WORDS BY JOSHUA WOOLLER
The events yesterday morning in London marks the third wave of terrorist attacks in less than three months in the United Kingdom. Calls to ‘pray’ for victims of the London Bridge attack mark the most recent platitude. Indeed, following today’s attack the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, told the public that Londoners would have to “get used” to terrorist attacks, echoing Emmanuel Macron who said the same thing before the French election.
The Westminster Bridge attack, the first of the most recent terrorist incidents was met by similar calls to ‘pray for victims’, with little effort to address core reasons for the atrocities. Instead, the Dean of Westminster addressed crowds saying “it seems likely we will never know” the reasons for the attacks. Had he only waited two days, he would have been able to see that Khalid Masood’s final WhatsApp message to a friend revealed that he was “waging a jihad”. And so today, with reports that the attackers shouted “this is for Allah” before they committed their vile attacks, those of us in the West must have a frank discussion about the factors influencing continual attacks in our communities.
This conversation must be handled with the greatest sensitivity. It must be acknowledged that the vast majority of Muslims subscribe to peaceful variations of Islam. Moreover, there are just as many interpretations of Islam as there are Muslims. Muslims who view their faith through a more moderate lens are the most important demographic in defeating radical interpretations. The work of Maajid Nawaz, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, all Muslims or ex-Muslims coming from contexts of persecution, is vital to fight the ideologies that promote terrorism.
The motivations of our enemies cannot solely be blamed on Western foreign policy.
Importantly, we are told by the terrorists why they commit such atrocities. In an article published in Dabiq, the official propaganda magazine of the Islamic State, we are told that the primary reason for ISIS’ antagonism towards the West is theologically motivated:
“What’s important to understand here is that although some might argue that your foreign policies are the extent of what drives our hatred, this particular reason for hating you is secondary, hence the reason we addressed it at the end of the above list. The fact is, even if you were to stop bombing us, imprisoning us, torturing us, vilifying us, and usurping our lands, we would continue to hate you because our primary reason for hating you will not cease to exist until you embrace Islam.”
I know what you are thinking now. This is just propaganda. But even so, the fact is it works. This rhetoric is the public face of ISIS, and it is designed to radicalise young men and women and the thousands of European fighters who flock to Syria is a testament to that fact.
Within the June 2016 issue of Dabiq, we also witness the accounts of a Finnish woman’s conversion to radical Islam, and subsequent flight to Syria to live in the lands of the Islamic State, where her young son later dies in a bombing attack.
“I can’t even describe the feeling of when you finally cross that border and enter the lands of the Caliphate. It is such a blessing from Allah to be able to live under the Caliphate… Of course, when you come to the Caliphate, after sacrificing everything for the sake of Allah, you’ll continue to be tested. You’re going to see hardships and trials… After four months of us being here, my son was martyred, and this was yet another blessing. Every time I think about it, I wonder to myself, “If I stayed in Dar al-Kufr what kind of end would he have had? What would have happened to him?” Alhamdulillah, he was saved from all that, and what could be better than him being killed for the cause of Allah? Obviously, it’s not easy, but I ask Allah to allow us to join him.”
This is not the language of someone that is motivated by nationalism or grievance with Western foreign policy.
Am I saying that the West plays no role in the resurgence of Wahhabism? Of course not! The hangover of Western imperialism has meant that many people in post-colonial states lack strong national identities, instead turning to religious ones. The disastrous invasion of Iraq, coupled with continuous bombings of innocent civilians undoubtedly makes an ideology like that of ISIS more appealing. Not to mention Western support for the Saudi Arabian regime that backs many Wahhabi and Salafist movements in order to achieve geopolitical goals.
Though, while the Saudi regime may have strategic political goals, we must not blame our foreign policy for the actions of individual terrorists.
In the same way that it is crucial to critique aspects of Christianity which drive Christian terrorists to commit acts of barbarism, so it is necessary to critique Islam. If an extremist Christian was to blow up an abortion clinic using a Biblical justification, it would be right to say that the attack had some religious basis. But would it be the only influence? Probably not. Nevertheless, it would be irresponsible to completely exclude it as a motivating factor.
In the case of attacks that are perpetrated by Islamists in the West, to say that acts of terrorism have “absolutely nothing to do with Islam”, not only does not further discourse but it discounts the thousands of Muslims that have become victim to acts of terror in the Middle East where the majority of the victims of terrorism reside.
Muslims are the most important allies in this cause. It is crucial to fight xenophobia against Muslims, while also critiquing aspects within Islamic texts that some Salafi jihadists use as justification for acts of violence.
As Nawaz has said:
“The way to tackle Muslimphobia is to tackle prejudice against Muslims. What it is not is to pretend that Islamist extremism does not exist.”