In view of the latest terrorist attack on British soil, third in the last three months and the second in two weeks, Theresa May issued an interesting statement that indicates that Britain might be rethinking its strategy on countering Islamist terrorism. The restraint that marked the British prime minister's speech post 22 May Manchester Arena blast was gone. An aggressive and hawkish May linked the latest spate of terror attacks to radical Islam and said, "Enough is enough". She also stressed that there is "far too much tolerance for extremism in our country".
In her statement, the British prime minister also said that though the attacks that took place in close succession are "not connected by common networks, they are connected in one important sense. They are bound together by the single evil ideology of Islamist extremism that preaches hatred, sows division and promotes sectarianism".
She added, "It is an ideology that claims our Western values of freedom, democracy and human rights are incompatible with the religion of Islam. It is an ideology that is a perversion of Islam and a perversion of the truth."
May said that this ideology can be defeated only if the "safe spaces" where it breeds are removed and pointed her fingers at both the Internet and some ghettos within Muslim communities, claiming that "there is — to be frank — far too much tolerance of extremism in our country. So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out across the public sector and across society. That will require some difficult, and often embarrassing, conversations".
May's statement had come only hours after Saturday's London attack that killed seven and injured at least 48, some of them critically.
It is not clear how much of the toughness that May put in her words was necessitated by the upcoming Parliamentary elections to placate some very angry voters, but elsewhere, unmistakable signs are emerging that Britain is fast reaching a saturation point when it comes to indulging in blatant denial or being politically correct about the root causes of Islamist terrorism.
It is the manifestation of violence rooted in a warped ideology. Once stripped to the bone, Islamist terrorism is just an idea. And no idea can be defeated by raising fences, imposing stricter laws or firing bullets. How, then, do we tackle this poisonous idea? First and foremost, we must be honest in accepting that this idea (however twisted) is a derivative of Islam and draws strength and legitimacy from it. Only then would be we able to limit its venom. So far, this acceptance has been hard to come by, arising out of a legitimate fear that if we link Islamist terrorism to Islam, then we risk antagonising the entire Muslim community. Our fear of pressing this point has led us to this precipice.
As James Forsyth writes in his piece "How to tackle the terrorist threat: four steps we must now consider" for British newspaper The Spectator: "Ideologically we need to accept that these terrorists believe that they find justifications for their action in their faith, and saying that the attacks have nothing to do with Islam is actually counter-productive. As the historian Tom Holland has pointed out, only once we appreciate this link and the fact there is schism within Islam can we start to really deal with this threat."
The Barack Obama administration went at great lengths to deny the link between Islam and terrorism, coining disingenuous terms such as "violent extremism" to effectively ensure liberal democracy's defeat in the war on terror.
In his piece on Islamic State (IS) operative Jihadi John, Arizona State University professor and CNN's national security analyst Peter Bergen wrote: "…while IS and like-minded groups… are not representative of the vast majority of the world's Muslims, their ideology is rooted in Salafist ultra-fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, and indeed they can point to verses in the Quran that can be interpreted to support their worldview… A well-known verse commands Muslims to 'fight and slay the nonbelievers wherever you find them, seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war).' When (Osama) bin Laden made a formal declaration of war against the 'Jews and the Crusaders' in 1998, he cited this Quranic verse."
To win the war on Islamist terrorism, therefore, the first step must be to acknowledge that the poisonous ideology is moored in Islam, and then work towards empowering voices from within the community and have frank, unhindered and political-correctness-free conversations to stop the spreading of the idea. Denial is not an option.
When we say those who attacked the civilians are "not Muslims", we might be speaking out of concern for the followers of the faith who have nothing to do with the violence but we are also simultaneously empowering these dark forces.
Eyewitness accounts of Saturday night's terror attack recall the madness and the horror, and also its undeniable link with the perverted ideology. Gerard, a witness, told the BBC: "They were running up shouting, 'This is for Allah.' They stabbed this girl maybe 10 times, 15 times. She was going, 'Help me, help me.'"
Elizabeth O'Neill, mother of a 23-year-old who was stabbed in the London Bridge terror attack, told ITV News that her son Daniel was approached by a man who said "this is for Islam" before stabbing a knife in him. She added: "He had just stepped outside the bar for a second and a man ran up to him and said 'this is for my family, this is for Islam' and stuck a knife straight in him," according to the report.
It is time to acknowledge that jihadists are using the freedom provided by western liberal democracies to further their agenda and using the West's unflinching commitment towards human rights and civil liberty to their advantage. How does this work?
For instance, Britain has in place a programme called 'Prevent', that seeks to prevent Muslim youths from getting radicalised through identification, counselling and empowerment. But this programme, into which Britain has poured in billions so far, has remained stillborn because some within the Muslim community have raised objections against it, calling it a British government conspiracy to 'spy' on Muslims.
Despite such a programme being in place, therefore, it failed to identify the likes of Manchester bomber Salman Abedi who reportedly showed enough signs of radicaliastion that should have raised the hackles of the 'Prevent' teams. The underlying fear behind the failure was that acting on intelligence may further "alienate the community". This is how the terrorists are winning the battle. Tools of liberalism are being used to spread hateful agenda, and then those very tools are used to block counter-terrorism efforts as 'Islamophobic'.
The mood, though, appears to be changing. The western liberal edifice, which is fierce about protecting civil liberties and individual rights, seem more amenable to the possibility that a concerted effort is needed to increase engagement and surveillance, because candlelight vigils are not working anymore.
We find true blue liberal institutions like Henry Jackson Society, a British think tank, stating in the aftermath of Saturday's attacks: "We can only defeat Islamist terrorism if we combat the ideology driving it. That means being honest about recognising that Islamist extremism stems from ideological origins within Islam itself. It also means the public sector and British civil society will need to proactively embrace the national counter-radicalisation strategy Prevent, rather than allowing others to undermine it."
The think tank statement also addressed a favourite ploy of Islamists, who seek to stifle all discussions around Islamist terrorism with a blanket term: "Islamophobia".
"It is not ‘Islamophobic’ to speak out against Islamism," said HJS, adding that it is a "false charge peddled by groups within the Muslim community… to close the discussion down about Islamism rather than see it raised in its proper context."
The British prime minister's statement also carried similar notes. "In light of what we are learning about the changing threat, we need to review Britain's counter-terrorism strategy to make sure the police and security services have all the powers they need," added the Downing Street media handout.
Islamist terrorism is a multi-faceted problem and no one approach will be enough to address it. It is a welcome sign, however, that our conversations around it are becoming more and more honest.
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Updated Date: Jun 05, 2017 18:23:08 IST