Say what you like about ISIS (and I do), they are consistent. They don’t just preach evil like some of their pampered fellow travellers who decry the West’s corruption while slobbing on benefits-funded couches in British council houses, they practice it. Their propaganda has proved so effective against the Iraqi army, for example, because their monstrous reputation is built on monstrous actions.
There is a lesson here – not that there is anything to learn from their brutality, but that we can only defend against their “end of days” jihad by ensuring our own rhetoric about freedom is matched by our actions. Our political decision-making, our culture and our institutions have proved insufficiently effective against this danger at least in part because we have allowed our thinking to become muddled.
The Prime Minister, for example, is suffering somewhat in the press because of a mismatch between his rhetoric – that ISIS are a generational threat to the UK – and his policy – that the RAF should only take intelligence photographs and drop aid parcels. If the islamists are as serious a threat as he claimed on Sunday, then why is Parliament not yet recalled, and why aren’t we joining with the USA to annihilate them?
The Church of England’s acknowledgement that Christians are under attack in the Middle East is correct, but its impact is drastically lessened by the years the established Church spent avoiding the issue. Worse, parts of the CofE have acted like a branch of the Stop the War Coalition – appeasing and excusing rather than defending what is right (Rowan Williams on “inevitable” sharia law springs to mind).
The BBC has given a platform to hate preachers and apologists for extremism for years. Indeed, only this week it merrily interviewed a British ISIS fighter for Newsnight. It’s bad enough that we have recruiters for these lunatics active in the UK, who reportedly prove more effective in signing up young British Muslims than the British Army, without the state broadcaster giving them a free party political broadcast.
The prison system has become the preferred setting for jihad-minded extremists to convert and recruit disillusioned young men and to send them out into the world to wage war on our society. Again, the institution itself is reportedly compromised with various official prison imams suspected of having extremist links and sympathies.
The Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham showed not just that there are people attempting to radicalise the school environment, but that even Britain’s biggest local authority, Birmingham City Council, was either unwilling or unable to deal with such a challenge.
The list, depressingly, goes on. At the heart of this failure is indulgence and moral confusion – indulgence because branches of the state and civil society have wrongly decided that tolerating the spread of extremism is part of being politically correct, moral confusion because some have totally failed to appreciate the evil of this ideology. It is not just another strand in the rich tapestry of life, it is a flame which threatens to burn everything else up.
From Downing Street to the town hall, from prison governors’ offices to BBC editorial meetings, we must rediscover our consistency – freedom does not mean the freedom to oppress, diversity does not mean allowing those who wish to silence others to prosper, and existential threats require action, not just words.