Better ways to stop terror attacks

Current Islamic militancy has its origins not in the Middle Ages or in violence inherent in a major faith, but in real problems in the real world — so real solutions are possible.

We need to recognise that ‘al-Qaeda’ is an ideology, not an organisation. There is no point in talking about masterminds or hunting for a global headquarters. There are none. We need to stop confusing justification with explanation. Learning what motivates enemies does not mean sympathising with them. Merely saying that the bombers are mad, when contemporary radical Islam has its roots in the conditions of the modern world, does not help.

We should ditch the rhetoric. There is no point in saying, “We will never surrender to terrorism,” when history tells us that, in order to manage a terrorist threat, successive governments in the UK and abroad always mixed ‘hard’ coercive measures, such as those announced by Tony Blair last week, with a ‘soft’ political strategy that undercuts the legitimacy of the militants’ claims.

We need to recognise that doing things that enrage millions, even if we feel that anger is wrong-headed and misdirected, will make us more of a target. Before the invasion of Iraq the UK was fairly low down the target list for the militants. Now, Britain has joined Israel and America at its top. The July 7 bombers were not ‘brainwashed’ by anyone. Radical Islam provided them with an explanation of what was happening in the world. So we need a broad range of measures to ensure that such ideologies are less likely to convince in the future.

Some causes of terrorism do exist within the UK. They include identity issues and the poor economic performance of many British Muslim communities. But the real causes are international — and can be dealt with through real policies. Militants often cite Chechnya, Kashmir and Palestine as examples of western oppression of Muslims. In each case, complex historical, political and economic factors have combined to sustain conflict. But with sufficient will and attention, and a balanced, tough-minded approach, solutions are possible. Merely making an obvious effort to solve problems in a fair-minded way would be helpful in restoring the goodwill towards Britain.

We need to look for new allies in the Islamic world. We should be developing major programmes to develop civic society, with a particular emphasis on involving women. There are thousands of under-resourced groups that can help us to show the Islamic world that our way of life does not mean ‘neo-imperialism’ or ‘moral corruption’ but is about tolerance, justice and empowerment of the weak. They will help form a critical pro-Western, moderate and locally authentic bloc that in time will become a strong and important voice.

We must remember that small steps can make a huge difference. For instance, we need to sell ourselves better. The UK Foreign Office needs hundreds of Arabic and Urdu speakers to project our message. The Blair government is determined to improve community relations in the UK, but needs to think globally. Every diplomatic mission should make convincing Muslims that the West is not an aggressor.

None of these measures will end the threat of terrorism, but central to our efforts must remain a simple fact: violent Islamic militancy is not inevitable. — The Guardian