by Ramzy Baroud
On the “BBC This Week” program, historian Tom Holland labored to counter the argument that the so-called Islamic State should not be labeled as such: “The Islamic State”.
Holland’s logic in the program seemed more philosophical, concerned with dialectic and logic of language, and hardly situated in any proper historical context.
His comments were in response to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s objection to the BBC’s use of the phrase ‘Islamic State’. Cameron prefers ISIL – which, itself, stands for the ‘Islamic State in the Levant’ or the cynical qualifier ‘so-called’ to be placed before the phrase.
Although Holland asserts that Cameron’s protestation to the use of the phrase ‘Islamic State’ is essentially principled, he does not agree with the Prime Minister. By denying ‘IS’ the right to use the phrase, according to Holland, Cameron is replicating the ‘IS’ strategy of denying any Islamic credentials to their Muslim opponents, describing them as ‘heretics’. Cameron is playing the same game as ‘IS’, according to Holland.
However, in an article published in March by the New Statesman, Holland tries to live up to his own credentials as a ‘historian’ by delving into history, but a selective version of it. His take on Islamic history struck me as alien and foreign draped with what seemed like an authentic reference, but lacking in genuine knowledge in the overall values and meaning of Islam and the spirit of its message.
“The problem faced by the orthodox religious authorities in the Muslim world, however, is very similar to that which confronted the Catholic Church in the 16th century,” he wrote. ‘Very similar,’ he says, yet offers little by way of demonstrating his out-and-out assertion.
In the BBC program, he concluded with another unqualified claim, closing with an earth-shattering remark that ‘Islam’ is experiencing a ‘crisis’.
For someone who protested Cameron’s simple request to apply a ‘so-called’ before ‘Islamic State’, while declaring that there is a crisis in the heart of Islam – a religion that is rooted in a culture that spans over 1400 years, which manifests itself throughout numerous cultures and geographies, the world over – Holland needs to exercise more caution.