What exactly is a “moderate jihadist”? Is it someone who tweets photographs of severed heads but fights shy of getting his hands bloody? Someone who inclines towards enslaving captured women and children rather than burying them alive? One who only executes Yazidis but not Christians?
Whatever, we can probably agree that UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond made a serious error when applying that unfortunate phrase on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning to members of the organisation – Islamic State – which had just murdered, in cold blood, an American journalist.
Yes it was probably a misspeak. But it’s not the kind of mistake you can ever imagine being made by a more competent, higher-calibre, more quick-witted MP, like, say, the man who would have made an infinitely superior Foreign Secretary but who is currently languishing as Chief Whip – Michael Gove.
How did it happen? Well I’m guessing that David Cameron’s MPs have had it drummed into them till their ears bleed that they are always and forever and at every possible opportunity to stress the vast gulf that exists between “moderate” Islam and “extremist” Islam.
Moderate Islam, as we know, having been repeatedly told so by the likes of the Prince of Wales, the BBC, the Guardian and most MPs, is an adorable heartwarming thing with the most marvellous tradition of hospitality, and a very real sense of the numinous, and an admirable dedication to charity, exquisitely woven carpets, sweet hot tea poured with great dexterity from a high-up tea pot into a tiny glass, and a religion of peace which has always afforded great hospitality to Christians and Jews, why just look at Granada, and you do realise that it was those splendid Muslim scholars, don’t you, who kept the intellectual traditions of classicism alive through the Dark Ages, etc.
Extremist Islam, meanwhile, is horrid, just horrid. But it’s all right because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Religion of Peace (TM) in its pure and original Koranic form, and all true Muslims shun and revile it because they recognise it as a perversion of their kindly, gentle faith.
That’ll be why, whenever a new atrocity is committed in the name of the Religion of Peace, the moderate Muslim communities of Bradford, Luton, and Birmingham always rise as one to condemn it in the strongest possible terms. No, wait…
An optimistic analysis of current events in Northern Iraq would be that the horror of what the (not actually moderate) jihadists of the Islamic State are doing will finally be enough to concentrate the minds of our complacent political class and force them to confront both the enemy without and the enemy within.
But personally I’m pessimistic. My pessimism springs partly from my observation of the political response to previous atrocities, such as the 7/7 tube and bus bombings, and the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby: after a brief flurry of outrage, normal service is resumed, with politicians bending over backwards to accommodate the confected grievances of the “Muslim community” while apparently expecting nothing in return.
And it springs partly from what I see of the ministers with whom Prime Minister David Cameron prefers to surround himself, especially as his first (and possibly last) term of office draws to a close. He doesn’t want men of action like Owen Paterson or Michael Gove – the kind of controversial but inspirational figures who are prepared to take the fight to the enemy. He wants placemen and yes-men (and yes-women, of course: Heaven forfend that the Cabinet should not have its representative selection of useless females too), people whom he can rely on not to rock the boat.
In times of no crisis, this pusillanimous, laissez faire approach might just about wash.
Unfortunately we are not living in times of no crisis.