By Sarah Waseem, London, UK
At times of personal and national tragedies we try to make sense of loss and suffering. For the global community, the bombings in Belgium have provoked a lot of soul searching and at times finger pointing. Did the police and security services do enough? Could this have been stopped? Were local communities aware of the terrorists in their midst and were they protecting them? This is a natural reaction – to try and make sense of something that seems incomprehensible. However at times like this when sentiments are so raw and the wounds so deep, it is singularly unhelpful to reach out for easy answers and to try to blame one community or another. This does not lead to understanding and cohesion but merely to greater anxiety.
It is therefore regrettable that a journalist of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s standing has done just this with her comments in Thursday’s Daily Mail (23rd March). She starts off with an interesting comment –
When mass killings are committed by white people, such as the Columbine school massacre in the U.S. in 1999 or the shootings in Norway by the deranged racial supremacist Anders Breivik in 2011, we are quick to look for the psychological roots — what happened in the killers’ childhoods to make them believe indiscriminate slaughter was the answer?
However she then attempts to relate the insular way in which she believes Muslim children are brought up in the West, to vulnerability for exploitation by terrorists groups. Muslim parents today are “consumed by anxieties” about their children becoming wrongly influenced by western culture “with their heads full of rhetoric from firebrand preachers, (and) want to lock up their children and deny them their basic freedoms” .
Why so? Many of these parents are themselves the products of the mass migration that took place during the sixties and seventies. So if anything these parents were themselves subjected to a western education at a time when it was much harder to be fully integrated into a society unused to Islam.
Yes it’s true that many Islamic practices and customs can make life for a student a little more challenging – not going clubbing if all ones friends are, or not drinking or taking drugs. But come on, isn’t it also rather insulting to assume that all ‘Western students’ want only to drink and take drugs?
It’s true that all parents need to communicate with their children and talk to them about pressures at school and university, not just Muslim parents. And to do this all migrant parents from whatever country or background, need to learn the language of this country they live in. This will of course, reduce isolation. And all Western societies need to work to reduce those markers of inequalities such as poverty, racism and injustice at all levels
Alibhai Brown accuses some in the Muslim community of sheltering known terrorists, because “..Inwardness breeds false loyalties and encourages families to keep secrets, no matter how terrible, from outsiders.” She compares this to the way that East End gangster families would not ‘grass’ on relatives
Really? It’s about false loyalties? Not abject fear? CNN reporter Nima Elbagir (Evening standard 24/03/16) spoke to the people of Molenbeek which is where the Brussels terrorists were able to hide.
She comments that many of those there were terrified to even meet her due to threats from extremists groups warning them against talking to the media. Those that did, told her that discrimination and a lack of opportunities had driven many young people towards extremists groups.
True Islamic practices do not lead to terrorism and Muslim parents practicing true Islam do not breed terrorists. We need to look beyond this simplistic narrative. It is a shame Alibhai-Brown does not reflect more on the one interesting point that she does make – why we don’t question the psychological state of those who commit these atrocities when they are not white.
The Washington Post (23rd March) reported :
……. the Islamic State appears to be finding a fruitful recruiting ground among Europe’s street gangs and petty criminals, drawing to itself legions of troubled young men and women from predominantly poor Muslim neighborhoods, U.S. and European officials and terrorism experts say. Some recruits have scant knowledge of Islam but, attracted by the group’s violent ideology, they become skilled and eager accomplices in carrying out acts of extraordinary cruelty.
The article continues to say that over the past year, counterterrorism officials and experts in Europe have begun to document a profound shift in the typical profile of terrorist recruits, with the latest arrivals more closely resembling urban street gangs than religious extremists.
“For them, joining [the Islamic State] is merely a shift to another form of deviant behavior,” said a report released this month by Rik Coolsaet, a professor in Belgium who has studied the foreign fighter flow. Membership in the Islamic State is for many Muslim youths part of a progression that began with “gangs, rioting, drug trafficking and juvenile delinquency,” Coolsaet wrote. “But it adds a thrilling, larger-than-life dimension to their way of life — transforming them from delinquents without a future into mujahideen with a cause”.
Interestingly, the Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community Mirza Masroor Ahmad has repeatedly drawn attention to the dangers posed by mass unemployment and injustice in society as a stimulus for extremist groups to recruit vulnerable individuals who are lured away with promises of a better life. To those on the margins of society, they may seem to provide a hope of sorts – a way out of poverty and deprivation.
In these dangerous times we need to reflect on how we can all work together, to bring those behind these atrocities to justice, rather than getting caught up in finger pointing and speculating.