British Muslims opposed to ISIS, air strikes
London - “The vast majority of British Muslims were opposed to the air strikes on Syria, whether on (Syrian President Bashar) Assad or (the Islamic State) ISIS,” said the editor of British Muslim news website 5Pillars.
After British Prime Minister David Cameron secured parliamentary approval to strike ISIS in Syria, Britain’s Muslim community has found itself in a difficult spot.
The Conservative government’s motion to expand air strikes against ISIS from Iraq into Syria passed on a 397-223 vote after a contentious 10- hour debate, resulting in a split in the opposition Labour vote.
“There is a deep-seated scepticism about British intervention in the Middle East after the Iraq war, Afghanistan and Libya. No matter what the circumstances are, British Muslims overwhelmingly oppose Britain intervening in that part of the world because they always make things worse,” 5Pillars Editor Roshan Muhammad Salih said.
Out of 13 Muslim MPs, only three voted in favour of air strikes, with nine voting against and one abstaining. Objections to the expanded strikes ranged from questions over the feasibility of the attacks to fears that this would make a Paris-style ISIS attack on Britain more likely. All British Muslim MPs who spoke during the debate were quick to state their own, as well as general British Muslim, condemnation and rejection of ISIS.
“I am well aware that under ISIS, a Muslim like myself would be killed, so please believe me when I say that I do not simply want to see ISIS defeated; I want to see it eradicated,” Labour MP for Birmingham Shabana Mahmood said.
In the run-up to the vote, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which is the United Kingdom’s largest Muslim umbrella body with more than 500 affiliated mosques, charities and schools called for MPs to vote against air strikes, while also condemning ISIS.
“There is no doubt that ISIS is an inhuman and evil entity, opposed by the vast majority of Muslims around the world. We will support effective action that aims to destroy this murderous cult,” said MCB Secretary-General Shufa Shafi.
“However, most British Muslims believe that air strikes in Syria will not only be ineffective in destroying ISIS. It will also be another recruiting sergeant for the terrorists,” he added.
This policy, of denouncing ISIS but rejecting British military action targeting the group, has seen British Muslims face accusations of implicitly supporting ISIS or not doing enough to police their own communities.
A recent headline in the Times stated: One in five British Muslims has sympathy for ISIS and sparked a nationwide controversy. The Times’ headline was based on a poll that saw 19% of respondents express sympathy for “young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria”, without specifying whether the fighters had joined ISIS or any other Syrian faction. The newspaper issued a correction acknowledging that its headline was “misleading”.
Mainstream British Muslims, who lack a unifying structure or accepted leadership, have found it increasingly difficult to drown out the minority who follow an extremist interpretation of Islam, leaving them open allegations that they support extremism.
“Those who believe in concepts of the caliphate and the apocalypse — so much part of ISIS propaganda — stretch deep into parts of Muslim societies. A belief in innate hostility between Islam and the West is not the preserve of the few,” former British prime minister Tony Blair said in a December 3rd speech at the Library of Congress in Washington.
“For Europe, there is a huge calculation to be made. This security threat is at our door. It is actually within our home,” he added.
This growing fear of Islam, which is slowly gaining precedence in the United Kingdom, can be seen in the increasing number of Islamophobic incidents recorded by police over the past year.
London’s Metropolitan Police said reports of incidents of Islamophobia increased more than 41% from October 2014 to October 2015. In the week after the Paris attacks, the number of such offences more than tripled compared to the preceding week.
“It is with regret but something that we have come to realise, through experience, that hate crimes can increase during these difficult times,” a police statement said.
“From British Muslims’ point of view, there is a limited amount to what we can do. We can condemn ISIS until we are blue in the face. The radicalisation that is going on isn’t happening in our mosques or madrasas. It is happening online. It is happening in the shadows,” Salih said.