The consequences of the rise of Isis have spread far beyond Iraq and Syria. Most recently, the thousands of refugees who have come to Europe has powerfully demonstrated the ways in which Middle Eastern affairs can now exert great pressure on European politics.
Last month Lisa Borch, a 15-year-old Danish girl, was jailed for stabbing her mother 20 times, having spent hours watching Isis decapitation videos. These she was first shown by her “radicalised” Iraqi boyfriend she had met in a refugee centre. When police arrived at the home, Borch seemed uninterested. Worryingly, this is unlikely to be an isolated incident. Many young people, some of them educated, are joining the cause.
The British government has made no secret of their intention to put a stop to “radicalisation”, putting pressure on teachers to spot the first signs of extremist behaviour in their students. This is unlikely to work. Not only can teachers hardly be expected to monitor closely the behaviour of every child they deal with, but, particularly after the Ahmed Mohamed incident, in which a 14-year-old Texan’s homemade clock was mistaken for a bomb, they are going to be hesitant about openly reporting students’ suspicious behaviour. Even if teachers were able accurately to highlight behaviour which suggested radicalisation, it is not clear how government rehabilitation schemes would work. Extremists cannot be sat down and programmed to love the trappings of modern western culture: trainers, jeans, and McDonalds.
The inadequacy of the government’s response so far can be explained by their failure to appreciate the complexity of the problem they face. Put simply, the government has failed to tackle the root of the issue. Hugh Kennedy, Professor of Arabic at the School of Oriental and African Studies, at a recent meeting of the SR Gardiner Society, claimed that the battle to stop radicalisation cannot be fought on western moral assumptions. In all of their actions, Isis claim authorisation from God. Their subjection of women, suppression of homosexuality, and hatred of historic monuments is divinely sanctioned. And what is morality if the word of Allah says otherwise? An effective response cannot be mounted through the arms of central government. Radicalisation can only be defeated through the community, with the Mosque at the centre.
Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi’s recently published Refuting ISIS: A Rebuttal Of Its Religious and Ideological Foundations states that the doctrine of Isis has no basis in the Qur’an, and that their ideology is so extreme it can barely be considered an Islamic group. Al-Yaqoubi’s message points towards an explanation of government policy failure so far. To defeat Isis, it must be confronted on purely religious – that is, Islamic – terms. In Islamic communities, Muslim intellectuals must expose the fallacies and myths in Isis propaganda.
On the other hand, the government’s efforts to discredit the false promises of Isis have achieved little. People continue to travel to Syria. Why? Because the government’s wholly negative attack has been no match for Isis’ slick propaganda (depicting chivalrous warriors and smiling children) disseminated across social networks. The British government lacks anything positive to counter this, leaving young people with little to aspire to. They are disillusioned with politics, democracy, and the West.
To defeat radicalisation, Isis’ offers must be exposed for what they really are and then countered with an equally positive message. But this effort cannot be led by the government alone. Radicalisation involves individual lives and communities, a degree of intimacy which the government will never be able to reach. Extremism must thus be tackled within Muslim communities, where those that are best placed to refute Isis propaganda can use their local influence. They must make others see that what Isis does is not the word of Allah.