When looking for explanations as to why a few British Muslims turn to terrorism, the media commentariat often look to cultural failings. This is particularly true of minority communities, who are then subjected to an extensive cultural test and are usually found wanting. These failings are then presented as drivers towards extremism. This sort of prejudicial explanation falls out of consideration, however, when white converts are discussed. (Although no charges have been made, at the time of writing, some white converts have been arrested in connection with the Transatlantic airplane plot, which has thankfully been foiled. Yet all those arrested are still innocent until proven guilty. Proper legal process will have to run its course before a fuller picture can emerge.)
White converts aren’t seen as culturally different, they are like us white British. How could they even contemplate, let alone do, such things? Whatever cultural issues may or may not be pertinent closer to home is obviously a matter of debate, although like the debate about the cultures of minority communities, I’m not sure how relevant it ultimately really is.
Disaffection and disadvantage are proffered too as causes of radicalisation, and they no doubt play a part. But recruits have a wide class background, and some are well-heeled and educated, and in these particular cases we may not be looking at personal disadvantage but idealistic solidarity with the less fortunate.
One can have no truck with terrorist methods in any circumstance. Islamic law is clear on this point: the lives of civilians, non-combatant and off-duty soldiers and reservists are held to be inviolable, as is reiterated in a detailed refutation of suicide bombing by Sheikh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti. Once the political rationale is made that this is permitted because an oppressed people are weak and have no military alternatives, then the tactic gets taken up elsewhere on the same rationale. Therefore, in accordance with a primary purpose of Islamic law, which is to protect human life, there are no exceptions anywhere.
However, it is clear that extremists attract recruits from a wide cross-ethnic, cross-sectarian base. So rather than focus on culturalist explanations about the ethnic or cultural groups recruited from, it makes more sense to look at the common denomenator in all this, the nature of the moral appeal that is the precusor to the further cajoling to take up inhumane violent means. It seems to me that the crux of the terrorist’s moral appeal is defending the weak, the disadvantaged and the oppressed on the basis that the viable political or military alternatives traditionally available to the sovereign state do not exist. Terrorists have believed from time immemorial that not only is their cause moral but that it is more moral than that of their opponents, and this is certainly how they present themselves. If we comprehend this, then we can understand why converts are potentially neither more immune nor more suseptible to the dangerous and perverted idealism of terrorists than is anyone else.
More reflections on converts and terrorism, in an article written for The Spectator, can be found here.