There is a legitimate parallel to be drawn between the IRA and ISIL (or ISIS, or Daesh, or whatever we’re calling it this week). Indeed I have cited the parallel myself. We should be careful to recognise that while most IRA terrorists were Irish Catholics, they represented only a tiny percentage of the Irish Catholic community, most of whom rejected violence. It was vitally important not to stereotype all Irish Catholics as terrorists.
The same is true of ISIL. The great majority of British Muslims are decent law-abiding people, who are appalled by the violence in Manchester and more recently in London. We can and must condemn the terrorists and their fellow-travellers while taking care not to stereotype the whole Muslim community.
But at one point the parallel breaks down. The objective of the IRA was essentially political. They were not fighting for their religion. They were fighting for a united Ireland. Now I personally reject that objective for a number of reasons – and I absolutely reject and repudiate the IRA’s abhorrent methods. But I can at least recognise that Irish unification is a reasonable and legitimate objective for an Irish nationalist, provided it is pursued through a peaceful political process.
But this is not the case with ISIL. Admittedly it is difficult to get a clear and coherent statement of ISIL’s objectives, and difficult to see how mowing down civilians with a hired van, or stabbing people at random, could serve such objectives.
However we can reasonably say that their objective is to impose their own Mediæval interpretation of Islam on the whole world, by force. In the process they are happy to kill and torture and behead their opponents on an industrial scale They will cheerfully kill any non-believer, but they are especially keen to kill apostates, blasphemers, Coptic Christians and homosexuals. And they want to lock women into subservience to (Muslim) men, denying them their fundamental rights.
They want a global Caliphate. This is not a political objective – or to the extent that it could be, it is not a legitimate political objective. It harks back to the early days of Islam, when it was imposed by fire and the sword. In the case of the IRA, we could oppose the terrorists without setting ourselves against Catholicism. But to oppose ISIL, we must be prepared to condemn not the Muslim faith as a whole, but at least this version of it – a version which is surreptitiously promoted in mosques and madrassas in the UK.
Earlier today I Tweeted: “It is quite wrong to stereotype all Muslims as terrorists. But it is equally wrong to deny that ISIL is inspired by Islam”. In half an hour it had had forty re-Tweets and 4,000 views. I’ve also taken the usual stick from the usual trolls, but I stand by the Tweet.