Mohammed Amin is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, but writes in a personal capacity.
David Cameron’s speech last weekend in Bratislava was heavily trailed in the press. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Muslims were queuing up to criticise it – in many cases, I suspect, without waiting to read it.
What did the Prime Minister say?
It was a wide-ranging speech, covering Britain’s commitment to European security, our economic strength, our commitment to defence, our opposition to Russia’s attempt to redraw borders by force, Mediterranean migration, cyber-security and more. However, it was the comments about ISIS that upset many Muslim commentators.
Cameron summarised the problem as follows:
“Only if we are clear about this threat and its causes can we tackle it. The cause is ideological. It is an Islamist extremist ideology – one that says the West is bad and democracy is wrong that women are inferior, that homosexuality is evil. It says religious doctrine trumps the rule of law and Caliphate trumps nation state and it justifies violence in asserting itself and achieving its aims.
The question is: how do people arrive at this worldview?”
He acknowledged that there were multiple reasons. What clearly upset many people was the following: “I am clear that one of the reasons is that there are people who hold some of these views who don’t go as far as advocating violence, but who do buy into some of these prejudices giving the extreme Islamist narrative weight and telling fellow Muslims, ‘you are part of this’.”
He also challenged Muslims who seek to blame others for the causes of radicalisation:
“Too often we hear the argument that radicalisation is the fault of someone else. That blame game is wrong – and it is dangerous. By accepting the finger pointing – whether it’s at agencies or authorities – we are ignoring the fact that the radicalisation starts with the individual and we would be in danger of overlooking many of the ways we must try to stop it at the source.”
The media’s reporting of the Prime Minister’s speech
I can understand fellow Muslims who were upset by headlines such as the Daily Mail’s “UK Muslims helping jihadis, says Cameron”. Fewer will have seen the measured language of the Financial Times “British Muslims urged to do more to resist extremism” which summarises Cameron’s speech more appropriately.
I found myself on LBC Radio yesterday debating with a Muslim woman who was clearly incensed by the Daily Mail headline; it was not clear if she had read the speech. The tabloids are rarely helpful with such delicate subject matter!
Was Cameron right?
To me, it is obvious that he was right.
From time to time, I encounter young Muslims who are completely alienated from our country and who can see nothing good about it. If I remained silent when listening to their lamentations, I would be tacitly supporting their sense of grievance; far worse of course were I to concur with them. That is the way to let them continue the slide towards adopting ISIS’s ideology. My duty to the young people themselves requires me to challenge their misconceived alienation and remind them, as Baroness Warsi has said, that Britain is probably the best country in the world in which to be a Muslim.
Unfortunately, there are people who don’t take this approach. The ComRes attitude survey of British Muslims published in February 2015 had some encouraging findings, but also some discouraging ones. For example 20 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement “Western liberal society can never be compatible with Islam.” There will be people who listen to young people’s lamentations and who tell them Britain really is as bad as they think.
When it comes to the radicalisation of children, the primary responsibility for preventing it rests with their parents. Everyone would be up in arms were the state to claim primary responsibility for the spiritual and moral upbringing of children; the previous sentence is only the same proposition in reverse. As a father of four children, I would spend the rest of my life wondering how I had failed as a parent were one of them to join ISIS.
Why do so many Muslims object to such common sense?
I believe the reason for the extreme defensiveness displayed arises from a lack of confidence regarding the status of Islam in Britain and other liberal societies. In my view, many Muslims fear that if they concede that Muslims who commit terrorism are in any way motivated by their understanding of Islam they will somehow have conceded that Islam is a religion which promotes terrorism. That is logical nonsense, but logic rarely rules with something as important as one’s relationship with one’s religion.
While the defensive concerns are not valid, they are amplified by the activities of anti-Muslim bigots who have made an industry out of promoting the view that the terrorists’ understanding of Islam is the correct one.