Despite claims that political correctness is merely about politeness and not offending folk, the Virtue-signalling that underlies political correctness corrupts public debate in various ways–it puts a criteria (status-as-Virtuous) above facts, it elevates intent over consequences and it sets up various taboos and ludicrous moral distinctions. Such as, for example, the claim that there is some great moral difference between “coloured people” and “people of colour”.
It also creates fundamentally silly public debates, such as over whether the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is, as it obsessively claims to be, Islamic.
Is ISIS mainstream Islam? Clearly not; it regards itself as being at war with mainstream Islam that has allowed itself to be corrupted by unbelief. Is it supported by most Muslims? Also, clearly not. But Islam, like Christianity, is a broad religion with a long history. Just because something is not mainstream, and is supported by only a minority of believers, does not mean it is not of that religion, or grounded in a particular variant or strain within it.
Note that this debate over what is “really” Islamic is not a debate which has anywhere near the same salience regarding Christianity or Judaism. It is a manifestation of an “essentialist” claim that would be derided if used elsewhere–the sort of folk who worry about what is “really” or “authentically” Muslim or Islamic would typically be very hostile to debates about what was “really” or “authentically” English, British, Australian, Western etc and likely to be highly contemptuous of attempts to exclude folk who do bad things from being Christian, Jewish, Western etc on the basis of some claim that they were not “authentically” such.
Islam is the easiest religion in the world to join: simply publicly make the profession of faith, the Shahada, (“there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is messenger of God”) and one has submitted and become a Muslim. There are various fringe groups that many Muslims do not regard as Muslim (the Alawites, for example) because of various doctrinal additions they adhere to, but that is a common feature of religions. (How many Christians do not regard Mormons as really Christian?)
Islam is a hard religion to leave–the traditional penalty for apostasy is death. That, in itself, just makes it a monotheistic religion, as Christianity and Judaism have historically embraced the “apostasy warrants death” view. The difference with contemporary Christianity and Judaism is that many Muslims still believe apostasy warrants death and various Islamic countries still make such apostasy a crime (up to, an including, the death penalty).
If adherents to ISIS profess their belief in Islam (as they clearly do) and are not apostates (as they clearly aren’t) then they are Muslim. Just as ISIS is clearly a manifestation of Islam as a civilisation. (Of Islamdom, so to speak.) Indeed, ISIS itself is part of a long history of violent, purifying movements that claim to go back to the “original” and “authentic” Islam (such as the Almoravids, Almohads, Safavids, etc).
Graeme Wood’s long essay in the Atlantic about ISIS made its Islamic nature and concerns very clear. It has provoked various responses, such as by Mehdi Hasan in the New Statesman, which itself led to a response by historian Tom Holland also in the New Statesman, which has led to further responses. Such as this blog post.
Both Mehdi Hasan’s piece, and the response to Tom Holland, want to claim that if something is not mainstream, orthodox or supported by a majority of Muslims, then it is not Islamic. As any historian will tell you, that is a nonsense restriction. Something can be not mainstream, not orthodox, not supported by a majority, yet clearly be of that religion. If one simply wants to make clear about ISIS not being mainstream, orthodox, or supported by a majority of Muslims, then there is lots of evidence for that. It is making the extra claim that it is “not Islamic” which is the nonsense, which is going a step too far.
Why go there? Some reasons are alluded to in the blog post responding to Tom Holland–the desire not to taint all Muslims with the sins of some Muslims. First, note that this touching concern is not a general one–Western civilisation, for example, is clearly regarded as tainted by any bad thing any state or group therein has done. (Indeed, all white folk are apparently tainted by any bad thing any white person has done.) Second, this is almost childishly simple-minded: of course such a broad religion as Islam has many strains within it. This is attempting to ignore the reality of Islam in favour of some childish, cardboard-cut-out version of it. (And we are back to Virtue-signalling setting up a criteria above truth.)
Medhi Hasan’s piece essentially ignores the entire history of Islamism/political Islam/Muslim fundamentalism. Which also means ignoring decades of resistance and opposition within Islam (both as a religion and a civilisation) by Muslims and people of Muslim heritage to political Islam/Islamism/Muslim fundamentalism. Mention is made of most of ISIS’s victims being Muslim–which is most emphatically true of political Islam in general–but that decades-long specific history of opposition is glossed over or ignored.
Why? First, because it gets in the way of “blame the West”. It is strange how Muslim deaths due to Western actions are supposed to inspire support for ISIS, yet apparently Muslim deaths by ISIS only count as a sign of ISIS not being Islamic. Looking at the decades-long history of Islamism/political Islam/Muslim fundamentalism tells a much more complicated story than “blame the West”. However inconvenient that might be, for example, for Virtue-signalling.
Second, because something the critics within Islam of Islamism/political Islam/Muslim fundamentalism typically do not do, is try and deny that it is Islamic. They are all too aware of its religious nature, its religious claims, its attempt to hijack Islamic identity.
Indeed, it is Islamism/political Islam/Muslim fundamentalism’s claim that to be the “true”, “authentic” Islam which is so telling about its Islamic nature. The claim that it is not Islamic is mere propaganda, and pretty transparent mere propaganda at that.
One can also see the pernicious effects of Virtue-signalling at work in the juxtaposition of the notion that we should respect folk of different cultural backgrounds and then ignore the history of, in this case, an entire civilisation. Except as a victim-foil to Western history. It is preserving Muslims as sacred victims.
As an aside, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have a long history of teaching each other bigotry and techniques of bigotry. “No rights for queers, pagans and apostates” was something Christianity learnt from Judaism and both passed on to Islam. The techniques of dhimmi treatment was Islam extending, formalising, regularising and theologising the treatment of Jews in the Christian Eastern Roman Empire. From which systemisation, the Catholic Church, at the Fourth Lateran Council, adopted the idea of special clothing for Jews (to which it, of course, added Muslims where Sharia specified Christians). Anti-black racism was pioneered by North African Muslim writers to justify mass enslaving (rather than converting, so making them ineligible to be slaves) of sub-Saharan Africans and continues to exist within the Arab world. But to grasp the back-and-forth history, one has to see Islam as a civilisation in its own right; not reduce Muslims to dependant causal puppets, merely reacting to Western actions.
One can see a socio-political point in trying to excise Islamism/political Islam/Muslim fundamentalism from Islam, but such strategy is not truth. Nor is it remotely plausible outside those who are keen on Virtue-signalling. (Including, of course, the view that Islam is inherently virtuous.) This is just another version of the No True Scotsman fallacy.
In the West, people of Muslim heritage who are critics of Islamism/political Islam/Muslim fundamentalism typically find they are subject to various ways of “managing” them; typically to preserve a positive image of Islam. The notion that there is a single Islamic identity (and it requires protection) actually ends up doing much of the work of Islamism/political Islam/Muslim fundamentalism for it, since they are so insistent that there is only one “authentic” Islam, which they represent.
The response to that is not to make the (false) claim that adherents of Islamism/political Islam/Muslim fundamentalism are not Islamic, but to contest the claim that Islam is just one identity. To pretend that Islam is entirely unproblematic, that there are no problematic or awkward ideas within it, is not the clever, adult thing to do; it is childish. It puts Virtue-signalling over truth. (It also feeds into Islamist/political Islam/Muslim fundamentalist claims about true Islam as social harmony, a cure to social alienation.) Muslims are not children and we should not implicitly, or explicitly, treat them as such.