Can we continue to hide from tough debates on Islamist violence?
We have had tens of people killed after Manchester and the London murders on the streets of our country. We have seen the counter-marches, the calls that it has nothing to do with Islam and Imams and faith leaders who have stood in condemnation of these atrocities. The best of our communities have been demonstrated by coming together after these terrorist attacks and more recently after the horrendous fire at the Grenfell Tower. Out of so much pain, communities have stood with each other, holding each other up against the strong tide of anger and a sense of injustice. All of this should strengthen our belief that as human beings we rally round to the needs of others.
However, do not under-estimate the level of the challenge. At the JW3 Centre today, I made clear the scale and the fractured nature of the Islamist extremist threat and our need to constantly maintain vigilance against those who seek to pull apart communities and sew the seeds of hatred between them. Whilst we remembered the powerful words of the late Jo Cox at the JW3, we also tried to rally and redouble our efforts to break through barriers that can breed mistrust and prejudice between one another. Allied to this, we cannot get away from the fact that the Islamist Jihadi threat is focussed on Jews and Jewish institutions as their murderous work has shown in France and Belgian.
There are also some difficult issues that need to be discussed and raised if we are to address them head on. Let us not shirk away from the fact that people who murdered on the streets of our country were Muslims. Many Muslims may rightly say that the form of Islam practised by Jihadi murderers is not Islam, but we cannot also deny the fact that many brutally killed in the name of Islam and did so in the warped belief that they were doing it for the faith. This may be uncomfortable for many Muslims, as it is for me, but these are the facts and if we do not address these issues, we are skirting around finding the right solutions. The London Bridge attackers murdered Londoners whilst saying, “This is for Allah”, a phrase that showed what their motivation for the murders were, a warped version of the great faith of Islam.
Today in the Times newspaper a British Black African Imam, Mamadou Boucoum, has spoken about the need to re-interpret and contextualise some of the most difficult verses of the Qur’an, including those that involve Jews and the killing of others deemed to be unbelievers. These phrases are extremely small in number when compared to the beautiful, thoughtful and lavish praises to God found throughout the Qur’an, as well as historical stories that Jews and Christians will relate to. Yet, these phrases are the ones that Jihadis and Islamist extremists use time and time again to justify their actions and which their radicalisers and handlers use to absolve them of moral and spiritual responsibility. That is a fact and is another difficult discussion to be had, but one which Muslim scholars must grapple with and quickly. If they fail to do so, Islam and Muslims may well be held to hostage by extremists claiming the faith in their name.
Which is why the next decade is one which needs us all to step up and to have the confidence to reach out to others and where possible, to challenge narratives of victimisation and hatred. Young people have some of the best opportunities in this country when compared to other nations, this despite the huge cuts in public services and the pressures on society because of the global economic downturn. We can choose either the path of ‘carrying on as normal’ as though terrorism and hatred are just sadly part of the current environment in which we find ourselves, or we can roll up our sleeves and actively choose to disrupt, challenge and counter extremism and hatred. The future really is in our hands.