When thirty innocent British people get killed in cold blood by an Islamic State affiliate in the Tunisian resort of Sousse, the article headline may sound insensitive. The fact that this atrocity took place near the ten year anniversary of the horrific events of July 7th, 2005 in London may suggest that no progress has been made, and that the threat of extremism is as prevalent as ever.
But, I take a positive view.
The events of 7/7 took the nation by surprise, as 52 Britons died on that day because of suicide bombers, motivated by the jihadist cause, driven by a literalist vision of the Quran and the Hadiths. Despite the 9/11 bombings some four years earlier we did not have a strategy to combat extremism in the UK, and we even failed to understand the causes of such action.
The latest atrocities in Tunisia left us equally appalled and horrified, but it certainly does not come as a shock, as IS' self-proclaimed Caliphate tries to spread its tentacles beyond Syria and Iraq. And we are not nearly as surprised as ten years ago, because we are finally starting to appreciate what the drivers are, of Islamic jihadism.
Most of us now accept that although there are different factors that has facilitated the rise of non-state terrorism, there is one underlying and fundamental cause of this rise of extremist activity, and indeed attracting 700 Britons to join Daesh, Y Wladwriaeth Islamaidd, L'Etat Islamique or whatever translation you wish to use. They are all variants of the same name, which many of our political class fail to address. And this underlying cause is the ideology.
Most of us now accept that although there are different factors that has facilitated the rise of non-state terrorism, there is one underlying and fundamental cause of this rise of extremist activity.
For far too long, politicians have faffed about. They are afraid to name this poisonous ideology that preceded the ill-fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are afraid to offend Muslim communities. Obama can't even say the words 'radical Islam'. Of course, this is a sensitive issue and therefore some care should be taken not to demonise Muslims. BUT naming this ideology is a non-controversial issue and we need them to say it to avoid any ambiguity.
And this ideology is Islamism. Not Islam. Not what most Muslims adhere to. But, nonetheless an ideology that is so alluring, to the hundreds of Muslims of which have travelled to Syria to practise it and to the many who sympathise with a system of Sharia Law. Islamism, as defined by Quilliam- the first counter-extremism think tank in the world- is a political ideology that seeks to impose Islam in its politics, through law and within society. Whereas jihadism, is the violent manifestation of this in which IS, al-Qaeda and Boko Haram commit to.
Recognising Islamism is the vital step that is required to understanding Islamic terrorism and other extremist tendencies. If we do not accept this, then we cannot effectively counter it. Islamism can manifest itself through non-violent means as well as violent, through political systems and processes. Islamism is the ideology that drives the politics of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan also, as well as Mohammed Morsi's now defunct Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt where Coptic Christians suffered marginalisation and violence at the hands of Islamists, without the President taking adequate measures to stop it.
What can we do in the UK?
First things first: we try and prevent UK citizens from travelling to join extremist groups, such as IS. And to do that we have to tackle this dangerous ideology head on, within civil society. Not only do we do this by countering the narratives that have been allowed to go unscrutinised via social media channels, we must champion our alternative narrative. Most of us take for granted that we live in a civilised society, where we have equality, liberty and freedom. Yet some of us are quick to denigrate this country and instead, some on the Far Left bizarrely champion Iran to be this great bastion of liberty, a nation that executes homosexuals. Have these very people actually considered what life under Islamist rule would be like? Punishments for denouncing the Islamic faith, stoning to death for a woman accused of adultery. THIS is what Islamist rule is- the imposition of Sharia Law within a society. What I say is, stand up for our values, be proud of our alternative narrative. Foolishly, the Prime Minister says we must embrace our 'British values' without actually defining what they are. We don't need nationhood attached to it either. A first generation immigrant may not want to be described as British. Therefore, we must champion liberal values, which doesn't just include Liberal Democrats. Rather, liberal values encapsulates so much more- the rule of law, human rights, democracy, equality, free speech, freedom of expression, freedom to practise whatever faith you wish to- whether that be a belief in God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
Then we take these values and champion them on an international stage. Not enforcing them militarily as the all-conquering Bush and Blair wished to do, but advocating them politically and diplomatically and by winning the argument. Surely, these are values that unify us in this country and in many others? Surely this is better than an Islamist ideology that clamps down on freedom of religion, that beheads you for just challenging authority, and that locks you up in prison for merely offering an alternative opinion to the status quo.
Extremism isn't going to go away if we keep going as we are, and this approach would combat three strands of extremism; not just Islamist, but Far Left and Far Right moreover. But the onus is on us, to go out there and challenge extremism wherever we find it. Prevention is better than having to react to news of another atrocity. But it requires all of us in civil society to take action and defiantly support one another in our venture. We need Muslim and non-Muslim voices, Believers and Atheist voices, Black and white voices, gay and straight voices, young and old voices, Conservative and Labour voices, I could go on.
If we stand in solidarity with one another, we defeat extremism. And if in 2025 we want to stop what we saw in Sousse two weeks ago, or what we saw in London ten years ago, then now is time to take some action.Suggest a correction