Struan Stevenson: Reprisals are not the answer to terror

We must not resort to reprisals following terror attacks, writes Struan Stevenson

Media gather outside Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, after a van was driven into pedestrians near the north London mosque, leaving one man dead and eight injured. Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire
Media gather outside Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, after a van was driven into pedestrians near the north London mosque, leaving one man dead and eight injured. Picture: John Stillwell/PA Wire

The Finsbury Park mosque attack in London is the latest horrific outrage to stun public opinion.

So many innocent lives have been taken in recent terrorist attacks that many people in the UK are now clamoring for an appropriate response.

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The tit-for-tat nature of these events plays perfectly into the hands of the terrorists, whose aim is to set one section of society against another.

We must not allow this to happen. It is too easy to get caught up in debates about the proportional value of solutions that involve an increased security presence and those that call for deeper engagement with, for example,

Muslim communities, to identify and root out extremist voices within. But following the Finsbury Park atrocity, should we also be calling for deeper engagement and surveillance within primarily white, British communities to root out extremists?

Following the Manchester and London Bridge atrocities there was an inevitable reaction from certain factions of the public and even some factions of the political establishment that immediately attempted to lay the blame at the feet of our British Muslim communities.

This is a common knee-jerk reaction, which is not only logically unsound it is also terribly impractical, because the demonization and alienation of moderate Muslims from British society is just the outcome that the terrorists would like.

There is a naïve assumption that if moderate Muslims were just more vigilant, the authorities in Britain and throughout the Western world would never be caught off guard by new attacks. But Muslim communities are just as caught off guard as we are and they are no more to blame for the Manchester or London attacks than the majority of white Britons were to blame for the Finsbury Park mosque outrage.

The extremists who murdered indiscriminately in Manchester and on London Bridge are no more representatives of the Muslim community than the white driver of the van who allegedly ploughed into innocent bystanders outside Finsbury Park Mosque can be said to represent the majority white British community. These people are extremists. They are fanatics. We cannot and must not attempt to label the communities they come from in the same fashion.

People affected by the recent attacks need our support. It was heart-warming to see the response from all sectors of society for the survivors of each of these tragedies, in particular the horrific Grenfell Flats fire. Muslims, Christians, people of all religions and none, came together to provide money, clothing, food and shelter, confounding the hate preachers and lifting the dark shadow which has been cast over peace-loving people everywhere.

Britons of every ethnic and religious background must work together to make sure that police forces are given the assistance they need, that moderate and peaceful dialogue is maintained no matter what the underlying ideology and that the extreme fringe of Islam, right-wing fascists, left-wing thugs, or indeed any other religious or political movement are denied a platform anywhere in our society.

The extremists on both sides want us to believe that Islam and Western democracy are incompatible. Their objective is to force more and more impressionable people to take a side. But of course this is simply wrong-headed. Anti-democratic systems of government in places like Iran are not a consequence of the dominant religion, they are simply a blight on the region that prevents mainstream Muslims bringing their religion fully into the light of the modern world. Still, the world is full of Muslim citizens who are striving to achieve that goal, either by participating in and actively supporting the societies and political institutions of the UK and other Western democracies, or by struggling to bring a secular, democratic system of government to the Middle Eastern nations that gave rise to ISIS and other forms of violent, political Islam in the first place.

For example, in Paris on July 1, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) will be holding its annual Iran Freedom rally, which in recent years has been attended by upwards of 100,000 Iranian expatriates and their European supporters, including hundreds of dignitaries from political and academic circles in various nations of the world. Each such event reiterates the 10-point plan for democracy and justice promoted by NCRI President Maryam Rajavi, a Muslim like the overwhelming majority of the organization’s members. The plan calls for a truly secular democratic government in Iran, where religion is separated from the state, the death penalty is abolished and men and women have equal rights.

A plan that repudiates the existing regime’s long history of sponsoring terrorism and bolstering sectarian conflicts in the region and throughout the world.

This and other gatherings of moderate Muslims should serve as a reminder to the people of the UK and Europe in the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks that there are Muslims all around us who dedicate their very lives to demonstrating the abiding compatibility between Islam and our cherished rights to live, believe and worship in freedom and peace.

Those of us who are not of the same faith and those of us of no faith must do everything in our power to promote that message and to recognize that the conflict at hand is not between Islam and the West, but rather between extremists and those who believe in coexistence and would defend the rights of all people from Britain to Middle East and throughout the world.

Struan Stevenson is president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA). He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland from 1999-2014