Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: If only I could explain where this violence comes from

Monday 09 November 2009 01:00 GMT

A well-known atheist emails me to ask how a good, kind and intelligent woman like myself can be part of such a "disgusting" religion.

I thank him for his genuine concern and pity his inability to understand those elements of human nature - like love, tenderness and jealousy too - which cannot be precisely measured or validated by rationality alone. I can see how a hard-wired scientific mind is programmed to reject divine mysteries and inner faith which cannot be verified. But disgust? Such extreme denunciation?

Among western elites - artistic, political, scientific, media - I notice more expressions of abhorrence of Islam and its diverse adherents than ever before. And every time there is another radical Islamist attack or violent act, this odium grows and with it the idea that all Muslims - including the totally blameless - are the enemy within. In the last months, soldiers in Allah's mercenary army have been very active, and so the virus of suspicion spreads further.

A French Algerian scientist, 32, working with a highly qualified team at the CERN nuclear research project in Switzerland confesses that he had links with al-Qa'ida operatives. A British-trained Afghan policeman turns on-off duty British soldiers and killed five of them, escaping on a motorbike. Several US-educated Muslims - including women - have been arrested and are facing terrorism charges. Then in Fort Hood in Texas, the biggest military camp in the US, a military psychiatrist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, born to Palestinian parents in the US and by all counts a proud American, sprays bullets into his comrades. Thirteen died - including a pregnant woman - and scores were injured.

Shock-jocks and bloggers are steaming and looking for revenge. The more contemplative commentators are asking if illiberal measures need to be brought in to identify and control this one troublesome, religiously profiled community. A yellow star you might call it, for our times. Influential anti-Muslim voices are no longer bothering with nuance. Douglas J Hagmann, director of the non-governmental Northeast Intelligence Network in the US writes: "The latest murderous rampage should be enough to illustrate that Islam is totally incompatible with freedom, democracy and the western culture." I wonder how many of my British friends think exactly this.

I can now better imagine the national mood that led to the internment of the Japanese in the US in 1942, and in both wars to the rounding up of "enemy aliens" in the UK, many of whom were kept in camps on the Isle of Man and were made to suffer for being who they were ethnically and for no other reason. The former Labour minister, Kim Howells, set out his chilling plans this week on how best, or at least better, to confront Islamist terrorism in the UK. Bring back our boys from Afghanistan, a graveyard that swallows all outsiders. Use the resources, men and might of this nation to increase the pressure on British Muslims, watch them, follow them, spy on them.

Go further Howells, why don't you? Perhaps take away our passports so we cannot travel to the sub-continent or North Africa or the Arab countries. Make us wear a green band in the streets. Punish us collectively, all the time, as Martin Amis fervidly imagined in his poetic thought-experiments. Stop us buying mobile phones and computers. Bang up as many Muslims as possible and put them through re-education programmes using old Maoist manuals. Then we will all be really safe.

I do not in any way understate the extraordinary threats. We have entered an era in which the Islam I know and love may not survive. The legitimate anger of Palestinians or Iraqis, say, is used as chemical fertiliser for obscurantist Islamic doctrine that, if allowed to prevail, will obliterate progress and human aspiration. We can see this in Pakistan already, even in highly cultured places like Lahore. And in Europe too.

I am chair of Muslims for Secular Democracy. Supporters of this organisation came out in central London last week to protest against sharia law and anti-democratic, anti-women Muslim groups. The spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain would not join us because I personally object to the burka and openly drink wine. That is their idea of personal opinion and choice. State-funded Muslim schools in Leicester and other cities have full burka uniforms and no longer allow in Shia Muslims or anyone who doesn't pass their dehumanising criteria. In mosques, families, religious schools, community centres, university associations and most of all the internet, Islam is being recast to exert total control over individuals.

Poverty, and low educational and occupational status, bring other demons and a sense of powerlessness, distort the inner world of Muslims, cause psychological chaos and diminish their will or ability to think for themselves. But why do educated, high-achieving Muslims fall into nihilism? Hassan and the Algerian scientist had everything going for them. Their adopted countries delivered all they could have wished for. We do not know the answers to those questions.

I am trying, with a reputable therapy institute, to raise money to work with convicted educated terrorists to get a better understanding of what tipped them over into giving up on life, their own and that of others. Only now are a few people in the US starting to research these psyches. Brave academics are linking up western politics with the explosive anger all across the Muslim world.

Alan Krueger, of Princeton University, and Jitka Maleckova, of the Czech Academy of Science, carried out a study of countries which had been attacked by terrorists and the territories which seem to grow them. They found a correlation between attacks and how western leaders were seen in the homelands. UK and US leaders were least respected because of Iraq and attitudes to Israel, and those nations faced the highest terrorist threat. Those cheering on Tony Blair for EU president might want to read this study. All of this brings me to an unusual impasse for an opinionated columnist. The complexities overwhelm. There is a big and growing peril of Islamist terrorism. Our foreign policies and the contempt for Muslim lives and rights are partly responsible. How many have we killed in the "war on terror"? Who remembers them? Those who then blow up themselves and the innocent who happen to be nearby. It is unfair that when Muslims commit horrific acts we are all held responsible.

However, none of the above can fully explain or excuse the army of killers rising in the Muslim world and the reactionary Islam that suppresses women and girls and dissidents, crushes free choice and then wilfully withdraws from non-Muslim peoples. Radical Islamists peddle partial narratives about the Crusades, forgetting the Nato interventions to save Bosnian Muslims from genocide and the fact that millions of us would never leave the West where we have human rights we would not have in Muslim nations. A US-based Muslim scholar, Professor Akbar Ahmed, writes: "When Muslims look to their society they see fundamental problems; when they look outside they also see major problems. That's why they feel under siege ... either Muslims are being killed or they are killing ... there seems to be no easy solution."

Major Hassan embodies these pressures, and his solution was to gun people down, emulating American mass murderers to discharge Muslim derangement. Another bloody chapter in this long never-ending story.

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