As more is revealed about the jihadist motivations behind the Woolwich attack, we must ask ourselves what can be done to prevent a repeat of such macabre scenes.
Some on the far right will use this tragedy to malign the religion of Islam. Others on the far left will exploit the moment to hold the UK’s foreign policy hostage to terrorist demands.
Mainstream Britain, however — whether Muslim or non-Muslim — finds itself desperately seeking answers but with too few reasonable voices able to provide them.
What we do know is that the extreme Islamist milieu from which Michael Adebolajo hailed has been simmering, largely unchecked, on Britain’s streets for many years. It’s high time we all acted urgently to reverse this trend.
It was back in 1995 that London witnessed what was perhaps its first jihadist street murder by machete. On that occasion a Nigerian was the victim.
At the time I was a committed extreme Islamist and had been elected as president of the student union at Newham College, east London. I had invited Omar Bakri Muhammad, leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain, to my campus to speak.
A week later Saeed Nur — one of our supporters — stabbed Ayotunde Obanubi to death on the steps of the college in broad daylight while shouting “Allahu Akbar”. My student union committee and I were expelled from the college. Anjem Choudary acted as our lawyer.
Bakri, meanwhile, went on to found the banned al- Muhajiroun and — critically — it appears to have been at his hands that Adebolajo converted to Islam.
Bakri has since been expelled from Britain but Choudary, his acolyte, still leads the network of his al- Muhajiroun Islamists.
This is how, for roughly two decades, extreme Islamists have been intimidating the silent majority and recruiting vulnerable individuals from across Britain. They have organised themselves into wide-reaching networks and their propaganda machinery is very effective.
If a disgruntled young Muslim wishes to engage in resistance ideology it is Islamism — that modern politicisation of Islam — that provides the only visible option.
More than 10 years since the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda has morphed from an organised hierarchy to a loose inspirational brand. As such it is almost impossible for our security services to know when or where the next not-so-lone wolf attack will occur.
As al-Qaeda’s English language magazine suggests, western-born self-starters need access only to “the kitchen of your mom” to sow terror.
The best approach to stemming the tide of recruits would be to stop them finding affinity with this “brand” in the first place. No amount of law and order and certainly no “war on terror” will get to the root of this phenomenon.
To do so requires seeding a grassroots counter-narrative that can unpick the “West-ophobic” victimhood narrative of Islamism and promote democratic engagement as an alternative for angry young people.
Far-right and Islamist social movements now compete on our streets for our youth, using each other as proof of their own righteousness and the other’s ill intent. They feed off each other’s hostility while squeezing the mainstream voice down to a whimper.
To create a democratic social movement here is indeed possible. In Pakistan my colleagues and I founded Khudi, a social movement modelled along Islamist organisational lines but instead promoting democratic culture. Khudi engages young people in civic action to discredit the appeal of Islamist ideas, seeking to generate organic alternatives.
It is only three years old, however, and we are fighting a decades-old phenomenon. Such initiatives are desperately needed here in the West too — although it could be a generation before they take root.
Nowadays few young rebels join the ranks of Soviet-style communism. That brand is yesterday’s news. The challenge is to make extreme Islamism equally unfashionable.
Maajid Nawaz is the author of Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening and the chairman of Quilliam, the counter-extremism think tank.
This Article was published by ‘The Sunday Times’ on 26th May 2013. Click here to read the original article.