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Opinion_

Reluctance to blame Islamic State for Paris attacks plays into its hand

17 November 2015
The key to the success of Islamist militant groups is the very democratic values of the Western societies

The hypocrisy of the West is not to blame for terrorist attacks but thinking that way strengthens Islamic State's hold on the narrative, writes Hussain Nadim.

Nothing is more horrific than hundreds of innocent civilians killed in cold blood as we saw in the terrorist attacks in Paris. Nothing, except the reluctance to unconditionally condemn the act of terrorism.

Not a complete day had elapsed, and the discourse across the Muslim communities worldwide had already turned from showing solidarity to the victims of Paris attack to damning the "hypocrisy of the West" for not showing equal sympathy to the regular attacks in Beirut, Syria and Iraq.

No denial that there is immense suffering in the war-torn Middle East and numerous other places, but this train of comparison reflects a disturbing emerging reality.

It isn't the terrorist attacks, but this ability to shift the discourse in a matter of hours that really represents the strength and success of Islamic State and numerous other Islamist groups that have deeply penetrated and monopolised​ the narrative in the Muslim world.

Hence, while it is true that of 1.6 billion Muslims living in the world a very small percentage takes up arms against the West, a large proportion of Muslims throughout the world are unconsciously and silently dripped with Islamists' radical ideology of "Islam under attack" and "us versus them" notions.

What is more startling is that Muslims are the first to have suffered at the hands of such terrorist groups, yet the Islamists' monopoly over the narrative is such that majority of the Muslims refuse to acknowledge or blame any Islamist groups behind the terrorist attacks on Muslims, and instead blame the West and the US.

It is not a surprise, then, that the Muslim world today stands divided on whether groups like al-Qaeda, Islamic State, the Taliban and many more represent a threat to Islam or to the West – hence resulting in reluctant condemnations arguing that such groups don't represent Islam. Who does actually represent Islam is a debate that has caused much bloodshed in the Muslim world in itself.

Islamic militants understand that as much as the democratic values provide strength to the Western societies, they are also their biggest weakness.

It is through the attacks like the one in Paris or that of Sydney that the terrorist organisations are communicating a message; not to the Western governments but to the Muslims worldwide. The message is not only to inspire the Muslims living on the fence to "act", but also to show the Muslims, what the Islamists call the "hypocrisy" of the Western democratic societies that cares more about their own people, than millions dying in the Muslim world.

With each terrorist attack the convergence of Islamist radical ideology with that of an average Muslim is growing and with the backdrop of Iraq war, the superpowers mess in Syria and the unresolved Palestine issue, radicalisation is soaring.

The key to the unfortunate success of Islamist militant groups like Islamic State is the very democratic values of the Western societies. Islamic militants understand that as much as the democratic values provide strength to the Western societies, they are also their biggest weakness. Western democracy has allowed the militant organisations the unchecked space to preach, convert and radicalise Muslims throughout the Western world under the notion of "freedom of speech".

It is fascinating that radical groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir,  banned in numerous Islamic countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Turkey, openly preach hate against the West to the Muslims in the very Western societies, including Australia, which have allowed them the space to practise that freedom.

The Islamist organisations thoroughly understand that they do not carry popular support of the Muslims, but they do also realise that they don't carry popular resistance from the majority of Muslims either.

Hence, the Islamists militants need not to convert masses, or stir a revolution. All that is needed is to convert a handful of people who can carry out sensational terrorist attacks, and create enough momentum to unleash the wrath of Western societies on their Muslim population, and within months recruitment in militant groups will multiply on its own.  

In this time of emotions and sensitivities, restraint must be shown by the Western governments so as not to fall for the militants' scheme. At the same time there is a need for the Muslims to cut the confusion and start taking Islamic State and other militant groups as the foremost threat to Islam – until such clarity is prevalent, groups like Islamic State will continue to breed.

Hussain Nadim is a PhD candidate and co-ordinator of the South Asia Study Group at the University of Sydney. This article was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.

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