On Violent Extremism

Last December I posted something I’d written On an Anniversary. Those who have read the piece or experienced the days following December 6, 1989 will recall that initially the response to the deaths in Montréal was to say that it was the act of a mad man. But shortly, as the fact that the victims had been singled out because they were women who were making a success of themselves in what has traditionally been a “man’s field” — as the fact that they had been singled out because the killer blamed women, particularly successful women, for all of the failures in his own pitiful little life — the conversation quickly shifted.  Certainly the killer was “a mad man”, but he developed his “madness” within the context of a society which still had gendered expectations, a society which still tolerated “jokes” which would be considered hate speech if cracked about an ethnic rather than a gendered segment of society.  In short, there was a realization in Canada that the fourteen women died for the unexamined sexist sins of society at large.  Sadly, I can’t help but think that now, almost a quarter century later, they seemed to have died in vain.  But that is beside the point of this post.

The killer on that December evening was a violent extremist.  Yes, he was a savage mad man. Yes, he was a barbarian.  But, his mad extremism was a mad extreme of “normal” accepted attitudes of large segments of Canadian society.  Many men (and women) then (and now) believed that a woman’s place was in the home, not working, and that women should be obedient to “their” men, that men should be the bread winners in a properly ordered society.  And so on.  And such ideas were (and are) publicly expressed at all levels of society, in print, on the radio, on television, around kitchen tables (and today on the Internet) without anyone questioning that such expression was acceptable and few finding anything disturbing about such ideas.

Montréal changed that.  Sure, the ideas are still expressed, perhaps expressed more widely and loudly today than twenty years ago.  But today, the idea that such ideas are morally wrong, detrimental to a well ordered society and simply impolite in any company, has become a strong bit of currency in public discourse in Canada.  Today, if a Member of Parliament were to utter the words “I don’t beat my wife, do you, George? Har Har” in the House of Commons, the Speaker would almost literally have that Member’s head.  When that exact disgusting moment played out in Ottawa in 1982, there was certainly shock and condemnation from around the country, but it was considered a bit of embarrassing Old Boyishness in most quarters. Since Montréal the discussion has changed and in most contexts, violence against women is not considered a joke (violence against sex workers and against indigenous women are shameful exceptions).

All of the above is preamble to my response to the murder of the British soldier in London a few days ago.  We are all rightly shocked and horrified.  And we all know that individuals are murdered every day in major metropolises around the world.  Sometimes they are murdered in public and in equally horrific ways.  Those murders might make international news or might not, depending on the news cycle at the moment.  But the murder of Royal Fusilier Drummer Lee Rigby was guaranteed it’s place on international newscasts because he was targeted because he was a British Soldier and was targeted because the killers considered themselves Muslim.  If two chavs had killed a schoolmate because he was a ginger, the conversation would be quite different — likely about bullying — and rightly so.

And it absolutely correct that British Muslim groups condemned the attacks with utmost dispatch.  And, I sympathize with those, Muslim or otherwise, who articulately state that “this is not Islam” . . .

But . . .

The killer in Montréal was Canadian. Certainly, he in no way represented what was good and noble about Canada (his victims did that), but he did stand for an aspect of Canadian society which I despise but which I can’t deny is part of Canada.  As long as there are sexist jokes, as long as there is sexual harassment and sexual discrimination and sexual assault and cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women that go uninvestigated, Canada has a sexism problem.  Indeed, until no one would remain silent in the face of sexism, Canada is at some level, a sexist society.

What does this have to do with Drummer Rigby’s murder?

Simply this, and I’m going to be as clear and succinct as possible:

As long as a single Muslim man, woman or child sits silent in a mosque, a marketplace, at a television or radio, at a kitchen table, in a nation’s parliament or a company’s boardroom — as long as any self-identifying Muslim sits quiet as a Muslim figure of authority utters a suggestion that violent jihad is in any way acceptable, Drummer Rigby’s murder and all other violent extremism is an aspect of Islam.

Please, my Muslim neighbours and friends, my brothers and sisters: do not ever again remain silent! Do not wait for the next Islamist murder to wring your hands and cry “This is not Islam!”  No. There is something you must do every day, every hour.  Do not ever again allow an imam to preach violent jihad without standing to oppose the very idea.  If you remain silent, you are in no way defending Drummer Rigby. You are turning a deaf ear to his calls for aid and accepting that his murder is Islam.

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