So why do young Muslims become Jihadis? It’s a question I have been asked over and over again, and more urgently than ever this week. The probing is understandable. When British born Muslim men appear on selfie videos, dressed up as Afghans, waving weapons and beseech their peers to join in an armed Jihad, it unnerves and alarms the entire, multiracial nation, including most Muslims. This is not how it was meant to be. The universal immigrant story of arrival, settlement, integration and betterment has been ripped up by these rebels. State surveillance and other authoritarian measures seem to have no effect on the radicalised. The families, various communities and mosques blame each other or say they can’t stop those determined to follow this path. On BBC 1 this Sunday, viewers were asked to vote on whether they thought British Muslims were complacent about this peril. 94% of those who responded answered ‘yes’, a sobering figure.
After the July bombings, anti-Muslim feelings ran high, understandably. In the years that followed, there have been periods of relative tolerance and of heightened tensions or hostility towards all Muslims and the faith. The gruesome murder of Lee Rigby by Islamicists repelled and frightened the most liberal citizens of these isles. Self exclusion from mainstream society by Saudi influenced Muslim believers has made matters worse. The rise of extreme right wing groups, worse still. My co-religionists need to understand just how much trouble we are in and stop making excuses, or use ‘Islamaphobia’ as a fig leaf. I am not denying the dehumanization, unfairness and hatred we are experiencing. Academics at Teesside university have analysed a helpline and concluded that there has been a 20% increase in racist attacks on Muslims in the last nine months. Over 50% of the victims were women who wore headscarves or gowns and veils. Just a few days ago, Nahid Almanea, a Saudi Arabian university student was viciously stabbed to death in Essex. One line of investigation is that she was picked on because of her clothes. I personally strongly oppose veils and argue against them. But only savages would assault or violate a female because of her clothes. The government must take these hate crimes seriously.
Muslims, for their part have to fight the bigots and campaign for their rights. But at the same time, they must now start to take some responsibility for what is happening. Black Britons, British Hindus and Sikhs also face race discrimination and hatred. Why don’t they turn themselves into enemies of their state? And why do most Muslims not join Islamicist mercenaries?
So back to the questions about Jihadis. I have assembled a pile of possible factors and reasons: they are torn between various cultural expectations and values; some are alienated from their families; they feel terrible shame about dysfunctional Muslim nations and think they can go back to those times when Islam conquered large parts of the globe; they are sexually frustrated; they cannot accept the way the west makes and breaks rules, and the double standards; they feel the modern world has no place for them and so must destroy it; they want control and so on and on. I am speculating, trying to work out the various strands that jumble so lethally in these young minds.
In truth, I have been thinking about these unstable young men since 1997, long before 9/11, the London bombs, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and all the misery that has flowed from those. Seventeen years ago, I got support from the Home Office, Local Government Association and some charities to run a seminar on young Muslim men. I said then that they faced discrimination as well as internal cultural tensions and a deep sense of displacement. One Muslim youth leader even spoke of a ‘British intifada movement’. Top people from government departments attended and then clean forgot about what they had heard. After the London attacks, I tried to get the Home Office to fund a deep psychological study of imprisoned radicals, but they weren’t interested. The Labour Government under Blair was keen instead on pointless interfaith dialogues and destabilising spy networks which, as far as I know, led to little intelligence and much aggro. It seemed to me then and seems even more so now, that those in power don’t want to know about the psychological profiles of those who are easily turned by captains of terrorism. Out state’s macho drive to punish and only punish is irrational and, in the end, counterproductive.
We should listen to Ahmed Muthana, father of two men, Nasser and Aseel, who have gone off to join the hardline Isis army. He loves this country which he came to at the age of 13, an orphan fleeing interminable wars in Yemen. His children were born in the hospital near where they live, educated here. Ahmed doesn’t know who brainwashed them, paid for their travel, armed them. Most of all why they, his beloved boys have ‘betrayed Great Britain’, their homeland. Nobody really knows why either. This insistence on not knowing will make an even more dangerous world in the future.
the independent, 30/6/2014