THE ROLE of religion in radicalisation is over-estimated, says Roddy Gow
The news has been full of commentary on key Muslim figures and both serious discussion and heated rhetoric on the subject of Islamic radicalisation. To address this and increase our understanding, the Asia Scotland Institute invited Dr Tawfik Hamid, author of the bestselling book Inside Jihad, to visit Scotland and speak in Edinburgh and Glasgow. With the support of the Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society and other groups, the audience is a broad one.
Dr Hamid, who was radicalised in Egypt in the 1990s and later escaped Jihad, contends that it is essential to understand and address the issues leading to radicalisation. In that sense his contribution to our thinking is invaluable.
Scottish society receives a significant contribution from its Muslim members, many of whom are playing an important role in the community and internationally. The publicity surrounding the election of the new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the public utterances on banning Muslims from the United States made by Donald Trump have certainly hit the headlines.
Much of the public’s attitude is of course driven by the constant news of extremism and indeed a leading Muslim in the UK, Muddassar Ahmed, Patron of The Faith’s Forum for London, commenting last year, said: “The twisted ISIS perversion of Islam and their perverse justification of terror is completely unrecognisable to me and to the overwhelming majority of Muslims, including those in the UK. It’s not enough to refuse the results they want to see. We must prosecute this struggle to its only possible conclusion: the total defeat and destruction of ISIS. So we must end the political chaos that gives them sanctuary, and we must undermine the religious extremism that fuels their violence”.
The fact is that the role of religion in radicalisation (and deradicalisation) is grossly overestimated. There is actually no empirical evidence to support the claim that religion (any religion) and ideology are the primary motivators of violent extremism. The revelation that wannabe foreign fighters prepared for battle by reading copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies, underscores this. The point has also been made by some of the world’s most renowned scholars of terrorism who agree that other factors play a much larger role.
Factors such as anger at injustice, moral superiority, a sense of identity and purpose, the promise of adventure, and becoming a hero have all been implicated in case studies of radicalisation. Religion and ideology serve as vehicles for an “us versus them” mentality and as the justification for violence against those who represent “the enemy”, but they are not the drivers of radicalisation.
James Nazroo, a professor of sociology at Manchester University, said: “I think there are a large number of myths around the ethnic minority and religious minority populations in the UK and so it’s important that these myths have light shone on them. This is where the policy of engagement can happen and we can work on the basis of good information rather than the basis of myths and look at inequalities that sections of our society face.”
Through our programmes, the Asia Scotland Institute seeks to increase understanding of Asia and thereby use knowledge to combat bigotry and ignorance. While this covers the great cultures and religions of the world, it also involves engaging with those of Asian origin in the UK in general and Scotland in particular.
We need to engage with leaders of all faiths to address radicalisation and put in place the mechanisms to educate the young to respect and understand each other’s beliefs while working together to build a truly integrated, modern society in Scotland. The appointment of John Swinney to oversee Scottish education is to be welcomed as it reflects the importance that the new Government in Holyrood is attaching to this issue. Dr Hamid’s visit to Scotland reinforces this message.
• Roddy Gow OBE is chairman and founder, The Asia Scotland Institute