Gordon Campbell on Islam and the Paris attacks

According to polls, a third of Republican voters in Iowa want Islam to be criminalized. Unfortunately, the cornfields of middle America aren’t the only place that ‘Islam’ is being blamed for the terrorism attacks in Paris.

Presidential contender Ben Carson for instance, wants it to be made illegal for a Muslim to be elected as President of the USA. For the Republican Party at least, freedom of religion in America extends only to tolerating many ways of accepting Jesus Christ as your personal saviour. In reality of course, treating Islamic State as the essence of Islam makes about as much sense as treating the Ku Klux Klan as the essence of Christianity.

As Juan Cole pointed out in a recent column on this point, if Islam is so inherently violent, one has to ask why the murder rates in Muslim countries tend to be very much lower than in the United States… Moreover, the millions killed in the 20th century nationalism wars of Christian Europe were way, way above any death toll caused by Muslims over the same period. In some Muslim countries is there an unhealthy blurring of the roles of church and state? Perhaps. Yet as Cole also points out, Franco’s Spain [and the Salazar dictatorship in Portugal] saw church and state become virtually fused, with deadly effect. There’s nothing unique to Islam about that risk. Oh, and like Christianity, Islam also forbids the killing of innocent non-combatants.

None of which denies, or lessens the barbarity of Islamic State. Nor do the actions of Islamic State lessen the barbarity of the saturation bombing of civilian areas that’s become a common feature of the war against IS in Syria, and during the parallel fighting in Yemen. On social media, many people have criticized the West and its media for being utterly horrified by the killings of circa 130 people in Paris and by us treating this as front page news, day after day – while the bombing by the Saudis of a wedding party in Yemen last month that killed 131 people received only a cursory mention, if it got reported at all. In response, some have argued that this criticism would have more sting if it was issued by people who were protesting about the Yemeni wedding bombing before the Paris attacks, and not by those raising the comparison for rhetorical purposes, in retrospective outrage. Meaning: compassion isn’t – or shouldn’t be – a bidding contest. Feeling empathy for the victims in Paris doesn’t have to be justified.

Even so, it remains a simple matter of fact that the West has paid more attention to the carnage in Paris than to the victims of the West’s own bombing and drone campaigns – even though these forms of violence have been feeding on each other for a very long time, in a deadly feedback loop. In recent days for instance, France has launched massive retaliatory bombing raids on what it says are military targets in the Islamic State ‘capital’ of Raqaa in northern Syria. It is a tit for tat, blood for blood process. Not coincidentally, Islamic State has just announced it will be singling out those Western countries engaged in bombing raids on Syria and Iraq as its next targets of urban terrorism. And so the cycle continues. Washington DC however, may prove to be a more difficult objective for IS to reach than Paris, which has proven itself to be the softest of targets.

How can this cycle be broken? It is very easy to see why some in the West – and many of the Christian fundamentalists within in the Republican Party – like to think in apocalyptic terms, and prefer to embrace entirely static ‘causes’ for the conflict, such as the allegedly malevolent nature of Islam. When you divide the world into the timeless ‘truths’ of good and evil, you don’t have to think much about history. You don’t have to think about the impact of the Picot Line, or the West’s creation of the House of Saud and its propping up of the Shah of Iran, or George Bush’s invasion of Iraq… There is a history in the Middle East to which Islamic State and its caliphate has been the almost inevitable backlash.

Invoking the chain of history doesn’t absolve its modern agents of course, of responsibility for their own actions. Also, knowing about the lessons of history is no guarantee that you won’t be forced to repeat its mistakes. But the danger is that in our compassionate identification with the victims in Paris, we will stop questioning the nature of our response. Already, for instance, the Paris attacks have been invoked to justify the New Zealand military presence in Iraq!

There are many ways of fighting Islamic State. Some of them will merely serve to further polarize the civilian and refugee communities fleeing into Europe. With good reason, there is widespread scepticism about the refugee passport found near one of the suicide bombers. Islamic State have good reason to want to stem the flow of Syrian people running away to Europe in terror from their glorious caliphate. If the West now embarks on indiscriminate crackdowns on refugees, this will merely drive them right back into the arms of those forces professing the perverted form of Islam that we’re trying to defeat.

Support Tours

On a lighter level of First World problems, here’s Jeffrey Lewis and his eloquent recent lamentation about touring as a support act…

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15 Comments on Gordon Campbell on Islam and the Paris attacks

  1. There is a very widespread perception in some circles that as soon as a terrorist atrocity is committed in a western state, all the conservatives set about fear mongering and directing blame to religious minorities (usually muslims) for the atrocities committed.

    Having watched conservative media over the past few days I have to make the argument (devil’s advocate) that the perception is fatuous.

    Over the past few days, I have observed mainstream media outlets being very careful to attribute the terrorist attacks to extremists and in literally all relevant bulletins I have viewed (including on FOX), I have noted careful disclaimers stating that ISIS is not Islam.

    The only reportage I have seen which seeks to blame the wider Islamic faith for the terrorist atrocities committed in Paris is actually that at the extremities of the political continuum – for example from the extreme right (i.e. WhaleOil).

    For myself, the most interesting reportage, and that which I have been most suspicious of, has been that which immediately presumed the media and the wider populace have blamed Islam for the attacks, and immediately jumped to defend Islam against a perception that does not really exist. I find this type of reporting patronising and offensive because it presumes that we as a society are ignorant and intolerant, and it ignores the reality of the situation.

    I would like to see more scientific analysis of this particular issue.

  2. Also, as easy as it is to pick good aspects of the Qu’ran (as with many religious and ideological texts), it is easy to find aspects that can be and are used to justify terrorism, or that are as a matter of fact inconsistent with 21st century fundamentals of liberalism.

    As with any religious text, it’s best to read the Qu’ran as a historical contribution to philosophy (an early attempt at understanding the universe) and not as the literal word of god. So, follow the good parts, ignore or read between the lines with the bad parts.

    I’m sure you would agree Gordon that the world would be a better place if nobody took every single proclamation in the Qu’ran literally. Same can obviously be said about the old testament. That being said, the largest portion of the 1.5 billion muslims on the planet do exactly this, and do not abide by commandments such as 8:12:

    “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”

    So perhaps best to call a spade a spade. The Qu’ran is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.

    Notwithstanding, your point about the historical political context of the Arab world, and the immense damage done to stability in the region by Western interference is noted.

  3. Steve, you’re primary complaint appears to be that the following reporting is unreal or rare:


    Perhaps a rigorous view would clarify contemporary frequency, but it’s not exactly hard to find this kind of commentary.




    secondly: “So perhaps best to call a spade a spade. The Qu’ran is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination.” ???

    I’m not sure who you believe is saying the Qu’ran is perfect; but it is also certainly questionable whether ISIS/ISIL follow it’s tenants, e.g.:




    I’m left uncertain what of your point remains.

  4. This is ‘regressive left’ stuff Mr Campbell, letting off Islam far too lightly.
    ‘In some Muslim countries is there an unhealthy blurring of the roles of church and state? Perhaps?’ No, definitely. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan all have religious political parties if not governments. There is no Islamic text equivalent to ‘render unto Caesar’ in the New testament which can be used in the West to separate church from state nor is there the concept of Sharia in Christianity. Your bias is obvious too in the way you open your piece referring to Iowa republicans and their corn fields, caricaturing the Americans in much the same way as you ask us not to caricature Islam and Muslims.
    Wake up.. RADICAL Islam is the problem…do you think they would have shot up Paris if they were Quakers?

  5. Looks very much like the terrorists invading and bombing Syria are saying they are not terrorists.
    In Iowa they may readily believe that only their “enemies” are “terrorist” ,they even believe in the created grades of terrorists to support their stupidity Good, Moderate and Bad “terrorists”.
    Of course invading nations requires creating enemies by fabrications, funding and false flag ops. Look at 9/11 look at France 13/11 the result of both False flags is the same an excuse for escalating WAR. An excuse for terrorism. Fear of a boogie man( in this case a religion) is seen as a reason for war.
    “Terrorist” is a fear inducing word, “enemy” was overused and was ineffective for fear mongering/war promotion.

    Here we have all over the media the propaganda for “West vs East” . Yet it is a centralized intel agency for a global govt that is the enemy of peace on earth. Not a case of the “West” funded “isis” bombing Paris on 13/11 .
    If you follow the money you will find the same people/”terrorists” pulling the strings in a banking cabal that are making money off this “terrorist” for WAR freak show .
    I wonder if the NZ troops in the middle east war think they are the only ones that are not acting as “terrorists” act?

  6. A friend of mine from Des Moines Iowa once joked that IOWA stands for Idiots Out Walking About.
    Maybe he wasn’t kidding.
    Recipe for continuing a war: pick a “GM” population and grow Islamophobia .

  7. Thanks for another insightful post Gordon. Although the emotive reaction of the mainstream media has been predictable I’ve been encouraged by the number of alternative news sites, particularly some of the US websites, that are bucking the trend and making the same points you do. It would be nice to think that the tide is turning and we are getting closer to the day when governments will no longer react to acts of violence with more violence but the knee jerk French bombing mission suggests this is still some way off. ricthewriter.com

  8. Just like the word “Christian” “Muslim” is but a label people give themselves, a false identity if you will.
    If I ask you to show me a “Muslim” or “Christian” you cannot as there is no such thing you can only point to a man/woman, a HUMAN BEING.
    Most people have a set of beliefs they identify with and this leads to conflict when the beliefs are imagined as real or more real and more valuable than life.
    A well funded org can easily hijack a group of ideologically driven people.

    A fact not often taught to Muslims is that Sharia Law did not exist during Prophet Muhammad’s life, nor did he create one.

  9. Then why don’t we all support throwing off all religion and theocracy, and supporting the development of a post-superstitious world embracing the values of Lucretius, Spinoza, Socrates, Darwin, Galileo, Thomas Paine, Helen Keller, Avicenna…

    Forget about the hateful riddles uttered by Muhammed, the inane and inarticulate preachment of Christ, the divisive and unscientific principles of Buddha. Teach all of that as nothing but myth and legend in history classes to give insight into the worst dispositions of human animals – credulity and superstition beyond reason.

    Let’s see that world fall into totalitarianism and famine, in the absence of pathetic medieval quarrels.

    If there was any empire fighting for this, I would back it. Until then, I can only support the closest alternative by supporting states that are at least democratic and secular.

    I strongly oppose any interference that calls for the watering down of democracy and separation of church and state (or reversal of the progress that has been made) in order to protect the sensibilities of the adherents of stupid and outdated forms of magic like orthodox Islam and Christianity.

    You might have noticed that most Western states abandoned the Church when it decided to team up with Nazism. Repealed all blasphemy laws, removed religious representation, defunded, etc. A work in progress because the bastards still receive tax breaks…

    I am on the left on almost all issues, but not when it comes to protecting religious sensibilities. A key reason I am left is I believe it is fundamentally important to defend the poor and the weak, but rearranging affairs in order to defend religious sensibilities is stupid.

  10. What you are suggesting is just another set of beliefs such as “Darwinism” people already believe religiously in that, the group is called ” In Theory Consensus $cientists”.

    Democracy as a religion?
    Do you believe you have a democracy?
    Big believers in “democratism” always want to spread democracy (“the illusion of choice”)by invading other nations . Imposing a banking cabal’s political candidate to lead them, leaving the people of the “democracy” with no input and with bankster puppets in positions of power.

    I don’t see why Zionism is suddenly not a religion, where there is no separation between church and state – & note the Pope’s political “Climategatey” stand on this ) .

    You can’t protect ideas. You can confuse people with “ideas and labels” you have for them. You can hate ideas and confuse people with the idea you hate and kill them.That is how wars are started, the ideas are of higher value than life of human beings.

    You are just saying you identify with a political position of being “left” but yet your beliefs sounds mainstream right to me. Who is it you think are currently “defending” the poor – not many are if any. The ministry have just rushed through more unlawful legislation targeting the poor. So are the MP’s,Mayors, Lawyers, HRC or others loudly defending the poor on this – I think not.

  11. “There is widespread scepticism about the refugee passport found near one of the suicide bombers”

    Clutching at straws much? in your weak attempt to distance the Paris atrocities from the migrant issue??

    The passport “conspiracy theory” is a joke … French and Greek authorities confirmed THREE DAYS AGO that the fingerprints of the suicide bomber and the “refugee ” who entered Greece in October match.

    Ergo, at least one of the people who carried out the Paris massacre posed as a refugee:


    Moreover, it’s now revealed that the ringleader of the Paris attacks was commuting from Syria to the EU on a semi-regular basis, so non existent are the external border checks.

    Bottom line? Merkel’s “all Syrians welcome policy” is a lunatic folly.

  12. The term “false flag” is used as a ruse de guerre or pretext for war. Like 9/11.

    Of course people are skeptical about the ludicrous idea that “migrants” orchestrated the 13/11 french false flag.
    Just the fact the French PM stays inside a stadium after the bombs should raise questions.
    “First bomb “explosion outside was heard over tens of thousands of cheering fans at around 9.17pm. Hollande was taking a phone call in the stadium’s security control room at 9.36pm, five minutes after the second bomb blast.”
    That’s not security protocol or procedure, reminded me of the stupid look of “not surprised” on Bushes face when he just sat in a classroom after 9/11 because he already knew.
    How easy it is for people to eat up right wing warmongering propaganda forgetting who created and fund ISIS.
    People who make big money in this business will do anything, including orchestrating false flags to create “terrorists” for their constant war$.
    Do these idiots think they should stop creating thousands of poor destitute homeless war ravaged refugees? No just they want more destruction, more bombing and at the same time to villainize refugees confuse them with mercenaries, military and intel agents.
    Be spectre-cal.

  13. @ Damien no its “Widespread spectre-cism”
    The 13/11 false flag event closed the french borders ,lost the french people their constitutional rights , made France declare war on Syria & a state of emergency. A war on a banking cabal funded bogeyman “ISIS” org the french extensively bombed Syria with Russia, Assad and Washington.
    Perhaps thinking they’ve fooled the non questioning minds into appearing as good french terrorists.

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