Even though we have seen many vehicle attacks on the streets of Nice, Berlin, and Jerusalem, this week’s terrorist attack in London still came as a shock. While I was in Manchester on Wednesday, I am in the area attacked virtually every week when in London, and the Palace of Westminster is the physical heart of our democracy.
Last night there was no information about the attacker’s motives, and long ago the Oklahoma City bombing taught me to avoid jumping to conclusions. Accordingly I simply made a donation to the Police Dependants’ Trust and issued a short Conservative Muslim Forum statement sharing some of the Prime Minister’s words from Downing Street.
This morning the police have stated that they believe this was violent Islamist extremism; that is the most significant terrorist threat our country faces, albeit not the only one, as the murder of Jo Cox MP showed.
I am clear what we all need to do.
The universal responsibility
All of us need to be vigilant. If we suspect that anyone, even a close family member, may be thinking of committing an act of terrorism (regardless of motivation), we must report this. The Government website tells you how.
Beyond that, our responsibilities bifurcate. People get drawn into terrorism for different reasons, depending on their backgrounds.
The responsibility of British Muslims
All of us know young people: our children, other relatives, friends, and those we encounter within organisations and groups. Younger people are more easily led into terrorism because they know less, and are less skilled in thinking about the complexities of the real world. That enables them to be easily seduced by someone offering them “the real Islam” and a guaranteed way to paradise.
Telling your child “don’t become a terrorist” is about as effective as telling them “don’t think of a pink elephant.” What matters are the specific things you teach them as they are growing up.
You can choose to feed your child the narrative that: everywhere non-Muslims are doing terrible things to Muslims; the British Government aims to keep Muslims down; Islam teaches us that Muslims should not associate with non-Muslims; Muslims have a religious duty to establish a caliphate governed exclusively by shariah law. You can teach them that Jews have always hated Muslims, and that all the problems in Palestine are due to guilty evil Jews oppressing and attacking innocent good Muslims. If you do, don’t be surprised if your child is seduced by an online recruiter for ISIS.
Conversely you can teach your children that: throughout history good and bad things have been done by both Muslims and non-Muslims; in Palestine, there are rights and wrongs on both sides with the balance varying at different points in time; in Britain, Muslims have identical rights to non-Muslims and every opportunity to thrive; all mankind is the creation of God; we are obliged to care for all of our neighbours irrespective of religion. By doing so, you can immunise your child against the siren call of ISIS.
The responsibility of non-Muslims
ISIS promote terrorism in Europe because they want non-Muslims to react by attacking Muslims. ISIS has a Manichean view of the world, divided between the World of Islam (good) and the World of War (occupied by evil non-Muslims who must be fought and defeated.) They want to eliminate “the grey zone”; the place where Muslims and non-Muslims live side by side in peace and harmony. ISIS want all Muslims to be expelled from Europe.
Accordingly, politicians like Geert Wilders who want to ban the Quran and who treat all Muslims as “the enemy within” are doing ISIS’s work for them.
To immunise your child against being drawn into the far-right white racism of Thomas Mair, you need to teach your children that: Islam is a religion with the same theological and intellectual depth and complex variety as Christianity; the overwhelming majority of British Muslims are valued citizens making this country a better place for everyone; and that Britain has been enriched in many ways by immigration over the centuries.
We should all do what we can
What each of us can do varies, depending on available time and personal background. For example, I regularly do talks at schools for the charity Speakers for Schools. Yesterday morning I spoke in Oldham to a heavily Bangladeshi origin audience. Earlier this month in Halewood my audience was overwhelmingly white British.
My main speaking goal is advising pupils about how to make their future lives successful. However, a key side benefit is demonstrating by personal example to Muslims that they can succeed in Britain, and to non-Muslims that Muslims can be driven by a commitment to social duty.
Think about what you, personally, can do today to counter the extremist scourge.