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Posted on Sun 29 March 2015

How to extinguish radical Islamism

The revelation that ‘Jihadi John’ is, in reality, a young Londoner, the departure of three young women from another part of London to serve ISIS in Syria and the poll showing that a significant minority of Muslims in this country believe that those who attacked and killed the Charlie Hebdo journalists had some justification for taking the Law into their own hands, raises urgent questions about the alienation of especially young Muslims in this country. What is leading them to turn their backs on the country where many of them have been born and where all of them have been brought up and educated?

The background here is surely the global resurgence of Islamism which seeks Muslim identity in a rejection of the modern world in favour of the culture and society which existed at the time of the Prophet of Islam and his companions. This leads many also to reject how Islamic civilisation developed in the course of history and the accommodation which it had to make with non-Muslim neighbours and the extent to which Shari’a, or Islamic law, was modified to meet the needs of the times.

At first, this resurgence was communicated to the young in the isolated communities of British cities and towns by radicalised Imams, who usually come from abroad, through the teaching of hate in some textbooks and in centres established to propagate visions of radical Islam. More recently, the place of these has, increasingly, been usurped by the new media made possible by the electronic revolution. IS is but the latest extremist movement to use sophisticated new media to spread its message of fear and terror. Universities remain another location where, through voluntary societies, students are pressurised to conform to Islamic demands on gender segregation,dress,food etc.They are also exposed to speakers and materials which may lead to further radicalisation.

Prisons, likewise, where the numbers of Muslims is disproportionate to their percentage in the population at large, are places where radicalisation is likely to occur.

For many it is a question of identity: rather than identifying with Britain as a nation, with a plural and diverse society and with moderate Islam whether Sufi,Sunni or Shi’a forms, they are increasingly identifying with a supra-national and extremist version of their faith. Here the priority is for the Ummah, or the world wide community of the faith,to the Shari’a, in its most uncompromising form, as a panacea for all of society’s ills and for the recovery of lands lost to the infidel.

Radicalisation involves a leap from a personal and social faith to a comprehensive political,social,economic and spiritual ideology. As such, it can be compared to other manifestations of totalitarianism such as Marxism or National Socialism, hence the term Islamo-fascism used by some. It is true, of course, that belief in an extremist ideology does not necessarily involve engagement in violence but, as we have seen, it can lead to it. Secondly, both the ideologues and their disciples claim inspiration from the fundamental sources,history and teaching of Islam. If they are wrong to do so, this has to be clearly demonstrated to them and to the public generally.

For many years, I have been arguing that religious leaders, of any faith, if they come here to work should be vetted as to the origin and authenticity of their qualification, their knowledge of English and their awareness of the culture and values of this country. We must make sure that British taxpayers are not, inadvertently, subsidising the teaching of hate in text books published here or imported from overseas. On the one hand, new media can be used to raise awareness of the variety in Islamic tradition and teaching. On the other, there has to be close monitoring and control of sites which advocate violence or discrimination against people of a different faith or view. Whilst universities and colleges have a duty to uphold free speech, they also have a responsibility to prevent students being encouraged to break the law or, indeed, to deny freedom of speech or movement to others. Universities should be places where people of different kinds can mix. Ghettoisation of every kind must be avoided. In prisons also any association or privilege that goes beyond legitimate religious observance has to be discouraged as does the dissemination of extremist propaganda.

Socially, there has to be an end to misguided policies of ‘multiculturalism’ which have encouraged some communities to become segregated in housing, education and other activities. This has lessened a sense of national belonging, of common citizenship and of a shared language, precisely where this is most needed. It is good that some progress has been made in this area but much more needs to be done.

Extremist Islamism is a global phenomenon. It cannot be supported or tolerated elsewhere, while we fight it at home, because it is perceived by some as being in the ‘national interest’. Educational aid programmes, for instance, need to make sure that we are not, unwittingly, supporting the teaching of hate in schools. We have seen that giving refuge to those engaged in extremist ideology and terrorism elsewhere has immediate implications for our own security. Our resolve against terror internationally will also deter those who plan for it on our streets.

Finally, mistakenly or not, radical Islamism claims to have spiritual foundations and inspiration. It cannot effectively be opposed without reaffirming the Christian foundations and values of this nation which gave us Magna Carta and the liberties which flowed from it. During this 800th anniversary year of this great document, let the faith which inspired its writers inspire us also as we face the challenges of our age and our world.

The above article was published by The Catholic Herald, March 2015

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