Cara Leavey

Naked Politics Blogger

The events that occurred last week in Brussels were a tragedy. Any violent act leading to the death of innocents is a tragedy. However, the sole act of terror is not where the tragedy ends: the events, the climate, and the discourse surrounding these acts can also be considered tragic. Equally tragic are the terrorist attacks that occurred within Turkey last Monday and the Taliban’s attack on a children’s playground in Lahore on Sunday. Both attacks led to the death of 37 and 60 people respectively. It is troubling that we have not mourned the deaths of the victims within these countries like those within Western Europe. We often fail to acknowledge that whilst we suffer from violent extremism, countries in the Middle East are absolutely plagued by it.

One of the saddest parts of the 2005 London attacks, was that people born and raised in the UK committed them. Why was it people who had grown up within our communities doing this, not strangers from abroad? These were people who had lived in the UK, their families had played vital parts within their respective communities, and yet they still went on to cause the death of so many. Salah Abdeslam, a key player in the Brussels and Paris attacks, was a Belgian-born French national with a Moroccan heritage. The similarities echo with Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer and Hasib Hussain who were all British born sons of Pakistani migrants. There are perhaps factors we must then consider to understand how we played our own part: what impact did we have upon these young men that caused them to end their lives and the lives of others? If we can address this, then we can possibly prevent further victims.

Prevent, however, feels like the wrong way of trying to help the situation. In fact, it might even make the situation worse through racial profiling, because of course it will be the young Asian community that will be monitored for extremist behaviour. Creating this atmosphere of suspicion around an ethnicity only stands to alienate them further. Would a wiser decision be to instead review aggressive foreign policy, such as the air strikes in Syria?

During the Chilcot enquiry, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller the director general of MI5 between 2002 and 2007 said that the conflict in Iraq substantially increased terrorist threats facing the UK. When addressing this issue, Cameron commented “when people say ‘it’s because of the involvement in the Iraq war that people are attacking the West’, we should remind them: 9/11 – the biggest loss of life of British citizens in a terrorist attack – happened before the Iraq war.” The situation in the Middle East is by no means straightforward, but what we must remember is that we had a substantial part to play in creating these radical groups. Former British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, told the House of Commons that Al Qaeda was the product of Western intelligence agencies undoubtedly. Long story short, the tension was being created in the latter part of the 20th Century and the Iraq invasion was one catalyst that led the situation to explode.

Foreign policy aside, our media discourses play their part too. A recent study by Cardiff’s School of Journalism showed that four times out of five, Muslims were portrayed ‘with threats, problems or in opposition to dominant British values’. From stories of politicians and reporters alike asking the Muslim community why these attacks have happened, looking to them to explain their supposed failures, to blunt pieces of journalism outright criticising Muslims. The Daily Mail have published a slew of headlines from ‘Why will no one admit the way some western Muslims raise their children is fomenting terror?’ to ‘‘It’s practically impossible to integrate Muslims into Western Europe,’ says Czech president as he blames Islamic culture for Cologne sex attacks’.  How can we possibly expect our Muslim citizens not to feel ostracised when they’re faced with headlines like that? We are failing to look after valuable members of our communities when we propagate Islamophobia. When we embrace the spectrum of cultures and beliefs within our society, then perhaps we can stop alienating those who end up turning to extremism for answers.

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Last Update: April 28, 2018