No-Go Zones: Moral Panic or Reality?
The thing about moral panics is that, like conspiracy theories, they often have an element of truth; or in some cases, even more than an element.
Indeed, I would argue that while the term ‘moral panic’ can work quite well as a sociological concept; it doesn’t have to be a very sentimentally-charged polemical notion.
And I don’t believe the word has to imply that the object of panic is necessarily an imaginary one. For, the point here is not purely whether or not the threat actually exists, or is merely perceived as existing, but is actually imaginary.
So, no-one can deny that terrorism is real, or that the threat from political Islamism is real. And yet, I would be inclined to say that there are indeed moral panics surrounding these notions, insofar as:
Firstly, the real threat of these ideologies is (arguably) substantially over-hyped and exaggerated: for example, by over-emphazing demographic projections that are not an exact science, and from which one cannot, in any case, merely casually infer moral or legislative consequences without making a serious effort to justify such, and not merely uncritically them.
(There are more than enough ‘straight lines’ of uncritical deduction being drawn willy-nilly at the moment. There is a severe risk of shooting off from an ‘unproven is’ to a ‘speculative ought.’)
Secondly, the polemics surrounding both moral panics can often serve contentious or even flat-out-abusive legislative purposes.
‘Threat inflation’ ends up legitimizing, or at least appearing to legitimize, any policies which (like Donald Trump’s recent inflammatory banning scandal) risk being completely counterproductive to the ‘officially stated’ aims and objectives of the legislation in question.
In the meantime, further wedges are driven between peaceful Muslims and non-Muslims, who often have so much more in common with each other than either of us do either with the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS, or the EDL and BNP.
Thirdly, as just alluded to in the latter part of point 2, a climate of suspicion is created, where finger-pointing and casual denunciation risks becoming the rule, rather than the exception.
Individual Muslims risk being unjustly accused of extremism.
Having a mosque open in your neighbourhood is considered no better than having a brothel next door to the school your kids are attending.
Ex-Muslims become traitors to some folks, and tokens and mascots for others.
Reformist and dissident Muslims are denounced by a proportion of Muslims who find their views unacceptable, and they are outright demonized by a ‘certain kind of leftie.’
Non-Muslim feminists, LGBT critics and secularists are viewed as racists and anti-Muslim bigots.
Everyone is either a potential suicide bomber, an imperialist oppressor, or an unprincipled, fence-straddling, subservient stooge.
Everyone is guilty, and nobody on earth is innocent…
Fourthly, any disproportionate focus on Islamist terror in relation to other forms of extremist ideology and violence, gives rise to a certain skewing and distortion of public discourse.
I don’t mean to imply that all violent ideologies and actions deserve equal news coverage.
But I would still advise those working in a ‘communicative context’ such as news journalism and indie blogging, to be careful to take a more holistic approach; at least, as far as is appropriate.
This advice applies to me also.
Of course, specialization is perfectly normal, and not be one-sidedly condemned; but sometimes it is worthwhile zooming out a little bit, and understanding just how much violent extremists of all stripes have in common, and how much their actions are mutually complicit.
Never forget that the EDL, the BNP, the Front National and Britain First might as well be deliberately conspiring with ISIS, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
They obviously aren’t; but you could be forgiven for thinking each extremist faction doesn’t really mind so much to risk reinforcing their enemies; as long as they themselves get correspondingly stronger against the overwhelming majority of peaceful, morally reasonable people.
Now, no matter what postmodernism and social justice tell you, generalization, per se, is not a bad thing. Absent of context, one cannot simply be for or against making generalizations. So, what I have said here of jihadist and Islamist moral panics will be generalizable, at least in some aspects, to other forms of terrorism and violent extremism; other radical ideologies; rape, pimping, pedophilia; and any number of social phenomena which are very real, very worrying, utterly outrageous, and yet no less lacking in an element of ideological mystification.
If people in power say ‘the Andorran Gay Illuminati and Serbian Metrosexual Skull ’n’ Bones Club are draining the ocean from their secret observatory on Neptune,’ people will laugh.
And very few people will be foolish enough to fall for it…
But what if you point to something that is very real, and deeply, deeply troubling? Well, that can certainly be far more effective.
Of course, you can also mix elements which are real and elements which are either non-existent or at least, whose existence is problematic or questionable on either evidential or semantic grounds.
Thus, people can debate whether the existence of God or Allah or Ha-Shem or Buddha is provable or not, and can also dispute whether the question itself is semantically meaningful.
But either way, if you say both that Zionism/Islam/LGBT activists/Feminists/Capitalists/Socialists are destroying the world, and they are accursed and abhorred from on high, that can be a very potent combination.
At least for some.
So, I’ve taken a bit of time here to explore the notion of a moral panic, and how it is distinct from a ‘unicorn scare’ or a ‘leprechuan scare’ or a ‘tangle fairy scare.’
Because unlike Balrogs, hobbits and tangle fairies (my heartfelt apologies to any exceptionally dogmatic and hidebound roadies out there!) ‘Reds’ really did exist; even if Cold War rhetoric about ‘Reds under the Bed’ was exaggerated in its representation, mystificatory in its function, and partisan in its services to power.
I’d now like to finally address in detail the notion of ‘No-Go Zones.’
First of all, there is at least a kernel of truth in the notion of No-Go Zones.’ There is video evidence suggesting that at least one ‘Muslim patrol’ has been set up.
However, there are a lot of problems here, nonetheless. Here are some questions it is important to consider before creating or contributing to any moral panic on this issue:
1. Is this a regular patrol?
Or is it just a one-off event with some drunken thugs causing trouble?
2. How much support, if any, do these people get from the majority of Muslims in the area?
Is this behavior admired?
Or are Muslims themselves frightened of these patrols; and of the possible backlash against them and other Muslims, on the part of enraged non-Muslims?
3. How much violent, harassing, and anti-social behavior would you need before you can say this is a No-Go Zone?
4. Is a No-Go Zone an objective or a subjective notion?
Does the question of what is or is not a No-Go Zone depend more on objective factual matters, such as patterns of behavior?
Or is it largely a matter of subjective sentiments such as fear and suspicion?
Ultimately, some will read the foregoing, and they say I’m in denial.
I am not.
I never said for sure that there have never existed any ‘No-Go Zones.’ Nor have I ever said that those who speak of them are necessarily lying, or stupid, or being paid by troublemakers.
All I am saying is that as No-Go Zones are a ‘moral panic’ area of public discourse, I feel it is very important to reflect carefully on what makes a No-Go Zone, and what doesn’t.
And I am also convinced that some due diligence on the ideological roles one-sided views of any kind on this issue can play.
Islamism is a moral panic issue.
Conservative Islam is a moral panic issue.
Islam is a moral panic issue.
The Regressive Left is a moral panic issue.
Anti-Muslim bigotry is a moral panic issue.
Racism is a moral panic issue.
And moral panics are usually not as straightforward, as they may easily appear at first.
Let’s be smart.
Let’s not give Islamists or anti-Muslim bigots, let’s not give jihadists or Islamophobes the satisfaction of seeing us getting riled, and losing our heads completely.
Muslims and non-Muslims of good faith will stand together, or perish together.
At this point in history, it is by no means clear which of these two final and irrevocable choices is the one that will win out.