A journalist and law student explains his feeling the British left has ostracized opponents of Islamism after Corbyn’s election as Labour leader.
Robbie Travers is the executive director at Agora, non-partisan think tank for young people aged of 15-28 and junior media management at the Human Security Centre, a non-profit foreign policy think tank based in London. He is a second year student of law at Edinburgh University.
He graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project Dialogue Coordinator Elliot Friedland about the struggle against Islamism on the British left.
Clarion Project: Why do you think certain sections of the left have struggled to robustly combat the problems of Islamism?
Robbie Travers: There are a variety of reasons for the left’s troubling inability to combat Islamism or enter an honest dialogue on problems amongst Islamic groups.
These include the racism of low expectations, which is sadly a regular feature of the left’s discussions surrounding Islam.
Because Islamic people face prejudice in the West, many on the left often adopt an approached best simplified by the following formula: “since they must protect or defend minorities, and Muslims are a minority in the west, they consequently must protect Muslims.” This regressive trend of supporting and apologizing for the regressive elements of the religion of a minority is common.
This line of argument fails to wash though, as not discussing issues and failing to challenge authoritarian and theocratic views and individuals is not “protecting Muslims,” it’s eroding their relations with wider society and undermining the platform that moderate Muslims and Islamic reformers have to stay upon.
Many argue that since these people are oppressed, their terrorism may not be justifiable, but it is understandable. This, however, stands at odds with their mantra that Islamism isn’t properly part of Islam. So oppressing Muslims, apparently, enrages groups that aren’t “true Muslims” (note the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy) who then often kill Muslims, all to oppose the killing of Muslims?
If you are confused by the left’s complex and heavily contradictory narrative, don’t worry most voters are, and hence they no longer consider the left’s opinion as accurate or viable on Islamism.
Another reason is that because Islamism stands against the (western) patriarchy and the current system of capitalist and free societies, many feel that the enemy of their enemy is their friend, even when their friends tend to be theocratic totalitarian cults that despise many of the freedoms these individuals take for granted. The deployment of this argument can be seen as particularly prevalent amongst young activists and intersectionalists often chanting that since the West, which symbolizes the dominance of Western White-Cis-Hetero-Male ruling classes, and patriarchy, is the ultimate evil.
Anything which challenges this dastardly hegemony, since the Soviet Union doesn’t exist anymore, must be cheered and rooted for.
Cheering for movements and ideology despite not thinking of the consequences and full beliefs of these consequences has seen pro-LGBT groups defend IS and apologize for Hamas, women’s groups turning their back on democrats and Islamic feminists across the MENA in favor of apologizing for regimes that abuse them like Iran, and defending symbols of misogyny like the Burqa.
Senses of self-loathing and “white guilt” created by identify politics can be blamed for this inability to tackle Islamism too. Often when discussing Islam, you will encounter those who say “But Christianity is bad too,” and trade in various platitudes about Islam, such as “If all Muslims are terrorists, why aren’t we dead yet.” No-one of any credibility is asserting this, and to fight against straw men rather than the actual argument is a tactic of those unable to answer the decent, fair questions about problems with radicalization.
And if the left refuse to answer those questions coherently, the far right most certainly will answer the questions. And nobody of any substantial reason wants to see the far right with the exclusive ability to answer any questions.
The left have lost their way, large chunks of the Left no longer represent the working classes they purport to represent, and actually employ snobbery – being repulsed by the anti-immigration, socially conservative, anti-welfare working person who despises terrorism and is suspicious of Islamism. Most working class people have little time for those arguing about how the West is just as evil or IS, or that we have significant issues or problems that are comparable to the genocides committed by IS.
Hence the left risk drifting onto obscurity on the issue as their perceived base no longer sees the left as representative of their stance against terror.
Following from this, there is a determined arrogance amongst Progressives that an Islamist is just like them and isn’t actually motivated by the Koran, but rather has legitimate grievances with the West and current global order, and this somehow means we should understand that they are victims.
This fetishization of victimhood and diminishment of actual victims means that the left have no compelling ability to simply, and crisply condemn the terror attack and the ideology that motivated it, rather than blaming the victims for the attacks.
Clarion: You are currently a second year student at the University of Edinburgh. How do people on campus relate to the issue of Islamist extremism?
Travers: Edinburgh has seriously improved, but has a long way to progress. It must be stated that the majority of students are tired of flailing narratives, and we are seeing a desire for dialogue. Edinburgh now has an official “Israeli Engagement Society,” which aims to engage people in dialogue over such important topics. This would not have happened in previous years.
However, there was an attempt to stop the society from forming by voting individually, in which many members of Student Justice for Palestine tried to stop our group from existing. It is a worrying trend that some members of said group would seek to limit the rights of pro-Israeli students to recognition. They want one rule for themselves and another rule for others.
Often there is a bizarre position encountered on campus which argues Islamist extremism should not be seen as a threat, going along with anti-semitism, and the idea that Islamism is caused by the Western world. There is a worrying trend that somehow the 2003 invasion of Iraq is seen as a Pandora’s Box and the root of all subsequent evil, like the creation of IS. It is seen as a symbol of colonialism, and how the West needles in affairs of others too often. Many occupying this position however, when challenged, provide no answers on how to challenge either Islamic theocracies or terrorist organizations.
There is an idea that somehow Islamism and Islam are completely unconnected. There is also an incredibly paternalistic attitude that Islam must be protected from criticism. Students who will criticize the Vatican, or Judaism freely, will often feel scared to criticize Islam. There are also concerns about the “Safe space” policy which is designed to protect people from harmful and offensive speech. The problem, however, is when you exist in an environment in which people cannot discuss Islam or issues with the faith without others taking offence, and often taking offence because someone may take offence, you shut down the discussion.
Clarion: Why do you support UK airstrikes against targets in Syria?
Travers: UK airstrikes in Iraq and Syria still have a remarkable 0 civilian casualties figure, which is a tribute to the precision strikes of our RAF and Brimstone missile technology. We are not slaughtering people as often posited, we are saving lives by striking strategic targets and ensuring civilians are not killed. This is what an accurate and precise military operation does and is not comparable to ISIS tactics. It’s also having a real effect, reducing IS territory in Iraq and Syria and hence reducing their ability to spread their genocidal rule.
The longer we allow their state to thrive in Iraq and Syria, the longer we allow a hostile terrorist training facility, which areas of Iraq and Syria function as, we endanger our civilians, and put the lives of Iraqis at risk. We are also providing essential support for groups fighting for our values on the ground, like Kurds.
Striking against ISIS also helps us tackle a group complicating the Syrian Civil War, so that if we can begin reducing IS territory dramatically; we can also highlight the crimes of Assad, and works towards the removal of the butcher of 85% of Syria’s population!
Clarion: You’ve spoken before about the need to revive liberalism to adequately tackle Islamism? What do you mean by that and why is it necessary?
Travers: We need to be as passionate about fundamental freedoms, about education, and discussion as Islamists are about spreading their theocracy. We need to start defeating fascism with freedom, for example educating women and empowering them across the globe to run businesses, control their reproductive cycles, and countering radicalization with education.
We also should continue cross faith and international partnerships with schools, to show that Muslims, Christians and Jews that other faiths are not the enemy, and work on reducing the ability for an extremist narrative to take hold at a young age.
Clarion: You left the Labour party after the election of Jeremy Corbyn. Where do you see a political home for left wingers who oppose Islamism?
Travers: Nowhere. Isn’t that genuinely such a sad statement to have to make?
But we are homeless, politically homeless due to the right and left spectrum both having flaws. The only people that are aided by the left failing to have a decent discussion on Islam is the right, and that includes the far right, and Islamists, as Muslims will be alienated by society and driven to extremism as the far right offer answers that are based on simplistic hatred and prejudice.
EDITORS NOTE: The featured image is of Robbie Travers. (Photo: © Robbie Travers)