THE recent deadly knife attack in London, carried out by Usman Khan, a British militant of Pakistani origin, has reignited the debate about home-grown extremism in the West, and what Western governments are — or are not — doing to keep a check on such atrocities. While certain quarters will be quick to blame Pakistan for this outrage, considering the suspect’s origins, the fact is that home-grown terrorism is very much a British problem, and pointing fingers at this country will not make it go away. While Khan did reportedly spend some time in Pakistan, he was born and bred in the UK, and was apparently radicalised by the speeches of Yemeni-American militant Anwar al-Awlaki. Moreover, up till now no solid evidence has emerged linking the suspect to any of the militant groups that have operated in Pakistan. The authorities in the UK need to ask themselves some tough questions, namely how a man convicted of planning an act of terrorism — Usman Khan was sentenced in 2012 for planning an attack as part of an ‘Al Qaeda-inspired group’ — managed to carry out a rampage with a knife without any red flags going up prior to the attack.
While Pakistan indeed has plenty of problems with home-grown militants of its own, terrorism in the West has evolved as an independent beast, and needs to be de-linked from actors in South Asia. Though there may or may not be operational links between terrorists in Europe, America and this region, there is plenty of evidence that militants who have been born and have grown up in the West are quite capable of wreaking havoc on their own. For example, despite its efforts the British government has been unable to totally shut down Al Muhajiroun, a UK-based extremist outfit which enjoys support from Muslim Britons from various ethnic backgrounds, as well as radicalised converts. In fact Anjem Choudary, a convicted British terrorist and reportedly one of Usman Khan’s mentors in extremism, remains a free man. The British authorities need to see what further can be done to ensure such dangerous individuals are prevented from preaching their hateful views and drawing recruits. Moreover, many Muslims based in the West flocked to fight for the militant Islamic State group, which shows that those in power in the UK and other Western states need to take a deeper look at why their citizens are shunning their home countries and systems to adopt the path of extremism.
Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2019