Britain is under terrorism’s focus. The incident near a London mosque on Monday was the fourth terrorist strike there in four months. An agitated Prime Minister Theresa May, who had recently lost her election gamble, has termed the attack as “sickening.” According to her, Britain’s determination to fight “terrorism, extremism and hatred…must be the same, whosoever is responsible.” The 48-year-old driver was detained by people at the scene and then arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. The management of the Finsbury Park Mosque, near where the attack took place, said that the van deliberately mowed down Muslim men and women who were leaving after offering late evening prayers at the mosque and the nearby Muslim Welfare House shortly after midnight. This was acknowledged by the London police chief, who said the incident was “quite clearly an attack on Muslims.”
Unlike Muslim societies that face the challenge of Islamic militancy, some Western societies, particularly Britain’s, have been blighted by the menace of both Islamic militancy and, on the other end of the spectrum, “Islamophobia.” Here, the ascendency of the white racist right in many Western countries in recent years is a matter of growing concern, and not only in Europe. However, one must not lose sight of the fact that many western democracies, Britain in particular, are bastions of inter-faith harmony and freedom of expression. These nations seem to be struggling to find an answer to this challenge. Europe, the US and Russia perceive the Middle East, which is in deep political turmoil since the US attack on Iraq in 2003, as geopolitically valuable, a place where regional and global interests converge. These features therefore render the Middle East capable of possible threat to both West and Russia. The Western interventions following the 9/11 tragedy and the outbreak in 2011 of what the US and the West refer to as “Arab Spring” – which shook the Middle East and North Africa since never before – seem to have boomeranged for Europe. That Libya is still thousands of miles away from gaining political and economic stability since the death of Moammar Qadhafi is a fact. That Yemen, which was being ruled by Ali Abdullah Saleh, is in a bloody conflict with its neighbour Saudi Arabia ever since that despot’s ultimate exit. Syria is experiencing a deepening civil war. Afghanistan, which was ruled by the Taliban with an iron hand, presents the most profound picture of human misery since the US invasion in November 2001. The Syria civil war has added the most dangerous dimension to the challenges of terrorism and extremism in the region. The spreading violence is affecting Turkey, Iran and many European countries, particularly France and Britain. Saudi Arabia, which is also a player in the Syrian civil war like Iran and Qatar and some Western nations, has been finding it difficult, if not impossible, to insulate the kingdom from militant violence that has been perpetrated by various non-state actors, particularly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The Saudis have formed a 41-state Islamic Military Alliance with a view to countering the real or perceived challenges emanating from both non-state actors and sovereign states such as Syria and Iran.
That Britain will successfully deal with the challenge of Islamic militancy is a strong possibility because it had previously ruled this region through its carrot-and-stick and divide-and-rule policies in a largely effective manner. Although Britain lost its Egyptian stronghold because of the Suez Canal crisis in 1956 it has retained most of its other strongholds in the region it painstakingly amassed over many years during its colonial rule. The Arab Revolt against the Khilafat institution of the Ottomans, that was conceived, planned and executed by Britain, however puts it at odds with all Islamic militant organizations, including ISIL.