Islam and Terrorism – Are they inextricably intertwined?

Perhaps last week’s decision to write on the contentious issue of immigration was a prescient warning of what was going to happen on Friday. After all, the deluge of press coverage on immigration is not simply dictated by the mass of people seeking refuge and economic relief in Europe but generally their religion too. Of course, the religion I speak of is Islam, in whose name the perpetrators of Friday’s horrendous attacks in France, Kuwait and Tunisia claim they are committing these crimes. And perhaps this has to the fundamental question in our discussion about the nature of Islamic extremism today. Are these heinous acts committed by devout Muslims or by apocalyptic terrorists who blight Islam’s allegedly peaceful reputation?

As something of a disclaimer, I must confess that my understanding of the Quran and Islamist politics is more disappointing than I would wish to admit. However, the barrage of coverage we have received about Islamic extremism in recent years has given me the opportunity to come to my own conclusions. While these terrorists certainly prescribe to a convoluted form of Islam, I do believe a majority of them have read the Quran, which others wish to contend. Critically, I believe their literalist interpretation of the Islamic holy book is fuelling their abhorrent ideology. This demonstrates that more needs to be done to address the manner in which Muslims are taught to read the Quran. Ultimately, Imams and community elders need to be emphasising to their congregations that the literalist interpretation of going out and killing kafirs or infidels, a derogatory term for non-Muslims, is simply unacceptable. Though I’ve no doubt that many Mosques in the United Kingdom and across the world are doing laudable and effective work in combating Islamic extremism, there’s certainly a distinct number, especially amongst the Deobandi sect, a highly conservative strand of Islam, which continue to preach a divisive message. In the UK, this encourages members of their congregations to reject our democratic, secularist traditions which have long allowed us to be a country of religious tolerance and multiethnic harmony. Ultimately, while these terrorists are certainly Muslims, they are clearly uneducated ones. All the same, as Muslims endowed with a considerable understanding of the Quran, they are damaging their faith’s ostensibly peaceful reputation.

Continuing in the same vein and upon the same principle; I watched Hollande and Cameron as they were carted out in front of the assorted press, eagerly awaiting their respective replies to the inevitable question of whether Islam had played a central role in these attacks. As the British PM declared Islam ‘a religion of peace’, his French counterpart completely ducked the question, merely suggesting that these attacks had ‘all the hallmarks of terrorists.’

Given that the French President is particularly fond of utilising the same remarks every time there is a terrorist attack, I was not surprised to hear his statement. Yet given we are just over one week on from Cameron’s appearance at the Global Security Forum, in which he controversially called for Muslims to redouble their efforts in foiling Islamic extremists’ recruitment drives, it was something of a climbdown for him to disassociate Islam from today’s tragic events.

Though this distinction has been somewhat overlooked by the commentariat, Cameron’s decision to dismiss the role of Islam in Friday’s bloodshed is evidently an indication of the British Government’s unwillingness to add fuel to an already burgeoning fire in many districts of Britain’s largest cities. As the process of social and economic equality continues to bite hard particularly across the North, London’s outlying suburbs and Wales, the views of an increasingly, vociferous segment of the British population are now at odds with the Westminster consensus on the issue of EU membership and immigration.

With this in mind, perhaps it was appropriate that the PM did not press home Islam’s association with these horrific attacks. Indeed, if Mr.Cameron had issued a nod of approval to the words and thoughts of those feeling disenfranchised by mass immigration and EU membership, race riots may have beckoned. Though some may dispel this as incendiary rhetoric, absenting metropolitan Britain, there is a raw sense that the British people are being perpetually sold out by politicians incapable of tackling issues like Islamic extremism, the deficit and NHS reform.

While the success story of the last government may have been the creation of two million jobs, this time the Tories have to target the seemingly inescapable issue of Islamic extremism, for national security remains the principal government responsibility. Whether this entails instituting a Muslim led enquiry into what allures people to Islamic State and Al Qaeda or introducing intensive educational programmes aimed at furthering integration between different ethnicities in the most demographically diverse British towns and cities, something needs to be done immediately to arrest Britain’s vulnerable national security situation.

Of course, terrorism is not only a domestic issue but a foreign policy one too. Therefore the FCO (the Foreign & Commonwealth Office) needs to reconsider Britain’s policy of engagement with some of the world’s most brutal dictators as well as its historically interventionist stance in global conflicts. Ultimately, the strong political and economic relationships that Britain enjoys with an extensive number of authoritarian states in the Middle East and Asia continues to give ammunition to those who wish to challenge the reputed hypocrisy of British foreign policy. Given the repeated celebration of our democratic traditions at home, it is somewhat sanctimonious of us to entertain regimes, which commit some of the most horrific human rights abuses in the world.

With all this for Cameron to consider, there’s little doubt that Islamic State are one step ahead, if not two. His task is to hit back and hit back quick, for if he doesn’t, the storm will only grow and combatants on both sides will inevitably resort to ever more gruesome methods to end it. Let’s hope for our sake we never reach that stage.