People want simple answers to the dilemmas posed by life. Unfortunately simple answers rarely exist. With the leaked MI5 report blowing a hole in many of the popular theories bandied about, we come back to the basic question – what does drive so many of these people to terrorism in the UK?
They may not be kids. They may not be Pakistani, they might not even be brown or black. The 72 virgins theory is a no-go, and neither is the ‘deprived neighbourhood’ idea. In other words, there are no easy answers. The other point about this report should be obvious: profiling doesn’t work, and could be counter-productive.
In the meantime, the lack of simple answers inevitably makes simpletons turn around and say: ‘well, the unifying factor among all these terrorists is that they’re Muslim, so undoubtedly the problem must be Islam itself‘. There’s various problems with this theory too.
For a start, as the MI5 reports points out and as has been said before, these people don’t actually know much about their professed religion. So when some Muslim groups say ‘we need more Islamic education, not less, to tackle extremism’, they may have a point.
Secondly, if Islam was the unifying factor, then these terrorists would spend less time killing other Muslims. But most attacks by Al-Qaeda and their anger is directed at other ‘moderate’ Muslims, who they see as heretical or standing in the way of their power grab.
Thirdly, religion is no indicator of suicidal terrorism since the Sri Lankan Tamils (Hindus) have the biggest numbers of dead people in a conflict under their belt. Similarly, some of the suicidal terrorists against Israel’s occupation of Lebanon were Christian and even atheists.
Which brings us no closer to knowing what makes young Muslim men to become violent extremists. Maybe the question is wrong. Instead of trying to find the path to extremism, when there are so many, maybe we should ask what social circumstances allow extreme actions such as suicidal terrorism to become acceptable. Rather than stopping people getting into terrorism, maybe we should be asking how such extreme actions gain such wider acceptance. If social pressure (into terrorism) is the problem, maybe social pressure away from terrorism is the answer?
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Filed in: Religion,Terrorism