When Is The Islamic State Not The Islamic State?

Islamic State - ISIS - Islam - Daesh

Rather than tackle an intractable issue and mortal enemy, our superficial politicians are quibbling over the language we use in describing it

When is the Islamic State in Syria – ISIS – not the Islamic State in Syria?

Apparently the answer to this question is: since a couple of days ago, when the hive mind of lazy politician groupthink decided that we must bend and warp journalistic practice – and the English language itself – in order to make it clearer that the majority of us do not condone the activities of that brutal, backward-looking group of primitive fundamentalists.

My attention has been elsewhere lately – freshly returned from a relaxing and eventful trip to Greece but otherwise more focused on domestic than foreign affairs. So it was surprising to find my attention drawn back by the furious row between the government and the BBC over exactly how the public service broadcaster should refer to the nascent medieval kingdom seeking to establish itself in the middle east.

The Spectator is – quite rightly – having none of it:

‘Isis’ is an acronym of Islamic State in Syria. ‘Isil’ – an acronym of Islamic State in the Levant. Isil is the better translation of the group’s Arabic name al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil-Iraq wa al-Sham – where ‘Sham’ represents greater Syria or ‘the Levant’ as we would say in English.

As for ‘Daesh’, it has the small propaganda advantage of reminding Arabic speakers of Daes (‘one who crushes something underfoot’) and Dahes (‘one who sows discord’). But beyond that childish word association it is no help at all, for ‘Daesh’ is just the Arabic abbreviation of al-Dawla al-Islamiya fil-Iraq wa al-Sham – or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

All the euphemisms politicians demand we must use to avoid calling Islamic State ‘Islamic State’ therefore call Islamic State ‘Islamic State’. How can they not, for that is its name? And it is no more up to outsiders to change a group’s name than it is up to you to change the names of your acquaintances. Assuming the politicians know what they are doing, they must believe that many voters will not know what ‘Isil’ and ‘Isis’ stand for, or only Arabic speakers will understand the meaning of ‘Daesh’. In other words, they are relying on ignorance and hoping to foster ignorance too.

Never mind the obvious undesirability of government telling the state-owned broadcaster what to report and how to report it – thus proving the central argument against government ownership of the media. Of far more concern is the fact that politicians – specifically our current generation of uncharismatic, uninspiring, superficial leaders – seem to believe that expending time and energy arguing about what to call the Islamic State is more important than doing anything about ISIS in the real world.

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ISIS: Adept At Using Social Media, But Couldn’t Even Invent The Wheel

ISIS ISIL Recruitment Social Media Twitter 2

 

As Twitter becomes increasingly adept at blocking and terminating accounts associated with ISIS and Islamist terrorism, their army of supporters and sympathisers have been responding with death threats targeted at Twitter employees.

The Guardian reports:

Isis supporters have threatened Twitter employees, including co-founder Jack Dorsey specifically, with death over the social network’s practice of blocking accounts associated with the group.

In an Arabic post uploaded to the image-sharing site JustPaste.it, the group told Twitter that “your virtual war on us will cause a real war on you”. It warned that Jack Dorsey and Twitter employees have “become a target for the soldiers of the Caliphate and supporters scattered among your midst!”

What is most striking here is the fact that a terrorist state fuelled by a primitive, murderous ideology makes such liberal use of Western technologies and inventions to spread fear and hated, all without noticing the laughable irony of it all.

For in truth, even given a thousand years, the global caliphate longed for by ISIS could never produce anything comparable to a Twitter or Facebook of their own, much as they love to use these American social networks as a tool to recruit the vulnerable and dim-witted.

Such a theocracy could barely master the sorcery involved in creating fire, or invent something as simple as the wheel without external help, because the fundamentalist rejection of enlightenment thinking and embrace of death makes higher thought all but impossible.

Great innovations simply do not flourish in a primitive culture where music is banned, art and antiquities are destroyed, women are subjugated and the pursuit of any knowledge that challenges or contradicts the faith is punishable by death.

There is no reasoning with such a totalitarian ideology. Neither can there be any appeasement, for meeting ISIS half way or attempting to soothe their brittle egos at the expense of our own civil liberties and free speech will never be enough.

There will always be another insult taken, always another demand insisted upon and another death threat made, usually distributed via modern methods of communication that supporters of the Islamic State could never hope to create for themselves.

 

Cover Image: ISIS death threat posted to JustPaste.it

Only Fellow Muslims Can Cure Islam Of Its Fundamentalist Cancer

Christian Life Of Brian Charlie Hebdo Terrorism Islamic Fundamentalism
Clear provocation for a fundamentalist massacre

 

Dan Hodges poses an excellent question in his Telegraph column today: what if the Paris terrorists had been Christian rather than Muslim?

He does this to make a point that should be fairly obvious, but which too many of us continually miss – that were the shoe on the other foot, or rather the other religion, it would be unequivocally expected and demanded of moderate Christianity to root out the fanaticism from within its base, without delay and with no excuses or exceptions.

The fact that we add so many caveats and exceptions when making this demand of moderate Islam is therefore, according to Hodges, prima facie evidence that we currently give leeway and grant concessions to Islam that we would not do for any other faith. In Hodge’s imaginary alternate universe:

Then came another attack. Two Christian gunman walked calmly onto the stage of the O2 arena, and machine-gunned to death John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, as they performed their comeback tour. It was, their killers later revealed in a video-taped message, in revenge for the lampooning of Jesus in “The Life Of Brian”. Witnesses at the O2 claimed that as they ran from the stage, the assailants were heard to shout “We have just killed Monty Python”.

A day after the O2 attack, the BBC Today program sent a reporter to High Wycombe, to gauge the reaction of members of the local Christian community. It was “painful people had to die in this way” one interviewee conceded. But the Monty Python cast should not have mocked Jesus. “I love Jesus,” he said. “More than my mum, more than my dad, more than my children.” It was legitimate to insult individuals or people he added, “but not God, not Jesus. We will not allow that. If they are going to do that, that [the attacks] will happen again and again.”

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How Can We Teach British Values In School If We Are Afraid To Assert Them Ourselves?

British Values Twitter 3

Just what are British Values?

Well, apparently the concept is sufficiently fuzzy in the minds of some people that we all now need to take time to argue amongst ourselves and reach a common consensus while one of the biggest and most worrying educational scandals in recent years plays out unobserved.

In response to the ongoing scandal of Birmingham schools being compromised by activist governors to deliver covert Islamic religious teaching, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, made the slightly awkward if well-meant assertion that in future, all primary and secondary schools will be required to “promote British values”.

The Guardian reports:

Michael Gove, the education secretary, has seized on a finding byOfsted that a “culture of fear and intimidation” existed in someBirmingham schools by announcing that the government will require all 20,000 primary and secondary schools to “promote British values”.

These values will include the primacy of British civil and criminal law, religious tolerance and opposition to gender segregation. Gove also suggested girls wearing the burqa would struggle to find their voice and must not feel silenced in the classroom.

In what is being described by ministers as a decisive shift away from moral relativism in the classroom, the education secretary took action after a landmark series of reports by the schools inspectorate into 21 Birmingham secular schools found an atmosphere of intimidation, a narrow, faith-based ideology, manipulation of staff appointments and inappropriate use of school funds.

Unfortunately, the predominant response thus far has not been one of outrage that such a thing could happen to compromise children’s education in the UK’s second city; instead, we have seen race to come up with the funniest self-deprecating anti-British putdown as expressed by the #BritishValues hashtag now trending on Twitter.

When presented with the opportunity to express outrage that local school curricula could be so easily hijacked by fundamentalist members of any faith and ‘turned’ to start promoting beliefs very far from the British values of democracy, equality, non-discrimination and obedience to the law, a majority seem more interested in having an introspective discussion about what modern British values really are (at best), or suggesting through Twitter witticisms that any concern is tantamount to xenophobic intolerance  (more common).

The Huffington Post has collated a selection of what it considers to be “the best” responses, which take an almost uniformly dim view of British culture and history:

British Values Twitter 4

(It should be acknowledged that there have also been some very sensible and thoughtful contributions from others, such as the pianist Stephen Hough).

The hashtag activist comedians and earnest scolds of Twitter currently attempting to look cool by running Britain down on social media are actually revealing a few ingrained British traits of their own – excessive self deprecation and an almost craven desire not to offend or appear controversial – which easily become insidious and harmful when taken to extremes.

There is a gnawing anxiety behind some of the mocking #BritishValues tweets. “Isn’t patriotism so old fashioned?”, they scream. “Let’s list all the bad things that Britain has done so that no-one thinks we’re being boastful”. It may come across as cool, trendy liberalism but look closer and you see that some of it is actually rooted in fear.

Somewhere along the way the idea of expressing pride in Britain, and in British exceptionalism, became interchangeable in the minds of many people with that altogether darker and more insidious disease of racism. To express the former is, in the eyes of many, to come uncomfortably close to embracing the latter. And as a result, people instinctively turn away from patriotism, and instinctively oppose suggestions such as teaching British values at school, mistaking it for something else (and, incidentally, leaving a vacuum that the far right is only too happy to exploit).

And yet there is a serious issue at stake here, with the integrity of children’s education in question. Even the Guardian’s John Harris felt the need to weigh in to the ongoing argument about the fundamentalist Muslim influence in Birmingham schools, reminding his readers that state-subsidised religious indoctrination or interference with the curriculum is wrong whatever the source, and that this is no time for those on the left to bury their heads in the sand:

At the risk of reopening old wounds on the liberal left, for all the noise from those on the right of culture and politics, it is no good crying “witch hunt” and averting your eyes from this stuff. It should have no place in any state school, and most of it is an offence to any halfway liberal principles.

But Harris still felt the need to couch his tortured article in the wider context of a state education system which is failing and falling into disarray under the hated Tory government – the harsh unexpectedness of his gentle reminder that it’s not okay to look the other way and pretend to ignore the fundamentalist corrupting of education for fear of seeming racist or intolerant having to be soothed with a good old swipe at the real enemy, those on the political right.

Efforts to stamp out casual and institutional racism in Britain, while incomplete, have come a long way, even since the 1980s and 1990s. A large part of eradicating the scourge of casual racism has been (quite rightly) to mock it, deride racist thoughts and speech as backward and out of place, and doing everything possible to make racism distinctly uncool. The campaign to eradicate racism from football is a prime example of how successful Britain has been, especially when compared with continental and eastern Europe.

But while there is unquestionably still much work to be done, we must also begin to ask ourselves if one of the side effects has been a growing inability for people to express deeply felt but harmless national pride and patriotism in any but the safest, media-approved settings (such as the 2012 London Olympic Games).

If our generation’s instinctive response when they see criticism levelled at a person or group within a religious or ethnic minority is not to check the veracity and demand action if it is found to be true, but either to flinch and avert their eyes out of shock and unwillingness to believe or to become so embarrassed that their only coping mechanism is to resort to self-deprecating humour on social media, perhaps this is the price that our country has to pay in order to purge itself of the ingrained, widespread, casual racism that was common and socially acceptable for so long. Perhaps.

But being this way makes it much harder for us to deal with the problems facing Britain today, where the pernicious influence of fundamentalists (of all religions) on the young and the lack of assimilation of some cultures into wider British society are real issues that are being only half-heartedly tackled because of the paralysing fear of saying the ‘wrong thing’ or giving the wrong impression.

When asked why it was that Americans are so much more openly patriotic than Brits, the late Christopher Hitchens attributed it to the fact that overt displays of patriotism and love of country in the United States are borne out of the fact that as a nation of immigrants, Americans have no real shared history going back more than a couple of centuries. Therefore, simple acts such as reciting the pledge of allegiance every morning in schools and singing the national anthem before sporting events have, over time, helped to forge that unity within diversity.

But what has always been true of America is now increasingly becoming true of Britain. Immigration into Britain may bring profound economic and cultural benefits, but with each successive year of high net immigration and a lack of assimilation in some quarters, that degree of shared common history is diluted a bit more. And that’s absolutely fine, if other measures are in place to balance it out – like reciting a pledge, offering comprehensive British history as a mandatory subject at schools, or, shock horror, teaching children “British values”.

At the moment, though, these countermeasures are lacking. It should come as little surprise then that certain groups within society do not feel as much desire or pressure to integrate as they rightly should, and that when the door is left wide open in places like Birmingham to influence schools to teach children according to certain subcultural norms, some people will seize the opportunity with both hands.

Unfortunately, in the age of hashtag #Britain, not only does it surprise us when this happens, the thought of condemning or intervening in these events embarrasses us so acutely that we are barely able to have a national conversation without descending to xenophobic conspiracy theorising on one side or accusations of scaremongering on the other, topped off with a sprinkling of nervously self-deprecating Twitter jokes.

As John Harris noted in his article, by this point “inflammatory language and alarmism” have now done their work and made it harder to get to the bottom of what has really been going on in Birmingham’s schools. But there is an equally powerful countervailing force working in the other direction, suggesting that any concern is an unwarranted attack on a minority and misrepresenting any calls for the assertion and teaching of British values as xenophobic, Islamophobic and a direct attack on the principle of multiculturalism. It is not.

If we carry on in this way, we will never succeed in building and maintaining the unified, diverse and tolerant Britain that we all say we want.

 

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Evolution vs “Intelligent” Design

An excellent comedy video from NonStampCollector, successfully (and rather wittily) debunking “young Earth” theories and denial of evolution.

 

I believe that the creator of this series of videos (which I highly recommend – very amusing) is an atheist. I, of course, am Roman Catholic. That doesn’t make his critiques of biblical literalism and fundamentalism any less funny or pertinent.

And the “tornado through a junkyard” analogy is priceless.