The government’s new plans to tackle “Islamic extremism” are in a reality a re-hashed version of proposals which have already failed, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.
It feels like we’ve been here before … a million times.
“A terror attack” happens on the streets of Britain or a “terror plot” is unveiled amid huge media fanfare; the British government consults some completely unrepresentative “community leaders” chasing knighthoods; and then it comes out with proposals to crack down on “Islamic extremism.”
I’ve been covering British counter-terrorism policy for the last decade or more and I can tell you that each one of these announcements is as pathetic and futile as the previous one, always papering over the cracks while ignoring the real causes of “Muslim extremism” – British foreign policy and Islamophobia at home.
Yesterday David Cameron outlined a series of measures to combat “Islamic extremism” following the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich earlier this year. And today Home Secretary Theresa May filled out the details.
Neither of these two would be able to tell a Sunni from a Shia or a burqa from a niqab but they insist on pontificating about “what the Muslim community needs to do” from a position of complete ignorance.
Their Extremism Taskforce’s proposals include:
– A new Terror and Extremism Behaviour Order which will allow authorities to take action against “hate preachers who seek to radicalise others.”
– Filters to block radicalising Internet websites and new powers to deal with organisations which “raise funds for terror” or “spread extremist messages under the guise of charities.”
– Giving more support to places facing the biggest integration challenges, especially those communities where extremism is a particular problem.
– Ensuring prisoners who have demonstrated extremist views in prison receive intervention and support on release.
– Cracking down on extremism in schools and universities.
Now some of these proposals might actually be welcomed by British Muslims. For example, I don’t think too many members of the community would shed tears if Anjem Choudary were gagged. Also, there wouldn’t be any objection to al Qaida-friendly views being censored on the Internet.
But as usual these powers will not only be used against the small minority of potentially violent Muslim extremists who do exist in this country; they will also be used against many more ordinary Muslim citizens who are completely harmless and innocent of anything.
Moreover, will these proposals stop British citizens being slaughtered on the streets by deluded individuals who believe they are acting in the name of Islam? No they won’t. Only a drastic re-appraisal of British foreign and domestic policy towards Muslims can achieve that.
In realty these proposals are just a re-hashed version of the government’s discredited counter-terrorism strategy Prevent, which 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.
Prevent 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 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.
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 these new measures?
Will they stop a small minority of British Muslims hating the country so much that they want to kill civilians? Will they persuade Muslims that Britain is not at war with Islam? Will they convince them to abandon the sharia and love gays and Israel. No of course they 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, stop supporting Muslim dictatorships and address rampant Islamophobia at home. Then the Muslim extremists will have absolutely no reason to attack this country, they will have nothing to bite on.
As for the Muslim community they have basically done what they needed to do – promote moderation and integration. Could they do more? Certainly, they could do more to combat the takfiri ideology that is gaining ground in Britain and which is mainly being funded by Saudi Arabia. An ideology which is tearing our communities apart.
But quite frankly, there is only so much the Muslim community can do. As long as British foreign policy is so “anti-Muslim” and as long as Islamophobia is allowed to go unchecked at home British Muslims will inevitably retreat into their own closeted world, wallowing in their victimhood and seeking refuge in an “us versus them” mentality.
So here are my proposals for a complete eradication of terrorism in Britain:
1. Withdraw all British troops from Muslim countries and stop intervening militarily and politically in Muslim lands.
2. Stop blatantly supporting Israel at the expense of the Palestinians.
3. Address rampant Islamophobia at home.
4. Crack down on Islamophobia in the media.
5. Stop harassing Muslims in airports and on the streets.
6. Allow Islamists the freedom to air their views in public institutions as long as they are not promoting violence or hatred.
7. Stop promoting certain Muslims and Muslim organisations over others, playing the community against itself and “creating” leaders through government finances and influence.
But it’s clear that Britain is not willing to do all 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.