“I’d like to purchase a flight to Syria please.”
“Will you be requiring a return flight, Madam?”
“No thank you. I am unlikely to return, I am heading to my homeland.”
There has been a recent media frenzy over both men and women travelling to Syria and Iraq to join the caliphate proclaimed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The Met police have consistently emphasised the illegality of this migration of British Muslims to join what has essentially become a self-declared Islamic utopia, governed by tyrannical and ironically blasphemous men, who rigorously enforce their vision through be-headings and torture. So far, they have claimed the lives of reputable journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff as well as the humanitarian aid worker David Haines. These are to name just a few.
But are these men and women terrorists? This is the key issue currently debated by Britain’s top officials, questioning whether Muslims travelling to these territories are criminals or terrorists and if, upon their return, they pose a fundamental threat to British society. These debates resonate with concerns that ISIS threatens Britain’s national security and that these individuals may orchestrate aggressive and catastrophic attacks on the UK homeland. There is, however, a fundamental generalisation of those who have abandoned the UK – that they are all terrorists.
Islam, just like its monotheistic neighbours Christianity and Judaism, has a strict doctrinal framework which is considered universal and able to stand the test of modernity. Today’s leading monotheistic religions have all historically sought to consolidate an area of religious purity for their fellow believers to inhabit and live by a particular creed: the European crusades wanted to Christianise the Holy Lands and eradicate Islam, as did the Zionists in 1946 when they blew up the King David Hotel in the hope of removing the British and the Arab Muslim population. It should be considered therefore that British Muslims may be travelling to these territories, not singularly because they are seeking to participate in a murderous campaign throughout the Middle East, but because of the appeal of having their beliefs enacted in a societal environment.
It should not be forgotten that although ISIS does brutally disseminate its opponents and world heritage sites, it does operate as a governed territory with an economy and a leader/ ‘head of state’. The financial backdrop of their economy, and the sources of their considerable wealth are certainly criminal to say the least, but this does not dispute the very essence that an Islamic authority has been created and operates as a quasi-nation. The appeal of ISIS lies in its success of creating an Islamic homeland embodying the core teachings of the Qur’an which arguably presents an attractive alternative for conservative Muslims opposed to secularism and modernity.
The beliefs of Jihadi John and his counterpart Talha Asmal, who have adopted an aggressive outlook similar to the vision of Al Qaeda, certainly poses a threat for western security. They are undeniably operating as terrorists in these regions. Allowing these characters to stroll through Heathrow and reside in the UK would most definitely have fatal consequences for Britain and atrocities like the Lee Rigby disaster may become a frequent feature of our daily headlines.
Male and female Muslims travelling to ISIS, however, are not always of the same nature as these two protagonists and this is being significantly overlooked. If they desire to travel to a region where their beliefs can be enacted as the main body of governing legislation, why should we stop them. There is certainly a concern with them returning to the UK, however, labelling them all as terrorists for migrating to achieve a life within a theocratic regime of their choice is stigmatising.
Historically speaking, we never labelled the Jews fleeing Europe to Palestine during the 1930s/40s as terrorists, despite the existence of Jewish paramilitaries and terrorist organisations driving sectarian tensions. The Soviet Union similarly was a Communist utopia attractive for the dislocated European Left during the Cold War, but again, it wasn’t widely held by the British public that these individuals were going to support a campaign of state terror.
Admittedly, there is stark ideological differences between these two cases; the Zionists did not seek the eradication of the West whereas ISIS does. However, in both scenarios there are religious adherents migrating to a territory which promises a religious sanctuary.
In five years time the West may be forced to engage with the Caliphate at a diplomatic level as ISIS’ achievements may hypothetically lead to its eventual incorporation into the international community. ISIS doesn’t appear to be collapsing any time soon, and so therefore it is imperative to have adequate intelligence on Muslims travelling between Britain and these territories in order to distinguish those seeking to terrorise from those devoting their lives to Islamic doctrine.
There certainly needs to be a greater focus on the motives of British Muslims leaving the UK, and there does need to be a differentiation which distinguishes the jihadi terrorists from the wider population. If they desire a certain lifestyle that is peaceful and conforming to Islam, they should be granted the liberty to live in this manner and it should not be the duty of British policing agencies to anxiously generalise these motivations as terrorism. So long as their intentions do not involve the genocidal destruction of everything external to Islam, there should be an acknowledgement that these individuals have committed themselves to a life in accordance with their beliefs. ISIS has ultimately filled a political vacuum and provided a theoretical Islamic utopia, and migrating Muslims are adhering to a concept which conforms to the most basic of their understandings: an Islamic caliphate.
Let motives and interests be the determinant of the umbrella label, and not the other way around.
P.s I always enjoy some open discussion on what I’ve written, so if you literally are outraged by this post, I’d really like to hear why. Or more positively, if you agree, share your thoughts and comments below. Thank you.