From the vicious attack on innocent children in Manchester, to the slaughter of Yazidis in Iraq, to the chilling massacre of Christians in Egypt: violence, conducted in the name of Islam, is rarely far from the headlines. As the Ambassador of one of Britain’s allies, a Muslim country, I tell you that we stand in solidarity with the people of Manchester – a city with close links to the United Arab Emirates.
We stand too with Britain and its government in its fight against extremism. That is a fight not just with a few isolated terrorists. It is with the entire culture of extremism which supports and encourages the killers.
It is of course quite wrong to blame Muslims collectively for such attacks. Muslims are the terrorists’ greatest victims and the vile Daesh creed is an insult to Islam. Nonetheless, it is equally false to claim that it is some kind of coincidence that Muslims are so often also the perpetrators.
We have a huge rift in our own religion between the moderate majority and a violent fringe. That fringe, though, does not just consist of a few isolated terrorists who actually carry out attacks. It also includes a much larger number of people (though still a minority of Muslims) who condone what they do.
Terrorism, like a disease, spreads fastest among a population that has no resistance. A person who has been brought up to look down on non-believers, to cling on to an outdated and misplaced sense of Muslim victimhood, and to revere violence in the name of religion, can easily be won over to the terrorist cause. This is the kind of teaching that is encouraged by Islamist movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood, with its motto “Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope”, is the most virulent carrier of the extremism virus – a super-spreader of hatred. Of senior terrorist leaders in the Middle East and Africa, according to research by the Centre on Religion and Geopolitics last year, one in four had links with the Brotherhood. No wonder that it was the original home of both the Al-Qa’ida leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and the Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The UAE banned this movement in 2014.
What we have also done is to place tough controls on mosques in order to curb hate preachers. All mosques in the UAE must be registered with the Government. Clerics must be trained and approved by the Islamic Affairs Authority. Sermons are also regulated and monitored. In our view, there is a clear link between extremist preaching and terrorism. The British Government is right to want to tackle the spread of extremism in schools, universities and mosques and to look beyond terrorism to the wider problem of extremism.
We know that we must also create an antibody if we are to successfully tackle this disease. We believe this can be done through education and ensuring that young Muslims are taught respect for other faiths. For many years, the Brotherhood sought to install its personnel in positions of authority in schools and universities, to get access to impressionable young Muslims. This is not acceptable to us. We teach the values of harmony and tolerance in our schools. We teach our young that whilst they should hold firm to their own beliefs, they should also accept that others disagree.
That is why last year the UAE created a Ministry for Tolerance, and appointed to it one of our most senior ministers, Sheikha Lubna al-Qasimi. Hers is a voice in the Cabinet speaking up to ensure that all government policies promote respect and acceptance of the beliefs and culture of all the diverse groups that live in our country. Her Ministry reviews the curriculum, to ensure that our children are brought up in a spirit of tolerance. Our children can see, too, the example of co-existence in our treatment of other religions. While churches are destroyed in Iraq, they are being built in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
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It seems that the Manchester attacker may have planned his attack with others, but in a wider sense also, he did not act alone. His mindset is shared by others. It must be fought not only through security measures but ideological ones, too. We should not just search for the people who taught the Manchester bomber to kill, but those who taught him to hate.
Sulaiman Almazroui is Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the UK