The government’s announcement that it is to review its counter-terror strategy (Prevent) in the wake of the Woolwich killing is another knee-jerk reaction designed to convince the British public that “something is being done” to tackle violent extremism, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.
But will it stop British citizens being slaughtered on the streets by deluded individuals who believe they are acting in the name of Islam? No it won’t. Only a drastic re-appraisal of British foreign policy can achieve that.
Prevent was first formulated by the New Labour government in 2007 in response to the growing domestic terror threat, which was itself a reaction to New Labour’s foreign wars. It mainly consisted of throwing lots of money at compliant Muslim groups who were keen to make a living out of the new terrorism industry and who were willing to ignore or downplay the central role of British foreign policy.
These groups were meant to challenge the “extremists” and promote a moderate, westernized version of Islam, thus winning the battle of Muslim opinion. So this is what they attempted to do, and they made a nice living in the process. But the problem is they only influenced those who weren’t prone to radicalization in the first place. As for those attracted to the idea of “doing jihad in Britain”, they considered these groups (such as the Quilliam Foundation and the laughable Sufi Muslim Council) complete sell-outs and government stooges. And so did most other Muslims.
Prevent was updated by the new Conservative administration in 2011. The new strategy seemed to be largely influenced by the neo-conservative minister Michael Gove who wanted to tackle “Islamist” ideology which supposedly played the mood music to which terrorists danced. The kind of ideology which advocated the chopping of hands, which discriminated against gays, which banged on about sharia/khilafa etc.
And along the way, universities, mosques, madrassas and prisons were identified as hotspots of radical Islam where open political discussion was virtually banned; undercover police officers infiltrated the community, some even pretended to convert the Islam; spies were recruited within the community itself and were encouraged to grass.
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There were some successes in that a few genuine bad guys who were intent on murder and mayhem were caught. However, many experts believe most of the terror convictions since 7/7 are dubious, with loud-mouths and half-wits going down rather than real terrorists with real plots and real weapons. Meanwhile, Maajid Nawaz and Ed Husain got loads of air time on the BBC and Sky News and made the establishment feel really good about themselves. Here were brown faces saying what they would have said. Result!
But did the terror threat decrease? No. Were Muslims persuaded to adopt a western Islam? No. Why? Because the TV pictures still showed British troops killing people with turbans, shalwaar kameez and jalabiyas.
So after six years of failure what’s going to be different about Prevent 3? Well, the Home Secretary Theresa May has already hinted that the police and secret services will get more power to monitor online activity, texts and emails, where the real radicalization may be taking place because legitimate political discussion has been outlawed in public forums. Perhaps the security services will get an increased budget. So-called hate clerics may be gagged. And doubtless Muslim community leaders will be wheeled out as legitimate partners in this initiative to give it credibility.
But will it stop a small minority of British Muslims hating the country so much that they want to kill civilians? Will it persuade Muslims that Britain is not at war with Islam? Will it convince them to abandon the sharia and love gays and Israel. No of course it won’t.
The simple truth is that if Britain wants to completely eradicate terror from its streets it needs to withdraw its troops from Muslim lands and stop supporting Muslim dictatorships. Then the Muslim extremists will have absolutely no reason to attack this country, they will have nothing to bite on.
But it’s clear that Britain is not willing to do this and therefore Prevent will always just be papering over the cracks. The simple, unpalatable fact is that the security services can only do so much, the police can only do so much, the Muslim community can only do so much. And therefore the UK will just have to learn to live with low-level terrorism for years to come.
You can follow Roshan Muhammed Salih on Twitter @RMSalih