Last May, two 22-year-old men from Birmingham traveled to Syria to fight alongside Islamist rebels opposing the regime of Bashar al-Assad. On their return in January, they were arrested by anti-terror police at Heathrow Airport and were later charged with offences under Section 5 of the Terrorism Act. A trial at Woolwich Crown Court was abandoned after both men pleaded guilty, but not before certain enlightening facts came to light – the court was told that part of their preparation to “do jihad” consisted of ordering books from Amazon including Islam For Dummies, the Koran For Dummies and Arabic For Dummies.
Many reacted to this with incredulous hilarity, but the more you think about it, the more profoundly disturbing it becomes.
It is disturbing because these young men were clearly not the product of a long process of indoctrination. They had not been methodically primed for terrorism by imams at the local mosque or by members of extremist cells using the internet, social media and other digital technologies to disseminate their warped ideology. Apparently, no radicalising agents had been instrumental in their decision to do battle with “Allah’s enemies”. Indeed, in so far as they had become radicalised at all, it appears to have been radicalisation by little more than a staggeringly nebulous sense of disaffection and grievance.
It is also disturbing because no one, including their families, had seen it coming. No one had noticed any signs of frustration or disaffection with Western society.
But these men could not possibly have embarked on such a deadly course of action on a passing impulse. There must have been some smoke from the smouldering sense of injustice they must have felt, a few expressions of rage or resentment exposing the fervent passion simmering deep in their souls. Why did no one suspect what they were up to?
Families and communities need to find a way to detect and defuse whatever it is that prompts young British muslims to feel drawn towards radical Islam and compelled to act upon their belief in the umma (the single Muslim nation). We need the Idiots Guide to Preventing Terrorism.