Those who live an evil life go to their deaths still embroiled in their evil ways. Thus it was fully in keeping with its hatred of humanity that Daesh anticipated its forthcoming defeat by blowing up the historic Al-Nuri Mosque in Mosul last week. Daesh has a track-record of destroying Sunni and Shiite places of worship; it is also known for desecrating iconic cultural sites belonging to the region’s Islamic and pre-Islamic history.
But this mosque had a third layer of significance as the location from where Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared his nasty, brutish and short-lived “caliphate.” The mosque’s demolition is thus Daesh’s narcissistic means of falling on its own sword. With Russia this week reporting that it may have killed Al-Baghdadi, Daesh in its death-throes is becoming an instrument in its self-destruction.
Daesh must be recorded in the annals of history as an enemy of Islam, given its propensity for killing tens of thousands of Muslims. But Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi, the Iran-backed militias fighting to gain control of surrendered Daesh territories, perhaps have even more Muslim blood on their hands.
Last month, after a series of bombings in Iraq’s capital, MPs allied with former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki pressured the authorities to consider placing Baghdad under the security control of these paramilitary entities. Such a measure would be the equivalent of putting the fox back in charge of the henhouse, given that these militias are credited with the sectarian cleansing of half of Baghdad’s Sunni population between 2005 and 2008.
I hesitate to refer to forces such as Daesh and Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi as Sunni or Shiite, because their actions define them as hostile to Islam in all its diversity. There is no God who calls for violence against the innocent. Islam and other world faiths teach us that all life is sacred.
This is the example a London imam set when last week he shielded a right-wing extremist who had just attacked worshippers at Finsbury Park Mosque, preventing the assailant from harm by an angry crowd until the police arrived and ensured he could be held accountable for his vile actions.
This mosque attack is the tip of the iceberg of a new epidemic in violence against European Muslims. Since a suicide bombing in Manchester last month, British police have logged a shocking 500 percent surge in Islamophobic attacks, with 224 anti-Muslim hate crimes recorded in just four weeks.
What should not be ignored is that embattled European Muslims have reported heart-warming incidences of solidarity from non-Muslim local communities, supporting victims of violence and coming out to demonstrate against all racist thuggery.
Daesh and the far-right are two sides of the same coin. Both want to create conditions where Christians and Muslims find it impossible to coexist, setting in motion their vaunted ‘clash of civilizations.’
This is a salutary reminder that just as extremists represent a tiny proportion of Muslim society, far-right thugs are a marginal phenomenon across Europe. The problem arises when these elements feel empowered to mobilize in order to implement their warped worldviews.
In reality, Daesh-inspired attacks against Western society are pinpricks. You are still 100 times more likely to be killed by a speeding car than in a terrorist atrocity. Yet the extremist strategy has always been to provoke an escalatory backlash, making it impossible for Muslims and non-Muslims to live together.
The racist meatheads who take their anger out against Muslims are just as much doing Daesh’s work for them as the deluded idiots who believe they are killing in the name of Islam.
The rise of US President Donald Trump and the alt-right, white supremacist hate-preachers who accompanied him changed everything. Just as Hitler mobilized embittered Germans against the Jews, the Trump movement demonizes Muslims.
A couple of years ago, the populist far-right was banished to the lunatic fringes; now it is invited onto mainstream television talk shows to spread its poison, normalizing bigots’ views and integrating them into the political mainstream.
The mass movement of immigrants in recent years has also been a factor. While big-hearted Europeans opened their homes and aided victims of unimaginable horrors, the refugee issue galvanized racist, populist demagogues and their tabloid cheerleaders. Every refugee has become a potential Daesh recruit, a terrorist waiting to explode.
Daesh and the far-right are two sides of the same coin. Both want to create conditions where Christians and Muslims find it impossible to coexist, setting in motion their vaunted “clash of civilizations.” They even spout the same language, demonizing all who are different and encouraging violence against minorities and vulnerable communities. We see exactly the same process in play between Sunni and Shiite fanatics.
The vast majority of us do not identify with any of these evil ideologies. Thus the proper attitude is to unite against these enemies of humanity, ensuring that our societies prevent all these elements from gaining a foothold.
The liberal West has always struggled with how to deal with illiberal elements who espouse racist and extremist violence. Freedom of speech should never be used to justify inciting violence, which jeopardizes our most fundamental right to live in safety and security, without which there can be no civilized society and liberalism itself is trampled to death.
In order to protect the liberal values that underpin our societies, we have to be intolerant of intolerance and willing to act decisively against those whose words and actions fragment our society and set us against each other. Our fight is not just with those who exploit religion for evil ends, or the excesses of the far-right — it is with the intolerant and hate-filled logic that fuels both.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate, a foreign editor at Al-Hayat, and has interviewed numerous heads of state.