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The Most Radical Thing You Can Be Is Moderate

January 11, 2015

Many commentators have chosen this moment to be very brave and intellectually honest about Islam. But if we are going to be brave and intellectually honest, especially in the aftermath of events this incendiary, then let’s be brave and honest about the whole thing, including our relationships with each other.

The reason criticism of Islam as a religion is often branded as racist is that it often is. Not always, but often.


(Photo: Thibault Camus/AP)

Of course, if you don’t experience this prejudice in your everyday life, it is easy to be blind to it; to deny that people use the mantle of legitimate criticism of a religion to justify their own secret, ugly prejudice that is bundled up within the concept. But I suspect, privately, unfashionably, we might all acknowledge the possibility that there are many more people than we would ever admit, who make assumptions about, distrust or even hate brownish looking, foreign sorts.

And so, in the same way that we demand of Imams that they take particular care, that they all come out and condemn the attacks – because there is a provably significant percentage of idiots who need such unequivocal guidance, we must demand the same of intellectuals with a platform. We cannot recognise the power of others’ words, but not ours. Confirmation bias is a wondrous thing in the context of a digital age.

I know I’ll be jumped on for saying this, because it seems that to ask for calm moderation is tantamount to terrorist apologism right now, but we have a choice to either amplify the terror being spread or douse it with an ice cold bucket of calm logic. I think some comments, both by politicians and in the press, have not quite stayed the right side of that equation. They weave rather tenuous evidence into an “all people who are Muslim are an imminent threat to you” narrative.

If a panic is created about Muslims in general it is, in my view, entirely foreseeable that people who look Muslim, regardless of their actual status, ethnicity or views, will bear the brunt. People can shrug their shoulders and go “that’s not what I intended” all they want, but that is what will happen. We know this. In this context – and knowing this to be the case – one can choose whether to fan the flames or not.

I’m not talking about not telling the truth (whatever your truth is). I’m talking about not sensationalising that truth. Measure every single word with care. And I’m not asking this because of some vague wooly pinko fear that people’s feelings might be hurt. I am talking about real harm. People do terrible things when they’re scared.

So, next time someone rolls down their car window and shouts at me “take your sharia law and fuck off home” (even though I am a Greek atheist, but when have facts made a difference to the terrified?) I shan’t be thankful for the sort of public comment that you think makes you terribly brave and edgy. When people who fled these regimes are spat at in the street, they won’t praise you for your scattergun intellectual honesty.

Hysteria is the black teat from which forces of darkness suckle nourishment. Panic is the terrorists’ aim. The sort of hysteria and panic that makes the police put seven bullets in a Brazilian’s head on a crowded train, just because his features were swarthy. Hysteria and panic is what we must absolutely avoid.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2015 8:57 pm

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  2. January 11, 2015 10:42 pm

    Wise words indeed. Actually religion and colour possibly have a lot less to do with these attacks than the young people who begin on a life of petty crime only to be provided with a false cause with which to attach their lack of empathy and cruelty to. I can’t even imagine how having my life end would result in my becoming a martyr to this cause and I would therefore be assured of my place in a mythical paradise. Terrifyingly it seems to take very little to turn vulnerable young people to believe in this consequential horror. I sat on a train today hearing a variety of foreign languages spoken and I thought of Farage’s words and knew I didn’t feel like him and never would but the fact remains we need to be able to see this as a good thing and try not to feel alienated to this increasing international mobility. Above all I think the response of the French has been truly inspirational. I detest that political cartoonists now will feel fear at making fun of people that need to be ridiculed as was done with the klu klux clan. However, I’m not brave enough and I can’t blame anyone who receives death threats. It’s extremely sad that we feel afraid of anyone that now symbolises this recent and new enemy to the freedoms we thought we had as a right.

  3. January 11, 2015 11:28 pm

    Are you aware that in a post about the reality of racism, narratives and taking responsibility for what we say and doubly so when we do it in public, you literally wrote ‘Hysteria is the black teat from which forces of darkness suckle nourishment.’ ie in one short sentence you twice managed to equate blackness and darkness with evil?

    • January 11, 2015 11:41 pm

      Fascinating. Tell me more about it. How would the absence of light – synonymous with hopelessness, negativity etc. – be better described? Absolutely genuine question, in case tone is unclear.

      • Jean Robinson permalink
        January 12, 2015 7:40 am

        I love your writing but I think It’s a fair point. Darkness already in the sentence so maybe a word meaning angry or full?. Swollen? Bloated?

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