It is important to point out something that doesn’t seem quite evident to many people. There are variant streams of irrational (or uninformed) criticism that people use when discussing ISIL and attempting to draw the Muslim community into the discussion. Muslims usually respond in a similar fashion across the board, also tending to irrationally add random points into a discussion like foreign policy or government policy towards Muslims. They feel the urge to say something, so resort to the modus operandi of complaining. Those who want to be spokespersons are more concerned with occupying the position than formulating an intelligent response. Much of what they say on these two things might be correct, but how they position these in an argument isn’t necessarily so.
If one must respond, then when it is put that ISIL is a “Muslim problem” because militants claim they are acting in the name of Islam, one might respond that this line of reasoning is immature. Claiming to act in the name of anything or anyone does not then make that thing or person also culpable. A murder over a lover doesn’t make the lover guilty nor does the claim of the EDL or BNP render all white Britons even nominally racist. In fact, to use the BNP to assert there is a ‘white problem’ is deeply offensive. (Islam is not an ethnicity/race but I use the BNP example because, just like ISIL, they claim to act on behalf of others – white Englishmen or as they view it, their people). Similarly, even where there isn’t a claim but mere connection, being a Brit does not mean I have anything to do with the anti-social behaviour of young holidaymakers to the Canary Islands, just as being a Muslim I have nothing to do with the actions of ISIL, who claim Islam and murder innocents.
Beyond the point of association, how exactly can it be a Muslim problem when the people who commit acts of wanton bloodshed are proven not to have had much to do with religion before joining ISIL? The purported ISIL mastermind of the recent Paris attack, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, ‘first travelled to Syria last year – but seemingly not out of any great religious motivation.’ In fact, the Independent goes on to ask:
Who is Abdelhamid Abaaoud, ‘mastermind’ of the Paris attacks? Like many who travel to the so-called “Islamic State”, his actions appear to have been motivated more by a thirst for power, violence and unaccountability… He briefly studied at an exclusive Catholic school, before either dropping out or getting expelled and drifting into a life of thievery and drugs… According to his family, the young man showed much more interest in petty crime than Islam, and they were shocked when he took his 13-year-old brother Younes with him to travel to Syria in January 2014.
Ultimately, we are informed that rather than Islam, he was actually driven by power and violence, studied at an exclusive Catholic school (so no entryist Islamist educators there then), and more interested in petty crime than Islam.
So when interlocutors fail in their initial attempts, they usually move on to the assertion that ISIL is the product of Islam, and this is actually where the foreign policy point comes in. Rather than go on about past wars, we can very simply state that terrorists are recruited by ISIL, which is a political sectarian group from Iraq, the leadership of which are made up of Saddam’s regime and former prisoners of the coalition. Religious language has been used as a recruiting tool to give those who have social grievances a seemingly moral justification to exact some twisted notion of revenge. More importantly, and perhaps more to the point, Obama has explicitly said that ISIL grew out of, and was a consequence of the invasion. Equally, Tony Blair said there was truth in the assertion that the war caused the rise of Islamic State. If the leaders of the states that created ISIS accept liability, regardless of the religious propaganda of ISIS (and everyone agrees misinformation is their method), why is Islam still a discussion? It’s simply a strategy to deflect blame.
When it comes to bringing up foreign policy, its use is mainly when an interlocutor introduces the blame game. For the Muslim to bring up foreign policy (FP) at every juncture is not only futile but weakens the point itself because people become bored with hearing the same thing repeatedly and soon it loses its potency, not matter how valid. Furthermore, much of society sees putting home-grown terrorism down to FP as the suggestion that the UK should alter its foreign policy (and by extension its ‘way of life’) to placate such terrorists. Whilst that might not be the intention of responders, that is how it is often taken. Additionally, the notion of FP grievances in the process of radicalisation was significant in the Al Qaeda era; those joining or supporting ISIL do not posit similar sentiment. So here it becomes apparent that the discussion is multifaceted and simply putting down the entire conversation to foreign policy is untenable.
For the sake of the masses, our narrative must be short and simple:
- ISIL is an organisation that spawned out of the invasion of Iraq because of the war itself, in addition to the negligence of Bush and Blair in resolving to plan the aftermath or work to improve conditions. They are to ‘blame’ for the creation of ISIS.
- ISIL’s claim to religion is propaganda and used as a tool to galvanise disaffected citizens owing to their social circumstances. People who join ISIS are not religious before doing so. ISIL itself is led by former members of Saddam’s radically secular Ba’thist regime.
- To solve the problem as it stands we as a nation must look to evidence-based approaches for dealing with social exclusion and disaffection that make young people susceptible to ISIL rather than adopt the ideologically driven narrative of the cabinet and neo-conservative right. Given the complexity of the affair, a number of individuals will inevitably have to work together to empower these young people with viable economic and social solutions. In this milieu, Islamic scholars have an important part to play as all the evidence suggests that both a robust and normative Islamic education and increased religiosity act as strong impediments to the ISIL recruitment process.
- Thus whilst British Muslims have played no part in the creation of this terror and bear no responsibility for the actions of ISIL and those they’ve managed to recruit, they very much want to be a part of the solution and participate in working towards the common good – not only for the benefit of the Muslim community itself but also for that of wider society.