Not in our name

By Asim Siddiqui

London: The events of the last couple of weeks have been sobering for us all. The response from some UK Muslim groups (influenced by Islamist thinking) is still largely to blame foreign policy (undoubtedly an exacerbating influence but not the cause), rather than marching “”not in my name”” in revulsion against terrorist acts committed in Islam”s name. By blaming foreign policy they try to divert pressure off themselves from the real need to tackle extremism being peddled within. Diverting attention away from the problems within Muslim communities and blaming others – especially the West – is always more popular than the difficult task of self-scrutiny. And what part of foreign policy does Al Qaeda and other extremist groups operating in the name of Islam want us to change to tackle terrorism? Withdrawal from Iraq?

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The UK presence on the ground in Iraq is minuscule compared to the US. We currently have 5,500 troops from 40,000 at the start of the invasion. We will reduce them further to 5,000 by the end of the summer. The bulk of which will be located near Basra airport in a supporting role. Next year will likely see the numbers dwindle even further. Our troop presence is far more symbolic than military. It provides the Americans with their “”coalition of the willing””. The US, by contrast, is the only serious occupier in the country with over 160,000 troops. The government will not (and cannot) admit it, but we have been in withdrawal mode since the end of the war.

And once we”ve left Iraq, will these vigilantes be satisfied? Of course not. The list of grievances is endless: Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine, Burma… so long as the world is presented as one where the west is forever at war with Islam and Muslims there is nothing we can do to appease the terrorists and those who share their world view. Instead it is this extremist worldview that must change.

Take for example the idea that such individuals are concerned about Muslim life (let”s ignore human life in general for a moment). Where is their outrage at the 400,000 Muslims slaughtered in Darfur? Where are the marches and calls for action against this ongoing genocide? Where is the “”Muslim anger”” boiling up amongst British extremists operating in the name of Islam? It is nowhere to be seen because the Darfurians have been massacred by fellow Muslims, not by the West. Hence it does not appear on the radar screen as a “”grievance””. Such is the moral bankruptcy of this ideology.

No, it”s not foreign policy that”s the main driver in combating the terrorists; it is their mindset. The extremist politicised ideology which has perverted Islamic theology needs to be exposed to young Muslims for what it really is: a tool for the introduction of a medieval form of governance that describes itself as an “”Islamic state”” that is violent, retrogressive, discriminatory, a perversion of the sacred texts and a totalitarian dictatorship.

When the IRA was busy blowing up London, there would have been little point in Irish “”community leaders”” urging “”all”” citizens to cooperate with the police equally when it was obvious the problem of terrorism was taking place within Irish communities. Likewise for Muslim “”community leaders”” to condemn terrorism is a no-brainer. What is required is for those that claim to represent and have influence among young British Muslims to proactively counter the extremist narrative that justifies terrorism. That is the biggest challenge for British Muslim leadership over the next five to 10 years. It is because they are failing to rise to this challenge that the government feels it needs to act by further eroding our civil liberties with anti-terror legislation to get the state to do what Muslims should be doing themselves. If British Muslim groups focus on grassroots de-radicalisation then this will provide civil liberty groups the space they need to argue against any further anti-terror legislation.

Of course I would like to see changes in our foreign policy and have marched on the streets (with thousands of non-Muslims) in protest on many occasions. But blaming foreign policy in the face of suicide attacks is not only tactless but a cop-out that fails to tackle extremism, fails to promote an ethical foreign policy and fails to protect our civil liberties.

Asim Siddiqui is chairman and a founding trustee of the City Circle, a network of young British Muslim professionals established in 1999. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Guardian, 9 July 2007,
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.