Manchester, Westminster and now London Bridge. Many lives, families and communities deeply affected by the actions of Islamist terrorists who have tried to attack the peace of our country. The list of the dead sadly continues on as seven are reported to have been murdered by what is now clearly an Islamist extremist inspired attack.
The Times has made clear that at least one of those involved may have been influenced by Islamic State or Daesh. However, let's not think for one minute that this can be washed away and placed at the feet of the Islamic State, as though there are no questions to be asked as to why so many young men (and women) in this country end up swallowing the brutality of the Islamic State's values or rather, the chaotic nihilism of them. When this issue is raised, convoluted answers do not provide clarity on what is simply the case. That something has gone fundamentally wrong with so many young people who espouse virtually the same identical set of narratives. Is this by chance? Some will say that it can be compartmentalised to the Islamic State's propaganda, but this is a side-step. The reality is that UK-based Islamist extremist groups pumping out a victimisation narrative of 'Islam being under threat', 'a cabal of Governments trying to destroy Islam' and 'the Government spying on Muslims' have also created the background mood music which partly creates detached individuals, unwilling to empathise with fellow Londoners or Mancunians.
The simple fact is that if you are told that your faith, a major part of your identity is being changed by a non-Muslim Government and that they are actively spying on your family, does this make you more caring towards your fellow citizens who happen to be non-Muslim? Well this has been the drumbeat, the toxic corrosive set of perverted stories put out by some Islamists group, a drumbeat that is finally being called out by Government. The reason for this has been that Islamist groups realised early on that anti-Muslim prejudice was something that they could play on, manipulate and use to build support for them. Since it was a palpable fear within Muslim communities, playing on these fears about anti-Muslim hatred could provide such groups with ready-made crowds and a sympathetic population willing to give their time and money to help a group that talked about such issues. Legitimate concern felt by ordinary Muslims was cynically manipulated by such groups. So much for being the pious Muslims some within these Islamist groups made themselves out to be!
So instead of providing hope to Muslims for a better life, they gave them hate; instead of nurturing a sense of belonging to our country, they inculcated a notion that Islamist values were far superior to other values and that those who did not follow Islam were of lesser moral mores. They effectively seeded introversion, separationism and dysfunctionality into the minds of people who believed that these groups must be doing good since they were Muslim.
Therefore, we simply cannot detach what is patently obvious through case studies and through hard evidence. That Islamist ideology along with other elements like mental health or emotional vulnerabilities, radicalisers and unstable lifestyles, all create a potentially fatal concoction. Anyone who tells you different, is not being honest and simply put, why do most of the people involved in terrorism espouse the same set of twisted narratives? Have deprivation or mental health difficulties alone created the same texts and language narratives? The answer is no.
Yet, the Government's response to Islamist groups has been weak and unstructured. The Government could not even defend its own Prevent programme, the community centred national counter-extremism strategy. It dallied for years, systematically taking broadside attacks from Islamist groups who promoted conspiracy theories about it, suggested that it was a mass spying exercise against Muslims and that it was a way of 'changing Islam'. Much of this rhetoric was thrown out to play to a victimology mindset which many of these Islamist groups helped nurture and they successfully outmanoeuvred a Government who thought that civil society groups within Muslim communities could challenge the attacks. In fact, those who received Prevent funding went quiet, scared that they would be found to have taken Prevent monies and there in the realpolitik of life, came an end to any resistance to the spin of Islamist groups. For years, the Government simply took a beating by such groups who could rally tens of thousands of pounds a night from Muslim communities, on the basis that they were standing up for Muslims, by undermining a national counter-extremism strategy. In short, that was what they sold.
So, after Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge, the real issue is this: will we finally see a robust challenge to Islamist groups or will they be allowed to undermine trust between our police, the Government and our State, thereby making us more vulnerable? For far too long they have run amok framing themselves as David against the Goliath of Government. The reality is that Goliath has been asleep for far too long. Now it must be shaken from its slumber.
Fiyaz Mughal is founder and director of Faith Matters. Fiyaz has also sat on Serious Case Reviews around Islamist Extremism Related Cases and was part of the Extremist Task Force put together in 2008-2009 by the Secretary of State for the Department for Communities and Local Government at the time, the Rt Hon. Hazel Blears