Rev Dr John Cameron: Young Muslims may yet shun extremism

In Hinduism it's hard to separate religion from culture, while in Islam '“ the most theocratic of the great world religions '“ the overlap of faith and politics is seamless. After 9/11, President Bush and Tony Blair insisted Islam is just another religion '“ but its ­spirituality is overlaid by a critical ­political dimension.
Young Muslims are often caught between tradition and modern society. Picture: John DevlinYoung Muslims are often caught between tradition and modern society. Picture: John Devlin
Young Muslims are often caught between tradition and modern society. Picture: John Devlin

Ayatollah Khomeini claimed “Islam is ­politics or it is nothing” and in Muhammad’s lifetime his followers became a political and religious community with the Prophet as head of state. Juristic treatises in ­Sharia law describe jihad as ­warfare against infidels and ­apostates, and this is where Islamic terrorism gets its licence.

In 2015, Westminster passed the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act which placed a duty on police, ­prisons, schools and universities to stop Muslims “being drawn into terrorism”. This is easier said than done. An ICM and Policy poll, Unsettled Belonging: Britain’s Muslim Communities – the most extensive survey of its kind – found only 53 per cent of British Muslims want to “fully integrate with non-Muslims”.

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The media often describe Britain’s mosques as ­hotbeds of extremism but most are run by an older generation who have ­little time for youthful radicals. In fact, the all-party Homeland Security Group, as well as the Coalition ­government and the previous Labour administration, were more concerned with schools and colleges.

The leaked ‘Trojan Horse’ letter laid bare Wahhabist teaching ­creating “a culture of fear and ­intimidation” which seriously disturbed the education establishment. Ofsted found “shocking, deeply worrying” ­evidence of a campaign to target schools in Muslim-dominated ­Midland towns to change their ­“character and ethos”.

In college, second or third-generation migrant students, torn between tradition and an amoral campus lifestyle, have proved particularly ­vulnerable. For those caught between cultures and looking for meaning and ­purpose, a call to embrace a pure ‘Islamic’ existence ­rather than ­Britain’s bleak secularity is seductive.

But all else pales beside the breeding ground for extremism ­provided by prisons. Islamists recruit vulnerable fellow prisoners by offering a way to make sense of their lives and start over by joining a new group which gives them a higher jail status.

For former criminals fuelled by resentment, and students whose idealism has come up against the ­tawdry sexuality of ­Western ­college culture, Islamism offers answers. Islamic State also offers the dream of a land governed by Allah’s laws where sacrifice will be rewarded with membership of an exalted elect.

Yet what goes around comes around and Islam, once at the forefront of medicine, ­commerce and artistic creativity, will surely come again. We should recall that naïve young socialists shunned communism after fighting beside the Spanish Civil War’s bestial Red Brigades and we must hope the barbarism of ISIS will have the same effect on young Muslims.

Rev Dr John Cameron lives in St Andrews. He is a retired ­minister, with doctorates in ­science and theology.