Tackle ideological roots of jihadism to counter terrorism


The increasing threat of terrorism has not just influenced American perceptions of the liberal international order. It has had an impact in European democracies as well, contributing to Brexit and the increased support for far right nationalist parties, writes Jamie Fly, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.

“We have yet to develop an adequate strategy to respond to extremist messaging and radicalization,” he adds. ‘We need to compare national approaches to integration of minorities into our societies and candidly discuss which have succeeded and which have failed and why.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May called for fresh efforts to counter the jihadist narrative in response to the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.

“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet — and the big companies that provide internet-based services — provide,” she said. “We need to work with allied, democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorist planning.”

That was a departure for the British government, said Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based research organization that focuses on democracy and anti-extremism. “For a long time, this government didn’t really look at the ideology of radical Islam, but law and order,” he told The New York Times.

“Well, of course as long as this crisis of Islamic civilization, the rise of extremism, the rise of terror, state sponsorship– alleged– taking place, you can’t really get rid of this problem overall, but you can contain and manage it,” said Zalmay Khalilzad (left), a former ambassador to the U.N., Iraq, and Afghanistan, and a National Endowment for Democracy board member.

The challenge is deeper and wider than simply violent extremism, and rooted in efforts to politicize Islam, says a leading anti-extremist activist.

“Islamism is the political ideology that seeks to impose any given interpretation of Islam over society. Jihadism is its violent offshoot,” writes Maajid Nawaz, founder of Quilliam, the London-based anti-extremist think-tank.If we are so terrorized that we cannot even identify the evil haunting us by being able to name it, we stand no chance of even beginning to galvanize a civil society coalition to defeat it.”

While he fully supports the UK government’s CONTEST Strategy and its four P’s – Protect, Prepare, Pursue and Prevent – former Islamist Nawaz is calling for the urgent appointment of a Counter Extremism Coordinator. The move would be part of a four-point plan to defeat Islamist terrorists.

  • First off we need to be very clear here to name and shame the Islamist ideology. Without us being being able to do so, we will be unable to isolate extremists from mainstream Muslim communities. We’ll also be depriving reforming liberal Muslims from a lexicon that they require to isolate themselves from these extremists. …Islamist is very different to Islamic. Islamic is a value judgement. It means something is endorsed by Islam, whereas Islamism is a political ideology that seeks to impose any version of Islam over society. Islamism, in other words, is theocracy. It’s violent manifestation is jihadism. If we cannot talk about a problem with an accurate and correct lexicon, then we are simply nowhere near even beginning to address the ideological challenge that lies ahead of us.
  • Point two. We must protect the government’s counter extremism strategy known as Prevent. …Any politician who calls for the scrapping of Prevent in this climate does not understand the risk that this country faces, nor do they understand national security and nor do they understand the nature of this ideological threat.
  • Third. To implement the Prevent strategy properly, what we need is a counter-extremism coordinator to coordinate between all government departments. …
  • And fourth and finally, these Jihadists are attacking us because they despise our freedom, our democracy, our human rights, our secularism, our pluralism, our respect for difference. They despise everything we stand for, so why would you, if you know that that’s why they are attacking us, also endorse an attack on those very same values? …Freedom and democracy and pluralism and tolerance is the way in which we fight back, because that’s the very thing they want to undermine. And that’s my fourth point, that the counter-extremism coordinator must be bound by the liberal values that bind this country and hold us all together.

However, it may be the problem is even broader than combatting jihadist ideology, “[f]or the political discourse and broad culture in many Muslim societies — even notionally democratic societies such as Indonesia or Turkey, and among Western Muslims as well — includes what can only be described as myths and paranoid fantasies as a staple,” one observer suggests:

In a poll conducted last year by ICM Research for Channel Four, about 4 per cent of British Muslims, which would be more than 100,000 people, said they sympathised with suicide bombers….In a separate poll conducted for the centre-right think tank Policy Exchange, more than half of British Muslims polled said they did not know who was behind the 9/11 terror attacks in the US. More than 30 per cent believed the US government itself was responsible. About 7 per cent thought the attacks were a Jewish plot, which was fully 2 per cent more than those who thought the 9/11 attacks were the work of al-Qa’ida…..That same poll showed that fully a quarter of British Muslims believe there is no such thing as extremist thought within the British Muslim community.

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