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Extremism can never be defeated by eradicating our right to think, even if those thoughts offend others

By Adam Walker

Published 26/08/2015

Prime Minister David Cameron last month pledged a
Prime Minister David Cameron last month pledged a "full spectrum" response to extremism in the UK (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

To borrow a line from Corinthians, ‘One sin begets another unless the chain is broken through repentance.’

So let us be honest for a moment and cut through the monotone society we live in; where everything must be processed through the extremes of liberal or conservative values. If we can stretch our vision beyond the haze, then we have to admit that we are all extremists. Both the strings that motion society from trend to trend and we, the people, have allowed ourselves to become extremists.     

We belong to a society that pits the 'you only live once' mentality against the 'everything can kill you' one; Skinny billboard models versus uncontrolled obesity; In or out of the EU; open the doors to refugees versus turn the gun ships on them; Israel or Palestine, the Reds or the Red Devils; marmite or not. The list is never ending.

Sadly there is no longer a middle ground in society. And those who dare to try and discover this forbidden land are more often than not held up as heretics and wolves in sheep's clothing - or the other way around, depending on your extremity.

Yet we reserve the term ‘extremism’ for the 0.02% of British ‘bearded men’ who travel to Syria to join the barbarism of Muslim political extremism. But in reality the nastiest and most despotic Muslim extremist group is plain amateur compared to society’s major murderers, like obesity and smoking. Millions of us have embraced these extremist regimes and they kill more than 100,000 of us yearly in the UK alone.

And be under no illusion, the media is often complicit – but so are we. Sure, the media runs stories to raise awareness on health issues. However, they do a great deal more to promote and benefit from the sin products and idols that perpetuate these killers. Social responsibility is leveraged against the need for a quick buck. We are not innocent pawns in this scenario. For we have become an indulgent people, even if the cost is our lives.

We all know this to be true. Don't we? These are battles we all face and universal temptations. Aren't they? But we don't extend this logic to other forms of extremism, such as Muslim political extremism. We have never paused to wonder whether or not some of the responsibility should rest on our doorstep.

And sadly the UK Prime Minister seems to think that to self-reflect in this way, or to even utter the words ‘what if’, is a sign of extremism. He and right-wing politics seem intent on downgrading our apathy to imperial self-righteousness. They forget that it is the inclination and human obligation/right to self-reflect that makes a person British. To police thought in the way the Prime Minister suggests is to attack one of the most sacred rights and values of British society.

Read more

Cameron pledges five-year plan to combat home-grown extremism  

Extremism can never be defeated by eradicating our right to think, even if those thoughts offend others. It should seem obvious that extremism cannot replace extremism. Yet it clearly isn't.

But do we even know what Muslim extremism is? For example, the British security services have invested great time and money to inform us that Muslim extremists are largely not motivated by religion. On the contrary, they are most often 'Religious novices' with little to no knowledge of their faith.

So we can immediately do away with the ‘Daily Mailesque’ argument that extremists are motivated by Islam, the Quran and a promise of 70 virgins. Mr. Cameron, some things that sound ridiculous are in reality just that - ridiculous (cc: Daily Mail, Spectator, Telegraph, Fox News, and the Express editors).

So if not religion, then what? Well the largest study ever carried out on terrorism and terrorist attacks concluded that politics is what motivates the average would-be extremist. And the most common political grievance cited is British and 'Western' foreign policy.

Perhaps I should add 'allegedly' here in the hope that the mere mention of 'foreign policy' doesn't lead the Tory government to label me an extremist. But surely to frame such grievances as extremist is a farce. If that be the case then are the million people, mainly non-Muslim, who marched against the war in Iraq  extremists? Or are those British MPs who voted against the war, or have since voiced opposition to it, extremists?

I have campaigned against all forms of oppression, without prejudice, for more than a decade; be it the oppression of women who suffer the heinous crime of FGM, girls deprived of the right to an education, the oppression of people on the basis of sexual orientation or religion, hate preachers, and terrorism – individual or state sponsored.

Like many, each year I proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with World War II veterans -God bless them- to sell poppies for the Royal British Legion. And like so many of the world's heroes, members of my family proudly fought and gave their lives in the fight against tyranny during World War II. So, Mr. Cameron, do I tick the ‘British values boxes’, or is more required?  

Accepting that I belong to the club and that I also reject extremism, like most do, it baffles me that Cameron can dismiss the mere thought that some people might feel that there is some injustice attached to two Western driven Middle Eastern wars, a campaign in Libya, systematic drone strikes, rendition, crippling economic policies in the Developing World, and apathy towards the plight of the Palestinians?

Conversely, to acknowledge that there is even a particle of truth in this grievance does not mean that we justify or condone the thoughts and actions of extremists - we don’t. Rather, it displays our sense of honesty, justice and integrity; in case some had forgotten, these are British values too (and Islamic ones!)?

Mr Cameron, we are all with you in our opposition to extremism – genuinely, we are. But we are not extremists. We seek a pluralistic and peaceful middle ground. We reject all forms of oppression and extremism; we value human life, be it that of a Jew, Christian, Muslim, or atheist; we abhor the loss of innocent life equally, be it a victim of 9/11 or 7/7, an Israeli or a Palestinian child or the persecuted Rohingya. We would truly become extremists if we haply viewed the killing of innocents as a direct result of Western foreign policy as normative and acceptable. Wouldn't we?

Valuing all life and having the humility to accept when we were wrong is what makes us British. The freedom to express that value is British. And to desire balance is the truest and often most forgotten of all British values.

Adam Walker researches the classical Islamic world and contemporary Muslim diaspora. He is a frequent commentator on social affairs and religion in the British media and author of the award-winning publication: 'Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God.'

Twitter: @adamwalkergb

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Pakistan aids persecution of Ahmadi Muslims by extremists

Muslims have been standing against apostasy laws for a century

Dear Boko Haram, you know nothing of Islam

The truth will set you free not an offensive comic

The right to free speech: Just because we can do something, it does not mean that we should do it

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