There’s a new wave of confusion washing up on the shores of progressive liberalism, which makes its usual mistake of labelling the wrong-doer as victim. The three London schoolgirls who decamped to Turkey at half-term in transit to the Islamic State are now being portrayed as the targets of grooming by Islamic ‘extremists’ using social media.
Against the background of the three departing teenagers, one of whom is meant to have been following more than 70 jihadist Twitter accounts, the BBC Radio’s Moral Maze broadcasts a show to explore whether freedom of expression should be curbed and whether it is inconsistent to defend the freedom of speech for Charlie Hebdo while seeking to protect the vulnerable from the jihadist campaigns advanced on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Now, leaving aside that nobody who holds forth about reining in the internet seems to have a passing grasp of the technologies involved and leaving aside also the obvious truth that freedom of speech must apply equally to all, there is something repugnant about the juxtaposition by the BBC of Charlie Hebdo and jihadist social media as if there was ever any kind of equivalence between them.
If you have your pixel scissors handy you may want to cut out and keep the simple table below and show it to people who find this reality difficult or unpalatable:
|Recruits Teens||Gets Murdered|
|Jihadist Social Media||YES|
The question then is whether the Bethnal Green Three were truly ‘groomed’ in the sense of being inveigled into something that they would not have got embroiled in without malign passing off by a third party or whether they were simply recruited to a movement that reflected their own leanings? Are they vulnerable children, as a Guardian columnist would have it, who were being lured into a fashion trend, as it might be the latest boy-band or pair of trainers?
It would require an effort of will, which some may find impossible, to think that a no more than averagely bright fifteen-year-old could be wholly blind to the hostage-taking and decapitations which mark IS’s modus operandi. If such ingenuous fifteen-year-olds do in fact exist, then their parents have a duty to ensure that they don’t have much available travel money and that their passports are kept safely under lock and key.
Much has been made, and rightly, of the BBC’s revealing poll of British Muslims released this week, which exposes attitudes that are more tolerant among older generations than among the young. On every issue the proportion of broadly conventional to frighteningly radical views seems to split two thirds to one third.
Hence, 62 per cent of 16-24-year olds (and 71 per cent of over-55s) think that they have as much in common with non-Muslims as with Muslims. So two cheers out of a possible maximum of three for our shared humanity.
But 35 per cent of 16-24-year olds (and 19 per cent of over-55s) think that a Muslim who converts to another religion should be punished by death.
One unsettling question emerges from this last frightening statistic: what, if anything, is the value of freedom of speech if freedom of conscience is denied? Muslims who would argue for voluntary curbs on free speech by non-Muslims – or self-censorship – so as to avoid giving offence to Muslims may be less interested in a quiet life where their own coreligionists deviate from their given branch of Islam.
Among the younger group, 37 per cent prefer Sharia to British law, 74 per cent would prefer Muslim women to wear the veil and 13 per cent admire organisations like Al-Qaeda that are prepared to fight the West.
All of which being so, who can realistically believe that the Bethnal Green Three were ‘groomed’ in any accepted sense of the word by jihadist media? While some might wish to argue that they were drawn by the perceived romanticism of joining an outlaw band or by teenage sexual fantasies, it is altogether more probable that they subscribed to what IS signifies because they belonged to that important one third minority predisposed to approve of execution for apostasy.
On the whole it must be a good thing for as many as think that Sharia law should trump national law to remove themselves to a jurisdiction which suits them better and which will welcome them. The cost of additional UK consular staff in Turkey on the border with Syria to collect up unwanted British passports would be a cost that many would be happy to see met out of the public purse.
The BBC poll demonstrates that Islamic extremism is sufficiently widespread to be called mainstream. Putting the emphasis now on the divisive threat of Islamophobia because ‘true’ Islam abominates the actions of the jihadists, is to ignore the Egyptian Copts killed in Libya, the deaths in Paris, Sydney, Bali, London, New York and elsewhere at the hands of Muslims and in the name of Islam. It is to turn a deaf ear to the voices of the dead silenced in the name of that religion.
At the same time, to ascribe the departure of three young Muslim adherents drawn to their ideological centre of gravity to malevolent and predatory forces against which they lacked the power to resist, is to fail to call something by its proper name, which can only perpetuate misunderstanding and give more strength to radical Islam by focusing on the wrong target.