‘Really Bloody Horrible People Who Have Nothing To Do With Islam’? It’s a bit of a mouthful, I admit, but it gets the message across and it will please the imams over here. Or some of them, at least. So the next time something horrible happens, Huw Edwards could say: ‘And the BBC has just learned that this latest atrocity, in which 70 people were decapitated, has been carried out by Really Bloody Horrible People Who Have Nothing To Do With Islam. And now here’s Lizzie with all the sports news.’


I’ve tried to think of something which better encapsulates establishment delusion over aggressive Islamism, but nope — this takes the biscuit. I suppose you might hazard that the Royal Navy cheerfully ferrying thousands of people, including people who want us all dead, over to Europe is fairly deluded. Well, sure. It is — and also a waste of resources which will end up costing more lives than it saves. But this stuff, the Daesh stuff, is of a different order.

It has been backed by the Prime Minister, who said of the term Islamic State: ‘I think this is seen as particularly offensive to many Muslims who see, as I see, not a state but a barbaric regime of terrorism and oppression that takes delight in murder and oppressing women and murdering people because they’re gay. So I raised this with the BBC this morning. I personally think that using the term Isil or “so-called” would be better than what they currently do. I don’t think we’ll move them all the way to Daesh, so I think saying Isil is probably better than Islamic State because it is neither, in my view, Islamic or a state.’

In your view, David? You’re a Koranic expert, then, are you? You are fit and qualified to adjudicate on what constitutes Islam and what does not? The point is that they call themselves Islamic State: that is their name. You can cavil all you like, but that is generally the approach we have taken over the years in journalism: give something its proper name, not something we would prefer it to be called because the proper name offends our sensibilities. Perhaps we should also stop saying the word Islam when we refer to other manifestations of the religion which we do not like. Such as al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab and Boko Haram. Pretend they are not Muslim at all. Extend it to those Islamic countries which oppress women and put homosexuals to death. Because it’s not just Isis, is it? Stop referring to Saudi Arabia and Iran and Egypt and Pakistan and countless (well, actually, about 48) other countries as being Islamic — and pretty soon, problem solved! No more Islam anywhere, except here at home, of course.

The Islamic State is, in its attitudes, rather more representative of Muslim world opinion than we would like to believe. Pretending that they are not Muslim at all will be counterproductive. The Prime Minister cannot simultaneously implore Muslim communities to root out the extremists in their midst — the incendiary imams, the thick-as-mince teenage jihadi wannabes, the first-generation and culturally medieval emigrés from Bangladesh and Pakistan — and also insist, in politically correct fashion, that these terrorist atrocities have nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. That makes no sense. If they have nothing to do with Islam, why harangue Muslims about it?

The truth is that, no matter how unpalatable it might be to say so, the Islamic State has an awful lot to do with Islam — yes, the clue is in the name. They believe that what they are doing is theologically right and there is a fairly sizeable proportion of the Islamic world which would concur. And we are not qualified to dissent.

Meanwhile, within our Muslim communities, a similar delusion has taken hold — encouraged by the likes of Johnson and the co-signatories of that letter to the BBC. Why are you picking on us? What have we done to deserve this? It’s not fair. They insist that because crimes often occur which are not perpetrated by Muslims, it is unkind to focus attention on them. But it is from within those communities and that particular creed that this savagery has been unleashed. It does us no good to pretend otherwise.


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