What was once a worst case scenario has become a daunting reality for the United Kingdom. Within the span of three months, the country has been hit by three Islamist terrorist attacks – the first on Westminster Bridge, the second at Ariana Grande’s concert and the most recently on London Bridge. Through the three attacks, approximately thirty-eight people have been killed and countless others injured.
Under these circumstances, many have questioned the motivations of the terrorists. Some are more likely to blame the role of Islam in the attacks, whereas other shift the focus towards the UK’s own foreign policy in the Middle East.
For the sake of fairness, I’ll look at all sides of the debate. It’s not a broadly black-and-white issue, there are many factors that go into the making of a Jihadist.
Many people feel uncomfortable with Islam being brought into a discussion on terrorism, and understandably so. Once it comes up, there’s an uncomfortable ‘Us Vs. Them’ aspect brought into the dialogue, and it can be exploited to portray average Muslims as potential terrorists.
Though it’s obvious and shouldn’t need stating, I’ll still say it. A majority of Muslims aren’t terrorists and aren’t dangerous. There is NEVER a justifiable reason to attack a Mosque, to assault a muslim on the street or to incite people to act violently towards the muslim community.
However, outright claiming that Islam has no links to movements such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is somewhat short-sighted.
The Quran is a book with many differing perspectives on violence – often there is a sense that violence is justified in terms of self-defence :
‘To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged;- and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid’ – Quran 22:39 (1)
However, other verses could be interpreted as inciting believers into fighting non-believers :
‘Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day’ – Quran 9:29 (2)
The latter interpretation isn’t one endorsed by all forms of Islam, but one in particular pushes the narrative of a war between believers and non-believers. It’s a particularly extreme version of Islam, known as ‘Salafism’ or ‘Wahabism’. Within this largely Saudi-inspired form of Islam, literalist interpretations of scripture are encouraged and Islam is seen to be a never-changing entity that should remain just as it did over a thousand years ago.
Ex-Islamic extremist, Sohail Ahmed wrote an article in 2017 describing his experiences –
‘Inculcated with the Islamist ideology since childhood, I was brought up believing that there is a neverending war between Muslims and the infidels, or the ‘kuffaar’. I was taught that my country of birth, the United Kingdom, was the enemy, that I was living in enemy territory and that it was the duty of every Muslim everywhere to fight a violent form of ‘jihad’, a religious war, against the infidels’ (3)
A lot of the radicalisation process, as described in the article, was pushed by a internal conflict over his homosexuality (Something that Islam teaches should be punished by death). Ultimately, it got to the point Ahmed’s hatred of the West nearly pushed him to carry out a terror attack.
Of course, this experience certainly isn’t universal of all Muslims living in Britain. Even with the recent attacks in London and Manchester, people within the Muslim community were speaking up, asserting they’d warned the police of the radicalization taking place (4).
And of course, the actions of the community in response to the attacks is admirable. Muslims raised over £17,000 in 24 hours, to aid the victims of the London terror attack (5). This speaks volumes for the generosity and charitable spirit of the community, which has its roots within the religious teachings.
Interestingly, there does seem be a trend of Jihadists having been quite irreligious up until their initial radicalization. Salman Abedi was described as a ‘bit of a party animal, who drank vodka and smoked weed daily, was popular with girls and “always clubbing or at house parties”, listening to rap and grime music’ (6). Perhaps extremists play upon their poor following of Islam (Drinking vodka, sexual promiscuity and drug use are all strictly prohibited by the religion), and incite them into Jihadism, promoting it as a way to redeem themselves?
Whilst I don’t think a majority of Muslims have links to or engage in terrorist activities, I certainly feel that some attitudes may give way to extremist interpretations.
The Western and Islamic worlds are very different. One example of this would be in term of LGBT rights – something that is generally championed in the west and openly denied in Islamic countries. Could homophobic attitudes have influenced attacks such as the Orlando shooting in 2016? Most certainly.
If extremism is to be stopped from growing in communities, there needs to be an re-evaluation on attitudes towards other religions, secularism and western culture.
There is no question that the American government and British government have made the world a more dangerous place.
The Iraq War has left approximately 500,000 citizens of Iraq dead (7) and placed a nail into the coffin that is the middle east. The infamously unstable region is now more treacherous than ever before – with 5 million people fleeing Syria (8).
But the meddling of the West in Middle Eastern affairs extends back further than 2003. It can be traced back to when the US and UK displaced Iranian prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 (9), and can be seen again when the US funded the Mujahideen in Afghanistan (10).
There’s no two ways about it – the British government must bear responsibility for the terrorist attacks that have happened recently.
That’s through pure incompetence – how many times has the phrase ‘He was known to authorities’ been broadcast on BBC News?
It’s through willingly supplying Saudi Arabia with £3 billion worth of military equipment (11). Don’t be fooled by Theresa May’s rhetoric, Saudi Arabia are no ally. They’ve supported ISIS, and are so similar to the Islamic State, that the latter used Saudi state textbooks to educate children in Syria (12).
When all this is going on, it’s easy to see how jihadists can hate the west. Western governments have made life worse for millions of people around the world, at expense of the West’s self-interest.
Not that justifies the murder of innocent people, but with this in mind, it’s easier to understand how a jihadist mindset comes to be.
I will agree with Theresa May on one thing –
‘We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are. Things need to change’
Though I highly doubt that it’s the change that we desperately need.