Thought for the Day - 26/08/2014 - Professor Mona Siddiqui

It is rather tragically the story of the moment – the rise of Isis and with it the rise of a violent and supremacist religious narrative. Young Muslim jihadists are not alone in extolling this kind of thinking but they are distinct in their willingness to kill their coreligionists in the name of Islam. It’s as if once the thrill of power in a militaristic gang, of being able to kill with impunity, has been unleashed, there are no longer any limits to what you can say or do.

Our own government is desperate over how to stop extremism or deal with those under suspicion returning from Syria or Iraq. Isis militants are called evil, having committed unspeakable atrocities but as the writer James Dawes said recently in relation to the movement, we can call them evil but evil is a word that stops us from thinking.’ It’s worth reminding ourselves that the constant use of such words has a paradoxical effect – it is numbing and provokes people to bring even more extreme acts and ideas into the mainstream. Such words are not insults to the killers – this is exactly how they want to be seen – young men who have the ultimate weapon in their hands – the ability to instil fear. Others have compared them to disaffected youth gangs, looking to belong to the most cool, most mean gang. Jihad has always been a difficult word to interpret from the Qur’an, its meaning ranging from personal struggle for God to armed struggle against the unbeliever. Yet today the word is used as an aspiration within a subculture, this cool adventure, conjuring up pent up fantasies and raw resentment?

While there are many reasons why militancy appeals to some, it is the easy spread and dissemination of the extremist narrative that has been extraordinary. Social media has provided a space for words, images and anonymity. Young men are deft in using sophisticated sites and uploading material with a view to shock and they can do this from anywhere and beam to anyone. We can block sites and we can suspend accounts, we can criminalise all kinds of activities, we can even kill these gangs overseas and destroy their artillery but we can’t bomb potent ideas out of existence. It seems to me that the state can only do so much – a sense of belonging loyalty and self-worth and purpose – these are also potent and radical ideas and they have to come from within the home first. An isolationist form of Islam has failed many Muslims in the west but if we want a more hopeful future for our young, we have to replace divisive words with inclusive words – it seems to me that the very least we can do is teach our children that the west is our home not our enemy.

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