It is widely accepted in the social sciences of war theories that violence begets violence. So with that in mind, Jahangir Mohammed argues that the British government’s response to the recent attacks in London and Manchester should be less foreign wars, not more domestic laws.
Like every Muslim in the UK, I was sickened by the grotesque violence that took place in Manchester and London over the last month. I know of no Muslim who justifies such heinous crimes. I also reject the notion that Muslim are in some way collectively responsible for those acts. Moving forward from this requires open and honest conversations about what causes such violence in the first place. In discussing causes, I make it clear to Muslims reading this (who may misunderstand it) what follows does not justify those acts in any way.
ISIS were not created in Britain
ISIS and their propaganda were not created by the Muslim community in Britain. They were created in Iraq. Muslims in the UK like millions of their fellow Britons did not support the military invasion of Iraq.
Since the Westminster attack, we have had plenty of discussions on the causes of “Islamist violence”, almost the entirety of the focus being directed at Islam as a religion and Muslim communities. Hours and hours of discussion seldom use the one word that is critical to cause in this whole debate. Even the term “foreign policy” is inadequate. That word is war and the refusal to mention or discuss it is deliberate.
Britain declared war on ISIS in Iraq in 2014 and then in Syria in 2015. It is to be expected that those you declare war on will inevitably retaliate. It is the reason the threat level was increased to severe in August 2014. If ISIS had warplanes they would have bombed Britain in retaliation. They don’t, so they retaliate in other ways, by recruiting people in the West to their cause.
In Parliament, our politicians are happy to use the word “war” often. They debate it, and when they agree on it, as with Syria, our media will have front page headlines such as “we are at war”, but as soon as the enemy hit back, they refuse to discuss war as a cause and choose to blame “Islamism” and Muslim communities instead.
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If we examine the terrorism statistics from 2001, we find spikes in attacks after the war in Afghanistan, then Iraq, and now Syria. It is simple retaliatory logic. If Britain attacked Iran, many Shia Muslims would retaliate. If we attacked Israel, British Jews would retaliate; if we attacked India British Hindu’s would retaliate. No expert is needed to explain this truth.
Attempts to deflect from war as a cause, to Muslims and “Islamist ideology “is mere propaganda. The reality is, the British State, despite the end of traditional colonialism has continued to engage in imperialistic wars in Muslim majority lands. It is a party to wars and many conflicts; therefore, it is hardly going to admit to its own behaviour as a cause.
Since 9/11, the US and the UK have developed a propaganda war, known as the “war on terror” (WoT) to accompany their military actions. This propaganda serves to justify wars and policies in the Muslim world for political purposes.
Prevent and the Countering Violent Extremism industry is part of that propaganda machinery, dressed up as “expertise” and “safeguarding”, and rooted in institutional racism and supremacist thinking.
This includes the notion, as under the Crusades and European colonialism, that there is something inherent in other races and their beliefs which makes them violent, not the behaviour of Europeans in someone else’s lands.
Western retaliation for 9/11 has led to over a million dead and the destruction of the entire infrastructure of Afghanistan, Iraq and the region, with routine bombings and drone attacks in many other Muslim majority countries like Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Libya and Somalia. The people of those lands are bound to be “a little bit angry” about that.
Much political rhetoric and media commentary on incidents of Muslim political violence is little more than war propaganda. Like the propaganda of ISIS, it too is about demonising the enemy and its beliefs. Propaganda such as “they hate our way of life”, “they hate our values and what we stand for”, “they want to take over the western world and impose their values on us”, “they want to divide us”, “they hate our democracy”, or “they have a them and us mentality”. The truth is that “they” just want Britain and the West to leave them alone and get out of their lands. “They” hate the consequences of neoliberal democracies imposed on their lives.
Western propaganda repeated ad nauseam has served also to demonise Muslims, their beliefs, and their practices, and to gain support for continued killings and military interventions overseas. As a consequence, it fuels indigenous anti Muslim and Islamophobic hatred. It also aims to convince Muslims that it is their own beliefs and values that are the cause of violence, not the West’s wars; just as under colonialism the native people had to be convinced they needed to be “civilised” by a “superior” set of beliefs and values. Their retaliatory violence to looting of their lands and resources was presented as evidence of their innate savagery.
ISIS: Ideology or propaganda?
ISIS propaganda uses similar arguments to those repeated in the West. “Experts” and commentators argue ISIS are against “our values”. They also claim that there is a global “Islamist” or “Jihadist” threat to take over Europe. ISIS claim there is a global crusader alliance of Kufr (disbelief) preventing Muslims from establishing and practising Islam and its values, and is imposing disbelief on them. They point people to the “evidence”. The West claim that “Jihadism” and their version of Islam is a violent creed and highlight their violence against innocents. ISIS claims the West and its values of disbelief are the reason for its violent creed, and show people the pictures of innocents being killed to prove it.
As much as western propaganda demonises ISIS and their beliefs, values and behaviourisms by showing the superiority of “Western values”; ISIS also demonise western beliefs and practices, those of other communities, and in fact other Muslims that oppose them.
To persuade people to support war and presence in Muslim majority lands, propaganda is needed.
To persuade people to hit back, ISIS too engage in propaganda, which they have done very successfully. However, propaganda should not be confused for ideology. The West in its propaganda uses terminology and expressions associated with its own beliefs of democracy and secular liberal values.
Should we then conclude that the ideology of secular liberalism and capitalist democracies itself is the cause of violence, and all people who believe in those ideals are suspects? ISIS, like Western governments also uses their religion and terminology, and quote Quran and hadith for war propaganda.
War and peace
ISIS is a very sophisticated and resourceful militia group. Just as the West has developed a propaganda theory called the “war on terror”, ISIS has developed a comprehensive theory of warfare called “war of terror”. They call it “just” or “blessed” terror, because they claim it is a direct reaction to the injustice of the West. Their theory and its implementation is sophisticated yet simple – retaliation. The recruitment of individuals, armed with a knife, a vehicle, or explosives; to cause an equal terror to that inflicted by Western planes and bombs on Muslim civilians. Their theory classes communities and people into those at war, belligerents, and those at peace. Those who aid and the West in her wars, as well their puppet regimes which include local civilian communities are enemies to be fought against.
To achieve peace, we must end the wars in the Muslim majority world and find peaceful solutions. The dispossession of millions of Sunnis in Iraq and Syria, and the imposition of western backed tyrants in Libya provides a huge recruitment pool for ISIS. The situation can only get worse.
Muslims in the West need to understand the propaganda on both sides and not adopt it. We oppose wars in Muslim majority lands and the retaliation that results from them. We must insist on an end to the language of propaganda.
If an attack is carried out by ISIS we must insist it is named after them, not called “Islamist”. As much as we discuss and oppose the terror of ISIS, we must also oppose and highlight the terror of the British state and its allies. We must insist that what is needed is not more laws, but less wars.