This comment appeared in the Jersey Evening Post on the 27th of August
David Cameron seems to be very concerned about the rise of extremism, calling it ‘poison’ in a speech given in July. He wonders how young people might become attracted to extremist ideologies. It isn’t poverty, he rightly says, pointing towards the often educated and middle-class backgrounds of extremist figureheads like Bin-Laden, al-Zawahiri or el-Baghdadi. It cannot be the Iraq war either, because 9/11 happened before 2003. Extremist ideology, Cameron analyses, is caused by the ideology itself. Amazing! Why hadn’t I thought of this? That really explains everything and, more conveniently, it absolves me of the responsibility of looking into the matter further. Cameron might as well have said: “Trust your leaders. We will take care of all your worries.”
Although Cameron specifically points out he is not targeting the UK Muslim community, he does address that community and speaks of its ‘special responsibility’ in addressing the challenge of extremism. In doing so, he singles out that community, brands it as different and isolates the problem, once again imprinting the image in people’s minds that the religion of Islam is somehow connected to violence. Jersey’s self-appointed sociologist Gavin Ashenden tends to do something similar although less subtle. He too, wants people to turn off their minds, forget about context and most importantly, to disregard history. Echoing Cameron, he enthusiastically thumbs through his Koran, hoping to find clues as to why some of these violent groups claim to be speaking for Islam.
The truth is, Islamism is a political phenomenon, not a religious one. For those who care to study the history of the Middle-East, especially during the twentieth century, other explanations for violence emerge. They will find that Western powers (first Britain and France, then later the US) have always done everything in their power to prevent the empowerment of Muslim peoples. They have consistently propped up dictatorships (Saudi-Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Gulf States) and overthrown democratic movements in Iran (Mossadeq), Egypt and Syria to secure the cheap flow of oil or maintain Cold War power bases. More recently, Iraq was destroyed by a Western coalition in an illegal war, its’ economy was privatised and profits are now flowing west. A recent research paper by the Physicians for Social Responsibility estimates the number of deaths as a result of Western violence since 9/11 at two million. Meanwhile our leaders keep talking about ‘human rights’ and ‘democracy’. That sounds perhaps a bit hollow to a lot of Muslims.
It certainly does to me.
So what happens if you consistently suppress the cry for freedom? What happened when Victor Frankenstein started experimenting without considering possible consequences? A monster was unleashed and it went after its creator. Does the current violence perhaps mirror the history of our own foreign policy? Or is that an extremist conclusion?