Tackling the Roots of Islamic Extremism- Time to Face the Truth

This past week the West was, on the whole, still united in its response to the attacks in France. Charlie Hebdo published their first issue since the murders of 10 of their workers and the West welcomed this new edition as scores of people around countries like Britain queued up for hours to try and get their hands on a copy. Their front page was arguably moderate and promoted reconciliation, featuring an unprovocative depiction of the prophet with a tear in his eye holding a sign reading ‘All is Forgiven’.

There were some people, however, who didn’t support Charlie Hebdo’s determination to resist terror and to continue functioning as a publication even after their editor had been murdered. These were anti-Western Islamists who instead supported the terror attacks, people in countries across the Middle East and Asia who took to the streets, bearing posters which read things such as ‘If you are Charlie, I am Koachi’ (referencing the brothers who were among those responsible for the attacks). These were the people who, in violent protests in Niger, killed 4 people and injured many, as well as setting Churches alight.

There were also certain Muslims living in the West, who may have not directly supported the terror attacks, yet didn’t speak out against them in a way that made clear they did support Charlie Hebdo’s right to go on publishing without threat of further terror. Many journalists and ‘moderate’ Muslim leaders actually spoke out against the publication of another cartoon depicting Muhammed, saying that it incited violence and that it was deeply offensive. They expressed the view that the freedom of journalists to criticise their religion in such a way was not justified and should be limited.

On the weekly BBC programme ‘This Week’ which aired in Britain last Thursday, French-Algerian journalist Nabila Ramdani expressed her anger at Charlie Hebdo’s decision to publish another cartoon of the prophet, insinuating that it incited violence and that no such things should ever be published in the future.  She expressed understanding of the logic behind violence being used in retaliation for the cartoons published in the past by Charlie Hebdo. When asked whether the Prophet Muhammed, who Muslims look to as a figure of forgiveness and tolerance, would have condoned the terror attack on their offices, she had no response. Her views were seen as shocking to the presenters of the BBC show and the other guest, however there is no doubt that they are shared by many other Muslims across the world today. These kind of statements have come from many religious leaders and the lines of whether the violence as a reaction should be condoned in their opinion were very much blurred.

In Europe there is talk about the need to have better protection built up for any future terror attacks against the West and against Jewish communities specifically, which is great- however there has been very little talk about action within certain aspects of the Muslim faith that needs to be taken in order to make a long-term difference in turning people away from extremism and creating a safer society. If we don’t tackle terrorism at its root by, for example, educating people and prosecuting radical preachers we will never succeed in creating a society where generations to come will be free to practice their religions and speak as they wish.

Perhaps worryingly, the few who have acknowledged the need for reforms to be made have been met with much hostility. Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary in the British government, recently wrote a moderate letter to over 1,100 imams and Islamic leaders across the UK, asking that they do more to root out terrorism by working at a local level to tackle issues such as the radicalisation of vulnerable members of the Muslim faith. This letter was attacked by the ‘umbrella’ group for British Muslims, the Muslim Council of Britain, who accused the writer of the letter of trying to exclude Muslims from British society, despite the fact that the letter had also clearly stressed the value of the contribution British Muslims make to Britain.

A fundamental issue in the way that uprooting extremism has been handled is of course the reluctance and fear of governments and journalists to publicly acknowledge any kind of link with the religion of Islam and terror, or acknowledge any need to reform certain aspects of the religion in order to create a peaceful society. It has been acknowledged that while politicians in their private capacity will admit to the religion of Islam and terrorist ideas being linked in certain aspects, many are too fearful of any endangerment of their careers to admit this publicly. However, the fact that certain interpretations and factions of the religion of Islam advocate and/or incite terror activity and anti-Western values is undeniable.

When terrorist attacks are carried out, the attackers often yell out ‘Allahu Akbar’- G-d is great. Preachers around the world are still indoctrinating scores of people into Islamic Extremism through sermons often using quotes from religious texts, which encourage people to carry out violence in the name of the Prophet. Anti-Western ideas, along with Anti-Semitic ideology are often preached. In Gaza, institutions which are funded by European taxpayers, such as UNRWA, are indoctrinating school-children into a life of Jihadism, teaching them to resent Israel and generally Western values- also using teaching based on certain religious texts. These religious radicals also exist on our soil in Europe and only recently, a British Islamist named Anjem Choudary spoke on Lebanese television, saying that according to Islamic law anyone who insults the prophet should be punished with death.  We must also not forget that the Koachi brothers had links to the Finsbury Park mosque, a religious institution located in West London where they, along with many others who have gone on to commit terror attacks, had allegedly listened to the preachings of radical terrorist Abu Hamza, who has thankfully now been sentenced to a life in prison. These preachers, whether at schools, mosques or on the street, are the cause of terror activity among Muslims and their own views are derived from Islamic texts.

What the West needs is a strategy which will work to eradicate radical Islam from where the indoctrination of people into terrorist ideology begins. However, people in positions of power first need to stop publicly denying the truth; that Islamic terrorism is a problem which relates directly to religion. This by no means is to say that all forms of Islam are violent and dangerous, and due care should be taken in the terminology used when discussing Islamic extremism specifically. Nevertheless, despite many Muslims being moderate there are still whole swathes of populations all across the world that follow violent Islamist ideology. The number of people this involves is spreading rapidly, and radicalisation is becoming more and more common in the West due to social media and youth vulnerability, among other things. The battle against Islamic extremism is of course a complicated one. However, the only way it can be tackled and a better, terror-free society can be created for generations to come is through being truthful about the nature of Islamic extremism and dealing with it from its roots. This will involve more guts and determination from governments than hitherto shown before, but the time for action is now.

About the Author
Tamara Berens is a second year undergraduate student at Kings College London and a UK Campus Associate for CAMERA.
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