There are various pieties that politicians observe in the wake of some barbarity committed by Islamic fundamentalists and duly David Cameron observed them in his statement yesterday about the murder of David Haines. Of the perpetrators, he observed:
‘They are killing and slaughtering thousands of people – Christians, Muslims, minorities across Iraq and Syria. They boast of their brutality. They claim to do this in the name of Islam. That is nonsense. Islam is a religion of peace. They are not Muslims, they are monsters.’
I really wish he wouldn’t. It doesn’t add anything whatever to our understanding of Isis to say that they are not Muslims but monsters. They may not be our preferred kind of Muslims – my own preference is for the C of E sort you used to get in the former Yugoslavia – but they are, unquestionably Muslims of a particularly unattractive stamp. Calling them monsters is an impolite way of abnegating any effort to understand them.
As for the notion that Islam is a religion of peace, it is, of course, but it is also a religion of war; the reflexive description of it as a religion of peace doesn’t quite do justice to its earliest history. These are platitudes to suggest goodwill towards all communities, which is fine, but we really don’t need declarations about what Islam is, and isn’t.
I’d be inclined to leave it myself to the Muslim Council of Britain to decide on the religious character of Islamic State and they have, usefully, condemned the organisation. The business of the British PM isn’t to sound off about a religion not his own but to deal with the Brits in its ranks who are – to the country’s shame – not just cutting the throats of Western hostages but swaggering around the cities under Isis control, terrorising their inhabitants, flogging women who leave their homes unaccompanied and flogging, beheading and crucifying local non-collaborators. The most useful element of the PM’s statement was when he observed that ‘the United States is taking direct military action. We support that.’
By the way I don’t think it’s even helpful for him to describe the unfortunate Mr Haines as a ‘British hero’. Even if he hadn’t been an aid worker, but an inoffensive businessman, his murder would still be barbarous. Somehow, I don’t think we need a hierarchy of victimhood.