Last year, an opinion poll reported that 1 in 5 Muslims living in the United Kingdom were sympathetic towards Jihadis.
The result was seized on by the right-wing media, to attack the Muslim community in Britain, accusing them of disloyalty to the nation.
Instead of reds-under-beds, which were part of the social imaginary during the Cold War, now the impression given is of a Muslim terrorist behind every bush.
Together with the Prevent strategy of the British government, to redirect young people in danger of so-called radicalisation, this prejudice has further marginalised the Muslim community.
Efforts at thought control, through school education in supposedly ‘British Values’, have also served only to demonise a group of people already feeling rejected by the mainstream.
The poll referred to, however, did not specify exactly what ‘sympathetic’ meant. The response is phenomenally vague, and could refer to a variety of stances. Its value as social research is therefore highly dubious, spanning anything from active Jihadism, to general feelings of belonging and brotherhood in the Umma.
Is it not possible to be ‘sympathetic, without being ‘supportive? Many people, not just Muslims, are hostile or suspicious of officially sanctioned ‘British’ values.
What counts as ’British’ values? Many on the Left as well as Right question different aspects of contemporary British culture. From the Left, some would oppose the increasing privatisation of the welfare state or health service.
On the Right, many would reject the sexualisation of society, and the free availability, for example, of abortion.
Both might feel uncomfortable with the materialism and consumerism of a status-driven culture.
In different ways, each could feel some ‘sympathy’ with anti-capitalistic Jihadis committed to the overthrow of a hedonistic economic system.
In the same way, well-meaning liberals may have been ‘sympathetic’ to the Weather Underground in the USA, the Red Army Faction in Germany, or the Tupamaros in Uruguay, during an earlier era.
Such ‘sympathy’, for underlying values and their anti-systemic critique, did not, however, always extend to identification with their violent methods.
But such sentiments are often too sophisticated and nuanced for the popular right-wing media to follow, even if they wanted to. It is far easier to create villains as figures of hate.
For example, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave a lecture, in which he demonstrated some support for the idea of Sharia Courts operating in the United Kingdom.
He was viciously criticised for wanting to introduce Islamic fundamentalism into the British legal system, and trying to perpetuate the existence of separate non-integrated communities.
What he really wanted to do, copying the way Jewish family courts operate in Britain, was extend some protection to Muslim women whose Islamic marriages at present had no legal standing.
I too, according to the opinion poll mentioned above, would be ‘sympathetic’ to Jihadis. Although not a Muslim, I see why young men go on crusades in defence of ideals, against oppression.
As the rolling Stones once sang, should we not all have some ‘sympathy for the devil’?