By Deborah Orr
25 May 2015
Dwell too much on the threat of Isis and you could go insane. The reports of what’s going on in Syria and Iraq are ghastly enough. But speculative reports, like the one saying that Isis is “infinitely” closer to building a nuclear weapon than it was a year ago, or the one warning that the UK should restrict sales of chlorine for fear of a chemical attack in Britain, have huge capacity to spread fear and paranoia, which you can’t help feeling is part of the point.
Meanwhile, being a wise parent to a teenager can be hard at the best of times. But Muslim parents are constantly reminded that they must take in their stride the possibility that their children are being radicalised. Britain’s most senior Muslim police officer, Mak Chishty, warns that young people who stop drinking and stop socialising with friends could be in the process of becoming radicalised. One sees that there’s common sense there.
'What helps radicalisation more than anything is the accusation that the west practises self-serving hypocrisy'
But one also knows that “Stop drinking and socialising and start revising” is also typical advice from parents to children. Chishty also says that stopping shopping at Marks & Spencer could be a sign of radicalisation, because jihadis like to argue that the company is “owned by Jews”. This is horrible, hurtful information. But, really, are there teenagers who shop at M&S so much that a sudden failure to do so would be easily spotted?
The trouble is that many of the symptoms of radicalisation could also be symptoms of something else. Imagine berating your child because of your worries about radicalisation, only to find that your child actually had an eating disorder, or crippling depression? What’s really woeful about this endless pressure on Muslim parents to accept the burden of fighting radicalisation is that there’s so much more that our broader society could do, but doesn’t.
And that’s a big problem, because if there’s a single thing that helps radicalisation more than any other it’s the accusation that the west routinely practises self-serving hypocrisy. It’s an easy charge to make and – let’s be honest for a change – a hard one entirely to refute. Are we really in a position to tell Muslim parents that if their child starts believing that the west is hypocritical in its dealings with the Middle East, then this is clearly a sign that they have lost their moral bearings? Anyone who was appalled when flags were flown at half-mast because the King of Saudi Arabia had died knows that the answer is no.
The west could have transformed 9/11 into an opportunity to make an infinitely more positive and unilateral intervention in Afghanistan, of infrastructural investment, support and partnership.
Instead it moved on to Iraq, where denials that this conflict assisted in the growth of Isis are so absurd that not even the most culpable of Anglo-American hawks tries to make them. And this is very much the tip of the iceberg.
Yet our politicians make no effort to build an honest narrative that acknowledges catastrophic error. On the contrary, any attempts to start such a debate are seen as “party political”.
God knows Ed Miliband was no titan among statesmen. But at least he saw that Iraq was something that politics should be addressing. It’s the British government that needs to start talking to Muslim teens and addressing matters that even the least likely to be radicalised can see as folly. That would help Muslim parents more than anything else possibly could.