I can still remember the joy I felt on 6th July 2005 after the UK had been awarded the 2012 Olympic Games. The following day, as a story about an electrical fault on the London Underground gradually changed into the worst UK terrorist attack of our lifetimes, brought nothing but horror and frantic calls to check that my children and relatives were OK, which they were. Six days later it emerged that the terrorists were not foreigners, but people born and raised in our country.
“I and thousands like me are forsaking everything for what we believe. Our driving motivation doesn’t come from tangible commodities that this world has to offer. Our religion is Islam, obedience to the one true God, Allah and follow in the footsteps of the final prophet and messenger Muhammad.
This is how our ethical stances are dictated. Your democratically elected governments perpetuate atrocities against my people and your support of them makes you responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters.”
For me there are two key messages from the above extract:
- Khan had no sense of allegiance or belonging to the UK (“Your… governments”) but instead his only loyalty was to his conception of “my Muslim brothers and sisters.”
- He believed he was doing a good deed, not an evil deed. I have no doubt that he expected to go to heaven after the explosion had killed him.
The bombers may have hoped that non-Muslim Britons would turn on their Muslim fellow citizens, with the reaction leading to more Muslims wanting to become terrorists. The opposite happened. Apart from a few extremists the country was united in its revulsion and determined to remain a cohesive society.
Despite this, although proper statistics are not readily available, there was a short-term uptick in anti-Muslim attacks. While regrettable, this was no surprise.
Over the following years, the security services foiled a number of plots that could have caused mayhem, the most serious being the airline liquid bombs plot which could have killed thousands. Apart from the carnage, I shudder to think about the implications for our society’s cohesion if such plots had succeeded.
Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of the aftermath has been the consistency with which many Muslims and many Muslim organisations continue to treat British foreign policy as the sole explanation of attempted terrorism, contending that the religious beliefs of the would-be terrorists are irrelevant. (See “Terrorism and denialism” here.)
They are simply wrong, as demonstrated by Khan’s suicide video above. If he had believed that blowing up people on the London Underground was against God’s will, he would not have done it; no matter what he thought of British foreign policy.
What do we do next?
Obviously we must maintain security vigilance, to identify possible plotters and to respond rapidly if an attack is launched. Despite being a supporter of the NGO “Liberty”, I lean towards more electronic surveillance, not less.
However, a security response is not enough. To adopt the striking phrase from American politics used several times by David Cameron, we must “drain the swamp.” We have to stop people wanting to become terrorists. In the case of Muslims, it is essential that they believe that what Khan did was an evil act very likely (only God can be the final judge) to consign him to hell, and not a virtuous deed.
Many Muslims “get it”, and I would particularly like to mention Shaykh Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri who in 2010 issued his 600 page “Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings” and who more recently launched his counter-extremism curriculum. Sadly too many Muslims still don’t get it, and simply fail to accept that non-violent extremism is a problem, and that the more non-violent extremism there is around, the more violent extremists we will generate.
We must unite around our values
We now have a clear list of values that underlie our society. To quote from Theresa May’s speech on 23 March 2015 “regard for the rule of law, participation in and acceptance of democracy, equality, free speech and respect for minorities”. Everybody in our society should be able to unite around these values.
Paradoxically, as I explained at this link, calling them “British values” is counter-productive as it alienates some of the British Muslims we are seeking to influence. It would be much better to use more inclusive language, such as “the shared human values that underlie our society.”
Our country will defeat terrorism motivated by an incorrect understanding of Islam (and by unhappiness about our foreign policy arising from poor analysis) just as we have overcome terrorism motivated by other intellectual and political causes. We can only do so by preserving national unity, and I want more Muslims to “step up to the plate” and play their part.