Why don't leftists condemn liberal Islamic terrorism

When it comes to criticism of Islam, the democratic conversation fails. It doesn't have to be

The reactions that follow terrorist acts by radical Islamists are always similar - and they miss their target. A different look at the phenomenon could pave the way to understanding.

The teacher murder in Conflans and the attacks in Nice, Dresden and Vienna, all committed by radical Islamists with maximum unscrupulousness, have sparked a new debate about how society should deal with Islamist terror. Since then, numerous media have mainly discussed the all too hesitant condemnation of the attacks by left-wing voices, which would thus offer protection against Islamist terror. The SPD politician Kevin Kühnert received a cross-party response to his demand that the left should deal more intensively with its currently biggest blind spot - Islamism.

In addition, there is again a loud call for a more decisive distancing from Islamist-motivated attacks and radical Islamism on the part of Muslim associations. The current discussion follows their previous mantras: the confrontation between left and right, the discussion as to whether the terror is rooted in Islam itself, the demand directed at Muslim associations for distancing on the one hand and the criticism expressed by Muslims of the general suspicion directed against them on the other. Perhaps it is time to rearrange the discursive field and see radical Islamism for what it basically is: a variety in the spectrum of right-wing extremist ideologies.

Weird reasoning patterns

Following the recent Islamist attacks, positions were quickly taken, as usual; after all, it is about nothing less than the discursive authority to interpret what happened and the question of the political consequences. Right-wing conservative voices use the attack as confirmation of the existing reservations: the alien and violent that invades society in the form of religion and culture is eroding European values ​​and bringing suffering and calamity to societies - political deeds must finally follow. From the left, the systemic oppression of minorities and the increasing hierarchization of social classes are emphasized, which although not justifying what happened, could at least make it explainable and which called for an integrative society.

In addition to right-wing and left-wing extremist agitation, since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Islamist extremism has emerged as a further independent factor of anti-democratic and anti-liberal threat. However, this classification fails to recognize the ideological psychogram of Islamist extremism and sometimes produces bizarre flowers. Then, for example, when right-wing conservative voices criticize the oppression of women and the chauvinist image of men in Islam, but at the same time demand in their party programs that men should be able to define their territory again and that women want to show their marital solidarity. Likewise, when left, traditionally religiously critical voices want to identify the cause of Islamist attacks in the capitalist world order and cultural oppression and thus at least partially release both the attackers and their ideology from responsibility.

The interpretation of Islamism in Europe thus becomes the playing field for these long-established calculations between right and left. Both rhetorics culturalize and essentialize the Muslim subject. In the heat of the debate, the lines between political and radical Islamism become blurred; There is also a loss of awareness that political Islamism, as represented by the Turkish AKP, for example, is tantamount to a right-wing conservative stance in terms of its central characteristics. He laments the loss of social cohesion and seeks a new community spirit in the Muslim umma. He emphasizes the normative power of that which is given by God and nature and detests the idea of ​​a cultural construction of values. He assumes the primacy of Islam as a normative order and rejects the equivalence of all life plans.

And this is where Islamist extremism meets right-wing extremism; only that one is based on folk beliefs, the other on religious ones. Both have in common the utopia of a pure community that is superior to all others.

Muslim associations in a dilemma

Classifying radical Islamism in the spectrum of right-wing extremist ideologies would not only adjust the discursive field appropriately and give left voices the opportunity to criticize it as anti-liberal and anti-legal ideology where it is factually appropriate. It would also help to find answers in the ominous discussion about the connection between Islam and Islamist extremism. Of course there is such a reference - a subjective one, if the attacker invokes Islam, a substantive one, if the symbols of the Islamic tradition are used for it.

Religious extremism, described in Islamic theological literature as the attitude of those whose lack of control reveals the veins on their foreheads, has been a topic of internal Islamic debate since the very beginning. On the basis of an ethic of the plurality of opinions and religions willed by God, Islamic theology has tried to counteract fundamentalist and extremist dynamics. Muslims themselves may know best about the temptations of religious extremism and how to counter them.

Another truth of the current Islam discourse is that Muslim perspectives and contributions to social debates do not unfold in an ideal discourse field with a balanced balance of power, but that there is a serious structural imbalance in access to public opinion. If Islamic associations condemn attacks motivated by Islamism, who will even notice? And if someone notices it, who will take it seriously at all?

In addition to this structural problem, there is a well-known media dilemma: every distancing creates association at the same time. When Islamic associations regularly articulate the rejection of violence, they create a media link between Islam and violence at the same time.

Islam also needs to be tested

Positioning radical Islamism in the spectrum of right-wing extremist ideologies would ultimately also help Muslim voices - whether organized or individually - to undertake a balanced discussion of religious fundamentalism that is conducive to public credibility. You could draw on empirical values ​​from your own Islamic theological history and at the same time draw on current findings from interdisciplinary research on extremism. The distinction between right-wing and left-wing Muslims and the application of more differentiated standards of religiosity have become common practice in research on Islamism in recent years.

Furthermore, such a classification would show that Muslim criticism of fundamentalism and Muslim criticism of fundamentalism are not the same thing. While the criticism of fundamentalism was a permanent part of the history of Islamic ideas, there has been no fundamental criticism of religion itself, that is to say of Islam, comparable to that of European modernity; and not because Muslims couldn't, but because they didn't want to.

An expectation that exists in many places that the critical examination of Islam must automatically lead to complete emancipation from religion, however, does not correspond to the values ​​of a liberal social order. There needs to be a clear distinction between recognized Muslim piety and religiosity and religious fundamentalism and extremism that should be rejected.

Hardened positions

Despite all knowledge, the signs are not good for a critical and nuanced exchange of views. The respective groups remain too much in their hermetically sealed camps; opinion tribalism is far advanced. The democratic conversation is sick and hardly finds places where it can combine different points of view in a meaningful way and bring about a balance of interests. Parliaments, associations, universities or the media - hardly any of the venerable democratic institutions is currently able to dissolve the hardening on all sides.

Muslim civil society in Europe must set clear signals and express greater trust in the democratic-liberal order, even if it must fear that it will trigger intra-Islamic dissent or that its contributions will be instrumentalized against it. It has to dare to discuss critical moments of its own religious tradition even in the spotlight of above-average media attention and despite the widespread general suspicion of Islam.

Amir Dziri is Professor of Islamic Studies and Co-Director of the Islam Center at the University of Freiburg i. Ü.