There is no denying the humanitarian crisis that is currently unfolding in Israel. The constantly deteriorating situation is deeply troubling. As a counter extremism think tank, it is Quilliam's remit to explore the effect this is having on extremism in the UK.
Certainly, the impact has been – and will continue to be – significant. Indeed, this week, some footage from a pro-Gaza rally emerged on YouTube depicting thirty or forty cars stationary in a London tunnel, their occupants beeping horns and chanting in aid of Palestine.
On its own, there is nothing wrong with such a demonstration. Indeed, we ought to be glad of such forms of peaceful protest (even if they are an assault on the senses), for they are indicative of the democratic values of the society in which we live.
The thing that was concerning was the fact that the black standard of jihad, a flag closely associated with al-Qaeda, was being waved back and forth by one of the protestors. It is important that the significance of this – an outcome of the extremist co-optation of the Israel-Palestine conflict – is discussed rationally, neither exaggerated nor played down.
First things first, it is important that we recognise that one black flag among many Palestinian banners does not necessarily mean that al-Qaeda have a foothold in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the vast majority of those protesting against what is happening in Gaza right now are by no means extremist. While the individual holding the jihadist flag certainly is, he's more likely an impressionable youth who has fallen victim to extremist propaganda than an al-Qaeda operative. This distinction must be made; one must not write off all pro-Palestinian demonstrators as extremists.
Secondly, we must recognise that this is not a new strategy for Islamists. As a past Quilliam report demonstrates, the situation in Israel-Palestine is a grievance that has long been used as a vehicle by extremists to further their pseudo-religious political agenda. In doing so, though, they cherry-pick facts in order to make it into a morality play, reflective of an imagined global conspiracy against Islam. They foster the internationalisation of the issue, ignore its regional aspects and instead fix it into their Manichean interpretation of worldly affairs.
In the West, we must take care to understand the Israel-Palestine conflict as it is and not as Islamist extremists want us to. Shelling schools and killing civilians are both unacceptable and indefensible acts, but they do not show that there is a conspiracy against Islam, nor is it evidence of an omniscient, omnipotent group of Zionists that controls international politics. They sound far-fetched, but ideas like these have been at the heart of the jihadist doctrine since its inception. Facts on the ground and practical considerations of the conflict are ignored completely, as is the way with most Islamist readings of geopolitics.
So, while it is concerning that a Briton was found to be waving a jihadist flag at a pro-Palestine demonstration, it is in no way surprising and should not be allowed to serve as a distraction from the reprehensible situation in Gaza. Rather, it is just reflective of an age-old extremist trick of shouting about some facts and ignoring others.
Charlie Cooper is programs officer at Quilliam, a UK-based anti-extremism thinktank. For more info go to www.quilliamfoundation.org.