Liberals’ Denial of Islamist Terror Lets Bigots Act Like Good Guys

The fear that criticism could give anti-Muslim bigots ammo is justified, but there’s a better way to address this.

4 min read
Liberals’ Denial of Islamist Terror Lets Bigots Act Like Good Guys

The Colombo attacks have re-exposed a hole in the credibility of the left. With a global far-right resurgence, all such holes need to be closed – and fast – if the left is to push back effectively.

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Compare the reactions of liberals to the Christchurch terror attack vs the Colombo terror attack.

After Christchurch, liberal icon AOC was clear about the problem, and clear about how to fix it.

In Christchurch, the condemnation from liberals is clear and specific – "white supremacy", "Islamophobia", "hate-filled extremism", “fascism”.

But in Colombo, while the condemnation is there, it is vague and platitudinous – "stand united", "Easter worshippers", "terrorism", "saddened".

Kavita Krishnan, an Indian icon of the left, jumped to blame Sri Lanka's 'majority' (Sinhalese) for the Colombo bombings, before any investigation was completed – it's just one small example of the difference in the way the left deals with terror or extremism based on the identity of the perpetrator.

Even when it came to the Pulwama attack, there was widespread condemnation of the 'terrorism', but almost no mention of Islamist terror despite the attack being carried out by an avowedly extremist jihadi group.

The hole here is the evident double standard the left employs when dealing with Islam (as opposed to other religions).

It’s true that Muslims are a besieged minority in some countries, including our own, which is why liberals tread lightly... but sacrificing truth for safety is a dangerous game, and prone to unintended consequences.

There's a better way to deal with this fraught problem.



The far-right is surging everywhere, empowered in part by its capture of the legitimate space vacated by the left – the space to criticise Islamist extremism.

Given the global problem of Islamist terror – ISIS, Taliban, Boko Haram, LeT, JeM, etc – and religious extremism from Saudi Arabia to Qatar to Pakistan, the ostrich-like denial from the left is obvious and transparent to everybody. No such exemption is given to saffron terror, or Christian fundamentalism, or any other brand of extremism – which is how it should be.

Censoring each other while Islamist extremist groups carry out bombings, beheadings, stonings, burnings, mass rape, etc, borders on the insane, no matter how well-intentioned.

This reticence to call a spade a spade has real consequences – voices from Muslims trying to encourage reforms within their own communities (like women, 'apostates', LGBTQ people, minority sects) find themselves more or less alone in the fight – any support from the west comes largely from bigots and racists who use it as a cover to safely express their own hatred, while liberals waffle over whether they will seem Islamophobic or not.


Take the example of triple talaq – with the lack of enthusiasm from liberals for the cause, a disingenuous right wing commandeered it for its own purposes, pushing itself as the voice of Muslim women who wanted genuine change. Where does that leave Muslim women? Are they in a better position for the support of the right?

Meanwhile, the ease with which any criticism of Islamist or even Islamic ideology has come to mean "Islamophobia" empowers and strengthens the conservatives who have seized control of the faith. See Iran, where western diplomats wear the forced hijab while they visit, even as Iranian women themselves revolt on pain of imprisonment and torture.

The same is true of Saudi Arabia, which quite cheerfully institutes gender apartheid with not a squeak from the same UN that routinely pounds Israel for apartheid against Palestinians.

We Know Why We're Doing It... But Maybe It’s Time to Stop

Everybody knows the hesitation to name Islamism as the problem is for the fear that any statement even perceived to be against Islam will give ammunition to bigots and racists. That fear is more than understandable...

...but it’s creating a crisis of credibility.

Everyone can see Islamist terror is a global problem – pretending it isn't something the world should worry about is a lie. Pretending it has nothing to do with religion is a lie, just like it would be a lie to say that lynchings in India have 'nothing to do' with Hindutva, or that the Republican Party has ‘nothing to do’ with white supremacy, or that terrorists who blow up American abortion clinics have 'nothing to do' with Christianity.

In the fight to shape public opinion, this dynamic hands anti-Muslim bigots a seemingly legitimate argument, while leeching credibility from liberals.

It allows the right to repackage their bigotry and sell it plausibly as ‘values’.

The Solution

There's a way to speak about Islamism honestly, without strengthening the hand of bigots.

1. Amplify voices of Muslims who speak against the conservatism and extremism within their religion. Notice them, support them. They are the antidote to conservatism, and their increased visibility will puncture the ignorant idea that Islam is an extremist monolith.

2. Use 'Islamist' when criticising, not 'Islamic'. 'Islamist' refers to the political brand of Islam, like Hindutva refers to the political brand of Hinduism. It will separate extremists from moderates.

3. What we mean when we say 'Islamophobia' is actually 'anti-Muslim bigotry' or 'Muslimphobia'. Islamophobia is an obvious misnomer – one cannot be 'phobic' (read: bigoted) about an ideology... all ideologies, whether religious or political, are fair game. We need to separate criticism of this specific ideology from criticism of all Muslims.

Fighting religious extremism of all kinds is a squarely liberal cause, and we risk our own integrity by applying this principle selectively.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  ISIS   terror attack   Islamophobia 

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