The Manchester suicide bomber was noted to drink alcohol, do drugs, and get involved in gangs. Then he became "religious."
Those who focus on his involvement with drugs and gangs, explain the Manchester attack through the lens of social alienation. Others blame Islam.
It is easy to blame Islam given the spate of terrorist attacks by people of Muslim origins. Most recently, extremists have laid siege to the city of Marawi in the Philippines. There have also been suicide bombs in Jakarta, Indonesia.
However, blaming Islam leads to the conclusion that 1.6 billion people on this planet are potential terrorists. Likewise, blaming alienation implicates those experiencing it as potential terrorists.
Neither explanation is satisfactory. Former CSIS analyst, Phil Gurski tells us to resist simplistic explanation of blaming mental illness, poverty, sexual frustration or lack of job opportunities. Likewise, he reminds us how frequently and continuously Muslim leaders have condemned terrorism.
For Gurski, the problem is with the narrative. He uses this word thrice!
We live in a time where youth facing inner demons seek an absolution. It often results from cognitive dissonance, that is, the inability to reconcile contradictory sets of beliefs or values.
This is true for those navigating traditional morality and modernity as in the case of youth like Islam Yaken, who have sought redemption through ISIS. Those seeking absolution and grandeur, some of whom are privileged in terms of economic opportunities and university education, buy into extremist narratives to address perceived grievances.
Gurski is not alone in blaming the narrative. Pakistani religious scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi confirms the role of narrative, which includes the ideas that disbelief and apostasy warrant the death punishment, non-Muslims are to be subjugated, having a single Muslim Caliphate and that modern states are unIslamic.
Ghamidi clearly asks, "what would you do if you were indoctrinated in this manner?" As such, his proposal is to offer a counter religious narrative lest we risk future incarnations of groups like ISIS.
In a similar vein, commenting on the attack on Coptic Christians in Egypt on Palm Sunday earlier this year, British analyst H.A. Hellyer expressed:
"Condemning the attacks, for example, in English, while propagating conspiracies and "false flag" theories about them in Arabic, only means that the mood music for sectarian incitement is left unchecked even further."
Hellyer is clear on the need to check the divisive narrative.
It is ironic that some people have argued that we could use ISIS defectors for intelligence, but when former radicals actually do the work, they are opposed as sell-outs for taking government money.
On the other hand, very popular speakers like Zakir Naik, scores of anti-Ahmadi clerics and anti-Semitic Imams, who are invited to mosques and public venues, enjoy a cult like following. This includes some academics, who go at length to justify Islamic punishments and brand critics with charges of apostasy.
No wonder progressive Muslim scholars like Dr. Adis Duderija question if the mainstream neo-classical Sunni interpretation methodology can render ISIS scholars' interpretations as unreasonable, especially in the context of neo-classical Sunni's continued clinging to a pre-modern worldview that is based on an imperialistic political theology.
Imam Tawhidi of Australia, who is heavily criticized by fellow Muslims for his views, has similarly blamed the secondary religious texts for radicalization.
However, everyday Muslims are not familiar with such details of scholarship. They rightfully distance groups like ISIS from Islam.
Partly, such reactions arise as Muslim communities in the West feel unsafe and threatened. The many cases of Muslim women being harassed, youth being murdered, pregnant women being physically assaulted and mosques being set on fire are a few manifestations of xenophobia and racism that festers in online spaces.
However, it is also true that critical thinking is discouraged in religious matters out of fear of chaos. Muslim scholars are concerned that lack of religious authority would lead youth to abandoning Islamic moral codes.
Yet, apologetics will not end this vicious cycle of hate where Islamism and Islamophobia feed of each other.
Muslims should assume responsibility to challenge popular speakers and call them out on their supremacist narrative, which is even gnawing at the once tolerant countries of Malaysia and Indonesia.
British Muslims need to take a long and hard look at the organizations that festered as Hizb Tahrir, peaceful calls for Caliphates, the invitation to Ahmadi hating clerics and the fatwas on dissident Muslims including the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.
Such accountability may not stop terrorism, because for that the West needs to stop interfering in other countries, but atleast we will have played our part.
Western community stakeholders need to assume responsibility to challenge the myriad manifestations of xenophobia and racism. They need a strong check on their governments, which exacerbate conditions in the Middle East creating conditions of radicalization.
Trumps' 110 billion dollar arms deal to dictatorial regimes that oppress local human rights activists and export a supremacist Islamic narrative illustrates the Western role in fanning extremism. The British policy of sending British-Libyan citizens to topple Gaddafi is another example.
Western community stakeholders need to highlight the many Muslim activists who are doing an incredible amount of work on the frontlines, sometimes, at huge personal costs.
Ten years ago, Hind Fraihi, a brave Muslim reporter, warned Belgian authorities of radicalization. Likewise, people in the Muslim community repeatedly informed the British authorities about the danger posed by the suicide bomber. Yet, not much was done.
In the aftermath of the Manchester attack, many Muslim drivers offered free lifts through the night.
Such Muslims are often ignored.
In the end, however, our strongest allies against terrorism remain love and validation in early upbringing and strong critical thinking skills that form a shield around vulnerable youth to protect them from extremist narratives.
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