This month we mark ten years since the horrific 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in America. It was a turning point in history, both in terms of the complexity and audacity of al-Qaeda’s plot and the sheer numbers slain by terrorists in a single incident. Sadly it was just one of many other attacks that have since followed including the 7/7 bombings of 2005 in my constituency of London.
The ideology that has spawned violent extremism has its roots in a distorted interpretation of religion. Sometimes the links made with religion are direct and overt, while in other cases they are subtle and more obscure. But in all cases they are used to project a moral sense of purpose for what is simply cold-blooded murder in the name of God.
On 20 September I will host a conference in the European Parliament analysing the rise of religious extremism internationally and its impact on European security and cohesion. Such violence is on the increase across the world, despite the countless millions spent on counter-extremism programmes.
It’s important to emphasise that Europe has a long history of religious violence, from the Spanish Inquisition of the late fifteenth century to the persecution of Huguenots two hundred years later. The Crusades were also launched from European soil…
Pakistan is also home to many Ahmadi Muslims, who are considered apostates by mainstream Sunnis and are therefore habitually the target of persecution and violence.
The tentacles of religious extremism are far reaching and recently have also impacted on Indonesia – a traditionally tolerant country but one that is facing a growing challenge from extremists who are targeting Christians, Ahmadi Muslims and others for the sake of political power.
Like many religious minorities, the Ahmadi Muslim community in the UK, which has organised the conference with me, is keen to sharpen the political focus on extremism both internationally and in Europe.