If it becomes Islam versus the West after the Brussels attacks, we’ll make an enemy of 1.6 billion people

If it’s us against them, then who is whom? Christian and Jewish scriptures have proved just as dangerous in the hands of extremists

All but a handful of butchers stand united in condemning the attacks in Brussels today. There is no justification for murdering innocents. Predictable voices, however, will use the opportunity to condemn “Muslims”. ignoring the voices of moderate Islam who have rightly and immediately condemned the attacks.

In the light of such evil, governments face a great challenge. We want to defeat those who attacked us – but who is the “us”, and who is the “them”? Is it the moderates of all religions against the radicals of all religions? Or is it the West against all Muslims?

Those dressed in black claim to follow the God of Abraham and the teachings of Islam’s two main Prophets, Mohammed and Jesus. Many fail to realise that Muslims rank Jesus of Nazareth as the second most important Prophet in their belief – second only, in fact, to Mohammed. Christians rightly reject as absurd that their Messiah would ever condone such actions. Likewise Jews can say the attacks are “not in our name” - even though Jews, like Christians, also believe in Allah, an Arabic term meaning God of Abraham.

So if we can accept that these attacks do not represent Christian and Jewish beliefs, why do we find it so hard to accept most Muslims who also reject the evil actions of militants?  This morning, social media was full of people stating that a war between West and Islam needs to be fought.

One cannot deny religion plays a significant role in attacks such as that on Brussels today, as extremists pick and choose religious passages, often out of context, to motivate their followers. This is not new. The three holiest texts in the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity - the Torah, the New Testament and the Qur’an - each have had passages that have been used to justify heinous acts of barbarism. This century, however, it seems to be the texts of Islam that are being distorted most by extremists to justify their unholy crusade in the name of God.

But alienating Islam as a system of belief would make an enemy of 1.6 billion people – most of whom condemn the terrorists.

To win the war against extremism we need to better understand the enemy. We need to know what motivates them. We need to degrade their ability to perpetrate attacks and we need to rob from them the recruits to their cause. Many times more Muslims than Christians are dying at the radicals' hands. More terrorist attacks are perpetrated in the Islamic world than in the West. Should “they” join “our” war, or should we be joining theirs?

Our leaders now need to tell us: who is the ‘us’ and who is the ‘them’ in the fight with radical Islam? If we demonise all Islam, then we push moderates into the welcoming arms of radicals. If we fail to join the battle of moderates against militants then we risk catastrophic defeat.

Andrew MacLeod is a visiting professor at Kings College London, a former soldier and a former UN official working in the Islamic world. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMMacleod

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