By Fariha Sikondari

Jihad has been built up into a scary word in the West. But really it just means 'struggle' or 'strive' and can relate to anything which one works on to benefit Islam and humanity.
Islam does not advocate aggression, although there is one exception in the case of self-defence. The word jihad is used when a Muslim defends himself in the face of being directly killed by an enemy in their homeland or driven out of their homes. Similar to the principles of international law, it is forbidden in Islam to kill innocent civilians, especially women and children. If the enemy offers peace then this must be accepted. However, this exception does not give rise to any justification for acts of terrorism. The current actions of Isis and all other terrorist acts are contradictory to Islam and do not benefit Islam or humanity.

Maybe there does need to be a clearer message on Islam's stance on terrorism, although many imams and Islamic organisations have denounced terrorism on numerous occasions. Some Muslims as well as non-Muslims seem to have bought into the distorted view of Islam portrayed in the media and by extremists, that Islam is a violent, bloodthirsty religion. This could not be further from the truth. However, only with widespread education and understanding amongst all groups within society can we reverse this distorted image.

Islam has previously been distorted during the 1950s/1960s in response to America's domestic policies. The Nation of Islam would not have thrived with the absence of policies enforcing racial segregation. It was only after Malcolm X performed Hajj and gained knowledge of true Islam that he realised Islam did not support the militant, black supremacist ideology of the Nation of Islam, which was devised to counter US racist policies. He experienced for the first time the concept of brotherhood in Islam; which states that you should treat people as either a brother/sister to you in religion or as a brother/sister in humanity. He subsequently denounced the militant ideology.

Although the era of Malcolm X is completely different to the world we live in today there are some parallels. This is perhaps a controversial concept for some people, but the present distorted jihadi ideology is a direct response to US and British foreign policy.

Despite the fact that both the American and British public have voted in different governments, foreign policy and the accompanying rhetoric have remained unchanged for the last thirteen years.

Since the events of September 11th, foreign policy has been influenced by the two-dimensional US narrative that "terrorists cannot be negotiated with" and can only be dealt with by force. In 2001 the international legal notion of 'self-defence', was interpreted widely to treat terrorist acts as if they were 'armed attacks' by states, and provided justification for military intervention. This was a deeply flawed strategy, halting any means to diplomacy, which al-Qaida were prepared to engage in, and has had damaging effects on foreign policy and international relations ever since.

Diplomacy is not as limited as the US/UK governments proclaim. It has worked historically. According to international law, it should always be the primary recourse in conflict situations. Nations have made peace with their worst enemies throughout history. Terrorism has traditionally been dealt with through political negotiation. Britain is well equipped for this route; the precedent being the successful negotiation of peace deals, in the 1990s, between Britain and the IRA which ended 25 years of violence.

US/UK foreign policy, which includes aiding conflicts through the backdoor by arming nations or rebels, has only resulted in exacerbating and prolonging global conflicts, increasing the risks of civilian deaths, acts of war crimes and violations of international law. Changing foreign policy to one that is diplomatic, proportionate and humanitarian would automatically significantly address the growing rise of jihadis at home.

Young British Muslims have grown up in a country which increasingly views them with hostility. The constant daily barrage of scaremongering in the media is having a detrimental effect on society as a whole, and even the most liberal-minded person has come to change their views on Muslims. However, this was not always the case, and certainly was not the case when I was growing up. There was a time when discrimination of Muslims and demonisation of Islam were not widely acceptable.

Combating extremism in Britain will only really be successful if the distorted view of Muslims and Islam in the media is addressed. There needs to be balanced, proportionate and fair portrayal of Muslims in the media, which would reduce hostilities within communities and reduce fuel for jihadist ideology. Only then can a concerted effort to combat jihadist ideology with knowledge of true Islam have any real effect.

A programme of education which clearly separates Islam from terrorism would aid deradicalisation. This could be done though social and mainstream media, by a collaboration between Islamic organisations and the government, to combat both jihadi and anti-Muslim propaganda.

The policy of military intervention, together with the overwhelmingly negative portrayal of Muslims in the media, has been fuelling terrorism. Far from making the world a safer place, has only caused the world to become less tolerant, less democratic and more hostile.

Critiquing foreign policy does not make someone anti-Western, anti-American or a supporter of terrorism. Changing foreign policy would be pandering to the British public, not pandering to terrorism. The government should be open to a debate and consider whether it is now time to take a separate stand from the US, to be at the forefront of negotiating peaceful resolutions, adhering to the principles of international law and reinstating diplomacy into foreign policy. Something has gone profoundly wrong with British politics if diplomacy, rather than military intervention, is considered radical.

Fariha Sikondari is a freelance journalist who has written for the Huffington Post and Islamique Magazine.

The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.