Rather predictably the Prime Minister’s timely complaint at Bratislava – that there are elements within Islam that are in effect ‘complicit’ in the rise of violent extremism – has provoked the predictable criticism from the usual quarters. The critics need to consider carefully what the Prime Minister actually said, because their critiques so often attack something that he didn’t say. Mr Cameron made no general criticism of Muslims or their communities. On the contrary, his remarks were directed specifically and forensically. So, if the cap fits….
What I have found very encouraging over the last year or so, is the growing strength of the reaction within Islam in opposition to the extremists. A fortnight ago UK parliamentarians were privileged to hear the Grand Mufti of Alhazar, the most prestigious seat of Sunni Islamic scholarship, lecture on the how the Ideology of the violent extremists is incompatible with the proper interpretation of Islam. There is now a determined, even evangelical, effort underway within our Muslim communities to challenge and reverse the influence of extremism.
Minhaj-ul-Quran has just launched the first Islamic curriculum on peace and counter-terrorism and young Muslim activists are being trained to take on the extremist ideologies in their communities.
What the Prime Minister was rightly drawing attention to, are those within Islam who, whilst not preaching violence themselves, never the less foster an environment where it can develop. I believe that this falls largely into two categories. First, those who place the blame for radicalisation squarely on the perceived injustice of our own foreign policy and its effects in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan. By blaming Western interventions in the Middle East – however, fair, or unfairly – they take their eye off the growing cancer that is preaching another bout of hatred and death as the solution to all the region’s problems.
Second, those elements within Islam, whilst not themselves advocating violence as a remedy, never the less regard western values, including democracy, as inherently un-Islamic and therefore seek to seal off their communities from all the cultural influences to which our life-style exposes them. This gives rise to confusion about identity especially amongst the young, and creates the environment in which distrust and suspicion develops into hatred and violent intent.
The Prime Minister was entirely correct in pointing out that this conflict is within Islam, and a very small minority at that, even if its consequences are disproportionate and disastrous.
There is a very different analysis: I continue to receive internet inspired hate email which paints the rise of violent extremism as a war of all Muslims against Christianity, the so called clash of civilisations. This really is such utter nonsense and contrary all our experience. Whilst it is true that the consequences of the war in Syria, and its spill-over into Iraq, has been catastrophic for Christian minorities, its principal victims are fellow Muslims. This is a war within Islam. It is precisely for this reason that voices within Islam must be at the forefront of the effort to vanquish the ideology that promotes war and death as the vehicle for propagating religion. The Prime Minister was right to point out that those Muslims who are refusing to engage in this vital effort, are themselves complicit in the consequences that arise from their failure to do so.