Monday, June 16, 2008
One of those tricky questions...
It’s a mistake to put forward poverty as the root cause of extremism. In fact there’s too much emphasis given to economic factors in the whole debate about radicalization. What’s missing from the discourse is the role played by religion.

That’s what Kamal El-Helbawy, a leader of the Islamist organization the Muslim Brotherhood, told me earlier this week. His remarks struck me because they run counter to the complaints one still tends to hear that there is too much emphasis on Islam in the media; that when investigating terrorist acts it’s too often implied that it’s faith leading young men to do terrible things.

But for Helbawy it is faith, albeit faith wrongly understood, that’s to blame. He told me he boils the motivation behind acts of terrorism down to two main impulses. The first is a desire to please Allah, over and above any desire to displease the United States, or Britain, or whomsoever. The second is a desire to go quickly to paradise.

It follows then that the challenge is to convince would-be terrorists that the acts they are contemplating would lead to Allah’s displeasure and would send them not to paradise but to hell. Helbawy is surely right when he says it’s not Government leaders or the police who can do that, but religious figures.

And this, in turn, leads us to the big dilemma facing policy-makers involved in the hearts and minds bit of counter-terrorism. Which religious figures do they choose to help them? Which religious figures are most likely to succeed in turning around an aspiring suicide bomber in Birmingham? Those fully signed on to the idea of western liberal democracy? Or those who would wish to see Islamic law and ideas dominate all areas of life? Both are going to argue that Al Qaeda-style attacks on civilians are wrong. But which one is going to make headway?

By Andrew Carey
News and observations on the threats to international security and the challenges posed by terrorism to societies around the world. From breaking news to background stories, from serious analysis to casual asides, if we think it's interesting we'll post it here.
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