At the time of writing, the Police have issued a statement that they are treating the deadly attack at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester as terrorism-related. It remains to be seen whether this was related to specifically AQ or IS-related terrorism or something else, so my comments below are necessarily tentative.
We know that AQ/IS-related terrorism is a phenomenon we will have to sadly deal with for a number of years to come before it is finally defeated. It is still worth asking, however, whether there are actions we can take now that can hasten the coming of that day. Some actions may well make the problem worse – just think of US President Trump’s grotesque $110 billion arms deal at the weekend with the reactionary Saudi regime – the same regime that internally is an absolute monarchy that represents a human rights disaster zone and externally actively finances the spread across the world of perhaps the most intolerant and narrow-minded strain of modern Islam.
But are there actions that we could take that may help reduce the allure of terrorist groups? Have our own policies in the UK been the most appropriate ones to protect young people from being seduced by AQ/IS propaganda? The UK government for several years now has been leaning on Internet Service Providers to block AQ/IS-related websites. This is reminiscent of the counter-productive and ultimately futile efforts in the 1980s by the Thatcher government to block Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams from appearing on the television. We should ask whether it might be more fruitful to be willing to openly allow – and even to encourage – debate and critical thinking about AQ-IS and their vision of an “Islamic State”. The government’s Prevent agenda – which sounds defensive and rather defeatist – might more effectively be re-named and re-fashioned as Expose or Engage.
At the same time, Muslim leaders must hopefully realise by now that they have a duty to disavow the idea of an “Islamic State”. It cannot be a good idea to teach children and young adults that a state that would necessarily discriminate on the grounds of religion is something that could benefit the world in the 21st century. A secular state that treats every citizen equally regardless of their faith is by far a better proposition. This is not a call for jingoism or anything like it, but rather, to appreciate the good we enjoy in the UK and the West in general.
There is little point in denying that much of the Muslim world is having enormous problems adapting to modernity. Freedom of religion, freedom of association, women’s rights, gay rights – these are areas where the vast majority of Muslim majority countries have been left far behind most of the rest of the world. A key reason for this appears to be the baleful influence of religion.
Religion, which at its best can be a force to inspire humility, wonder and to rouse our curiosity about the world and our place in it, has generated a lethal mutant form within parts of the Muslim community and it needs much more focused attention.