The last two hundred years have seen terrorism around the world come and go in waves. In the last twenty years terrorism from many sources has taken untold thousands of lives.
While there are many sources of terrorism, personally I am more vexed by terrorists who are Muslims than I am by other terrorists. The reason is very simple. As a Muslim I expect Muslims to behave better than non-Muslims. Otherwise what is the point of professing Islam?
When it comes to terrorism committed, or sought to be committed, in Britain, by Muslims, I am regularly dismayed by two opposing refusals to accept reality which are so egregious as to merit the description of denial. Both relate to the motivations of the terrorists and would-be terrorists.
Denial No. 1 – Terrorism has nothing to do with foreign policy
Most people are motivated to do things by multiple factors, and it is rarely realistic to identify a sole cause. The issue here is whether British foreign policy is one of the causes of terrorism within Britain, not the sole cause.
The Guardian reported on 12 September 2003 that before the invasion of Iraq, Britain’s security services warned the government that one consequence would be an increased risk of terrorism in Britain. When the leader of the 7/7 bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan recorded his suicide video, he expressly referred to military actions overseas:
“Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters. Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight.”
Similarly the 2013 Woolwich killers referred to British military action overseas: “The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers. … when you drop a bomb do you think it hits one person?”
Despite this, some contend that actions such as invading Afghanistan and Iraq have had no impact on increasing the motivation of people to become terrorists. The most vivid example I remember is a TV interview with Tony Blair, late in his premiership, when he was asked if foreign policy had done anything to cause terrorism. I remember him looking straight into the camera and denying that it did.
Sadly I have to rely upon my memory as I have not found the clip on the internet. However it is worth reading the transcript of his 2007 interview with National Public Radio of the USA in 2007:
“And the other thing is that, I mean, if I — you see, if I have a criticism of our policy, if you like, it’s not the criticism that most people make. Most people say, “Why have you done this? You’ve provoked even more terrorism. You know, haven’t you made this situation worse?” My answer to that is, emphatically not.”
For the avoidance of doubt, to say that A is a cause of B is not to excuse B. Nor is it a reason, of itself, to not do A, if there are other good reasons for doing A. I do not want our country’s foreign policy to be determined solely by whether it may increase the risk of terrorism.
However if we deny a part of reality, it means that we make less good decisions than we would otherwise make.
Denial No. 2 – Their understanding of Islam is irrelevant to the conduct of terrorists
Many years ago I got fed up with the many Muslims who contend that it is always wrong to mention that terrorists such as the 7/7 bombers were Muslims. Accordingly, I wrote the piece “Terrorist + Muslim = ‘Muslim terrorist’?” It concludes that sometimes it is appropriate to specifically identify a terrorist’s religion, sometimes it is not, and that the UK press generally identifies both sets of circumstances correctly.
At its simplest, my view is that if the 7/7 bombers had believed that carrying out the bombings was guaranteed to result in them spending all of eternity in Hell, they would not have carried out the bombings. It is one thing to sacrifice your life in a noble cause, as they clearly believed they were doing. It is something quite different to kill yourself doing something for which you believe God will punish you for all eternity.
Despite the obvious logic of the above analysis, many Muslims still contend that the sole cause of terrorism is British foreign policy, and that theological interpretations have nothing to do with it. Many resort to the “Aunt Sally” debating tactic by pointing out that the Conveyor Belt Theory of Radicalisation has been “refuted”.
Why do people engage in denial?
There is insufficient space to tackle the general question of denial, which of course has multiple causes. However the motivations for the two forms of denial mentioned above appear relatively clear.
Tony Blair appears incapable of recognising that the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea. (I agree with Mr Blair that Saddam Hussein was a terrible monster. The question is whether, with the benefit of hindsight, we think the invasion was a good idea.) With his mind-set, it is easy to convince yourself that the invasion did not make the terrorist threat worse.
Conversely, I think that many Muslims feel insecure about the way that Islam is seen by non-Muslims. Accordingly I believe that their innermost fear is that, if they accept that terrorists who are Muslims are motivated even in part by their religious views, it will cause non-Muslims to conclude that Islam is a religion that promotes terrorism.
While there are plenty of hostile non-Muslims who miss no opportunity to denigrate Islam, I believe that my fellow Muslims need to have sufficient self-confidence, and of course confidence in the merits of Islam itself, to accept that some evil people do interpret it wrongly and then act upon that wrong interpretation.