On May 24th 2017, a man named Stuart Michael Waddicor posted a Facebook response to the May 22nd Manchester Arena suicide bombing by Salman Ramadan Abedi in which he claimed to understand “how ISIS (who have claimed responsibility for the MEN Arena attack) works”. Waddicor helpfully explained that “anti Islamic hate speech on Facebook” was to blame for radicalisation of young British Muslims. The left-wing hyperpartisan website EvolvePolitics shared this in a repost with the caption “Absolutely spot on”, which was itself shared 46,000 times.
This post, and the viral spread of it on Facebook, embodies everything that is intellectually, morally and politically wrong in the political left’s understanding of terrorism. It is a goulash-pot of reheated Chomskyan nihilist woo combined with the folk wisdom of half-remembered Bill Hicks and Frankie Boyle stand-up bits, asserted as a statement of liberating knowledge triumphing over social ignorance, flecked with the rage and sneer of the virtuously illuminated. It has successfully convinced or satisfied the beliefs of those who gave it around 6,000 ‘likes’ that the way to stop ISIS and similar groups from continuing to attack and slaughter civilians is to post shouty Facebook statuses condemning the racist or ignorant comments made by friends and relatives, breathlessly declaring “YOU, the ones full of hate…. YOU are ISIS.” Yes, you, the British people who post uninformed Facebook comments, are ISIS. You are not even just helping ISIS, YOU are ISIS. By the power of your ignorant social media comments, you have forced otherwise normal young men from Muslim backgrounds to join an organisation which has committed genocide, enslavement and mass murder.
Racist British Facebook posts are to blame for ISIS. The navel-gazing narcissism of this position would be laughable if it were not also profoundly sinister, made more so by the far reach of the post’s viral spread on social media. Expertise from institutes for the study of radicalisation, the memoirs of former extremists, the insights of social psychology and political science mean nothing – but a viral post which blames Islamist terrorist attacks on your racist uncle wins your approval and shared influence. This is what it is now like to be a socially concerned member of the political left who wants to respond to terrorism without actually responding to terrorism.
Anyone who wants to “educate” themselves via viral posts which blame the brainwashing of ISIS recruits on racist Facebook posts should probably drop the hyperpartisan Kool-Aid and instead look at a resource like the the SITE Intelligence Group, which has helpfully posted (and pinned to its Twitter feed) a video explaining how ISIS actually does indoctrinate young people, including teenagers and children. Anyone genuinely interested in the subject should consider viewing it – though be warned that its content is extremely disturbing and includes scenes from ISIS-made videos, including atrocities committed by children.
ISIS shows its initiates videos of executions, massacres and atrocities committed by its own members. It shows battlefield scenes and the glorification of carnage. It depicts the global military campaign against itself as a campaign of annihilation against all Muslims, everywhere. Racist Facebook posts by people in the West form a minimal, trivial if not totally insignificant part of its initiation and training. The fact that 6,000 people, many of them university educated, would be willing to endorse or enthusiastically re-post a claim as objectively false, if not completely delusional, as one which ascribes ISIS recruitment in Britain as relying on offensive social media posts, is profoundly disturbing. The future of any ability to resist terrorism depends upon a willingness to understand the most basic essentials of how terrorism functions. There is apparently a desire among sections of the educated to sacrifice this understanding in favour of indulgence in ideologically-satisfying pseudo-knowledge produced by hyperpartisan echo-chamber sites.
The wrongness expands beyond junk explanations of how terrorist organisations, including ISIS, function or recruit followers (not a single source is given for any of the societal-sweeping accusatory claims). The people who have enthusiastically liked and shared this status have done so without the slightest thought for any understanding or knowledge produced by experts in radicalisation or the study of ISIS itself. Their reasons for sharing it are most likely for the same reason that social media echo-chambers like EvolvePolitics are able to thrive in the first place. The anti-Western, “we are to blame” leftish partisanship of the post confirms their existing beliefs, and signals to others that they are anti-racist; in fact so anti-racist, that they blame non-Muslims for the Islamic State more than any Muslims, including the individuals who join ISIS. In proffering a baseless, fact-free pseudo-explanation of the functioning of terrorist recruitment, the author claims to “want to take a minute to remind people how ISIS works”. The reader who ‘likes’ the status is then signalling that they are enlightened, and knows what’s really going on.
The seething hatred for the inferior, uneducated masses is contained in the explosion of self-righteous declaratives; “YOU are ISIS. You are the enemy.” No consideration is given for the seriousness of branding members of the British public to be part of a terrorist organisation. No consideration is given to the fact that an extremist in 2016 murdered a serving Member of Parliament screaming “death to traitors!”; it is apparently totally acceptable to declare one’s Facebook friends and neighbours to be part of ISIS, and responsible for ISIS recruitment, if one is on the viral clickbait Left.
When I first read this post, in all its bizarre misdirected fury, the following thoughts sprang initially to mind:
1. The overwhelming majority of “foreign” ISIS recruits (those not from the territory it controls in Syira and Iraq) are still from Muslim-majority countries. ISIS was created by men who had spent their entire lives living in the Sunni Arab-majority states of Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The recruits come from across the globe and their reasons for joining are multi-faceted. One of the most predominant is the appeal of living in a promised utopian state, and playing divinely-ordained roles in creating this state. The beliefs about the world held by ISIS supporters are profoundly disordered and include belief in (often antisemitic) economic conspiracy theories and persecution complexes without basis in fact. British ISIS recruits follow in this same general pattern.
2. The “poor, beaten down” people in those same Muslim-majority countries are the non-Muslim minorities who have for the most part not formed an equivalent movement to ISIS, despite the wholesale persecution and even extermination of minority faiths. Yazidis, Coptic Christians and Sufi Muslims have not formed an apocalyptic death cult of their own which is comparable to ISIS. The scale of persecution being visited on religious minorities by ISIS, as well as by authoritarian governments in the region, vastly dwarfs the scale of bullying or ill-treatment suffered by any Muslim community in the democratic West.
3. Millions of people are currently unemployed, living in poverty and frustration in Southern Europe, particularly Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece, and have been for prolonged periods of time. Whilst they may end up voting for extreme parties or endure higher rates of suicide and substance abuse, the risk of them becoming jihadists or killing their fellow citizens in suicide bombings is near zero. If ISIS recruits in the West feel marginalised by unemployment or lack of suitable jobs for graduates, they face the same situation as millions of others – but with the tantalising hope offered by an ideology which promises to solve everything for them.
4. ISIS requires no ’empowering’ to brainwash others. Any totalitarian movement or even any run-of-the-mill religious cult, is capable of brainwashing its members without reference to external hostility or without even using external materials. Many radicals are spoon-fed a distorted view of the world which may present news and historical events in a way beneficial to the group – but practically any event can be used as ammunition in the machinery of propaganda and brainwashing.
Every single premise in the post shared by EvolvePolitics is demonstrably wrong, distorted and contrived to confuse and manipulate an audience, either written by someone who knows nothing about ISIS and radicalisation or someone who wants others to form an extremely distorted picture of the subject. This is not merely mistaken or offensive, it is obscene. It is obscene because, in addition to blaming the innocent or the non-culpable (random Facebook users who post prejudiced or unpleasant statuses and comments) for the recruitment successes of a genocidal terrorist movement, it absolves the guilty (the ISIS recruiters and those who willingly answer their call) of moral culpability. It directs the people reading the posts to focus their attentions and anger away from ISIS itself and onto their own society, misdirecting as well as misinforming them as to why terrorists are attacking them and how to prevent this.
This is, in moral terms, about the equivalent of encouraging the public in the 1920s to blame the existence of the New York Mafia on working-class Irish-Americans who were rude to Italian-Americans in the street.
The price of self-delusion with junk explanations, victim-blaming and abolishing the moral agency of the enemy – the actual enemy, not the imagined posters on social media who the author elevates to the same status as ISIS – all of this is the mark of an ideological framework that is bent on self-immolation, and taking its supporters with it. The term ‘Regressive left’ was coined for precisely this kind of post; the men who join ISIS are infantilised to a status of naive, even helpless victimhood, whilst the virtuous and anti-racist left seek to blame terrorism on the people they despise as a matter of first principle; the ignorant masses of their own societies.
This is the language of the fanatic, the person who regards their own society as more deserving of condemnation and hatred than the individuals who are killing its citizens. People posting things you do not like on Facebook are not ISIS. Only ISIS are ISIS. If we believe the real solution to stopping terrorism is to swallow the anti-Western, anti-democratic propaganda of the Islamist movement entirely before spewing it out in a torrent of abuse directed at the British public, we really are lost. In the moral universe of the person who wrote this post and the left-wing hyperpartisan clickbait website which posted it, ISIS is drained of moral responsibility. The political Islamist movements which spawned ISIS, the Sunni Wahabbist clerics which gave it its theology, and the legions of quiet sympathisers who funnel money to ISIS from across the world, bear less responsibility for terrorism than Dave from Margate who posts an angry comment under a news article.
This post demonstrates, in the plainest terms possible, how appeasement and capitulation to an enemy is made possible. If the logic of this post is followed though to its logical ends, ISIS will merely have to sit back and watch whilst Britain destroys itself in a festival of virtuous self-hatred. They will ask how their propaganda worked so effectively as to create a situation where educated, middle-class opinion-formers with influence over the media and the culture of this country, came to believe in the days following the massacre of children at a pop concert, that the appropriate response was to blame themselves and not the people who actually carried out the massacre.
This post, if it was believed and acted upon by the people who make the decisions in this country, is as dishonest, bigoted and dangerous as anything spat out of the mouth of Katie Hopkins or Tommy Robinson. The more dangerous for the fact that the author, the publishers and the people who ‘liked’ this post, think they are being clever, that they are intellectually and morally superior to their racist neighbours for believing its premises and conclusions.
This post is an exhibit in the kind of self-annihilating regressive thought that will, if it were taken even remotely seriously by the majority of the population and the governing classes, give the Islamists a victory they could never have predicted.