By Khadija Khan
The gruesome and senseless killing of British MP Sir David Amess is a blow to the heart and soul of Britain’s democracy.
Sir David, who had been a Conservative MP since 1983, was stabbed multiple times during a Friday meeting with his constituents in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.
Soon after the attack, Ali Harbi Ali, 25, a London-born man of Somali heritage, was arrested on suspicion of murder, and has now been charged after being detained under terrorism legislation.
While it is too soon to say what the motives were (and not much can be said for legal reasons), reports have emerged that Ali was ‘radicalised‘ after watching YouTube videos of the convicted hate preacher Anjem Choudary, and he had previously been referred to the Government’s Prevent anti-terror scheme.
So you would think the most pertinent question should be what, exactly, are we doing to combat the Islamist ideology and preventing young people from being drawn into terrorism?
Instead, our politicians and media commentators seem to prevaricate. The ensuing discussions have, rather bizarrely, focused on media anonymity and policing political discourse, which have nothing to do with Sir David’s death.
This is a sharp contrast to commentary surrounding the 2016 murder of MP Jo Cox, by the far right extremist Thomas Mair. The barbaric act sent shock waves around the nation; journalists and politicians were quick to condemn far right extremism without any equivocation.
Nobody seemed to shy away from saying that Mair was a racist, white supremacist and a terrorist. There was an honest debate about how he had been fascinated by the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people in a gun and bomb attack in 2011.
And yet when it comes to the dangers posed by the Islamist ideology to society, these are usually downplayed in the name of respecting religious sensitivities.
We have countless debates stirred up after every Islamist terrorist incident that soon die out without addressing the root cause of what drives these young people to go on a killing spree.
Of course, we should take seriously any abuse or death threats that our MPs receive. But the relentless call on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to enact “David’s Law” – to crack down on social media abuse of public figures and end online anonymity – is a knee jerk response to something completely unrelated to Sir David’s killing.
What is even more frustrating is the usual, ‘this is nothing to do with Islam’ line that is always brought out in the wake of any Islamist attacks.
When anger and tears were pouring out to grieve for Sir David, the media spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, Miqdaad Versi, tweeted a thread in which he suggested that the reports to establish ‘Islamist link’ in the killing of Sir David were biased.
Imam Ajmal Masroor later appeared on a TV station saying: ‘By Calling these heinous crimes, these terrorist attacks Islamic, you are glorifying you are tarnishing an entire community by this term.’ When asked how they should be described, he replied: ‘Call them extremist’.
These are the same old theatrics and semantics that deny the existence of the problem in the first place.
The bitter reality is that extremists do use the literal text in the Qur’an to justify not only the imposition of their vile, perverted ideology on others, but one which has also claimed countless innocent lives. And scrutinising such radical views is not the same as criticising or even denigrating Muslims, the vast majority of whom are peaceful and law abiding.
Furthermore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that prominent Muslim commentators are always critical of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy Prevent, claiming that it is ‘toxic’ and it unfairly targets Muslims.
Prevent was introduced by the Blair government in the wake of the July 2005 terrorist attacks, to raise awareness of the problem of radicalisation within certain communities in the UK. The programme was to counter extreme narratives, before they manifested into violent acts.
Unfortunately, unfounded fears have been perpetuated around Prevent to put pressure on the UK government to withdraw this strategy with immediate effect.
So one wonders what communities themselves would suggest as an alternative. In 2016, the MCB announced it was setting up its own counter-radicalisation scheme.
And yet… it has never materialised. This alone speaks volumes about the lack of willingness or sincerity to tackle extremism within certain sections of the Muslim communities.
Prevent is not a silver bullet. No strategy ever is. But there is no denying that we desperately need something that will stop young people from being lured into violent extremism.
People from Muslim backgrounds, particularly the youth, are immensely affected by the threat of the Islamist ideology.
Many people realise the intensity of this threat. The numerous terrorist attacks in the UK and around the world were carried out by individuals from different backgrounds.
But the one thing they had in common is the ideology that spurred them on to commit atrocities.
And charismatic figures use the (sometimes genuine) grievances these people may have, towards domestic problems, foreign policies, and mistrust towards their governments, in order to recruit them, to turn their anger and indignation into violent actions.
Therefore, there is a dire need to have an effective policy aimed at protecting and supporting vulnerable people from being exploited or radicalised.
Local communities need to get engaged in such programmes. There must be joint efforts to detect and act on the warning signs to prevent people from going down the path of violence.
This requires constant vigilance and proactive measures in order to reach young people before they slip away from our grasp – and it’s too late.
Khadija Khan is a journalist and commentator based in the UK. You can follow her on Twitter.