Cameron vows to take action to stop the Islamic State militants.
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Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to take action to stop the ISIS militants who murdered British aid worker David Haines and released a video of his beheading on Saturday night.
The Prime Minister said he would “hunt down those responsible” and “bring them to justice no matter how long it takes.” He also said his “comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” would include logistical support for US forces involved in air strikes and Kurdish forces on the ground but would not involve the deployment of British ground troops.
Born in England and reared in Scotland, 44-year-old David Haines had been an aid worker since 1999. He had been in Syria for just ten days working for the French Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) when ISIS militants kidnapped him in March 2013. His plight became global news when he was shown at the end of another ISIS video showing the killing of the American journalist Steven Sotloff.
Describing Haines’s death as a “tragic moment,” ACTED stated that Haines was notable for “his generosity, commitment, and his professionalism.” The group said that “the horrible assassination…goes against all humanitarian principles and is a crime against humanity. This barbaric crime must not remain unpunished.”
As an aid worker, Haines went “into harm’s way, not to harm people but to help his fellow human beings in the hour of their direst need,” according to Cameron. The prime minister described Haines as “a British hero,” and said that the murder of an aid worker perfectly showed ISIS’ nature. “They are killing and slaughtering thousands of people—Christians, Muslims, minorities across Iraq and Syria,” he said. “They boast of their brutality. They claim to do this in the name of Islam. That is nonsense.”
Commenting on the fact that Haines’s killer—who may also have been in the videos showing the murders of the American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff—seemed to speak with a British accent, Cameron said, “People across this country will have been sickened by the fact it could have been a British citizen, a British citizen who carried out this unspeakable act. It is the very opposite of everything our country stands for.”
A poll conducted by ICM in July found that 7% of British people held a favorable opinion of ISIS, with 29% of Britons having no opinion at all about the organization. Only about 4.4% of Britain’s population is Muslim, according to the 2011 census, but British Muslims appear to comprise perhaps as many as a quarter of ISIS’s foreign combatants. The government believes that about 500 British Muslims are currently fighting for ISIS in Syria and Iraq, with a further 250 jihadists having returned to the UK.
In an attempt to thwart the further radicalization of young Muslim Britons, Cameron a fortnight ago announced plans to force jihadists returning from the Middle East to attend compulsory “deradicalization” programs. There are several such programs, one of which, Al Furqan, is currently run in prisons and involves imams using Muslim religious teaching to challenge extremist interpretations of Islam.
There may be merit to such an approach. In 2008 the Guardian published a leaked briefing note from MI5’s behavioral science unit, which after hundreds of case studies had found that many of those involved in terrorism were religiously illiterate and did not regularly practice their faith. It concluded that “there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalization.”
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband has proposed the expansion of the planned scheme to deradicalize not merely returning jihadists but those on the fringes of extremism in Britain, urging that the parents of young Muslims and their communities be involved.
Some prominent British Muslims have taken the initiative in this regard. A group of Sunni imams, led by Dr. Usama Hasan, Senior Islamic Studies Scholar at the anti-Islamist think-tank Quilliam, recently issued a religious edict entitled “Fatwa Against the So-Called ‘Islamic State.’” The fatwa describes ISIS as “an oppressive and tyrannical group” which “by murdering prisoners of war, journalists, and civilians” and “by enslaving the women of their opponents,” has broken international agreements agreed by everyone, including Muslims, and declares that ISIS’ “persecution and massacres of Shia Muslims, Christians and Yazidi is abhorrent and opposed to Islamic teachings.”
The imams’ edict condemns ISIS as heretical, forbids British Muslims from joining it, obliges them actively to oppose its ideology, and reminds them of their obligations to the country where they live.
Responding to this statement, Jesuit Father Michael Barnes, reader and senior tutor in Interreligious relations at London’s Heythrop College, told Aleteia, “The greatest danger for ‘the West’ (and very much for the UK) is that the Sunni-Shia civil war being fought out in the Middle East will spread back here. One way forward is to build on the good relations which have been built up between the various Muslim communities here in the last couple of decades.”
Describing as admirable the courage recently demonstrated by the Scottish Mahmood family in expressing their sense of ‘disgrace’ at their 20-year-old daughter Aqsa having joined ISIS, Father Barnes, who is a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said such bravery needed to be encouraged.
“This sort of ‘islamism’ will only be defeated by proper theological argument, carried out in the public arena, by thoughtful Muslims themselves,” he concluded. “There are now a good number of them, thank God.”
Greg Daly covers the UK and Ireland for Aleteia.org.