The three sisters with their nine young children from Bradford who travelled to war-torn Syria, last month, generated massive publicity both in the national and international media, has left many observers dumbfounded.
Many columnists and analysts have theorised a number of reasons these families’ leaving a safe and secure living place in Britain for a country unsafe and insecure to the extremes of one’s imagination. Over the years, both Syria and Iraq have become a magnet for youngsters of the Muslim communities the world over and a breeding ground for a violent, brutal and ruthless religious extremist ideology. A few of the reasons cited for the Dawood family to leave Bradford for the so called Islamic State for Iraq and Syria (ISIS) range from a lack of interaction and integration of British Muslims with the indigenous population to the restricted and oppressed environment in which Muslim females have to live; the lack of parental control over their children and the inept and ineffective community leadership. It is true that these factors have a decisive role in the promotion of cohesive communities but the relation of the recent wave of radicalisation of young Muslims in Britain is beyond comprehension. Nevertheless, it is a well-known fact that these factors have been prevalent in some of our cities for several decades.
The decision of three sisters to move to Syria seems to be well planned and carefully executed. It was not made on the spur of the moment and it must have been influenced by their brother already present in Syria and fighting for ISIS. The matrimonial disputes within the family and the alleged irksome behaviour of the Counter Terrorism Force might also have contributed to some extent. It ought not to be expected that they will be enganged in terrorist activities in ‘Islamic State’ or in Britain if they want or are allowed to return. The fundamental question is why a few young members of the British Muslim community, who are born, bred and educated here, are vulnerable and easy prey to those who recruit and groom them on or off line.
In order to understand this phenomenon of rising extremism and terrorism in recent years, we have to turn the pages of history. The Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 which prompted America to repel the Soviets from that country by pouring billions of dollars for financially supporting and providing gorilla training for Mujahedeen mainly from Pakistan and Afghanistan, but also from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan and then to use them to fight against Soviet forces, sowed the seeds of extremism. As these Muslim cadres had adequate training to fight against and defeat one of the two Super Powers, it was but natural for them to conceive that with the piles of arms and ammunition at hand, they can also play havoc with the other Super Power and the rest of the Western world.
When the Soviets left Afghanistan, the Americans left too after achieving their objective of defeating the enemy. Thus, the Afghans were left at the mercy of mutually destructive war lords, who were easily replaced by the Taleban, a creation of Pakistan, desirous of having in depth access into Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda too were headquartered in that fateful country. Hence, Pakistan and Afghanistan became centres for breeding extremism. The West ignored the danger of this growing evil mind set in this region and instead embarked upon another adventure of safeguarding their economic interests by invading Iraq under false pretences. As a result, the country suffered ineffable devastation and destruction. More than half a million of innocent civilians lost their lives. Iraqis still remain a nation divided across the board and suffering from sectarianism, violence, extremism and lawlessness. The West’s policy of rearranging the geography of the Middle East may be working but at the expense of incalculable loss of lives and suffering of the region that compounded the miseries of the unfortunate populace, thus unleashed the forces with pernicious mind set and brutal beliefs. Both countries are engulfed in chaos and carnage. Syria is not far from becoming a graveyard.
Once more, the USA has repeated the blunder it committed in Afghanistan by supporting and nurturing the followers of ISIS (Daesh). Like Taleban, its strategy was to hire the extremists against Bashar Al Assad’s regime in Syria. But, as it was expected, as soon as they gained sufficient power, they decided to fight against both Syria and America. During the last two year, the ISIS has successfully established its own authority by conquering the territory of Iraq and Syria and now they possess abundance of arms and money. Members of Al-Qaeda are also joining ISIS in hordes. ISIS is a fast growing monster and its success and influence continues to force America and its allies to learn the lessons of history and stop meddling with the internal affairs of other nations.
The establishment of Caliphate in the territory controlled by ISIS has created panic and alarm throughout the world. ISIS is attracting young people from all parts of the world to come and live in the Caliphate where they promise to provide them with secure “Islamic” environment. They are also preaching hatred against the West and its lifestyle and permissive society on line as well as through their followers in many parts of the world. They would claim that heterodox values of the West are incompatible with the Islamic values. ISIS and their agents working in different countries usually lure those individuals who are inclined to hold similar extremist and barbaric views that characterises the ISIS’ philosophy. Some of the strong arguments they advance are:
- The creation of chaos and political upheavals in Muslim countries
- The political and economic injustice meted out to Muslims throughout the world
- Policy of non-intervention in resolving the issues of Palestine and Kashmir
These arguments penetrate into the raw minds of young Muslims who can easily be exploited emotionally and are thus ensnared into its net. They hold the West responsible for dividing and weakening Muslims so that Israel can continue to grab by force the land belonging to Palestinians, but still enjoys impunity and even protection ensured by the West. These assertions are much appealing to young Muslims. It is inevitable for the West to incorporate radical changes in its foreign policies if it wants to see durable peace in the world.
Such teachings and preaching of the ISIS, Al-Qaeda and their allies who hold a similar ideology, have affected the thinking and attitudes of a minority of disaffected young Muslims in Britain; hence they are becoming radicalised and alienated. They begin to believe that they are misfits here. However, we cannot afford to overlook the possibility of the existence of some secret dens in the UK where preaching of hatred and extremism is taking place. Just a few weeks ago, a graffiti ‘Kafir’, [that means ‘Infidel’], has appeared on the wall of a Shias’ Mosque. This sort of act is clearly the manifestation of the mentality only appreciated by those enganged in extreme activities. Therefore, aiding, abetting and spreading the violent ideology of Daesh must be stopped at all costs. Our Anti-Terrorism organisations have to act with prudence and professional skills to bring the culprits to book.
The leaders of the British Muslim community have immense responsibility. They need to strike a balance between defending their community against many pressures emanating from right wing press and media and political organisation and their unequivocal condemnation of the ideology of ISIS. At this critical juncture they have to come out of the fold of passive moaning, groaning and opposition.
The community of Imams should seriously take cognisance of worsening relationship between the Muslims and the indigenous community. Their traditional role of preaching must entail the worldly affairs as well as consistent reminder to their congregation of the danger of extreme religious ideology. They should encourage dialogue and interaction of Muslims with the wider community. In this regard, their role can be of paramount importance and beneficial to the promotion of community cohesion. Thousands of Seminaries, up and down the country, should try to instil tolerance in the minds of very young children and prepare them for moving successfully in the wider society as they become responsible adults. Respecting the law of the land and loyalty to their country should be an integral part of the curriculum.
The government and the intelligence agencies seem to have not achieved much success in maintaining vigilance of the suspicious individuals inclined toward extreme beliefs. It is claimed that 700 suspected terrorists have already left the country during the last two years to join ISIS. This cannot be a commendable track record.
The government’s constant pressure on the Muslim community for doing more without the provision of any resources is ill-advised and unmerited. This policy is bound to annoy and antagonise the moderate and peace-loving elements of the community. The government and its agencies need to engage the community in a meaningful way and gain its confidence to work together. It is imperative to recruit more Muslims in the intelligence services.
Britain is a free country and its citizens are free to move to any country in the world by fulfilling the legal requirements for entry but how can they justify their return if they are proven to have been indulged in terrorist activities voluntarily? There can be no moral or legal justification. No country could tolerate this kind of repugnant behaviour of its citizens. In order to avoid betrayal of their conscience, such nationals of any nation should revoke their citizenship before they leave for their bloodletting mission.
It is a bloody and complex world of which we are a tiny part. Instead of making it more violent and bloody, it is incumbent upon us irrespective of race, religion and nationality to play a positive part in attempting to build a conflict free and peaceful future for our coming generations. Perhaps it requires to resist the temptation of subjugating the weaker, either by using the cloak of religion or political and economic supremacy.
Note: The author is the former Lord Mayor of Bradford, Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE