Andrew quotes the loathesome Abu Hamza below. What I’ve read about his case persuades me, first, that I would not be terribly upset if this man were slowly gnawed to death by rabid hamsters tomorrow, and second, that his prosecution is nonetheless pretty troubling. The most serious charges against him involve “soliciting” murder—which seems to involve saying a lot of appalling things about, well, everyone but adherents of his necrotic brand of Islam, and talking about the duty to “fight” and “bleed” the “enemy,” declaring at one point that “killing the kafir for any reason is OK.” There are an additional four counts of “using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with the intention of stirring up racial hatred”. And he had a book regarded as “useful to terrorists.”

None of the accounts I’ve read have suggested that they’ve got, to put it crudely, a body—someone who was killed or some act of violence committed at Hamza’s prompting—or that there was any kind of direct involvement with any particular plan or target. And it seems to me that there’s a big difference between a narrow command, with an expectation that it will be obeyed, to harm some particular persons, or a direct incitement to riot (“They’re over there, get ’em!”) and this kind of general advocacy, which seems to be (if only barely) within the ambit of speech a free society ought to countenance. The new British policy is to go after those who seek to “justify” or “glorify” terrorism. And it’s hard to see how you draw a bright line that stops you short of putting in that category, for instance, Pat Robertson’s implication that the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was divinely inspired.

ISLAMO-FASCISM This isn’t directly related, but since Andrew defends the term “Islamo-fascism” in passing, I’ll chip in that I’ve been persuaded by Olivier Roy’s excellent Globalized Islam that this is not a terribly helpful term. That’s not to say it’s never apt—it might be well suited for Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini—but that using it in a blanket way for any radical Islamism of an authoritarian stripe elides more than it illuminates. (And I know that as an Orwell fan, Andrew will be acutely sensistive to the problem alluded to in “Politics and the English Language” of watering down terms until “[t]he word Fascism has…no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable.'”)

One of Roy’s key points (one of many in an insight-rich book) is that the modern terrorists he dubs neo-fundamentalists represent an important break from state-focused Islamism as we previously understood it. One central trend he identifies among these newer groups, for example, is de-territorialization: What is in many ways radical and dangerous about these new doctrines is that they reject the local and national accretions that different forms of Muslim practice have picked up over the years in favor of an ostensibly purer, trans-national, trans-racial Islam. The driving force here is a desire for a practice not embedded in any local or national culture. In a perverse way, it is more individualist than traditional Islamism, and, argues Roy, the neo-fundamentalists’ “quest for a strict implementation of sharia with no concession to man-made law pushes them to reject the modern state in favour of a kind of ‘libertarian’ view of the state: the state is a lesser evil but is not the tool for implementing Islam.”

Of course, this description too is a broad one that won’t accurately capture every sort of violent fundamentalist—and probably some will regard all this as picking nits. But as Sun Tzu advised, if you “know the enemy and know yourself, in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.” And however rhetorically satisfying it is, “Islamo-fascism” as an umbrella term doesn’t seem like a helpful tool for knowing the enemy.

—posted by Julian