THE BLOG

Shared Values And Identity Can Help Us All Stand Up Against Terror

28/03/2017 16:09 BST | Updated 28/03/2017 16:09 BST
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As a British citizen, a husband, father and, as it happens, a lawyer, I was as shocked and sickened as most others by the appalling murders on Wednesday in Westminster. A policeman doing his job to uphold the law, protecting the public and the parliamentarians who serve us, was killed in cold blood. Tourists were mown down in the street as they stopped to look at Big Ben. My thoughts and prayers are with the families still devastated by the loss of those dearest to them.

But as an Imam at one of the largest mosques in Britain, I also feel the need to speak for the community in Leeds that I serve and for Muslims across Britain. We stand united with everyone else in Britain at condemning this atrocity. We are part of Britain and this was an attack on our society. This was an attack on all of us, on our shared home.

Imams from across the country have joined me in condemning this attack. I will be leading a prayer service for 1,000 Muslims in memory of the victims from London. My fellow Imams will mark the Friday services, again attended by hundreds and thousands of British Muslims, with prayers of peace and solidarity with those who lost their lives and those who have lost their loved ones. We will re-state our resolve to fight extremism.

Our focus must be on the loss of those families and the heroism of those public servants who, at the first signs of danger, ran towards it when most would run away. But in the coming days attention will inevitably shift to the perpetrator, Khalid Masood. I am at a loss to convey my absolute horror and repulsion at his actions. How do you explain the thought process of a man who purposefully runs over innocent tourists? Whether the murderer was a lone-wolf inspired by the fanatics of ISIS or part of a terrorist network, his perverted ideology is not shared by Muslims across the globe. As Brendan Cox himself has said, Khalid Masood is no more representative of British Muslims than the murderer of his wife Jo was representative of the good people of Yorkshire, whom I live and work amongst.

Yet as Muslims we want to understand how individuals like this can claim to be acting in the name of our religion. And we want and need to understand how to stop others following Khalid Masood down this evil path. British Muslims must not let these lunatics hijack our faith.

We need to analyse the psyche of the recent terrorists who have committed massacres in Europe. Unlike Masood they have mainly been young men. Often they have shared feelings of inadequacy, of unfulfilled ambitions and frustration with their own personal failures. They have felt anger at real or perceived injustices, and have sought to blame other people or institutions for their misfortunes. Extremist networks manipulate these individuals, fomenting and exploiting their grievances and reinforcing their belief that the cause of their frustration is the society around them.

So we, as the Muslim community, must also define for young Muslims what it means to be a British Muslim in the 21st century, and to highlight that there are no inherent tensions between being a Muslim and being a Brit.

We are facing a complex, multi-faceted threat which cannot be beaten with conventional warfare alone, or legislation and marginalisation. Living well together requires vigilance, the voluntary, civic and social policing of our rhetoric and a genuine commitment to inclusion and tolerance. A failure to adhere to these principles is likely to have damaging consequences for our shared society.

Public responses to this atrocity have sought to focus on the common humanity and values that extremists seek to fracture. From the Prime Minister to the Metropolitan Police and Mayor of London, voices have remained calm and measured - seeking not to scapegoat the Muslim community for the actions of one fanatic and the extremists who inspired him, but to emphasise our shared sense of outrage and determination not to let them win.

All terror attacks, whether committed on a small or large scale, have one thing in common: the desire to deepen divisions in society and provoke hatred, suspicion, fear and anger. And at times of crisis, we are often tempted to act more from fear than from resilience. There will be some who now feel fearful of their Muslim neighbours; and British Muslims who fear blame and reprisals. But I believe it is important not to give in to fear and instead to stand together.

Our strength as a nation lies in our values of democracy, tolerance of others and the rule of law. Through pluralism and our shared values, we must continue to build a cohesive society where people of all faiths and backgrounds feel safe. These values have stood the test of time and only by holding firm to them, can we defeat the violence that we tragically witnessed this week. But that strength is also found in our sense of 'who we are' as a society - a shared and inclusive identity in which all feel we have a stake.

We often talk about counter-narratives but that is not enough: counter-narratives do have an important role to play, when seeking to re-engage those already susceptible. But 'Don't be an extremist' is too passive. We need a positive call to action - a clear articulation of a shared identity and sense of belonging. The response to Wednesday's cowardly attack gave a taste of what that could be - proud, inclusive and resilient.

Wednesday was a terrible day. But in our reaction to it, London and the whole of Britain showed the world - and those who seek to undermine our society - just how strong we can be when we stand together.