Parliament will this month debate a petition calling for Republican Presidential frontrunner Donald Trump to be excluded from the UK, because of his comments calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. Meanwhile last month, a survey conducted by YouGov and the Huffington Post of 1000 US adults found that 55% had an “unfavourable” opinion of Islam. These Islamophobic sentiments were found to be more common among those who were Republican, white and over 45 years old. There was also a correlation between those who had unfavourable attitudes towards Muslims and those who identified as having no Muslim friends, work colleagues or associates. In light of this negative rhetoric, a student from Loyola Marymount University in California share his reflections on the need for better engagement between different communities in American society as a means of countering radicalisation.
In the weeks following the attacks in Paris in November of last year, a remarkable phenomenon occurred in the UK. It was not the introduction of more police, or the authorisation to use airstrikes in Syria. It was a change in language. In early December, David Cameron told Parliament that he would be joining France in calling the group responsible for the attacks “Daesh” rather than “Isil”, and urged the general public to do the same. The adoption of the term Daesh represents a concerted effort to separate the actions of Daesh from the wider Islamic community. In Parliament, members of both parties emphasised the need to delegitimise Daesh’s claim that it is representative of Islam, and to stand together with those abroad who are suffering at the hands of these horrific attacks. This recognition is something that is sorely lacking in the United States. When looking at the rhetoric of Republican candidates, there is much dismay in their uniform branding of Islam. But more than just wrong and distasteful, this narrative is extremely harmful.
When looking at the communities where individuals become radicalised, both in the Middle East and around the world, there is a common thread running through them. It is not a common devout practice or belief in the teachings of Muhammad, but a common sense of feeling marginalised within their communities and countries. These are individuals or groups who may feel politically silenced. Often, they are not afforded rights and liberties such as stable incomes, safe neighborhoods, the passage of social mobility, and a sense of security. For many living in areas that are recruitment pools for Daesh, these values are in jeopardy. These groups may face poverty, disease and discrimination in their everyday lives. Beyond this, they do not have hope in the traditional methods of invoking change. In a number of Middle Eastern countries, governments may be directly oppressive, hollow, or discriminatory against certain sects or communities. In the West, many of the youths who become radicalised will be individuals who are dissatisfied with the status quo, and who are drawn in by the quixotic narrative of clashing civilisations that Daesh propagates.
Imagine for a moment, that you are living in a situation in which your family can barely afford to feed itself, your community is disenfranchised, and your entire country is considered “third” tier to the rest of the world. Then a man comes along. He claims that he knows the source of all of your suffering. That in the past, this land was once part of a greater empire, and that you could restore this previous prosperity that is now lost to your community. He weaves a narrative of conflict and strife, claiming that the only way to change the fate of your neighborhood, community and country, is to fight for it. He cites that for decades, nations that are wealthier and more powerful than yours have dictated what your country can and cannot do. Every once in a while they send in troops to occupy a territory or drop bombs from the sky, desecrating the land and killing innocents. In no ways does this condone terrorist action. This is a story. This is a story that twists history and reality, preying on the weaknesses in communities in order to push particular political agendas and goals. A number of people will be vulnerable to this discourse. Why? Because this is the only strongly enforced, compelling narrative that they are confronted with. It is reinforced by the bullets fired, the bombs dropped, and the missiles launched into their communities. What the “frontlines” see is not a just war, but a gruesome war that doesn’t differentiate between combatant and civilian.
Many commentators believe that cutting off military action in the Middle East is neither wise nor possible at this stage. However there needs to be simultaneous, ongoing approaches to combating extremism both at home and abroad. We need to start addressing the reasons for radicalisation, not fuelling the causes for it. Daesh is not simply a rogue state or a group of radicals, but a group that follows a comprehensive, vicious ideology which has won the minds of a number of Muslims in the Middle East and in the West. In order to defeat this rhetoric, it is important for Western societies to engage with these marginalised communities. Groups like Daesh twist the discourse of a religion of peace, and use it to violate almost every tenant of its original form. The Muslim community suffers more at the hands of Daesh, than any other. In fact, more Muslims are killed by this twisted world view than any other group. People of all faiths and of none need to stand together with the Muslim community, and help to reclaim Islam from those who would misrepresent it. This means supporting the Muslim community, pushing the narratives of peace on the political agenda, and delegitimising claims of violence. This means more reporting from within Western Muslim communities, and more collaboration in terms of the military and intelligence agencies. Governments must work better with community centres in order to both gather information and spread the counter-narratives about radicalisation. This can only be achieved through mutual cooperation and understanding. Rather than seek information through torture, we must encourage intelligence through understanding. You catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. It is imperative that Western societies stand united with their Muslim communities, and work together to take steps to delegitimise Daesh’s claim to the legacy of Islam.
Joseph Young is an undergraduate student at Loyola Marymount University, studying both Political Science and Screenwriting.