The terrorist attacks in Paris, Nice and Vienna (who is next?) have all been carried out by highly committed individuals who have been supported by radicalised local groups. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there, because radical Islamism is a worldwide movement. And it has a definite religious agenda, along with a political, social and legal one.
Their aim is to promote the notion of a single Muslim Ummah (community) throughout the world, to which every Muslim owes absolute and immediate loyalty, above everything else. It seeks the restoration of the universal Islamic Caliphate to enforce its understanding of Sharia (Islamic) law, which harks back to the early years of Islam. This leads its adherents to the view that the only possible relations with non-Muslim states are based in Jihad (holy war), which reduces their people to dhimmis (subject peoples) or strategic temporary truces for trade or travel. There is no vision in this system for permanently peaceful relations between Muslim and Non-Muslim states.
Those Muslims, who find themselves living under non-Muslim rule, can do so as long they are allowed not only to practise Sharia but to have their own courts to implement its provisions. If that is not the case, they can either emigrate or wage a jihad to bring about an Islamic system in their country, or at least to make sure that free speech is limited so that there can be no defamation of Islam or any criticism of the Prophet or Holy Book of Islam.
Such radical Islamism pays little attention to how polity has developed in the course of Islamic history or to the part that Muslim states actually play in international relations. It is unaware of, or seeks to belittle, the long history of dialogue and debate between Muslims and people of other faiths and regards any interaction as a betrayal of authentic Islam. The only meaningful interaction lies in Da’wah, or the invitation to embrace Islam.
How have we got here?
How and why has such a regressive movement come to dominate our lives in the Western world? The answers are to be found in the West’s embarrassment with, and large scale denial of, its Judaeo-Christian heritage at the very time when immigration was making our societies more diverse. Instead of welcoming such diversity on the basis of the biblical tradition of loving the neighbour and the stranger, multiculturalism was invented. This held that there was no normative narrative in Western society and everyone could live as they pleased, as long as they left others alone. Segregation was encouraged by providing premises and services for communities so they could maintain their way of life more or less untouched by wider society. Until recently, no common values were enunciated and, even more importantly, the basis for the ones which have been historically important in the Christian tradition was never mentioned.
In spite of the encouragement to segregation and isolation, many communities integrated very well into British society, while also maintaining their cultural heritage. But some did not. Extremists seized this opportunity to radicalise the young who were alienated from mainstream society, sometimes using state and local authority funded facilities to do so! Taking their cue from the politically correct tendency to multiply victims, Muslims are seen, by such groups, as victims of colonialism, Zionism and racism. They are never seen as oppressors, either historically or in the world today. Thus it was right for the West to intervene in Bosnia or Kosovo, on behalf of Muslims, but wrong to do so in Iraq or Afghanistan, where some Muslims may have been oppressing their own compatriots or posing a danger for the region and even the world. The isolation of some communities provided an ideal setting for extremists to experiment with creating a Sharia compliant environment from which the influence of the decadent West and, indeed, of other faiths, could be rigidly excluded.
Many Muslims, in spite of these pressures, continue to be moderate in their opinions and attitudes. Even with extremists, not all are disposed to violence. But international experience has shown and domestic experience is showing, that extremist ideology can lead some to violence. So what is to be done?
The West needs to recover the roots of its values of freedom, equality and justice in the Christian faith. Values are not free-standing. They arise from a view of the world and of ourselves. If there is no grounding in a living tradition, they will eventually wither and die. We desperately need a credible counter narrative and what better than the Christian story which has served us so well, but of which we are now in such denial?
The West needs to recover the roots of its values of freedom, equality and justice in the Christian faith
We need policies of integration in schooling, housing and community facilities. We need to develop strong programmes for English, as a lingua franca, which binds together our national life. Educational and employment mobility, going away to university and for work, necessarily brings people together. We must be on our guard with monocultural educational institutions. For a long time, I have supported the emergence of spiritual leaders from the communities here, rather than their import from elsewhere. When it is necessary to bring in such leaders, we must check to see that they are properly qualified, speak English and have gone through courses of cultural orientation to British society, so they can relate their faith to the society in which they find themselves.
Our immigration policies are too much biased in favour of the wealthy and those with certain kinds of technological or medical skills. It is worth pointing out that worldwide Islamist extremism has been funded by the wealthy and is mainly led by those with tertiary technological or medical education. Instead of just wealth and skills, we should be taking account of compatibility with British values, and awareness from where they have come. What social contribution will the immigrants make and would they be willing to integrate well into their environment, while maintaining what is valuable in their own heritage? Such questions apply also to those seeking asylum here. It is in answers to questions like these that we will find the resources to reduce the risk of violent extremism entering our body politic.
Christians are called to love their neighbours and the strangers in their midst, but they are also called to be wise in their advocacy of a society that is free, stable and secure. Let us hope and pray that our society will wake up to the dangers with which it is faced but also to the rich resources in the Christian tradition for dealing with them.
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali was the 106th Bishop of Rochester, for 15 years. He is originally from south west Asia and was the first Diocesan Bishop in the Church of England born abroad. He is the President of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue (OXTRAD)