Today, 16 years since 9/11 and with attacks now occurring across Europe and multiple wars in the Middle East and north region, it is time for the west to reflect far more deeply on these matters. To date shortsighted policy responses like Prevent have not been evidence-based. Responses to the immediate problem of terrorist acts need to be much more intelligent and informed.
At the same time, simplistic representations of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism versus the west are highly inaccurate. It is now clear that the initial US response to 9/11 sought to exploit this event in order to initiate operations against countries unconnected to al-Qaida. The cited saying that “regime-change hawks” in Washington were arguing that a coalition against international terrorism “could be used to clear up other problems in the region”. The most notable outcome of this exploitation was the catastrophic Iraq invasion.
Recently, highly destructive conflicts in Syria and Libya demonstrate powerful inconsistencies regarding official claims to be fighting terrorism. In Syria, the priority of toppling Assad has involved support, intentional or unintentional, for extremist groups and allies, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are implicated in supporting Islamic State and other extremist groups. Indeed, the UK’s relationship with and support in that country for “Islamist jihadists” has become a UK election issue. Regarding Libya, the Manchester attack triggered debate over the relationship between the alleged attacker, British security services, and the movement of extremists between the UK and Libya.
Responding to the dreadful events in London and requires rational responses and critical reflection upon the way in which western governments are embroiled in exploiting and facilitating terrorism. If we are to end the cycle of violence, it is time to end western involvement in terrorism.
• Tariq Ramadan (, 7 June) suggests that rather than targeting “Islamist-inspired terrorists” in response to the recent attacks in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge, we should be bringing people together in a united front against all violence, avoiding restrictions upon rights including through the Prevent strategy, and seeking a holistic solution to the politics of the Middle East.
While the Middle East certainly needs sorting out (but how?), Mr Ramadan’s other proposals are unlikely to succeed because they fundamentally misdiagnose the problem. Every type of violence in the UK, from domestic abuse to acts of terrorism, requires a response tailored to its distinctive features. The defining characteristic of the savagery inflicted upon innocent people in Manchester and London was that a particularly warped and distorted interpretation of Islam provided the motive. Why else, for example, would the London Bridge murderers have yelled “This is for Allah!” and “Islam, Islam, Islam!” as they butchered their victims?
Mr Ramadan also needs to explain why, if Muslims are so unfairly stigmatised by Prevent, nearly 400 mosques and many ordinary Muslims cooperate actively and willingly with it, including by reporting suspicions about other members of their community to the authorities, as was apparently the case with respect to these atrocities.
• I was impressed by Moni Mohsin’s informative article (, G2, 7 June), which describes the growing influence of intolerant Wahhabism promoted by Saudi Arabia, and the government’s apparent reluctance to publish an investigation into the funding of jihadi groups in the UK. Surely the government is not balancing a potential rise in jihadi attacks against the huge profits from the arms trade with the Saudis? Such a cynical calculation could quickly go awry, not least on security costs, if the situation spirals out of hand.
• Moni Mohsin is quite right about the funding of fundamental religious schools teaching a strict version of Wahhabism in Pakistan. Indeed the funds were already flowing in to and Pakistan for the support of the madrasa system as far back as the 1970s.
Seeing the extremism flourish has been sad for people who have visited both countries in the past. Both Afghanistan and have long histories, great literature and rich cultures. In my time visiting and living in both countries I met many kind people who treated me and my family with great courtesy.
I would also advocate the release of the report commissioned by David Cameron into the funding of extremist groups. We need to trace the roots of extremism from wherever they arise, work positively and constructively with our communities, not fan the flames of hatred and intolerance further with careless language.
• Theresa May’s proposal to introduce longer prison sentences for acts of terrorism (, 7 June) is fundamentally flawed. She must know that these radicals go on their murderous errands with every intention of losing their lives while causing as much mayhem as possible. Longer sentences have no deterrent effect on endgame missions such as these. What is needed is a return to the Peelian ideas of police officers as citizens in uniform, patrolling on foot, genuinely interacting with their community and getting to know what’s going on locally. What we have now (at best) is largely unapproachable heavily equipped semi-paramilitaries going about in pairs or sitting in cars.
• Every person has the right to life, liberty and security; their private and family life should be respected, and they have the right to get married. No one should be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and everyone has the right to a fair trial. No one can be enslaved; or suffer discrimination due to sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status. People should have freedom of thought and religion; and, in accordance with law, freedom of expression, association and assembly.
That is the European convention on human rights. We should not be afraid of having our laws measured against these principles by an independent court, free of political bias. Only two other European nations refuse to recognise the ECHR, Kazakhstan and Belarus; Theresa May shames us by aligning Britain with these dictatorships.
Under article 10 our security services can invoke derogation if required to protect our national security: “The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security.”