Theresa May: The battle raging for the heart and soul of Islam

Home Secretary Theresa May before her address to the Conservative Party conference.
Home Secretary Theresa May before her address to the Conservative Party conference.
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DAVID Haines was a tireless humanitarian worker who helped Muslims not just in Syria but in Bosnia, South Sudan and Libya. Two weeks ago, he was murdered by terrorists, simply for being British. His murder followed the equally barbaric killings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, American journalists who were reporting to the world the plight of the Syrian people.

The terrorists who murdered David Haines like to call themselves the Islamic State. But I will tell you the truth: They are not Islamic. And they are not a state. Their actions have absolutely no basis in anything written in the Koran. What they believe has no resemblance whatsoever to the beliefs of more than a billion Muslims all over the world. And, like all the other Islamist terrorist organisations, they have caused the deaths of many thousands of innocent Muslim civilians. They occupy large parts of Syria and Iraq, and not only are they bringing death and destruction to the people of those countries, they have made absolutely clear their desire to attack Britain, America and the West.

ISIL are just one of the terrorist threats we face. There is Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, like-minded groups in Libya, Al Shabaab in East Africa, terrorist planning in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and home-grown extremists, who, like the 7/7 bombers, were radicalised here in Britain. Last year, Drummer Lee Rigby was murdered by Islamist extremists in London, while Mohammed Saleem, an elderly British Muslim, was murdered by a Ukrainian far right extremist here in Birmingham. The police and Security Service are working hard every day to prevent other terrorist attacks on our streets.

Dealing with those threats requires a deep understanding of what is going on in the world and a studied, careful response. Because there are no simple answers. We can’t go around the world trying to re-make it in our own image. We can’t just remove dictators and assume that liberal democracy will follow.

When you look at what is going on across the Middle East, there is a battle raging for the heart and soul of Islam itself. And that battle is very complicated. There is the ancient split between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Tribal rivalries and hostilities. Autocracies, theocracies and, yes, democracies too. States that fight proxy wars against others in third countries. Countries that sponsor insurgent movements and terrorism. Whole regions that are beyond the control of their governments. Terrorist groups that are more powerful than the states they’re based in. A conflict between different interpretations of the true faith, between scriptural literalism and modernity, between tradition and progress, between unelected strong men and popular consent, between nihilistic violence and human rights.

This is a battle that has already been fought for many years, and will be fought many years into the future. And it is not for Britain, or any other Western power, to try to resolve it. Only the many peoples of the world’s Muslim countries can determine their future. Yes, we should stand up for human rights. Yes, we should support friendly states and moderate elements within other states. Yes, we should provide humanitarian support when wars are fought. But we have to disentangle our own national interest from the struggle that is going on in the Middle East and across the Muslim world.

That judgement will sometimes be difficult to make. But in the case of ISIL the danger is clear. They have already murdered British and American citizens in the most brutal and cowardly manner possible. They have attracted tens of thousands of foreign fighters, including thousands of Europeans, Americans, Australians and British nationals. One of their terrorists has already struck in Europe, when he murdered four innocent civilians outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels earlier this year. And they have made clear that they want to go on attacking Western targets. That is why it’s right that we are part of the international coalition dedicated to ISIL’s destruction.

If ISIL succeed in firmly consolidating their grip on the land they occupy in Syria and Iraq, we will see the world’s first truly terrorist state established within a few hours flying time of our country. We will see terrorists given the space to plot attacks against us, train their men and women, and devise new methods to kill indiscriminately. We will see the risk, often prophesied but thank God not yet fulfilled, that with the capability of a state behind them, the terrorists will acquire chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons to attack us. This is not somebody else’s battle. They have made clear their ambitions. And they have made us their enemies. And the lesson of history tells us that when our enemies say they want to attack us, they mean it. We must not flinch. We must not shy away from our responsibility. We must not drift towards danger and insecurity. While we still have the chance, we must act to destroy ISIL.

Theresa May is the Home Secretary. This is an edited version of her party conference speech as she outlined new measures to tackle extremism.