Religious conservatism doesn’t make a terrorist. But crime and exclusion can

Source: The Guardian

BY Z Fareen Parvez

In her comments in the aftermath of last weekend’s attacks in London, Theresa May suggested a new direction in the struggle against terrorism. Insisting that “things need to change”, she pointed to the problems of “segregated, separated communities” and “too much tolerance of Islamist extremism”.

It is not clear from her comments exactly what sorts of changes are implied or to be expected, beyond greater control of the internet and increased jail sentences for terrorism-related crimes. But her comments clearly emphasised the need to defeat what she called “the single evil ideology of Islamist extremism”.

In fact, experts are divided on the wisdom and effectiveness of tackling ideology and beliefs within religious communities. Some argue that ideology is the most critical point in the war on terror, no matter how challenging it might be to win hearts and minds. Others counter that focusing so heavily on religious beliefs and practices within Muslim communities carries numerous risks. For example, it encourages the false assumption that Islamic practices and ways of life directly correlate with violence. Common religious acts such as praying every day, growing a beard and fasting in Ramadan start to seem alarming and “radical”. All religious Muslims, in other words, become suspect.

I have seen this happen first-hand among Salafi communities in France, where prominent politicians have called for “a cultural struggle against Salafism”. Salafis are a minority of the world’s Muslims, tremendously diverse and mostly uninvolved in politics, let alone political violence. Yet states are branding them “radical Muslims” in part because of their generally strict practices, but also because some terrorists in Europe hid themselves in Salafi communities.

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