It’s been a big week underlining the challenges in combatting global Islamic terrorism. The combination of Trump’s speech to Middle Eastern leaders in Saudi Arabia and the Manchester attack expose all the complexities and failings in tackling the problem.
The perpetrator of the Manchester attack in the twilight of an Ariana Grande concert has been named as the son of Libyan refugees Salman Abedi. While it can feel repetitive in our post-mortem examinations after terrorist attacks, the significance of this week cannot be underplayed.
Unlike the Westminster attacks months ago by the unusually elderly fifty two year old British convert Khalid Masood; the Manchester attacks fit all the hallmarks of the home-grown terrorist.
Abedi was born and raised in Britain but never felt British. Large Libyan flags were displayed in the front of his home, according to reports in the UK Telegraph. Neighbours thought they might represent a football team, perhaps Tripoli United FC, but this was not the case.
The same reports highlight that the tight knit nature of the Libyan community of former anti- Gaddafi rebels in Manchester, a clear marker of decades of multiculturalist policies that invited separation and retreat into tribal identities.
Just prior to the attacks, Abedi is described as becoming more withdrawn and devout, straight from the How to Spot a Radical Islamist for Dummies handbook. His local imam tells reporters a tale of being given the “face of hate” when warnings about Islamic State were raised in the mosque. We should take this with a little bit of scepticism given the same mosque was suspected of raising funds for jihadists in the past.
The site of the attacks, whether intended or not, are symbolic. A concert for teenage girls in their emerging sexuality largely unaccompanied by their fathers could not be a stronger spark for the moral outrage of Islamists. The targets get softer still.
Abedi dropping out of university is also important. Many Muslims share views sympathetic to the aims and justifications of Islamists, as multiple international surveys have shown, but once they acquire skills and social mobility, any oppositional zeal is usually diluted.
His family’s case highlights the challenges of integrating Muslim refugees in the modern world, where jobs at the lower end of the labour market are tougher to come by. Integrating them and ensuring their social success is simply tougher than it was decades ago when there was an abundance of unskilled work.
A short term response of restricting Islamic immigration is reasonable and one supported by majority opinion throughout Europe according to a February Chatham House poll. The surge in ridiculously titled Far Right parties throughout Europe is further testament to such support.
How can groups that are democratic, nonviolent and attract the support of over one third of the population be called Far Right? We know from local Essential polling that virtually half of Australians support the same policy locally.
The longer term response is a greater focus on Islamic reform, specifically an acceptance that the Koran cannot be seen to be the literal work of God, that it is a product of history and not above it. There is a clear precedent in Judaism where scholars progressed to seeing the Torah as manmade and divinely inspired.
This then brings us to Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia. The key disappointments in US President’s address is the narrow demonisation of Shiite Iran as the funder of terrorism, when lessons that glorify martyrdom, encourage anti-Semitism and the execution of infidels and gays are taught widely throughout Saudi Arabia. BBC’s Panorama program revealed that Sunday Islamic schools across Britain use such Saudi funded textbooks. It is the Saudi brand of Salafism that remains the bigger threat but was barely mentioned by Trump.
Another disappointing aspect of Trump’s speech was lines like “Every time a terrorist murders an innocent person, and falsely invokes the name of God, it should be an insult to every person of faith.”
This is a major backtrack and error on his front. It is akin to saying terrorism has nothing to do with Islam. How can we call it Islamic terrorism if the perpetrators are falsely invoking the name of God?
Terrorist acts by Abedi, Masood and the thousands of others before and the many more to come are a direct consequence of faith and not in spite of it. Terrorists worship an Islamic God and do so with greater intensity and piety than other religious people. As clearly instructed in the Koran, death for them is the path to a better place.
However we can hardly be surprised that Trump has a habit of contradicting himself and throughout much of his speech he does refer directly to Islamic terror. Ali Rizvi, the author of “The Atheist Muslim”, writes in the Huffington Post that this is infact a more accurate way of describing terrorist acts than the commonly used phrase, “radical Islamic terrorism.”
As Rizvi writes, “Jihadists aren’t radical. They’re fundamentalists who adhere to the teachings and holy scriptures of their religion closely, which is what religions in general and Islam specifically (the word Islam means “submission”) ask of their followers.”
The cultural tide has shifted and the old media and political elite are being overturned with great haste, kicking and screaming. The leftist resistance aided by their Muslim apologist allies will remain but the current set of world leaders, particularly Trump and Theresa May, offer the best chance yet of having honest conversation about Islam and terrorism.
Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatrist, author and contributor to Rebel Media.
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