Below is the latest in a series of essays from Nick McAvelly applying formal (or Boolean) logic to statements and arguments made by British Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Right Honourable David Cameron MP (© EdStock)
The Prime Minister’s ‘Battle of Ideas’
by Nick McAvelly
A lot has happened in France since Ilan Halimi was murdered by a gang of ‘barbarians’. Mohamed Merah, a devout Muslim named after the so-called prophet of Islam, went on a killing spree in 2012, murdering little children in cold blood at a school in Toulouse and shooting French soldiers on the street. A group of Muslims carrying automatic weapons broke into the Charlie Hebdo offices in January 2015 and murdered twelve people. In Paris last week, Islamic terrorists murdered a hundred and thirty people and injured many more, in what the French are calling an ‘act of war’. It is being reported that some of the Muslims responsible for the most recent act of terrorism in France tortured their victims as they lay dying. A gang of barbarians, indeed.
The A proposition: All S are P
Where the subject term is individuals who are Muslims, and the predicate term is individuals who shot and killed children at a school in Toulouse in March 2012, or attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices and murdered twelve people in January 2015, or carried out the latest terrorist atrocity in the city of Paris, it makes no sense to assert that the A proposition (All S are P) is true.
However, when the subject term is individuals who shot and killed Jewish children at a school in Toulouse in 2012, or murdered French journalists at the Charlie Hebdo offices in January 2015, or participated in the terrorist attack in Paris in November 2015, or murdered a British soldier in the streets of London on 22nd May 2013, or attacked Glasgow Airport in June 2007, or carried out the terrorist attack on the London public transport system in July 2005, and the predicate term is Muslims, then the A proposition (All S are P) is true.
The I proposition: Some S are P
It follows that some Muslims are terrorists. That is to say, where the subject term is Muslims, and the predicate term is terrorists, the I proposition (Some S are P) is true. As the Prime Minister of Great Britain said after the latest terrorist attack in Paris, ‘It doesn’t work to deny any connection between the religion of Islam and the extremists, not least because these extremists self-identify themselves as Muslims. There is no point denying that.’
The Prime Minister went on to say, ‘We need to take apart their arguments and demonstrate they are wrong. In doing so we need the continued help of Muslim communities and Muslim scholars. They are playing a powerful role and I commend them for their absolutely essential work. We cannot stand neutral in this battle of ideas.’
So according to the Prime Minister, we are engaged in a battle of ideas. And if we are to prevail, then we must take apart the arguments of Islamic terrorists and demonstrate that they are wrong. However, it is not ‘absolutely essential’ for ‘Muslim communities’ to help us. That is simply not true. Being a Muslim is not a necessary condition of being able to demonstrate that an assertion is false, or that an argument is invalid or fallacious. Anyone can do that.
Let’s take the Prime Minister at his word then. David Cameron is not a Muslim, so when he employs the first person, plural personal pronoun, he may be referring to some Muslims, but he is also referring to non-Muslims like himself. ‘We’ can’t remain neutral in this ‘battle of ideas’, he says. Very well.
If we are going to take apart the arguments of Islamic terrorists and show that they are wrong, then we have to realise that some of the premises that form part of their arguments will be shared with other Muslims. Their reasoning may depart from that shared foundation of basic Islamic principles and go off in strange and violent directions. But when you are at war, you don’t have to kill your enemy in hand to hand combat in order to defeat him. You can destroy his supply lines, you can sink his ships carrying fuel, weapons and troops to the front line. Or you can assassinate his leader. So all of the religious beliefs held by Islamic terrorists will have to be considered fair game in the Prime Minister’s ‘battle of ideas’.
It is settled law that people are protected by human rights legislation, but religious beliefs are not. So any members of ‘Muslim communities’ who think they might possibly experience a transient emotion, a.k.a. ‘feeling offended’, if they ever hear a non-Muslim criticize any of the foundational Islamic principles which they share with Islamic terrorists, will just have to suck it up. People are dying here. That’s not a theoretical possibility either. This is as real as it gets. If ‘Muslim communities’ really want to ‘help’ us, then they can start by demonstrating to the rest of Great Britain that they share our priorities. That means acknowledging that their religious beliefs are open to criticism, the same as everyone else’s.
It is noteworthy that the Prime Minister asked for ‘Muslim communities’ to help us in this ‘battle of ideas’. It would make no sense for the PM to ask specifically for Muslims to help him ‘battle’ against the Islamic terrorists’ ideology, if their ideology had nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. In that case, the PM may as well have asked cooks, barbers or car mechanics for help. But he didn’t. The connection between Islamic terrorism and Islamic ideology is once again laid bare. The PM also said that ‘Muslim communities’ would ‘continue’ to help. We can therefore assume that ‘Muslim communities’ have been ‘helping’ in this ‘battle of ideas’ before now. If we switch on the news at any hour of the day or night, then we can see that expecting ‘Muslim communities’ to fight this ‘battle of ideas’ on our behalf has not worked. 9/11 was more than fourteen years ago, and we are at greater risk from Islamic terrorism than ever. It’s high time we started fighting our own battles. If we are going to do that, then we would do well to remember what John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty, which is still one of the classic textbooks on freedom of speech:
‘Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument: but facts and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it. Very few facts are able to tell their own story, without comments to bring out their meaning.’
‘Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. That is not the way to do justice to the arguments, or bring them into real contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them.’
The Prime Minister has said that ‘we’ must take apart the jihadists’ arguments and show that they are wrong. Therefore, as John Stuart Mill has argued, it is necessary for people who are not Muslims to ‘do their very utmost’ to place the relevant refutations and counter arguments into the public domain, so that all of the religious beliefs held by Islamic terrorists, with no exceptions, are discredited and destroyed.
David Cameron wants a ‘battle of ideas’? Let’s oblige him.
|1.||The Affair of the Gang of Barbarians, Wikipedia. (Accessed 21st November 2015.)|
|2.||‘It was our 9/11’: French president Sarkozy says trauma of Toulouse serial killings was ‘profound’ as 19 suspected Islamists are arrested in dawn raids, Daily Mail, 30th March 2012. (Accessed 21st November 2015.)|
|3.||Rayner, G. Samuel, H. Evans, M. Charlie Hebdo attack: France’s worst terrorist attack in a generation leaves 12 dead, The Telegraph, 7th January 2015. (Accessed 21st November 2015.); Charlie Hebdo attack: The 12 victims of Paris shooting, The Telegraph, 8th January 2015. (Accessed 21st November 2015.)|
|4.||Steafel, E. Mulholland, R. Sabur, R. Malnick, E. Trotman, A. Harley, N. Paris terror attack: Everything we know on Friday afternoon, The Telegraph, 21st November 2015. (Accessed 21st November 2015.); Number Of Paris Attacks Victims Rises To 130, Sky News, 21st November 2015. (Accessed 21st November 2015.)|
|5.||Halkon, R. British survivor of Eagles of Death Metal concert tells how ISIS terrorists ‘tortured wounded victims by slitting their stomachs with knives’, Daily Mirror, 16th November 2015. (Accessed 21st November 2015.)|
|6.||Prime Minister’s statement on Paris attacks and G20 Summit, 17th November 2015. (Accessed 21st November 2015.)|
|7.||ibid. (Accessed 21st November 2015.)|
|8.||La Rue, F. Promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, UN General Assembly, 67th Session, A/67/357, paragraph 53. (Accessed 22nd November 2015.)|
|9.||Mill, J. On Liberty, Chapter II, section 7. (Accessed 22nd November 2015.)|
|10.||ibid., Chapter II, section 23. (Accessed 22nd November 2015.)