What is to be done? I ask this question to my fellow British Muslims. At the current time of writing, another three teenagers, girls this time, have left the UK and headed to Syria to join ISIS. Another teenager was arrested for plotting to behead a British soldier, and last week a mother was arrested trying to get to Syria to join ISIS, with her two-year-old son in hand. We have managed to outsource at least as many Isis fighters as Indonesia, a country with 65 times as many Muslims. We’re competing, in the globalised world of terror outsourcing, with Saudi Arabia, the most extreme Muslim country on the planet since the Taliban government in Afghanistan was overthrown, and Tunisia, a destabilised littoral that just had a revolution and its political infrastructure eviscerated. We must ask ourselves, why are people across such a broad spectrum as medicine students, teenage girls and religious fanatics like Abu Rumaysah filled with rage to the point of leaving this country and taking up arms?
Bernard Lewis, a well-known Orientalist, pulled out the root of the problem 20 years ago, and titled the paper ‘The Roots of Muslim Rage’. It’s an argument Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physicist who lives in the middle of the warzone in Islamabad, revisits:
‘Deep down, Muslims feel that they have failed. There are around 1.5 billion Muslims in the entire world — but they cannot point to a substantial achievement in any field. Not in politics, not socially, not in the sciences or art or literature. The only thing they do with great devotion is fast and pray… people naturally feel this is a collective failure... I’m just sticking to the facts: what significant invention or discovery have Muslims made in the last thousand years? Electricity? Electromagnetic waves? Antibiotics? The combustion engine? Computers? No, nothing, at least nothing that makes for a modern civilization…This Insh’Allah mentality, according to which Allah is responsible for everything, is the opposite of the scientific way of thinking.’
The roots of Muslim rage lie in its failure. When you go from the intellectual centre of the universe, to the current state of the Muslim world, a selection of countries only slightly better off on the Human Development Index than Sub Saharan Africa, the notion of being God’s chosen viceroys on Earth is a difficult circle to square. Extremist groups offer a poisoned panacea to the problem, by galvanising the post-colonial subject living in the West to take up arms. Those unwilling to join such poisonous groups want to put their heads in the ground and shout ‘kufr’ - at the West - hoping it goes away, and pretend there’s no problem in the Muslim world to begin with. In the middle are masses of people who go to mosque, understand nothing since the sermons are in Punjabi, read a book they also can’t understand, then go home and see the Muslim world in flames. They naturally get put off orthodox Islam, and begin to drift towards charismatic, hard-line English speaking YouTube clerics, and eventually to the darker sides of the internet, to pornography or religious extremism, which I’ll return to. They believe the mainstream clerics have failed, and a strict literalism is the way out. There is some truth to the former claim. The clerics of old prevented the spread of the printing press in the Muslim world, the most important invention in human history, because they thought it would lead to religious malpractice. The intellectual collapse in the past 1,000 years and defeat that followed wasn’t caused by the West later on. The clerics stunted it from the offset. They also resisted the abolishment of slavery. America abolished slavery in 1865, Saudi Arabia and Yemen got around to doing it in 1962, and Mauritania finally made it a crime in 2007. Either Britain or France forced the rest of the Muslim world into abolishing it, it didn’t come out of enlightenment, and a new form of ‘ijtihad’ (interpretation) of the sacred texts for the modern reality. So what is to be done? I would call on the government to create the official position of a Grand Mufti of the United Kingdom, the highest governmentally recognised leader of the religion in the land. Other non-Muslim countries have similar positions, including Australia and Russia. In having an absence of centre, the narrative is being filled with extremist voices. Without a leader, progress is slow. As Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah says ‘an empty chair cannot speak for itself’. There are already plenty of potential candidates, most obviously Timothy Winter (Abdul Hakim Murad), the head of the Muslim College in Cambridge, who is both a respected Islamic theologian having graduated at the most prestigious centre of Islamic education in the Muslim world, Al Azhar in Cairo, and a Cambridge educated English gentleman. Someone like that could speak to both the East and the West, and bring both together. By speaking on issues when they arise, and establishing an orthodoxy on a national and official platform, it would help bring about an organic 21st century British Islam.
The link between desensitizing filth online and the jihadist movement is also well documented. ‘People aren’t becoming radicalised in their places of worship’ says the mother of one of the sexually frustrated girls going to Syria to fight, and get married, rather they are ‘being radicalised in their bedrooms by being on the internet’. Isis militants are known for engaging in abnormal sexual fantasies. Bin Laden had a personal stash of hard-core pornography at his compound. The 9/11 hijackers were visiting prostitutes the night before their terrible deed. Put simply, the jihadis are both disillusioned with the religious establishment and sexually frustrated. Pakistan, Egypt Iran, Saudi Arabia, Morrocco and Turkey top the top 10 list for global pornography consumption. Unsurprisingly, those same countries have sent the most number of jihadis to the war in Syria and Iraq. This has been a long time coming, but making people have to opt in to view online pornography (since banning it outright would never be considered) would help stem the tide of desensitized minds that are easy to exploit in this country.
Finally, according to Professor of Psychology Beatriz Luna, the rising trend of avoiding marriage, parenthood and a career keeps the brain in a constant state of "Kidulthood"'. Adulthood does not start now until 25 and over. No wonder so many of those going over to Syria and Iraq from this country are young. They’re impressionable and have no responsibility anchoring them down. Read 17th century or early 18th century English novels. You have children at age 8 having to look for work. Oliver Twist starts working at the age of 9. The authors weren't fanciful; they were describing the social structure they were in. We forget this. The brain develops relative to the pressures against it. In today's welfare, moral relativist, nanny society, you have people clinging onto their youth in denial of becoming an adult, stuck in a day job they thought they’d escape as if their easy going life was going to continue forever. They become drug addicts or adrenaline junkies, addicted to hard-core pornography or social media likes, having to remind themselves they’re alive at all. It’s no wonder studies have shown radicalisation is more likely with the rich and comfortable, since there is little struggle or pressure acting against them and anchoring them down. With no teleology in a late capitalist secular society, they get lost in the wilderness. They become mass shooters, join Isis, fed up of watching Eastenders over a ready meal again and again. I advocate for bringing back national service, and increasing the uptake of minorities into the British army, police force and other front line services from school onwards by targeting those that don’t want to go into further education.
The seeds of an organic Islamic revival, which balances the realities of modern life with tradition are both necessary, and already being put into place. I have hopes educated Muslims in the west will reinvigorate a tired and demoralised Muslim Ummah in the years and decades to come. One quarter of Muslims in this country have degrees. A group par excellence in secular sciences which can be taught to mould the realities of faith and the realities of postmodernity into unison with one another. We can act as bridges between tradition and modernity, east and west, being spatiotemporally located at the crux of both. To those beleaguered amongst you, remember, that in 1453, the Turks took Constantinople. The West was certain for defeat. This event paradoxically gifted it the entire world. I have my suspicions history is once again turning on the dynamo. Post-colonisation, millions of Muslims immigrated to the west, from a defeated and beleaguered Ummah. Even if we can’t change the world, we should plant the seed so that others can taste the fruits.