By Usman Ahmad, who is a British freelance writer currently based in Pakistan. He writes mainly on issues of minorities, human rights and feature pieces. You can find him on Twitter @usmanahmad_iam
Patheos.com Islam is once again under the spotlight for its supposed role in the recent Charlie Hebdo killings, sparking more calls for Muslim condemnation and a fierce discussion on the limits of freedom of speech. The British Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles has made his own entry into the debate with a letter sent to more than 1,000 Muslim leaders across the United Kingdom, urging them to do more to root out Islamic extremism and prevent young people from becoming radicalized.
In part of the letter he writes:
“We are proud of the reaction of British communities to this attack [Paris]. Muslims from across the country have spoken out to say: Not in our name.”
But there is more work to do. We must show our young people, who may be targeted, that extremists have nothing to offer them. We must show them that there are other ways to express disagreement, that their right to do so is dependent on the very freedoms that extremists seek to destroy.
We must show them the multitude of statements of condemnation from British Muslims; show them these men of hate have no place in our mosques or any place of worship, and that they do not speak for Muslims in Britain or anywhere in the world.”
Despite its conciliatory tone, the reaction from the Muslim community to the letter was swift and full of anger.
The Muslim Council of Britain decried Pickles for signalling out Islam as something inherently separate to wider British society, while others accused the politician of being unhelpful and patronising.
Yet therein lies the problem.
Whenever terror attacks like the one in Paris occur the conversation within the Muslim community is framed around 1) condemnation, 2) the assertion that it has no connection with Islam, and 3) that the attackers are not Muslims. While a definitive counter interpretation of Islamic teachings is important, the real conversation to be had is why some Muslims in the modern world are so acutely prone to extremism, and what can be done about it.
There needs to be a recognition that somewhere along the line something has gone terribly wrong. If Islam is a religion of peace, as I and many others believe, why are some of its adherents, even as a minority, succumbing to vicious and inhumane forms of militancy? The time is not one for denunciation alone – reflection and more work towards routing out extremism is also vital.
Yes, not every Muslim is an ISIS fighter or al-Qaeda recruit. Most reasonable people would recognize that. But the hardening of attitudes across the wider Muslim world, which contradict the fundamental principles and rights of human beings, has created an atmosphere of intolerance that is fertile ground for the breeding of extremists. This is true for Britain, which has provided as many as 400 fighters to ISIS since the war in Syria began, and elsewhere. And, more needs to be done about it.