Whenever a terrorist attack occurs in the Western world it seems that the same pattern of events always occurs. First there is widespread shock at the nature of the attack, followed closely by the question ‘who could have done such a thing’? As the rampant speculation commences, Muslims pray it hasn’t been committed in the name of Islam fearing the backlash of increased scrutiny from all levels of society, from a new round of repressive policies to the threat of violence from fellow citizens. Most Muslims then come out in strong condemnation of what has happened, expressing empathy whilst also making the point that it has little to do with them; whilst right-wing voices in the political realm strikeout for easy political points stating Muslims must do more to counter religious extremism, as if the actions and beliefs of people in a far-away land has something to do with them. As the dust eventually settles, the government uses terrorist attacks as justification to snoop on all of its citizens repeating the mantra of national security.
Just as with other terrorist atrocities, this familiar sequence of events is also unfolding with the Paris attacks. The Muslim community in Britain has unanimously demonstrated its disgust at the atrocities that have taken place, yet there are concerns that despite the genuine sentiments they have shown in standing together with the innocent victims of this attack whilst also disassociating with anything ISIL might attempt on British soil, they are likely to face the brunt of the aftermath. Already, reports are emerging of a Muslim woman being beaten with glass bottles in Fulham, as Muslims are warned to remain vigilant to the possibility of further Islamophobic incidents. Muslims are also preparing for further scrutiny in the ensuing weeks, which will achieve little else than further marginalise young Muslims, granting ISIL the catalysts they so desperately crave in their recruitment drive.
A meaningful solution is greatly needed; if it is not put into place soon, it will not be long before such evil takes place again, and with the same sequence of events unfolding. We are all united on the idea of protecting the lives of innocent people, defeating ISIL, and working for the common good. We owe it, in the least, to our families, friends and neighbours to work together to prevent such atrocities.
The issue is of course incredibly complex. From the policy-makers’ perspective, the challenge lies in attempting to deal with a nefarious ideology from a group of individuals that claim a distorted ascription to Islam, without implicating faithful Muslims as being somehow related to them. Thus far the government has failed in achieving this. Whilst David Cameron might acknowledge that the overwhelming British Muslims are peaceful individuals far removed from ISIL – except a few hundred like the already proscribed group al-Muhajirun – the blanket approach of viewing and dealing with the Muslim community through the lens of securitisation certainly suggests otherwise.
Then there is the response from certain voices within the Muslim community who place the blame for such acts of terrorism solely upon the actions of government – it is their foreign policy that created this mess in the first place. However, such simplistic notions do not resolve the issue; Britain cannot simply disengage with the Middle East (for one, Arab countries look to us for support) nor would ISIL simply vanish even if we did. Whilst there is certainly no doubt that ISIL is the direct consequence of Bush and Blair’s actions, as explicitly
confirmed by Obama and Blair himself, we must now move on to considering how to prevent ISIL proving an affront to God.
There is an increasing realisation amongst certain parliamentarians that the religious answers can only come from Muslims. In principle this is a sensible approach; after all, when groups allied to ISIL use a religious vernacular to justify their actions, the faith community are the ones most likely to understand the dynamics involved. However, such an approach can only work if both sides can put aside the past.
The Government must stop marginalising the entire Muslim community as a security threat, the current Prevent strategy being an example, and start engaging with Muslim groups that have the necessary maturity to operate at this level. Engaging groups that simply share the same muscular liberal secular sentiments that the Prime Minister and his cabinet deem worthy or safe will achieve little; they need not agree on all matters but share the common goal of defeating ISIL.
From the Muslim community’s perspective, we must move away from idle talk on social media and defer this important task to the intelligentsia that exists within the faith community. If we wish for the Government to take our views seriously and institute policy around them, we must begin to conduct ourselves in a mature manner within the public realm. Only those with the necessary expertise and conduct should be allowed to formulate solutions and articulate them in public; individuals who truly understand what God wants of us as Muslims, whilst also having a sound understanding of the political realm. Ultimately, if we really are serious about preventing further loss of innocent lives in our land, it requires us all to change our approach, for if the status quo continues, we can only expect further tragedies.