In today’s column, I discuss something that’s been bothering me for a while but only crystalized for me when I was over in the U.K. (yes, I’m still milking that Oxford trip). A lot of Islamist radicals are just socialist losers with higher shock value. I know it’s not a new insight (indeed, I have a longer and more detailed discussion of the whole thing in the newest issue of NR). But I really do think the issue gets underplayed. Indeed, I think Dinesh D’Souza’s biggest mistake in his book lay in not seeing Islamists as Trojan Horses for the same old quasi-Marxist schtick we’ve been seeing for a century. Just as Ho Chi Minh used Marxist jargon he lifted from Europe in order to make useful idiots weak in the knees, these Islamists are often recycling the same old garbage. Doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous, doesn’t mean they don’t believe it, but it does take some of the intimidating exotic luster away.
A reader writes in response to the column:
Dear Mr Goldberg,
I read your article ‘Jihadi Chic’ with some interest. I attended the
Oxford Debate and would not have expected the ‘Islamist’ speakers to
argue the merits of their alternative ideology as this was beyond the
relevance of the debate. Surely to appreciate their views would it
not be more advisable to debate their policies specifically before
dismissing them as no more than a rephrasing of Socialist rhetoric?
Fairness and honesty is in short supply in the current ‘war’ your
government is waging, I must say aided by the majority of its free
Jalal [last name withheld]
Me: I think the reader makes a fair point that it’s unreasonable to expect a sweeping defense of their own ideology in a debate about America. But there’s a real “consider the source” problem when these guys talk about America’s human rights problems. When I noted that both Jamal Harwood and David Pidcock favored a world caliphate where Jews and Christians would have to live as second-class citizens in ghettos and open homosexuals and Muslim apostates would be executed, Harwood simply sniffed that my comments on the whole contained “slander and innuendo” (I’m quoting from memory), but he didn’t say “that’s not true” about any of it.
Where the reader misses the point entirely is that simply by putting a hijab on stale critiques of America doesn’t make it fresh or new. When it comes to the basic, philosophical, disagreement over collectivism versus individualism there are, simply, no new arguments. Gussying-up nonsense with Islamic jargon doesn’t improve the sales pitch.
Visit the Islamic Party of Britain’s website and you’ll see what I mean. If you click on the economic issues section you’ll learn that Lincoln was assassinated by the moneylenders (a view Pidcock alluded to in his remarks at the Union). Now, is this conspiratorial socialist-populist nuttery more convincing because it comes from a Muslim? Does it deserve a fairer hearing then I would give to some campus loon with one of those Mao jackets?
Here’s Jamal Harwood’s prepared text (he makes it seem like this was the speech he actually delivered which is more than a little misleading. His prepared comments are far more coherent). As I said, it was a more serious speech. But is there anything new in it? Anything that you couldn’t find in your run-of-the-mill leftwing magazine from the 1970s?
The West breeds a certain disaffection in a small minority of its population. These people have fires in their minds are always looking for some new, captivating ideology that resets the world. I think a lot of young Muslims in Europe and a few non-Muslims see Islamism as exactly that: a novel exotic and radical rejection of the capitalistic, democratic status quo. I don’t quibble with the idea that it is a radical rejection of the status quo or even that it’s exotic. But I am really not so sure how new it is.
Update: Several readers suggest that when he charged “slander” he was saying it wasn’t true. That wasn’t my sense of it at all. In fact, I’m not positive he even used the word slander. But what he did was offer his objection to “innuendo” at the beginning of his remarks without making it clear which statements of mine or the opposition’s he was objecting to. That way it sounded like he was denying it but without addressing any specifics that would get him in trouble because, you see, what I said was true.