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Why our experience holds key to tackling extremists

By Alf McCreary

Published 04/07/2015

Tragic sight: The bodies of British nationals killed in the Tunisia terror attack are returned home
Tragic sight: The bodies of British nationals killed in the Tunisia terror attack are returned home

The pictures of British victims of the Tunisian massacre being returned to the UK in their coffins by the RAF are a testimony to the power of religious hatred.

International leaders, including the US President and the British Prime Minister, are required to make statements in a way that will not make the situation worse.

Nevertheless, they also need to strike the right balance, and I take issue with President Obama, who said that Islam is a religion of peace.

For extreme Muslims it is anything but that.

I believe the vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving, but there are many thousands of indoctrinated men and women who are murderous.

The extremists have been indoctrinated to believe that they are obeying the teaching of Islam by killing non-Muslims, and that is partly the fault of those religious leaders who chose to interpret their faith in this way.

For many years the Western governments have soft-pedalled on the dark side of Islam, and in Britain there has been a minority of imams who have spewed out religious and sectarian hated virtually unchecked.

The great British tradition of liberalism has swung too far in the one direction.

And it is only now that our political leaders are wakening up to the fact that these aggressive Muslim teachings have fuelled one of the most dangerous developments in the modern world.

At one time, wars were fought as pitched battles, but today the extreme Muslims can strike anywhere, from Sydney to Tunisia, and from Kuwait to London, and elsewhere.

Their method of operation is so extreme that they are difficult to counter. How do you deal with someone who believes that blowing himself up and killing innocent people is the way to Paradise? Such a philosophy is an affront to all civilised and human values.

Prime Minister David Cameron has now grasped the point that the Islamic extremists have declared war on us, and that they are attacking not only our religion and culture but also our whole way of life. The answer to this may lie partly in military reprisals and to try to eliminate the threat at source.

However, it will be a far greater challenge to change the mindsets of whole generations who believe that vicious warfare can be justified in the name of Mohammed.

What persuades people from Britain to travel to Syria, where life for most people seems to be utterly hellish? The Prime Minister is aware that the reaction to militant Islam has to focus on ideology, and the task is to convince the extremists that violence and murderous brutality are not the way forward.

This is what faced the British Government in dealing with extreme Irish republicanism and, while a dangerous number of fanatics is still at large, the ideological battle has been largely won.

Instead of bombs and bullets, we have a legislative Assembly at Stormont. It is by no means a model of democracy, and where some of the exchanges between members are deeply offensive to those of us who elected them, but at least we do have a political path to follow, however imperfect.

The task now facing Western democracies is how to help the non-violent Muslims to deal with the extremists. This will be a very long haul, but otherwise world civilisation itself is in peril.

We in Northern Ireland know only too well where religious and community hatred can lead us.

Belfast Telegraph

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