There may be many things wrong with religion, such as Deuteronomy 7:1-4 and the thread of misogyny that runs through the Abrahamic religions, but being religious doesn't make you a terrorist, including being a Muslim. There are estimated to be 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. Only a very small proportion of them are terrorists but they make up a large proportion of the victims of terrorism and of the refugees from the mess in Syria and Iraq. Yet in the current panic about terrorism, some regard every Muslim as a suspect.
People, mostly male, who become terrorists are likely to have huge chips of their shoulders which they blame on others for a variety of reasons. They are unhappy, resentful people who'll justify their anger and hatred with one of a variety of negative -isms, including jihadism, patriotism, tribalism, nationalism and sexism. The Oxford English Dictionary defines terrorism as "The unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims." What was "shock and awe", the assault on Baghdad in 2003, but state-sanctioned terrorism, most of it committed by nominal Christians, led by those two pious idiots, Bush and Blair?
IS, or Daesh, is a bigger organisation than Al-Quaeda, Al-Shabaab or Boko Haram, largely thanks to Syria's Bashar Al-Assad's destructive regime and to the mess left in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. In the absence of any effective governance, widespread lawlessness and the availability of illegal weaponry has allowed a few charismatic leaders to recruit fighters to their toxic cause. Sponsorship by wealthy benefactors also contributes. Many of its foreign recruits are from areas of social deprivation; under-educated, under-valued, under-employed, and ripe for enrolment into an organisation that tells them you're all right and everyone else is wrong.
France may like to crow about "Liberté, égalité, fraternité!" but it has housing estates full of Muslim citizens who will tell you that they don't feel that they're treated equally. Al Jazeera has reported that by 1904 5,000 Muslims were working on the shop floors of Paris, in the soap factories of Marseilles and in the coalfields of the north. Muslim soldiers fought and died for France during the First World War, and Muslim members of the resistance helped liberate Paris in 1944. "Born as North Africans, many would die for France. But how much did post-war France care about their sacrifices?" Not enough. Young Muslims, like the young woman who blew herself up in Paris last week, have grown up to face social deprivation and unemployment with an understandable sense of grievance. Maybe you should be surprised that more of them haven't become terrorists.
And what about the UK? We don't have the same pool of disenfranchised Muslim youth, though there are pockets of deprivation, but bombing IS isn't going to help matters. There'll be more anti-UK rhetoric and reaction, more refugees, and more anti-Muslim nonsense spouted in the right-wing press and nationalist political groups and parties. In other words, it'll stir the pot of violence and hatred even more. Act in haste, and reap the consequences.
Click here to watch the Al Jazeera series on French Muslims.