Progressives are wrong on terrorism

Security officials gather at the site of a blast outside a public park in Lahore


Whenever a terrorist massacre occurs somewhere in America or Europe, a certain faction of western progressives will reliably scold their mourning fellow citizens for not caring nearly as much about some comparable massacre in the third world.

As far as appeals to empathy go, they have a point.  But progressives who make this case are also arguing against their own ideological interest, given the closer attention one pays to the third world the more flaws one can find in progressive conventional wisdom about terror.

Islamist massacres in western nations, such as Belgium and France, can be made to fit comfortably into victim-blaming narratives traditionally favored by liberals.  As I discussed last week, this perspective views Islamic violence as broadly rational retribution against a chauvinistic society intolerant of the different — “this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded,” to quote Justin Trudeau’s analysis of the Boston marathon bombing.

Progressive political philosophy takes for granted the insensitivity of the majority towards the minority.  Indeed, some have dubbed modern liberalism “anti-majoritarianism,” since these days the movement so often consists of allying with society’s minority faction — be they racial, sexual, religious, historical, whatever — to decry and extort the mainstream.  Gruesome though it may be, minority violence can vindicate the premise of such an ideology — it just proves there’s still much work to be done!

In the third world however, Islamist violence rarely conforms to this storyline.  Take the Easter massacre in Pakistan.

Christians are such a barely-tolerated minority in Pakistan it’s believed the government deliberately undercounts them in the census in order to minimize their existence in a country founded to be a homogenous Islamic state (“Pakistan” literally means “land of the spiritually pure”).  It was not until 2008 that the country appointed it’s first Christian cabinet minister, and after he publicly criticized the anti-blasphemy provisions of the Pakistani criminal code — which presently prescribe execution or life in prison for anyone who, through “imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad” — he was gunned down in the streets of the nation’s capital, Islamabad (meaning: “city of Islam”).



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The Christians of Pakistan are a marginalized minority for whom open discrimination at the highest levels is tolerated far more than Muslim discrimination is tolerated anywhere in Europe. Yet earlier this week, as a small group of Pakistani Christians attempted to celebrate the resurrection of their savior at a park in the city of Lahore, it was a self-declared representative of the Islamist majority who detonated a suicide vest, killing dozens.

The Easter massacre produced, in short the exact opposite of what progressive theory assumes to be the natural order of things — a persecuted minority driven to violence in a pique of frustrated desperation.

Third world Islamist violence is truly incomprehensible to the western mind. Most of the bloodletting is Muslim-on-Muslim, and occurs in nations where Islam is the majority faith, Sharia is law of the land, and the president bows to Mecca five times a day. According to the South Asia Intelligence Review, since 2002 Islamists in Pakistan have blown up over 100 mosques, killing over a thousand people. Pakistan’s constitution begins with the words “sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Almighty Allah alone,” but clearly a few folks still felt excluded.

Too many progressives have tried to understand radical Islam through the prism which they understand most things these days, namely, a case study in the dangers of bigotry and insensitivity. Casting our sights beyond cities like Brussels and Paris, however, suggests that far from being the predictable product of some universal law of abuse and reaction, radical Islam is a movement animated by its own internal logic; a monster that mauls anything different, then consumes its own tail. As The New York Times recently noted, terrorism scholars remain frustrated that Islamists “defy a single profile,” and resist reliable categorization of class, privilege, education, race, geography, and gender. They are an eclectic lot united by an ideology of evil, chasing victims equally diverse.

That other groups have been sources of violence in the past is a truism that provides more comfort than it should to westerners in denial of the unique characteristics of Islamism, and its present role as the world’s most active movement of organized hate. It is not an enemy that will be defeated or avoided through denial or urban myths, but unfortunately that’s all the left is offering at present.

Follow J.J. on twitter: @JJ_McCullough

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