The Most Radical Thing You Can Be Is Moderate
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.
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.