No-one can be under any doubt about the incredibly difficult times we find ourselves living in particularly here in Europe.
With a sense of foreboding, I often wonder what I should be more worried about. On the one hand we have the rise of far right politics, neo-fascist extremism and violent anti-Muslim sentiment across the face of Europe, leaving many concerned about what kind of a Europe our children will live in. Just two days before the Paris attack, Germany witnessed the biggest ever anti-Islam march organised by Pegida with an estimated 18’000 people in attendance. As news emerged about the cold-blooded murder of staff and others at the Charlie Hebdo offices, #killamuslim initially began to trend on twitter provoking revenge attacks against mosques and French Muslims. But it’s not only Muslims who fear attacks; Jews often also fear and feel the impact of rising far right politics and anti-Semitism. Yesterday one of the gunmen attacked a Jewish supermarket in Paris, because he wanted to defend  Palestinians and target Jews.
On the other hand, as we have witnessed across the world, we have the rise of Islamist extremism, which at its core despises freedom and human rights. The threat to both Muslims and non-Muslims, posed by this ideology is real and underplaying it only creates a major obstacle in dealing with this challenge. But all too often that’s exactly what I see happening time and again. The constant denial of the role of extremist ideology serves no-one and in fact insults many victims. By denying the role of extremist ideology, you in fact insult the poor parents who have discovered their sons and daughters have left the UK to join the unIslamic State, you insult victims like Ahmed Merabet, the French Muslim policeman who was executed, you insult the 17 killed in Paris, you insult the 132 children killed in Peshawar gunned down in December, you insult the thousands of women in Syria and Iraq who have been raped en masse and sold in sexual slavery markets. And of course let’s not forget that the overwhelming majority of victims killed by Muslim extremist organisations are indeed Muslim.
While some Muslims are at pains to deny the role of extremist ideology, the extremists time and again tell us they are doing it in the name of Islam. One cannot deny, no matter how perverted, that the interpretation of Islam they have been taught has convinced them about the Islamic justification of what they do.
Twitter over the last few days has often seemed like a race to the bottom in moral terms. Tweets calling for all Muslims to be killed as the only viable response to this “war on western culture,” were many including “Islam is a vicious cult. Muslims have no place in any civilised country. Deport and kill them before they kill you!” But these tweets were among the many tweets glorifying the deaths of staff at Charlie Hebdo: “You (kuffar) have taken away the free speech of Muslims in the west with laws and jails. We will take away your ‘free speech’ with death.”
“Only coconuts would condemn the attack on #CharlieHebdo. I’m proud of those who did it!”
“May Allah swt reward our brothers in France who are real men, fear & love Allah swt, who have gheera and took revenge for the Ummah. #IS”
“Allahu akbar! This is the right response 2 those who mock with Islam! #Paris”
Two sides of the same extremist coin, both these hatreds and degenerative positions can all too easily transform into violence; but both are also rooted in fear of the other.
After the terrorist attacks in 2011 by far right extremist Anders Breivik who killed seventy seven people, Norwegian’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg stated, “We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values…our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity.” In the challenging times we find ourselves in, with the rise of both far-right and Islamist extremism, I hope and pray that now more than ever, we hear that message echoed over and over; a message that is fundamental in combatting the narrative of hate and extremism. Stoltenberg is right; we need more openness, more democracy not the opposite if we want to overcome the extremism on both sides.
In countering both these extremist outlooks, Europe must cling to its hard won freedoms protecting speech, belief and minorities, while Muslims must reject and challenge the supremacist ideologies which are an affront to the victims of this ideology and indeed to Islam itself. I’ve repeatedly written about moving on from mere condemnation (which by the way is not, nor has ever been, about “apologising”) in order to challenge the extremist narrative but as Fraser Nelson wrote, we also need better and stronger Muslim leaders to be able to deal with this challenge. And let us not be under any illusion about this challenge. Yesterday the MI5 head Andrew Parker stated that Al-Qaida are planning to attack Britain; for those of us who work to counter extremism, this isn’t all too surprising, shocking maybe.
At Inspire we will continue to do what we can and are taking our Making A Stand campaign out to Muslim women. We know the impact women have when they take the lead in countering extremism. And now more than any other time, we need to make a stand and take the lead. Join us.