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Daniel Hannan: 'Instead of making documentaries about powerful, shadowy terrorist networks, let's laugh at the numpties'

The British MEP challenges the conservative consensus on terror and Islam.

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Daniel Hannan of England is many American conservatives' favorite Tory: a member of the European Parliament who eloquently critiques the Eurocrats, Britain's domestic bureaucracies, and his own party leaders when they stray too far toward the center. But Hannan hails from the relatively libertarian portion of his party, and at times he endorses ideas that wouldn't earn a lot of cheers on the American talk-radio right. Consider this response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre, which begins with words that Sean Hannity might endorse but then takes the argument in a rather different direction:

Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling, from glen to glen, and down the mountain side. The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying. 'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

To argue that the Paris murders were unrelated to Islam would be silly. The terrorists shouted "God is great" on their way in to the Charlie Hebdo offices, and "The Prophet is avenged" on their way out. Amedy Coulibaly, who murdered the hostages in the kosher deli, was praying when the police made their move. Like other Western-born extremists, the Paris gunmen believed they had found something in Islam that justified their pathological tendencies—something that other religions don't seem to offer to the same degree. You don't find many Anglicans, say, making their way to Nigeria to take up arms alongside their beleaguered co-religionists.

Still, it's essential to understand the precise nature of the relationship. The diagnosis has to be right before we move to the prescription. Scriptural exegesis takes us only so far. Some Quranic verses seem to justify violence, others seem to extol peace. Like other revealed religions, Islam can be understood in more than one way—necessarily, since it seeks to express transcendent truths in earthly language.

But textual analysis is the wrong tool when exploring the motives of youths with limited religious knowledge. Two jihadi wannabes from Birmingham, Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed, recently pleaded guilty to terrorism after being detained on their way to Syria. At their trial, it emerged that the last books they had ordered from Amazon for the journey were "Islam for Dummies" and "The Koran for Dummies".

"The experience of many ages proves that men may be ready to fight to the death, and to persecute without pity, for a religion whose creed they do not understand, and whose precepts they habitually disobey," wrote Macaulay in 1840 and, as usual, he was spot on. The profiles of Saïd and Chérif Kouachi hardly suggest religious devotion. Theirs, rather, was the standard terrorist background: young, male, vain, angry, a history of petty crime and drug abuse, a yearning to be part of something bigger….Islamist gunmen, in terms of character, are not so very different from, say, Red Brigaders or Baader-Meinhof gangsters. We see the same traits again and again: narcissism, alienation, violent proclivities, a belief that you can see things more clearly than anyone else.

After adding more details to the argument—assessments from social scientists, a leaked briefing from MI5, etc.—Hannan turns to "the implications for public policy":

If we're dealing with what a former MI6 director calls "pathetic figures" rather than religious zealots, how should we respond? Repudiation by the wider Muslim community is of limited importance: extremists regard mainstream Muslims as traitors; indeed, in numerical terms, Muslims are by far their most common victims. Nor is theological refutation of much use when dealing with men whose religious identity is at the level of "Islam for Dummies".

So what should we do? Well, for a start, we can stop taking these saddoes at their own estimation. Let's treat them, not as soldiers, but as common criminals. Instead of making documentaries about powerful, shadowy terrorist networks, let's laugh at the numpties who end up in our courts.

Read the rest here. Reason.tv's interview with Hannan is here.