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Monday, May 16, 2022
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Multiculturalism And Its Discontents

So now it is not about lack of job opportunities, poor educational achievement, and discrimination in the British society that is promoting radical and extremist Islam but Britain's foreign policy? So how then do you explain the situation in states a

Multiculturalism And Its Discontents
| AP File
Multiculturalism And Its Discontents
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

Great Britain is under siege. A nation that stoically withstood the deadly bombing raids of the Second World War is on edge as it confronts an enemy that is seemingly everywhere, yet so hard to tackle. In the idyllic countryside of England where once the Romantics wrote their love ballads, terrorist training-camps seem to have sprung up. Britain has become an incubator of violent Islamic extremism and there seems to be no easy way out of this morass. In the words of the British Home Secretary, the British people "probably face the most sustained period of severe threat since the end of the Second World War." 

Last week the British police foiled a plot to blow up as many as ten airliners flying from Britain to the US that could have wreaked havoc on an "unimaginable scale". It was only last month that the British people came to know that at least three serious conspiracies had been thwarted by the authorities in the last year. And, of course, it was only about a year back that 52 Britons were killed when four suicide bombers blew themselves up on the London public transport system. 

Britain is emerging as the epicentre of the radical Islamic movement that is challenging the entire Europe from the Netherlands to France, from Switzerland to Spain. But more than any other country, it is Britain that is struggling to cope with its home grown terror as the support for radical Islamic networks has surged much beyond what the British authorities had expected or planned for. 

The British Muslim community, by and large, seems to be living in a state of denial. Conspiracy theories abound (as they do in Pakistan) with many even suggesting that the latest disclosure of the bomb plot was an attempt to wean public’s attention away from the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon. It was indeed frightening to witness a well-educated Muslim youngster on the BBC, who had even served in the British military, claiming that the attacks on the twin towers in New York were the handiworks of the US Air Force. It no doubt revealed once again the miasma of conspiracy-theories that a large part of the Muslim community seems to have woven around itself, but it also brought into sharp relief the challenge that Britain and indeed the rest of the world faces in countering the threat of Islamic extremism. 

It was striking that in a recent poll of Muslims in 13 countries conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 81 percent of those surveyed in Britain considered themselves Muslims first and Britons second. Britain lagged behind only Pakistan. And the current generation of Muslim youth in Britain is more inclined to be at odds with the British society as compared to the generation of their fathers and grand fathers. Consider this: 30 percent of British Muslims would prefer to live under Sharia law than under the British law and given a choice, half of them would move to a country governed by those laws. 28 percent hope for the UK to become a fundamentalist Islamic state one day as almost one-third of British Muslims believe that western society is decadent and immoral and that Muslims should seek to end it. Freedom of speech, it turns out, is the biggest casualty. 62 percent of British Muslims are not in favour of free speech if it offends religious groups, with only three percent of British Muslims consistently defending the fundamental principle of a liberal democratic social order. 

For long, the standard liberal argument for the increasing radicalization of young British Muslims has been that they face lack of job opportunities, poor educational achievement, and discrimination in the British society that makes then gravitate towards radical Islam. But it is becoming increasingly clear that growing Islamic radicalization is not merely about having a stake in the society at large. One of the most liberal political leaders of Britain, Menzies Campbell, conceded recently that young British Muslims turning to violence is not merely "about people having poor housing and poor education." He went on to add that "explaining it away as a lack of stake in the success of the country might not be the easy answer some people think it is." Most of those who have been arrested for their involvement in the recent bombing plot, like the extremists who blew themselves up on London’s underground last year, have middle class backgrounds and seem to have grown up in standard British multicultural neighbourhoods. 

It is instructive to note that these issues are nowhere to be found in the recent discourse on Muslim radicalization in Britain. It’s all about the British foreign policy now. Even the so-called moderates in the Islamic community have been arguing that the situation is unlikely to change (meaning the British Muslim youth will continue to blow themselves up on trains and airplanes) unless the British government changes its foreign policy. This certainly gives a whole new meaning to the democratic negotiation of differences in liberal societies. Bush-Blair policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon, it would seem, are seen by most Muslims as aimed at Muslims. Tragically, if one believes the opinion-poll, almost one in four British Muslims believe that last June’s attack on the British transport system were justified because of British support for the global war on terror. 

Britain is at a crossroads and a crucial debate is underway in the country between those who believe that Islamic terror has mostly to do with misguided Western foreign policies and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and those who argue that the threat is ideological and global in nature. The situation is Iraq has damaged the credibility of the Blair government and there have been some missteps at home by the British authorities. This include an accidental shooting of a Brazilian man who was mistakenly suspected of being a terrorist as well as the arrest of a British Muslim suspected of making chemical weapons, who was later released when no evidence could be unearthed. As a result, relations between the police and the British Muslims have degenerated in the last few months. 

But the fact remains that Britain’s long tradition of tolerance has made it an oasis for immigrants and political outcasts from around the world. The decades of 1980s and 1990s saw Britain becoming the refuge of choice for Islamic radicals who had been expelled or exiled from their home countries for their inflammatory views. Britain became a focal point for militant causes in Europe in the last few decades, making it a solid base for radicalization. 

British Islam today is largely dominated by Pakistan-born clerics and is saturated with extremism-preaching media and charity efforts which support the recruitment of terrorists. The force that is increasingly driving a significant number of British Muslim youth to blow themselves up is a doctrine that is imported from the Arab world via Pakistan and with the help of groups such as Lashkar-e-Toiba. 

It is no longer enough for the British government to successfully foil terror plots without coming to grips with the radical ideology behind them. While the attempts by the British authorities not to try to demonize an entire community are laudable, their inability to confront the ideological roots of radicalization will only complicate their endeavours in the long-term. It is true that all Muslims do not subscribe to extremist views or support global jihad against infidels but a substantial number that is ready to kill and get killed does, and is being goaded to do so by the belief rooted in a perverse interpretation of Islamic theology, endorsed by the clerics. It is at that level that this conflict will be won or lost. 

While the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq may have further inflamed passions, it cannot be argued that these conflicts are the causes for current extremism. The extremist preachers had been in operation well before 9/11 in the mosques and streets of Britain unhampered by its open immigration policies and ultra-liberal European human rights standards could do nothing to stop them. For years, the American intelligence services had been asking their British counterparts to take action against radical clerics such as Abu Hamza but to no avail as the spewing of hatred and harbouring of suspected terrorists continued. 

The syndrome of self-flagellation that seems to have afflicted the liberal European societies needs to be discarded. The paranoid view of the world that the West is out to destroy the Muslims needs to be countered more aggressively. After all, it was the West’s proactive stance on the plight of Bosnian Muslims that saved them from a potential genocide. It is the West again today that is trying its best to prevent Muslims from killing other Muslims in Sudan, but then this topic does not seem to be important enough to be addressed in the sermons. It is also ironical to see tears being shed for the Iraqis, where in fact it’s the Iraqi government, with the help of the West, that’s trying to prevent the Shias from murdering their Sunni brethren. It is also conveniently forgotten that when Saddam Hussein was murdering the Shias and the Kurds, the mullahs were not railing against him and his genocidal tendencies. 

Leaving aside the fact the no government worth its salt will change its policies under the threat of terrorist violence, even if Britain were to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow, one can safely bet that nothing will change, claims to the contrary notwithstanding. States as diverse as Canada and Switzerland have been witnessing the rise of Islamic radicalism despite their opposition to the Iraq conflict and well-established neutrality. The bottom line is that excuses will always be invented to propagate what is in essence an ideology of hate and destruction. And by constantly conjuring up the image of Muslims as victims, extremist Muslim anger is being channelled towards negativism and destruction as opposed to a positive agenda of socio-political action. The cry of Islamic radicals worldwide that Muslims are being humiliated is largely a red herring and should be taken with a pinch of salt. After all, by this logic, Nazism should have been condoned by the world because the Germans were feeling humiliated by the treatment meted out to them in the Treaty of Versailles. 

Britain is now at the frontline in this global conflict of ideas and ideologies. And it is imperative that Britain succeeds in defeating the radicals and extremists in its midst. Because, in more ways one, the fate of other liberal democratic societies around the world is tied to the outcome in Britain. 


The writer teaches at King’s College London.

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