In the wake of last week’s deadly violence we must take care not to just rehash the same old arguments, says RABBIL SIKDAR
THE most terrifying thing about the brutal attack in Paris is the sense of powerlessness left by the end.
It was mercilessly calculative, coldly executed — they had their targets. Paris was the victim again of another gruesome terrorist attack. By the end of it, the only questions worth asking were: how do you stop this? When will it end?
Arguments that now feel like old arguments have already been conjured: tougher security measures, bombing Syria, closing borders and a less compassionate strategy concerning the refugee crisis have been proposed by the right.
Those on the left have repeatedly warned against a growing tide of Islamophobia only deepening the risk of terrorism and reject military interventions and the closing of borders as short-sighted while greater security measures are seen as something of a defeatist mentality.
We’ve been here before.
The same people arguing along the same lines. Is there anything left to say, to argue about?
The easy thing to do would be to surrender to the fear and accept an extension of security powers for the government, the virtual imposition of a surveillance society where speech and behaviour is closely scrutinised.
For Muslims, such an Orwellian and draconian society already exists through the Prevent strategy. It has created a huge sense of alienation and marginalisation.
It fuels the sense of division and being the other, a sensation sharpened by the scaremongering tactics of the media that carelessly and casually attribute the actions of Islamic State (Isis) to an innocent Muslim population.
To surrender to the fear and turn to such measures during a crisis like this when we define ourselves as different through our values is not showing courage or conviction.
Dismantling these principles while championing them is hypocritical and will not go amiss on those affected by it.
The crisis in Syria will not end global terrorism but the headache for the West is there now.
The entirety of the Middle East is a hornet’s nest. Touch it at your peril. Stemming the influence of Saudi Arabia, a global exporter of terrorism, means nothing if Iran’s growing influence over the region is not kept in check too.
There is a sectarian cold war between the Saudis and Iran.
Which brings us to the final point.
No-one wants to criticise Iran for fear of pushing anti-Iranian propaganda. No-one wants to criticise the Muslim community for terrorism. Perhaps to a large extent there’s a justifiable reason for that.
The existence of Isis is conditioned by the military travesties that happened in Iraq and later in Libya.
But Salafi and Wahhabi thinking existed before US foreign policy did. It emerged in the late 18th century, by which time Islam was long established, and it grew in what is now Saudi Arabia. But it exists.
Liberal Muslims often point to the pluralism of Islam and the absence of an authentic ruling on what Islam exactly is, but though that is true, it means that people like Isis will emerge and claim they are Muslims.
How exactly can anyone discredit them on that? If there are many different variations of Islam then the one Isis follows is one.
It isn’t the one we follow or the one hundreds of millions follow but it’s a minority branch that is growing in power and influence.
Rejecting that is like rejecting the fact that the world orbits around the sun. Just as we hate it when conservative Muslims insist there is only one way to follow Islam, we conversely do the same when talking to violent extremists.
No-one knows what the authentic Islam is. Scholars can say they do but they differ too. Ultimately it’s about convincing ordinary Muslims to follow your liberally toned branch of Islamic thinking.
And that’s why it is extremely frustrating when a large number of self-appointed spokespeople within the Muslim community repeatedly pinpoint foreign policy and Islamophobia in destabilising the region. Yes that happened, but these radical ideas existed before that. Wars and support of tyrant regimes was simply a way of giving space to these ideas.
No matter what the West does, even if it spends the next hundred years pumping peace into the region, these radical thoughts will exist even on the fringes because ideas like Wahhabism existed for centuries. They are too deep-rooted in many societies and can only be defeated through a major philosophical transformation within the Muslim world.
That means grassroots-driven action against conservative thinkers who try to divide the world between Muslim and non-Muslim. When we say: “This is not Islam” on social media in response to terrorist attacks, we should be saying it to the Muslim youth in our community at the risk of radicalisation.
When you look at the British Muslim youth joining Isis, it’s not a surprise. British society is alienating and bigoted currently.
But what’s the attitude of a number of British Muslims within the community? Cultural integration is a bad thing. Everything is the fault of the West. If divisions are stoked by the media, they are cemented by the Muslim conservatives.
In the Muslim world, the lack of education means millions are deprived of a detailed understanding of Islamic theology where context is everything. It separates the liberals from the conservatives and the sane from the insane.
Expecting jihadists to be defeated without any kind of action within Muslim communities is ludicrous and almost as baffling as thinking bombing Syria is the best way to make Syrians safe.