Photo via Reuters
Westminster, the Manchester Arena, and London Bridge ____ three terrorist attacks in three months in my adoptive country, Britain. Those gruesome crimes, however, have not changed the response to terror. Politicians, journalists, and commentators are still harping on the same bankrupt clichés that are used after every attack. A proliferation of flimsy myths has chronically dominated the debate about terrorism. Here are some of the stubborn ones:
Myth NO. 1
The Muslim “community”
A widespread distortion of the truth is the belief that Muslims are one community. Nothing could be further from the truth. Muslims are individuals living in Britain, and are not necessarily united under one ethnic or religious umbrella. The generalization of Muslims as one single entity has been compounded by the rise of social media and the ability of radicals to spread their poison away from mainstream Islamic institutions.
It is good to see groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain condemning the London attacks and appropriately describing them as an affront to the religion of Islam. Nonetheless, those groups are suffering from clear duplicity. They like to portray themselves as representatives of a mythical community, “Muslims,” that hardly exists. At the same time, they wash their hands of radicals as if they were outsiders, which is simply not true. It may be tough to acknowledge, but in reality, ISIS sympathizers exist in every brand, group, and nationality of Muslims.
Myth NO. 2
We are united against terror
Although the horror of terror unites humans in their condemnation of atrocities and their grief for the victims and their families, this unity has always been fragile and temporary. Within days, even hours of terror events such as those that have hit London in the past three months, differences, bickering, and exchanges of accusations and counter-accusations have emerged. Different explanations are given, blame is apportioned, and solutions are postulated by liberal Western leftists and the radical right. Within this war, the liberal left opts to defend not just ordinary Muslims, but even political Islamists. Unfortunately, the liberal elite prefers to avoid scrutinising Islamists on those controversial aspects, and tends rather to deflect the matter as political grievances against dictatorships in the Middle East. Our disunity is the most important reason behind our collective inability to stop terror.
Myth NO. 3
Terror is the result of Western foreign policies.
Only a few days after the Manchester attack, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn blamed the UK’s foreign policy for terrorism at home. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, has defended Jeremy Corbyn’s views. Although a survey conducted by YouGov has found that 53 per cent of people support that view, it is misguided and counter-productive. If injustices and grievances lead to terror attacks, then non-Muslim minorities in the Middle East would be the first to adopt terror. Thousands of minority Iraqi Yazidis were butchered and enslaved by the so-called Islamic State, yet there is no single Yazidi terrorist. Radical Islamists have attacked Copts in Egypt for decades, yet there is not a single Coptic terrorist inside or outside of Egypt. This argument infantilizes Muslims, portraying them as angry, irrational, easily seduced by radicalism; it also offers radicals a handy tool to lure more youth into their ranks.
Myth NO. 4
Political Islam is a peaceful ideology
While many non-Islamist Muslims live peacefully in Western countries, a subsection of Muslims has religiously built their political Islamist agenda on resentment of Western values such as freedom and equality and have advocated regressive values, exploiting the freedom of expression offered to them in the Western world.
Some Islamists are crafty and write polished posts about democracy, peace and unity. In reality, however, followers of political Islam deliberately conceal the controversial aspects of their ideology, specifically the common values they share with violent radicals. They prefer, instead, to vent that ugly side on Arabic posts on social media shared by their followers across the globe. Many of those posts glamorize violence, incite hatred against the West, and occasionally mourn violent radicals killed in Iraq or Syria.
Myth NO. 5
We cannot stop terror
The endless barrage of terror attacks in the past few years has created a fatalistic sense of resignation among many. Some now see terror as inevitable as cancer, electric shock, or car accidents. The London Bridge attack may support such an outlook, especially after it was revealed how knives and cars in the hands of criminal terrorists determined to kill, can lead to severe loss of life, disruption, and panic. This defeatist attitude may be comforting, but it is simply suicidal. It is like lying helplessly on railway tracks, waiting for an approaching high-speed train.
It is easy to distract the public by digging for the complex roots behind the original rise of radicalism in the Middle East, and how it spread to Britain. But that is a disingenuous approach, which will only make counter-terrorism an impossible task to achieve.
Groups that use the dynamism of politics to justify an ideology will always find reasons to generate grievances. Regressive barbarians hate the basic core of Western modernity and aim to destroy it, regardless of the moral or political rectitude of Western foreign policies. The terror attacks in Britain are an unfortunate outcome of complacent and divided politicians and an intellectual elite allowing political Islam to flourish in Western societies for decades.
Terrorism is not a mysterious disease, but a treatable malignancy. Dispelling myths is the first step towards eradicating this cancer and its devastating consequences.