An edited version of this article appears in The Independent here on March 22, 1016.
All but a handful of butchers stand united in condemning the attacks in Brussels. There is no justification for murdering innocents.
In the light of such evil, policy makers face a great challenge. We want to defeat ‘them’ who attacked us. But policy makers must lead us in the decision: Who is the ‘us’ and who is the ‘them’?
Is it ‘us’ moderates of all religions against ‘them’ the radicals of all religions? Or is it ‘us’ the West against ‘them’, all Muslims?
Attackers who proclaim ‘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 Islam’s two main Prophets, Mohammed and Jesus.
Many fail to realise that Muslims rank Jesus of Nazareth as the second most important Prophet in their belief – second only to Mohammed.
Christians rightly reject as absurd that their Messiah would ever condone such evil and can rightly stand and say ‘the attacks were not perpetrated in our name’. Likewise Jews can say ‘the attacks are not done in our name’, even though Jews, like Christians, also believe in the same Allah, the Arabic word meaning ‘God of Abraham’.
So if we can rightfully accept that these attacks do not represent Christian and Jewish beliefs why do we find it so hard to accept most Muslims who also reject the evil actions of militants?
‘The Brussels attacks were not perpetrated in our name’ the moderates say? Surely we should accept their proclamations too?
The twitter-sphere is full of people rejecting this, saying that the ‘war between West and Islam’ needs to be fought. Are they right?
One can not deny religion plays a role in attacks like this. While many moderate Islamic leaders can point out that such evil is inconsistent with the main teachings of Islam, there is no doubt that extremists pick and choose passages, often out of context, to motivate their followers.
This is not new.
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 century it seems to be the texts of Islam that are being distorted most by extremists to justify their unholy crusade in the name of God.
But alienating all of Islam would make an enemy of 1.6 billion people – most of whom condemn the terrorist butchers. Is it not better to unite with these moderates and together defeat radical Islam?
To win the war against extremism, moderates of all religions must unite against the militants who falsely claim actions in the name of Allah, the God of Abraham. We must not demonise our greatest ally – moderate Islam. We must unite with them.
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.
We mourn those killed in Brussels. But lets not forget those who died in Turkey just a handful of hours earlier. Turkey and Brussels – same evil, same enemy. Radical Islamic extremists, not all Muslims.
Many times more Muslims than Christians are dying at the radicals hands. More attacks are in the Islamic world than the West.
In remembering this, should ‘they’ join ‘our’ war, or should we be joining ‘theirs’?
Our leaders now need to tell us, who is the ‘us’ and who is the ‘them’ in the fight with radical Islam. If we demonise all Islam then we push moderates into the welcoming arms of radicals. If we push moderates into those radical arms and not join their battle against militants, then we risk catastrophic defeat.
Andrew MacLeod is a visiting professor at Kings College London, former soldier and a former high level official for the UN working in the Islamic world. He can be followed on twitter @AndrewMMacleod.