Charlie Evans gives us his verdict on how to beat ISIL.
The past seven days have been eventful. America celebrate jubilantly as the precedent set at the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal, Greece has been in a state of anxiety as fears of a ‘Grexit’ from the Euro becomes an increasingly likely prospect and of course we have witnessed the shocking scenes of thirty or so British people killed in cold blood by Islamist terrorist activity on a Tunisian beach, tragically close to the ten-year 7/7 anniversary.
Ten years ago, the UK was only just coming to terms with the threat that terrorism presented to us and now although this horrific atrocity was committed against the UK (this was a deliberate attack on a British tourist destination) it is reassuring to know that most of us are now starting to engage in a wider debate about extremist ideologies, which does mark a sign of progress.
But the killings are still happening. The Islamic State is spreading its tentacles beyond Syria and Iraq. They are now starting to get a foothold in the unstable Libya and there is concern that IS is responsible for some of the rocket attacks on Israel from within Palestine. France is particularly susceptible to threats, with an ISIS sympathiser decapitating a Frenchman, and of course events in Paris earlier this year means that the UK is by no means free from threat.
Yet the response to these threats and the contributions to this debate should give us cause for concern. Those on the far-left solely blame Western foreign policy for the rise of Islamist terrorism and use the ‘Islamophobe’ card far too often, and far-right extremists entirely blame Muslims themselves, which makes law-abiding, tax-paying and decent Muslims, that make up the 99%, feel ostracised and demonised. This is a problem.
But really, the answers lie around the middle of these two points. There are multiple causes that have allowed Isis to emerge. But this also rests on the assumption that Islamist terror has something to do with Islam, not everything to do with it and not nothing to do with it. And by Islam, I mean the religion as a whole, not individual Muslims. Local Tunisians used their bodies as human shields to protect British tourists, who are most likely to be Muslim. The British Muslim Youth is an organisation that challenges Islamist ideologies as does Quilliam, a counter-extremist think tank started up by former Islamists. Therefore it has something to do with Islamic theology rather than the behaviours of Muslims.
So let me proceed to what I think have been the key drivers and how we try and stop it:
- Failed Western Foreign policy. It is hard to skim over the fact that US and UK-led interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have led to the rise of terror. Extremist groups thrive on instability. Similarly with Libya. Since the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, this country has descended into chaos, with various groups vying for power. The reality of the situation is that we entered these countries (some argue with good intentions) but the result was destabilisation and unfortunately, it is coming to bite us on the backside. Is it any wonder that nations such as Lebanon, Turkey, Israel and Egypt have not been drastically affected? A good starting point is to stop engaging in wars in the Middle East. Our intentions may be sound, but time after time we end up being labelled colonisers and imperialists. It just does not work.
- The Radical Islamist ideology. Failed western foreign policy has facilitated the rise of terror, but the ideological drivers cannot be overlooked. The ideology was around before Western intervention. It is this ideology, Islamism (the desire to impose Islam through politics and society, a definition popularised by The Quilliam Foundation) that leads to violent jihadism. The reason why Islamist terrorism has something to do with Islam, is because they are able to justify their actions through the Islamic Holy Book, the Quran. The crucifixion of Christians, for example, is endorsed by the Prophet Muhammad in the Quran. So Isil take a very literalist approach and seek to impose it upon society.
They justify their sick and twisted ideology by highlighting failed Western foreign policy, therefore they use it in their recruitment, which helps bring about their version of Islamism. That is why it is important, that whilst we recognise the failings of foreign policy, we take a balanced approach, because by stating that it has everything to do with foreign policy, then surely it holds that we are indirectly agreeing with what Isil is saying. They cite such wars and use it to their benefit in recruiting foreign fighters. They use the line, ‘you can’t be British and Muslim, not after what they did to Muslims’, allowing for an identity crisis to emerge for a young, impressionable British Muslim. We all must challenge this ideology with counter-narratives, including Muslims and change the terms of the debate. If one ideology can be so attractive then we have to make our narrative even stronger, promoting the values of pluralism, secularism, cultural integration and free speech.
- Social media. Isil thrives on recruitment of foreign fighters and more often than not they are young. Extremists groom and radicalise young people and tempt them with their perverted ideology. Social media sites must be much more proactive in shutting down any sites that promote these kinds of radical extremism.
- Lack of opportunities for the young. For decades, youth gang crime has been an issue in urban areas. Young people join a gang out of a longing for identity, a pursuit of finding oneself, feeling a sense of purpose. Would young people join gangs if they felt this sense of purpose in other ways? I believe that joining a gang, is similar to joining an extremist organisation- the far-right National Action for example in this country, or travelling for this adventure further afield in an Islamic extremist group. That’s why a big emphasis needs to be placed on young people getting active in sport, music, Scouts, chess, whatever, to find purpose, to feel attached to something. And we need to create a country where there are abundant opportunities and which young Muslims can be part of a UK they feel proud of.
If we recognise all of these drivers as some of the causes that drive Islamist terrorism, then all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim can stand together against it. Their goal is to terrorise, divide and incite fear. We must break this cycle, and stand in solidarity with one another. Once we break this vicious cycle, we will start to see progress and we will build a Britain free from terror and can live peacefully and harmoniously within our secular society.