After the terrible events of Manchester and London, I have come across many people who are asking the same simple questions. I’m no expert but a Politics degree covering political violence has the occasional use and therefore here’s my attempt to try and explain some of the main areas.
- Why now?
We have a history of terrorism within the UK and this isn’t a sudden phenomenon. Over the last 40 years, the UK has seen terrorism relating to animal rights, Ireland from both nationalist and republican, far right extremism and now “Muslim” extremists. This is in addition to other terrorist events elsewhere in the world relating to Israel & Palestine, guerrilla groups in various countries and separatist groups such as ETA in Spain.
The main difference now is that where before the perpetrators tended to commit violence and then run away so to commit further offences, the perpetrators now are actively wanting to die. There are three reasons namely (a) where they have a religious belief, they believe they will get rewarded in after life (b) (whether religious belief or not) their name becomes famous in history and (c) the cause is more important to them than their life.
2. How do people become terrorists?
This is actually pretty common across all causes and people are not born terrorists – indeed most are born and citizens of the host country. It usually starts with a trigger incident of a perceived injustice (such as a war or bombing) where the person is then extremely angry. This then gets compounded by further incidents of perceived injustice such as watching repeated internet videos of other incidents combined with watching highly emotional speeches/messages linking the cause. Already impressionable people then connect using via social media but occasionally through community links with others of similar views to watch further videos and speakers compounding their angry emotions even more. Over time, some of these get so radicalised that they see the issue as a war and therefore that they have no option but to fight back against the perceived enemy. At this point, most will link into “cells” of usually around 3 to 5 with one person being a link to a wider terrorist group with others just working individually. A small number will travel somewhere for specific training but more common now is organisation through social media with WhatsApp being the main medium.
3. Why are the terrorists Muslim?
Many terrorist incidents are not actually committed by people from any faith for example the man who killed Jo Cox or the Norway atrocity in 2011. However, there has been an increase in “Islamic fundamentalism” i.e. people who are claiming to be committing terrorism by saying that it is on behalf of Allah.
However, that’s very different to actually being in the name of Islam. In fact, if you look at the people who actually commit these offences, they are usually linked with Wahhabism rather than Islam. Wahhabism is an ultra-conservative sect which was first established in the mid 1700s but had little impact until the mid 1970s where it became more popular in the Persian Gulf. Whilst it claims to be following Islamic teaching, the overwhelming view of Muslims disagree with their interpretations of the Quran and consider followers to be a cult.
It is correct that there have been attempts within a small number of UK mosques for Wahhabism to take over from mainstream Islam. It is difficult to know exactly how many mosques have been affected within the UK but estimates are very few due to the low number of their actual followers within the UK.
It is important to say that the vast majority of Wahhabi followers will not be tempted towards terrorism but that a small number may be more open to the idea especially if they are disconnected from society for other reasons (drug use, mental health, housing etc.) Incidentally this tends to be single young men – female terrorism does happen but is less common.
Unfortunately, many people of other faiths and none do not understand this distinction and falsely lump everyone together as Muslim. A good way of understanding how insulting this is to the vast majority of Muslims is if you say that Catholics support terrorism because the IRA happened to claim a Catholic identity.
4. What can be done to address terrorism of this nature?
There are no easy answers but here are my proposals.
- Assertively challenging the basic beliefs
We should be patriotic in standing up for what we believe in and assertively challenging values and beliefs which go against this. The key is to do this in an assertive rather than aggressive way and through persuasion through laws. Banning the Burka entirely is one example of what we should not do because it merely confirms a prejudice in the minds of believers when other religious clothes are not banned.
2.Need to support mainstream Islam
This is the most important area and the most obvious and yet for some reason, the most controversial. Islam is a peaceful religion and followers are equally appalled that atrocities are being wrongly announced in their name. This means giving prominent platforms and space to mainstream Muslim voices. Most importantly, we must challenge at every opportunity where ignorant people wrongly blame Muslims for these acts. Instead, we need to bring our communities together sharing the many values we celebrate rather than focusing on what divides.
3.Cut off the fuel of hate videos
This is one area that politicians of all parties can quickly resolve. Far too many people are getting radicalised from their bedrooms watching emotive videos where people die or are injured. We are not talking here about balanced news stories but endless propaganda and hate preaching. Social media has many strengths but we need to be able to filter material so it is not accessible within the UK. This is not a freedom of speech issue.
4.Recognise foreign policy will have an impact
It is always difficult making decisions about whether or not to intervene in another country and there are always implications of acting or not. We have to recognise that if we decide to intervene and more particularly through military means that some people will get very upset by this especially if innocent civilians are killed or injured as a result. That does not mean that intervention is wrong but merely that we have to work out what is the greater good not only in the short term but the long term as well as ensuring there are long term humanitarian measures in place.
5. Tight Security checks on young males travelling from or been to key countries where intelligence suggests (e.g. Libya, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen)
Immigration has a role to play but not to the prominence that many politicians claim. It should be remembered that most UK terrorists will be born and brought up in the UK. However, we may catch a few that have been to training camps in the recent past especially where any intelligence has been received about that person and these are more likely to be young men. This does not mean banning refugees from those countries which is again just based on ignorance.
6.Increase community policing and community workers.
These are especially important in areas with different cultures. The purpose is to build bridges and not build walls.
7. Ensure policing levels are adequate in all communities
The response to last night in London was remarkable. We need to understand that if the prevention measures have failed, the last resort is firm and lethal action to stop an incident at the earliest possible opportunity thus minimising the number of deaths. This means having sufficient armed response officers throughout the country and not just in our large cities. This obviously does mean a cost to the public purse but is worth paying.