If a terror attack were to occur tomorrow and the perpetrators were found citing Islam as their prime motivator for the crime, the first response from our political leaders has become all to predicable. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg began the trend in his response to the September 11th attacks and almost without exception it has been repeated ever since, with British Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnston the latest exponents following the recent knife attack in the streets on London - This trend is to thoroughly deny the obvious nature of the atrocities.
The messages coming from the perpetrators of such violence are unmistakeable - Osama Bin Laden “America has been hit by Allah at its most vulnerable point, destroying, thank God, its most prestigious buildings” - Abu Bakar Bashir (Bali Bombings) “As Allah has said in the Koran. If they want to have peace, they have to accept to be governed by Islam" - And now Michael Adebolajo in Woolwich, London "We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you. The only reason we have done this is because Muslims are dying every day”
Contrasted by the reaction of Mr Bloomberg “It is my hope …[to]…repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam” - Mr Johnson “It is completely wrong to blame this killing on the religion of Islam” and Mr Cameron “There is nothing in Islam that justifies this truly dreadful act”
The comment of the latter group indicates the former were in some way acting in a disingenuous manner. Yet a lack of conviction in their beliefs is a strange charge against individuals showing such an absolute degree of commitment. It should be obvious that Islam is not simply being employed as an alibi by these terrorists - an excuse for already predetermined violence. Rather, these crimes are being perpetrated by devout, sincere Muslims - and Islam is their sole reason for acting.
This consistent response from our leaders is undoubtedly well meaning – trying to mitigate against reprisal attacks and collective blame for the Islamic community – however, it is, in effect, a broad negation of the problem itself. We have collectively become so fearful of further infuriating existing radicals or of creating new ones, that we don’t seem to recognise the damage we are inflicting on those we are trying to protect.
Of course, the majority of Muslims are peaceful individuals. But this being the case, Islam as a religion is facing an existential challenge from a group of its own believers that are finding within their religion a vehicle for violence. The violence itself is a threat to all, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, yet in the justification lies a unique threat to Islam as whole and to every Muslim within the faith, for such crimes are being claimed their name.
This is not to say that all Muslims are responsible for the crimes of people who happen also to be members of the faith, or that anyone is liable for fringe elements of the organisation they belong to - but these crimes are committed in the name of Islam. For example, if I were to act in your name you are by no means responsible, however I do now present a challenge to your identity and what it represents. My actions may be a gross misinterpretation of yourself, yet I am now uniquely your problem, as I claim to embody your intentions. To disavow Muslim terrorists from Islam altogether because of the way they have interpreted their faith is to deliberately self-deceive – choosing what is desirable over what is true.
Explained by Noam Chomsky, though in the context of national affiliations rather than religious - "My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for…[the]…important reason that; namely, I can do something about it…So even if the U.S. was responsible for 2 percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that 2 percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment”
This is precisely the point that is missed and precisely the damage our leaders are doing by acting in this overprotective manner. It would be fair to say that all large movements suffer from radical fringe elements, though it would be wrong to claim that they have no connection to the larger group. Make no mistake, Islamic terrorism is a part of Islam as a global movement, and hence, definitively an Islamic problem.
By denying this truth, we are abandoning every moderate Muslim who is already engaged within their communities to try and tackle this problem, we as a broader society are telling them that their actions are insincere or at best misplaced. We are forsaking the very people we need to ideologically support - we are removing the issue of Islamic violence from the public domain and in doing so silencing the best efforts of moderate Islam.
Islamic violence is an issue that surely must be confronted internally. The Christian reform Churches were only made possible due to the internal struggles of Catholic believers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. Anything less than this sort of organic change from Islam would be indicative of the sort of imperialistic imposition much of this violence is already directed at. If radical Islam is going to become marginalised and its violence less commonplace, it will need to be a change instigated by Islam itself – a movement by Muslims to protect against their fellow members.
Islam is a uniquely engaged belief system, in the Mosques of your local community rarely will you find the sort of religious apathy that seems to be rising within other faiths. Muslims, on the whole, know what they believe and why - Michael Adebolajo is no exception. When non-Muslims claim this man has nothing to do with his religion, they derogate every Muslim already deeply invested in removing such elements from his or her faith. Our leaders are telling us that we are mistaken, that this problem is not a problem at all – yet worst of all they are undermining our best hope for future peace by belittling the best efforts of Muslims seeking to reform their faith.
Our politicians must stop acting liking over-protective parents, jumping blindly to the defence of Islam – and by doing so, inflicting more harm than good. When a parent instinctively defends a child, it’s a psychological response to a feeling that the child is incapable of self-defending or too young for personal growth. And as such, our response to Islamic terrorism is all too often an insult to the faith itself – a faith that needs to, and is more than capable of, defending itself.
Islamic terrorism is a very real challenge to our way of life. For the perpetrators of these crimes to be marginalised and diminished in number, it is a change that must come from within Islam itself - yet at every turn we deny the problem exists. By claiming that individuals clearly motivated by Islam have no relation to the faith, we are removing our best hope for organic change. We are making this debate a non-starter and in so doing, ensuring that violence will continue to scar our streets – we must let Islam defend itself.