Religion – and particularly religious extremism – is certainly in the news at the moment. The bulletins are dominated by Islamism – ISIS, Boko Haram, Al Qaeda, and all the rest of them. Prince Charles has just added his tuppence worth. As a counterpoint, even Stephen Fry got in on the act, saying (in plain terms) what many of us feel about a concept that seems to cause more harm than good.
But here’s a question: are those who become fundamentalists and go off to fight in places like Syria, true believers, or mere criminals?
I admit my first reaction is, the latter. Following a skewed ideology may be an excuse, but in the end people who behead others, or burn them alive, are the basest of criminals, taking us back 1000 years or more. But, does that explain everything..?
The problem with branding these people criminals – and no more – is it doesn’t help to solve the problem. They are criminals, but every criminal has a motive (whether or not we agree with it). In this case, the motive is extreme religious belief. They wouldn’t see it this way, of course. Religious extremists see everything through their chosen form of religious prism. But for me that only strengthens the theory of motive.
…In which case, maybe Charles has a point when he says the youth in this country need channeling. That has already met with opposition from one British Muslim leader I heard interviewed tonight – buy why? All Charles is saying is that if young British Muslims – and for that matter anyone else – can be deterred from going down the wrong path, then we can halt this worrying radical trend.
I agree with that. Thirty or forty years ago we needed to address football hooliganism and punks and anarchists. Twenty years ago, it was raves and drugs. Again, the fundamentalists see themselves as something apart, called to action by a higher authority – but to me they’re just another fad or tribe, the like of which our very old world has seen plenty of before.
As a worldwide movement, they are a huge issue: clearly we took our eye off the ball and now will have a helluva struggle destroying ISIS and the others. But at a local level, here in UK – whilst it won’t be a question of opening some dreary youth centres like we once did – there must be a way of bringing disaffected Muslim and other youth back into the fold. Targeted projects, education, condemnation by respected religious leaders, prosecution but also leniency in appropriate cases – all these things combined can do it.
I’m not exactly their biggest fans – but only branding fundamentalists criminals may satisfy our thirst for justice and assignation, but not be helpful. Complex problems usually require complex, multi-tiered solutions. Now he’s stopped talking to plants, the time may be right to listen to the Prince, and reassert some old-fashioned values and answers.