Here are some assertions any leftist would have rightly deplored as irrational, dishonest smears:
- The Soviet Union opposes free market capitalism. Therefore, Western opponents of free market capitalism are obectively supporting the Soviet Union.
- Al Qaeda opposes US foreign policy. Therefore, Western opponents of US foreign policy objectively support Al Qaeda.
Alastair Sloan would recognise these claims as smears. Nonetheless, in his hit piece on the historian Tom Holland – who argued, in a Channel 4 film, that ISIS takes inspiration from Islamic texts – he uses this logic:
- ISIS believes in a clash of civilisations. Therefore, if you believe in a clash of civilisations you are obectively supporting ISIS.
Intelligent people will have questions to ask before accepting that the English historian and the Islamic terrorists have comparable beliefs. To what extent do they believe civilisations clash? What do they think are the causes? How do they believe we should respond? Sloan has no answers to these questions. He is equating them for argumentative convenience.
Is there any kind of clash of civilisations? Sloan has no arguments. He just implies that there is not. The closest he comes to making arguments for his ideas is in his claim that “anyone with a Wikipedia-level knowledge of Islam [agrees] that setting people on fire or drowning them in cages hasn’t much to do with a religion which is avowedly peaceful”. No one claims that all Muslims are violent, or that all interpretations of Islam promote violence. But many Islamic scholars do promote the idea of “offensive jihad”, which upholds the virtues of fighting to spread belief in Allah. Sloan has nothing to say about them because he is aggressively, evangelically incurious.
“Anyone who wanted to make the opposite case more,” writes Sloan, in his bafflingly inelegant prose, “Had to explain why so few Muslims were violent – if Islam itself was the problem.” Later, Sloan claims that jihadism is caused by ” legitimate grievances”. Some jihadists have legitimate grievances. On the other hand, so do Yazidis, and Egyptian Christians, and sub-Saharan Albinos. So do millions of people across the globe. Why do so few people with legitimate grievances not become terrorists, if legitimate grievances are the problem? Well, there can be more than one problem. There really, really can.
What Sloan lacks in arguments he makes up for with rhetoric, using every disingenuous trick in the book to discredit Mr Holland and his alleged ideas. Attempting to appear noble, he says Holland “no doubt [has] the best of intentions” but he later says:
Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi could not wish for a better pro-Daesh propagandist, though that surely was not Holland’s intention. Or was it?
So, does Holland have the best of intentions or might he be a propagandist for Baghdadi? On Twitter, Mr Sloan brushed this off as a “semi-joke intended to provoke…conversation”. Many things provoke conversation that are also insulting and borderline defamatory.
But perhaps Mr Sloan is not so calculating. Perhaps his ideas are simply incoherent. In the beginning of his piece he says – doubtless in sorrow and not anger – that Holland’s film “had the potential to be a fascinating dive into a deeply important topic; how Islamic is the Islamic State”. Later, he says, of ISIS, that “one can focus on their extreme ideology, which is interesting in a parlour room sense”. Is it interesting and important or not?
Sloan’s piece is full of throwaway smears. He writes that Holland’s previous film on Islam “drew a staggering 1,200 very justified complaints” but does not even try to explain what was wrong with it. Sloan’s article drew a number of hostile comments but I took the trouble to explain its faults nonetheless.
I am by no means an unqualified defender of Mr Holland or his film. How could I be? I have not seen it. But Sloan makes no attempt to accurately characterise its arguments (or similar arguments that have been made) but shoots squid ink over the question and runs away. He is a smear merchant of a depressingly familiar kind, and it is depressing that Peter Oborne, who some still think is a valuable conservative commentator, recommended his article as “important”. There are many adjectives that would have been more appropriate.