As a child growing up in England, I saw the signs of British stoicism everywhere: from the pillboxes that lined the canals and waterways and the remnants of World War II bomb shelters on our property to the attitude of imperturbability with which the nation endured years of IRA bombings.
Although the perpetrators of the terrorist attack on London were British-born, they clearly knew little about British history if they thought they might effect change on the country through terrorism. More than 1400 years ago, the Prophet Muhammad made a statement that seems strangely prescient today. He described a time in the future when the Romans (or Europeans as they are today known) would be dominant. He was then asked about their qualities, to which he replied that they possess five: they have the patience to undergo a trial; they immediately restore themselves to sanity after trouble; they can attack again after flight; they are good to the destitute, the orphans and the weak; and they resist the oppression of kings.
The British people demonstrated four of these five qualities in their response to the London attacks. They reacted calmly and rationally, quickly identifying the terrorists and unraveling the events that led to the attack. There was little backlash against Muslims, the financial markets did not crash, and life returned almost instantly to normal as Londoners demonstrated the same insouciance that got them through the Blitz. If the intent was to provoke panic, the attack was an abject failure.
However, it is imperative to understand something of the causes. Obviously, the terrorists saw Britain as a legitimate front in some vacuous war. Perhaps they thought their crimes would provoke a British withdrawal from Iraq. And, almost certainly, they held their country in enough contempt that they could murder their fellow citizens.
It is not, however, mere hatred that makes Muslims into murderers, but ignorance of religion. Anger, hatred and resentment are human emotions, but not all angry people become terrorists.
Whereas most Muslims feel distress at the trials of their brethren in Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere, only a minuscule minority see violence as a solution. But these young men found comfort from the very real injustices of the world in a perverse and nihilistic misinterpretation of religion.
The fact is that Islam requires its adherents to be good citizens, to work for the betterment of society and contribute productively to their communities. It demands that Muslims obey the law. Ibn Qudamah, a medieval Islamic scholar, warned Muslims that to break the laws of a non-Muslim state that had granted them sanctuary was an act of betrayal, and betrayal and treachery have no place in our religion. It is not just moral to obey the laws of the land and protect the lives and property of its citizens but, more importantly, it is a religious requirement. Regardless of the foreign policies of one’s government, obedience to the law is an inviolable principle for any Muslim who claims to believe in Islam.
This is a message that only Muslim scholars and leaders can take to their communities. However, more must be done to address the social conditions that make people more susceptible to religious extremism.
In many Western cities Muslims have formed ghettos: isolated intellectually and culturally from the broader society. Many identify more closely with the country of their parents than the land in which they were raised and in which they must carve a future. A feeling of exclusion has led a minority to adopt an exaggerated sense of victimhood and helplessness.
While they may possess a rudimentary understanding of the rituals of Islam and its most basic beliefs, few understand the responsibilities of the Muslim citizen of the non-Muslim state. Without this knowledge, it is not surprising that a minority of disenfranchised youths should develop a toxic contempt for a society from which they feel excluded. And when this contempt is satiated by a deviant understanding of religion, the results can be devastating.
It is wrong to place the blame for the London attacks solely on the Middle Eastern adventures of the British Government.
While the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and British alignment with the United States probably provided the provocation, Muslims are not feathers blown on the winds of foreign policy. Rather, Muslims have inherited a prophetic code of conduct that explicitly forbids the murder of women, children, the elderly and the non-combatants.
Muslims have no excuse for terrorism.