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London Attacks: From Extremism to Terrorism

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam

07 June 2017

How does one differentiate between extremism and terrorism? The difference perhaps lies in action. Many people can and do have extremist views but not all of them eventually decide to translate their pernicious thoughts into reality. Extremism though, has its own effects, such as influence within the family or even the neighbourhood, depending upon the personality of the individual. Thus if one has an extremist ideology running within the family, chances are that members of the family will be influenced by them.

 If a father holds views such as Islam is the only true religion and that all other religions are false and therefore liable to be obliterated, then it is quite possible that his son would also endorse such a viewpoint. If this individual is held in some esteem by the locality in which he resides or the mosque in which he preaches, chances are that he would end up influencing at least a small section of people. Now it is quite plausible that this individual, although having extremist ideas in his head and preaching them publically, is himself reluctant to commit those ideas in action. It is quite possible that he may also abjure violence and find it personally abhorring. But then the people influenced by him may not necessarily limit their ideas to the reals of discussion alone. Some of them might even go a step further and decide to translate those ideas into action.

The recent terrorist attacks in London in which seven people lost their lives sheds some light on the complicated relationship between extremism and terrorism. While the identity of the third attacker is not known, the other two terrorists were British Muslims of Pakistani and African descent. The motives of the terror attacks are always complicated: ranging from imagined to real objective reasons or it can even be a response to deeply held religious conviction.

 It is too early to pontificate what can be the real motivations of these terrorists, but the fact that the British police has identified one of the terrorists as belonging to a local Muslim group campaigning to establish Sharia in Britain is instructive in many ways. This group, composed of Muslims who think that Islam is the only way have been roaming the streets of London for more than a decade now. Some members of this group have done time in prison but most of them have learnt the art of being on the better side of the law and yet continue their mission of inviting the British to Islam.

The BBC did a program on this group last year. Called ‘The Jihadist Next Door’, the program showcased the activities of the group, telling us about the deep conviction that they held with regard to establishing Sharia in Britain and eventually throughout the world. The group confronted ordinary people in the streets and invited them to Islam by telling them that democracy was a sin and that Allah has ordained that he alone is worthy of worship. Man-made laws must be abrogated in favour of laws made by God which is written down in the Quran and the Sunna. Members of this group repeatedly said that the radical preacher Oamr Bakri was their inspiration. One member of this group, a convert named Abu Rumaysa, would migrate to Syria and join ISIS. He would later be called as Jihadi John after he was seen in one of the many ISIS videos showing him beheading someone in an orange jumpsuit.

 In the BBC documentary, Abu Rumaysa is seen as an outspoken critic of ‘western ways’, an almost pleading with the authorities to let him go to Syria and join the jihad there. One of the members of this group was Khurram Shazad Butt, who appears in the BBC documentary as mild as compared to other members. Shown spreading the flag of ISIS before praying, Khurram Shazad just took over a year from being indoctrinated to actually translating his ideas into action. This knife wielding Muslim took the whole world as Kafir and thus did not think twice before stabbing anyone he could lay his lands on. Born and raised in Britain, he must have been fed on a heavy diet of indoctrination for without this blind adherence, it is simply inconceivable to understand why and how he could do such a thing. The name of Omar Bakri did figures in the inspiration list of Abu Rumaysa. One should not be surprised if the investigations about Khurram Shazad tell us about familiar names like Anjem Choudhury or Anwar al Awlaki.

The point of all this is that there is an ideological inspiration somewhere behind these killers and it is necessary to identify and isolate these so called ideologues of the militant Jihadism. The teenagers involved in Dhaka attacks had named Zakir Naik as their inspiration. Now it can be very well argued that for every militant there are millions others who do not derive the same message from preachers like Zakir Naik or Omar Bakri. But this argument misses the small point that one doesn’t need an army to launch a terror attack. One or two convinced individual is enough to create mayhem. There is therefore a greater need to put on surveillance these imams who preach hate in the name of Islam or any other religion. There is a need to closely scrutinize their speeches and if it is found that it is antithetical to pluralism, there they should be asked to shut their shops. But ultimately, it is the Muslims themselves who have to isolate and delegitimize the teachings of such ideologues from within their midst.


Arshad Alam is a columnist with


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