The Western world must resist division, suspicion and demonisation of Islam if it wants to combat Islamic State
Friday the 13th in Paris was a landmark occasion; one that saw the so-called IS’s threat to the West come alive.
Although we are faced with snowballing security measures from governments across the world, we need to stop seeing terrorism as a danger that should only be dealt with by the actions of states.
Terrorist groups such as IS only thrive to the extent that they can divide, terrorise and rupture societies. Writing in The Guardian, Yuval Noah Harari explains why terrorists have such ambitious political aims while inflicting relatively miniscule damage to the states that they target: “Terrorists calculate that when the enraged enemy uses its massive power against them, it will raise a much more violent military and political storm than the terrorists themselves could ever create.” Draconian legislation and the marginalisation of Muslims is precisely the aim of these acts of violence. It is now, during our most fragile hour, that we need to learn from our mistakes of the past.
The construction of a narrative is at the heart of the battle between the West and the extremists. The social group at the epicentre of this war over hearts and minds is Muslims living in the West. The ability to convince Muslim people living in the West that they are better off living in the so-called Caliphate is part of what keeps the Islamic State alive. This is done by provoking Islamophobic sentiment through the killing of innocents. “This is precisely what ISIS was aiming for—to provoke [non-Muslim] communities to commit atrocities against Muslims,” said Arie Kruglanski, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, who studies radicalisation. “Then IS will be able to say, ‘I told you so. These are your enemies, and the enemies of Islam.’”
It is the role of wider society, not the state, to embrace Muslims living in the West as friends, instead of unjustifiably branding them as enemies.
Since 9/11 and 7/7 there has been an unprecedented spike in Islamophobic violence and hate crimes. More so, anti-Muslim hate crimes have been rising steadily in both the UK and the USA. The more Islamophobic the West becomes, the more strength is given to the narrative that IS uses to recruit young, estranged Muslim men. The stats tell a grim story: Hate crimes against Muslims in London have risen by 70 per cent in the past year, according to Metropolitan Police statistics. While in the USA, only 27 per cent of Americans whom were polled had a favourable view of Muslims, compared to 47 per cent in October 2011. It is exactly this persecution that the propagandists behind IS highlight when trying to convince Muslims across the Western world that they simply do not belong in Western society, and should devote their lives to destroying it.
Islamophobia among these populations is in part fuelled by clumsy and insensitive rhetoric from politicians. Comments from certain Republican 2016 presidential candidates demonstrate the rhetoric that ostracises and demonises ordinary Muslims living in the West. Donald Trump, speaking last Monday about the subject of closing down mosques, said, “I would hate to do it, but it’s something you’re going to have to strongly consider, because some of the ideas and some of the hatred is coming from these areas.”
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, too, argued it would be “lunacy” to let more Muslims, even refugees, into the USA. Of course, Trump and Cruz are not mainstream politicians by British standards, but they certainly have a role in shaping the perception towards Muslim communities.
After the Paris murders, we must try to not be engulfed in grief, fear and chaos. This is exactly what IS aims to do: Divide societies and pit Muslims against non-Muslims. We must detach religious fanatics from ordinary Muslim people. To the rational mind, inciting hatred directed towards a Muslim person for the crimes of IS is no more logical than demonising a white American for the crimes of neo-Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan.
It is all too easy to scapegoat the “other” in society, as history has repeatedly shown us. Our ability to buck this trend will be a promising sign of the ability for humankind to morally progress.
It is not enough to let states throughout the West enhance security and surveillance expenditure. Although this may foil imminent terrorist attacks, it does nothing positive to shape the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims living in Western states. Legislation or military action alone will not win the battle against terrorism.
It is time for politicians, the media, imams, rabbis, civil institutions, community groups, university societies and the like to make Muslims in the West feel like insiders, not outsiders. This is the only way that we can stem the flow of hate and fear that keeps terrorism alive.