Fear, Denial and Manipulation – Why the Jihadists are Winning!

This is a guest post by Amjad Khan

It is the year 2022. Islamist extremists launch an audacious attack on the headquarters of a global energy company based in London, killing 23 civilians. Within hours the Prime Minister issues a statement condemning the attacks whilst adding that they have nothing to do with the religion of Islam. In the meantime, anti-racist groups warn us of a huge anti-Muslim backlash and begin shifting the debate towards what certain irresponsible UKIP and EDL members have tweeted.

Glenn Greenwald writes a piece blaming the energy company for their fate, citing their investments in the Middle East and links with Arab dictators. Owen Jones tells us it is bigoted of us to focus solely on Islamist extremists because there are some right-wing extremists too. Frankie Boyle starts tweeting jokes that blame Bush and Blair whilst Mehdi Hasan rushes out a piece that begins ‘As a Muslim’ and goes on to blame Israel and western foreign policy.

Sound familiar? It should do because this is exactly what would happen and always does when jihadists launch a barbaric attack. A combination of fear, denial and manipulation of the events for political purposes begins and before long the masses are disillusioned by the cacophony of voices.

There are voices that are fearful of speaking up about what they think is really happening, either out of fear of being deemed bigoted (in the case of non-Muslims) or due to pressure from family and friends (in the case of Muslims). This fear is often cowardice too, since we live in an age in which we like to direct our wrath towards targets that make us popular amongst friends and peers, like western governments, and so we can continue with the pretence that we are noble and brave as we challenge targets that don’t come with any negative repercussions.

There are others that simply go into denial mode and don’t want to accept that we are in the midst of a jihadist insurgency, using an unhealthy dose of conspiracy theory to get through the crisis. For some, jihadist attacks are simply not happening or are merely a backlash against decisions our governments have made, which again is much more comforting than the idea of a jihadist insurgency that seeks to destroy all non-jihadist governments and impose theocracy on societies around the world.

Finally, the worst of the lot are the manipulators that don’t really care to understand jihadist violence but use it as an opportunity to instigate public outrage against other targets that they despise for ideological reasons, namely capitalist governments. These manipulators are often far-left activists that masquerade as defenders of minorities yet harbour their own extremist agenda. The manipulators don’t stop there either; they even attack those that do seek to challenge jihadist ideology, deeming them Islamophobic western stooges.

In the meantime, young aspiring jihadists continue to galvanise and spout their propaganda largely unopposed and in some case aided by a weak, fearful and cowardly society. The net effect of this fear, denial and manipulation is that public outrage, awareness and energy that should be sparked as a result of jihadist atrocities, simply dissipates or is exploited by the far-right. In other words, by now we should have witnessed a huge civil society response to jihadism that could have helped us to create a nationwide civic intolerance of extremist narratives, but we haven’t and the jihadists continue to raise their game.

Another symptom of a weak, cowered and disillusioned civil society is that the state has no option but to use legislation as the means to tackle the problem. This point was cogently made by Nick Cohen in a recent article, he opined:

“When supposedly good and responsible people fail to police themselves, the government will summon the real police to do the job for them.”

He went on to say:

“I will oppose the state’s attempts to restrict freedom of speech, as I hope you will too. But I will not let supposed liberals forget that, by their own cowardice and lack of conviction, they have brought this dismal moment on themselves.”

We are living in unique and interesting times. We face a mortal threat that many of us understand yet collectively we can’t seem to muster the moral courage and intellectual coherence to face. It is almost as if we consider jihadism an inconvenience, an uncomfortable conversation to which we just want to say ‘not now my mind is elsewhere’.

A whole generation of young British Muslims are now much more extreme in their understanding of Islam than their parents or grandparents were. Globally, Islam is retreating into conservativism and ultra-orthodoxy as a response to a globalised and fast-moving world that it collectively does not understand and struggles to keep up with. In the midst of these worrying developments stand the spectre of jihadism – a nihilism ideology that seeks total domination of the world through aggressive force.  Jihadists are currently in the ascendency in Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, Yemen whilst their supporters in European countries continue to grow at a disturbing rate.

How will they be stopped? It would be self-indulgent and Anglo-centric to seek comfort in the fallacy that jihadism is merely a response to aggressive and blundering western foreign policy in the Middle East and South Asia.  Jihadism is a virus that certainly exploits geo-political developments for its own advantage but certainly doesn’t need them in order to grow. In other words, if Europe and the US disappeared tomorrow, the jihadist would continue their campaign.

That is because it is not all about us. We have merely been dragged into an intra-Muslim war that has been waging, in one way or another, since the dawn of Islam.

The first step towards rehabilitation is accepting that you have a problem. We need to start being honest about what jihadism represents and what drives young people to sign up. We need to start challenging and exposing the manipulators, ridiculing the denialists and galvanising the fearful.

Jihadism will be defeated eventually. Let’s just make it sooner rather than later.