The ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’ entered the popular vernacular around 20 years ago, used by George W Bush to address the bias implicit in the acceptance of low educational attainment standards amongst African-American schoolchildren. Referred to as ‘soft’, it is considered a more subtle and subconscious form of prejudice. However, if progressive responses to the plight of ISIS member Shamima Begum are anything to go by, the bigotry of low expectations is thriving and barely subtle at all.
Catlin Moran of The Times says all Begum is guilty of is “coming across like a dick on TV” while ignoring entirely the savagery the Salafist-Jihadist death cult has perpetrated upon tens of thousands of innocents. Chitra Ramaswamy of the Guardian says the Jihadi bride should “incite our pity and mercy” and that her decision to join a gang of terrorist head-choppers is a “damning indictment” of Britain rather than any particular moral judgement on Begum herself. Michael Segalov of the Guardian (where else?) refers to her as “an innocent child who’d been groomed online”, rather than as someone who evinces unrepentant allegiance to a terrorist organisation responsible for ethnic cleansing.
Even Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Opposition couldn’t muster a few token words of excoriation. "She has that right to remain in Britain and obviously has a lot of questions to answer but also some support that she needs". One can’t quite imagine the same gentle response if Begum had travelled to Israel and joined the Revolt settlers’ terror movement.
First of all, a few facts. ISIS are a Salafist-Jihadist terrorist organisation that have explicitly declared war against Britain and the West. They are responsible for mass sectarian murder, beheadings and torture, systematic genocide and sexual enslavement of women and children. They have a caste of clerics who draw on literalist readings of the Quran and Hadith to issue detailed legalistic religious justifications for their atrocities, believing themselves to hold the final and true interpretation of Islam. They practice an extreme form of takfirism, i.e. to excommunicate, which condemns the vast majority of the world’s Muslims as apostates and thus marked for death.
ISIS recruiters were explicit in all of this when they propagandized the benefits of travelling to the Caliphate to potential members. They wanted to recruit the sadistic, the violent and the psychopathic and their recruitment material was constructed accordingly. The opportunity to have sexual slaves and kill unbelievers was central to ISIS’s marketing pitch and recruits clearly knew what they were joining up for, even if they may also have had other motivations for joining.
Yet why is it that people who normally respond with vehemence at the merest hint of racial prejudice are falling over each other to portray the planet’s most racist people as victims?
If tens of thousands of white men and women from across Europe had declared allegiance to a neo-Nazi terrorist outfit and travelled abroad to found a totalitarian Christian theocracy with the explicit intention of committing mass murder and enslavement, does anyone seriously think the Guardian would be running handwringing columns on their benighted victimhood?
The attempt to portray Shamima Begum and ISIS returnees as victims, deserving of sympathy rather than condemnation betrays an inability on the part of progressives to treat religious and ethnic minorities equally and expect of them the high moral standards they demand of people like themselves.
To treat people equally is to extend moral agency to them and to treat them as conscious and rational beings who have responsibility for their actions. By infantilising ISIS returnees as victims of ‘grooming’, deliberately invoking their comparison with teenage abuse victims, progressives (and it is nearly always progressives who push this narrative) are consciously seeking to deny the men and women who have joined ISIS this very agency and to absolve them of being beholden to the civilized norms expected of themselves.
Indeed, on the very same flight that Shamima Begum took to Syria there was another girl on board from Bethnal Green, who was hauled off by police as the plane was about to take off. The police later found in her possession a stockpile of extremist terrorist material including plans of a key target for ISIS. The notion that Begum was ignorant of the Caliphate’s true intentions is nonsense.
By seeking to exempt religious and ethnic minorities from civilized moral standards, many progressives give the appearance of holding the same prejudices against religious and ethnic minorities as actual racists, but instead of responding with discrimination, they respond with patronizing sympathy.
The anti-racist mask of self-righteousness worn by progressives seems to create a blind spot in their psyche, whereby believing themselves to be virtuous because of their opposition to prejudice they cannot imagine they could ever fall foul of any prejudice themselves.
It should be noted that this Jihadist-murderers-as-victims narrative is not new. Ever since ISIS rose from the ashes of Al-Qeada in Iraq following the destabilising aftermath of the second Gulf war, progressive commentators have been embarrassingly consistent in ascribing the motives of ISIS recruits to anything other than what ISIS specifically tells the world it was founded to do.
US foreign policy, anti-Muslim bigotry, poverty, austerity and economic inequality have all been indicted as leading reasons why young Muslim men and women would venture to Syria to serve a totalitarian state that theologically justifies its every violent act. Progressives have even been keener to impugn climate change for Jihadist barbarism than ponder the possibility that the people joining ISIS were doing so precisely because they were attracted to its scripturally mandated extremism. However, when one considers that many progressives lack an ability to extend moral agency to religious and ethnic minorities, it becomes easier to see why they respond with such misjudgements.
The rush to shield ISIS returnees from the moral standards of civilized society has an even worse consequence, which is to betray the very real victims of ISIS – the Shiites targeted for sectarian murder, the aid workers beheaded on camera, the gay men thrown to their death from buildings in the name of a literalist hardline interpretation of Islam.
In the same refugee camp where Shamima Begum was convincing Western progressives to shower her with sympathy, there are Yazidi women who have been sexually enslaved and seen their husbands, brothers and fathers murdered in a horrific genocide. We know from the testimony of Yazidi survivors that the women of ISIS were complicit in their suffering by beating them and then dressing and putting makeup on them to prepare them for sexual abuse at the hands of ISIS male fighters.
To portray Jihadist murderers and their brides as victims wilfully spits in the face of the Yazidis and all the other victims of ISIS. To demand sympathy for the guilty is an act of moral treason against the innocent.
This is not to say there can never be a moral case for forgiveness towards the men and women who joined ISIS. However there can be no forgiveness without repentance and it is quite clear that Shamima Begum, and nearly every other ISIS member who has gone on record, is not repentant in the slightest. And there is no path to either forgiveness or repentance without justice. If Shamima Begum does find her way back to these shores, I hope the UK government's new treason law is firmly in place and she, along with all others who have pledged allegiance to ISIS, is tried and convicted under it.