This is a published article in The Times. The original can be seen here.
As London recovers from a series of tragic events, another terror attack hit its streets early Monday morning. The sickening anti-Muslim rampage took place outside the Muslim Welfare House as worshippers were leaving the area after evening prayers.
Witnesses have recounted the attacker’s alarming shouts of “I want to kill all Muslims” as he ploughed a van through pedestrians. It is clear that this individual’s actions were a manifestation of the anti-Muslim hatred that has been brewing in the West for quite some time.
All stands of contemporary extremism in the West – Islamism, ethno-nationalism, and the regressive left – have their respective violent offshoots that use similar rhetoric to justify themselves and vilify others. All three despise and target centrists who criticise them. At this moment in time, the most organised and dangerous of these may be Islamism, but that assessment is not fixed in stone as the Finsbury Park attack has indicated. Let us not forget that Europe has an anti-Muslim genocide in Bosnia behind it. Arguing over action and reaction, who started it all, and whose anger is more justified is as good as arguing over which came first, the chicken or the egg.
The recent Isis-inspired terror attacks in Manchester and then London have been very deliberate military tactics carried out with the intention to divide and polarise our society. Isis have told us as much themselves. Once the divide begins to creep in, people tend to take refuge in extreme positions and start to espouse more fanatical views. Only the extremists on both sides gain from this downward spiral to provoking civil war.
Anti-Muslim bigots and Islamists are often viewed as two opposing groups on opposite ends of a line, when in fact they are but two sides of the same coin. Yes, jihadist terrorism poses a far larger global threat, but according to our government anti-Muslim extremism has been the fastest rising of late. Muslimphobes and Islamists have much in common: both groups insist that Islam is a totalitarian political ideology at odds with liberal democracy, and hence both insist that the two will inevitably clash. While one group often calls for the Koran to be banned, the other calls to ban everything but the Koran. Together, they form the negative and the positive of a bomb fuse.
Anti-Muslim extremism and Islamist extremism exist in a kind of twisted symbiotic relationship whereby each props up the other, and both together create the optimum breeding ground for their respective ideologies to not only persist but thrive. The desire to impose Islam and the desire to ban Islam are simply twin ideologies that, if left unchecked and unchallenged, have the potential ingredients to cause havoc.
Yet this cannot mean that we allow the vicious cycle of hate to continue. We cannot and must not allow either side to hijack the narrative, dictate how we view the world, and polarise our societies or indeed muzzle intellectual debate about the role of religion and its need for reform in today’s complicated world. As Islamists often label all non-Muslims as the enemy, and anti-Muslim bigots target all Muslims as the enemy, it is up to us, civil society, to be rational enough to see the absurdity of such a black and white worldview.
Civil society must stand up to extremism in all its different configurations, whether it takes the form of a flawed argument or a violent manifestation. Any attack on non-combatants to further ideological aims is terrorism, and any act of terrorism is an infringement on the liberal values that are embedded in the very foundations of the free world.
Just as we ask Muslims to do more to tackle the clandestine Islamism in their communities, so must we call upon the populist right to address the rising anti-Muslim extremism in their ranks. We must all stand together in solidarity against all forms of extremism, violent or not, wherever it comes from.
Maajid Nawaz is founder of Quilliam, the worlds first counter-extremism organisation.