With the growing threat of so-called ‘lone actor’ attacks in the West and Daesh losing territory in Syria and Iraq, the debate rumbles on over the role of foreign policy in the radicalisation of young Britons. Do we believe that hundreds of British Muslims fled the UK for Syria because of US and UK intervention in the region? Are lone actor attacks a furious reaction to foreign policy? Essentially, are we to blame for the rise of Daesh?
It’s a complex question with no easy answer. Convicted terrorists have often claimed that foreign policy motivated their acts. After the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich in May, 2013, Michael Adebolajo – one of the two assailants – talked to a camera, blood stained knife in hand, and called his deed a blow for all those Muslims killed by western foreign policy. His words were echoed by Islamist groups online.
But as with most of these attacks, closer investigation revealed a long process of radicalisation. Adebolajo had not simply leapt from grievance to murder. He had got involved with the banned group Al-Muhajiroun years before and already had a conviction for assaulting a police officer. A familiar pattern emerges with Adebolajo that applies to nearly all Islamist terrorists.
There is a weak grasp of Islam coupled with exposure to ideological voices that legitimise murder in the name of religion. Grievance creates the cognitive opening in to which a creed of violence can enter. That’s not to say that holding extremist views leads automatically to terrorism – it doesn’t. Nobody believes in a “conveyor belt” theory of radicalisation. But hanging out in extremist circles can normalise many of the arguments of terrorism and make it easier to take that decisive step towards action.
It’s hardly surprising that certain Islamist groups want to downplay the role of ideology. But there’s no doubt that the steady drip-drip arguments that Muslims cannot thrive in western societies, that only some kind of caliphate is an acceptable form of government and so on has softened up hundreds of young British Muslims for the radicalisers. They have led vulnerable individuals to the front door – all terrorists had to do was open it.
About eight hundred Britons, many of school age, packed their bags and left to join Daesh. Some have now been complicit in grotesque acts of murder including public executions. If we don’t ask some very pertinent questions about the role of ideology and how to foster a reconciled identity, then we have failed to learn any lessons. We are also betraying those families ripped apart by radicalisation.
Just blaming foreign policy, let’s the peddlers of terrorism and extremism off the hook. That is unacceptable.
Watch the film, ‘It’s all the West’s Fault’ by clicking here.