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Wednesday’s headlines gave the nation a shocking wake-up call. They reported a British jihadist beheading an American journalist in Iraq, saying “you are no longer fighting an insurgency – we are an Islamic army and a state that has been accepted by a large number of Muslims worldwide”.
Even allowing for the fact that many Muslims will share disgust at this misrepresentation of their faith, it poses serious questions for British Government and society.
A poll published on Monday revealed 30% think we should let events in Syria take their course and Britain not get involved. 36% agreed that we should arm the Kurds fighting the Islamic State but another 36% thought we should not. 50% opposed offering asylum to persecuted Iraqi Christians, for which Church leaders had called. Past US/UK involvement in Iraq probably explains these opinions but Wednesday’s news will surely make us think again.
In an article for The Telegraph David Cameron seems to be doing that. Whilst agreeing that British troops should not be sent “to fight or occupy”, he recognised that our future security is under threat. “The creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and extending into Syria is not a problem miles away from home.” Humanitarian aid for refugees in Iraq is necessary but insufficient. The PM has to consider what British jihadists will do if and when they come home? He identified some urgent responses to their “poisonous and extremist ideology, which he differentiated from mainstream Islam. Arming the Kurds and disrupting flows of money to the jihadists is the first. Depriving British fighters of UK citizenship and arresting UK based recruiters is a second. Removing 28,000 pieces of terrorist-related material and 46 IS-related videos from the Web is a third. Fourth is to work diplomatically with Iraq’s neighbours, including Iran, to support the new Iraqi Government. This is not in order to impose western values but to encourage and support the development in Iraq of a unifying and democratic government and politics.
Cameron recognises the need for patience because it could take a generation to overcome this threat. What he does not address is the part that families and schools can play in preventing the radicalisation of young Muslims here at home for whom the jihadists could be seen as glamourous role models. Has the omission of religious studies from the English Baccalaureate made this more difficult? Perhaps Nicky Morgan should revisit Michael Gove’s decision to do this. Nor does the Prime Minister consider how the increasing secularisation of British culture and society has helped to stoke the fires of jihadist extremism.
Church leaders have spoken up for the victims of the insurgency, including non-Christians, but could some do more to build warmer relationships with people of other faiths in their local communities? Because we believe the biblical teaching about the uniqueness of Christ as Saviour that does not allow us to forget that our neighbours are made in God’s image and he died for them too.