Who will be on our side in this war against militants?

This article was published in edited from in The Age on November 17, 2015 here.


Followers of the God of Abraham, Jews, Muslims and Christians, rightly condemn the attacks in Paris. There is no justification for murdering innocents.

Those who say religion plays no part in these attacks have to face an uncomfortable truth. Religion does play a role. It is a motivator.

There is no escaping that the three holiest texts in the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, the Torah, New Testament and Qur’an, each have had passages taken out of context and used throughout history to justify heinous acts of barbarism.

This week in Paris and Beirut it is those who claim to follow the Islamic tradition of the God of Abraham who have killed Christians, Muslims and non-believers. Here in Australia we put more focus on Paris and see these atrocities as an attack on the West. Beirut shows the militants are attacking all humanity.

Those proclaiming ‘Allahu-akhbar’ betray ‘Allah’ – the Arabic word meaning the God of Abraham. Those dressed in black claim to follow the God of Abraham and the teachings of their two main Prophets, Mohammed and Jesus.

Christians may find that hard to read. Many Jews consider Jesus a teacher. Christians consider him the Messiah. Muslims rank Jesus of Nazareth as the second most important Prophet – second only to Mohammed.

Christians can rightly say ‘the attacks were not perpetrated in our name’. Likewise Jews can say ‘the attacks are not done in our name’, even though Jews, Muslims and Christians all believe in the same God.

So why do we find it so hard to accept Muslims who reject the evil actions of militants who also say ‘The Paris attacks were not perpetrated in our name’? Surely we should accept their proclamations too?

To win this war moderates of all religions must unite against the militants who falsely claim actions in the name of Allah, the God of Abraham. So what are the sides in this war?

Is it ‘us’ moderates of all religions against ‘them’ the radicals of all religions? Or is it ‘us’ the West against ‘them’, all Muslims?

The twitter-sphere is full of the believers of the second option. There are many saying on the internet that the ‘war between West and Islam’ needs to be fought.

Most observers have recognised the huge change in the security situation since 9/11 that has been brought by the internet. Islam hasn’t changed. Christianity and Judaism haven’t changed. What has changed is the communication of good and evil. Both spread faster and farther than ever before.

The ideology of evil must be defeated. We should not ignore the battles in the streets. We must support and assist security and intelligence forces when attacks reach the streets. Ideally though we must defeat these attacks before they take place – online.

And how do we do this?

We need to understand the enemy. We need to know what motivates them. We need to degrade their ability to perpetrate attacks and we need to rob from them the recruits to their cause.

Many ask ‘when will moderate Islam join Us in Our war against radical Islam?’

More Muslims than Christians are dying. More attacks are in the Islamic world than the West. Should ‘they’ join ‘our’ war, or should we be joining ‘theirs’? Moderate Islam is our greatest potential ally. Why turn away from them, or turn them away?

Think back to the Charlie Hebdo. Twelve journalists were murdered by evil militants. In response world leaders and hundreds of thousands protested against the killings and claimed the right to offend. No one said these cartoons were not offensive – just that free speech and the right to offend were inherent in the French culture. Je Suis Charlie!

Around the same time 132 children and nine teachers were brutally murdered in Peshawar by militant Islam. The children’s crime was to be the sons and daughters of moderate Muslims of the Pakistan Army who were fighting the very extremists who we too fight.

Whilst our newspapers mentioned these killings in passing, we did not protest the murdering of these children.

We protest for the right to offend Islam, but are comparatively silent when children die. What signal does this send to Islam?

Some reject the Muslims who beg understanding that radical attacks do not represent their God. We tar them with the brush of the radicals. We assert the right to offend them but remain silent when their children die.

How does this build a strong alliance in the war against radicals?

Our leaders now need to tell us, who is the ‘us’ and who is the ‘them’ in the fight with radical Islam. If we push moderates into the arms of the radicals and not join their battle against militants, then we risk catastrophic defeat.

Andrew MacLeod is a professor in Public Policy at Kings College London, former CEO of the Committee for Melbourne and a former high level official for the UN working in the Islamic world. He can be followed on twitter @AndrewMMacleod.

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