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David Cameron Talks About The Roots Of Terrorism

root causes terrorism islamist politics david cameron tory prime minister uk britain speech securityBritish Prime Minister David Cameron spoke about the roots of terrorism, the defense of liberal values and the Islamist conflict with democracy at the Munich Security Conference. Here's an excerpt:

We have got to get to the root of the problem, and we need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of where these terrorist attacks lie.  That is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism.  We should be equally clear what we mean by this term, and we must distinguish it from Islam.  Islam is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people.  Islamist extremism is a political ideology supported by a minority.  At the furthest end are those who back terrorism to promote their ultimate goal: an entire Islamist realm, governed by an interpretation of Sharia. 
 

Move along the spectrum, and you find people who may reject violence, but who accept various parts of the extremist worldview, including real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values.  It is vital that we make this distinction between religion on the one hand, and political ideology on the other.  Time and again, people equate the two.  They think whether someone is an extremist is dependent on how much they observe their religion.  So, they talk about moderate Muslims as if all devout Muslims must be extremist.  This is profoundly wrong.  Someone can be a devout Muslim and not be an extremist.  We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing.
 

This highlights, I think, a significant problem when discussing the terrorist threat that we face.  There is so much muddled thinking about this whole issue.  On the one hand, those on the hard right ignore this distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism, and just say that Islam and the West are irreconcilable – that there is a clash of civilizations.  So, it follows: we should cut ourselves off from this religion, whether that is through forced repatriation, favoured by some fascists, or the banning of new mosques, as is suggested in some parts of Europe .  These people fuel Islamophobia, and I completely reject their argument.  If they want an example of how Western values and Islam can be entirely compatible, they should look at what’s happened in the past few weeks on the streets of Tunis and Cairo : hundreds of thousands of people demanding the universal right to free elections and democracy.

The point is this: the ideology of extremism is the problem; Islam emphatically is not.  Picking a fight with the latter will do nothing to help us to confront the former.  On the other hand, there are those on the soft left who also ignore this distinction.  They lump all Muslims together, compiling a list of grievances, and argue that if only governments addressed these grievances, the terrorism would stop.  So, they point to the poverty that so many Muslims live in and say, ‘Get rid of this injustice and the terrorism will end.’ But this ignores the fact that many of those found guilty of terrorist offences in the UK and elsewhere have been graduates and often middle class.  They point to grievances about Western foreign policy and say, ‘Stop riding roughshod over Muslim countries and the terrorism will end.’ But there are many people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, who are angry about Western foreign policy, but who don’t resort to acts of terrorism.  They also point to the profusion of unelected leaders across the Middle East and say, ‘Stop propping these people up and you will stop creating the conditions for extremism to flourish.’ But this raises the question: if it’s the lack of democracy that is the problem, why are there so many extremists in free and open societies?
 

Now, I’m not saying that these issues of poverty and grievance about foreign policy are not important.  Yes, of course we must tackle them.  Of course we must tackle poverty.  Yes, we must resolve the sources of tension, not least in Palestine , and yes, we should be on the side of openness and political reform in the Middle East .  On Egypt , our position should be clear.  We want to see the transition to a more broadly-based government, with the proper building blocks of a free and democratic society.  I simply don’t accept that there is somehow a dead end choice between a security state on the one hand, and an Islamist one on the other.  But let us not fool ourselves.  These are just contributory factors.  Even if we sorted out all of the problems that I have mentioned, there would still be this terrorism.  I believe the root lies in the existence of this extremist ideology.  I would argue an important reason so many young Muslims are drawn to it comes down to a question of identity.
 

What I am about to say is drawn from the British experience, but I believe there are general lessons for us all.  In the UK , some young men find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practiced at home by their parents, whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries.  But these young men also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the weakening of our collective identity.  Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.  We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.  We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.
 

So, when a white person holds objectionable views, racist views for instance, we rightly condemn them.  But when equally unacceptable views or practices come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious frankly – frankly, even fearful – to stand up to them.  The failure, for instance, of some to confront the horrors of forced marriage, the practice where some young girls are bullied and sometimes taken abroad to marry someone when they don’t want to, is a case in point.  This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared.  And this all leaves some young Muslims feeling rootless.  And the search for something to belong to and something to believe in can lead them to this extremist ideology.  Now for sure, they don’t turn into terrorists overnight, but what we see – and what we see in so many European countries – is a process of radicalisation.

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