Could we please have a grown-up debate about radicalisation?

Mohammed Emwazi aka "Jihadi John"

For a few weeks now the subject of radicalisation has been dealt with by the media in such a childish manner that we are no nearer to understanding what really drives a very small minority of Muslims to violently turn against their country, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.

On the one hand you get the “dominant narrative” endlessly pumped out by the establishment – the disconnected-from-reality likes of Andrew Gilligan, Douglas Murray and Maajid Nawaz are paraded on our TV screens insisting that it’s all the fault of “Muslim extremists” and the “extremist” ideology that drives them.

And then you get the “minority narrative” – Muslims with grassroots experience and expertise who insist that British foreign policy and Islamophobia are the main drivers of radicalisation.

But amidst all the shouting and invective by tabloid journalists such as Kay Burley, Andrew Neil and Nicky Campbell it can be hard to see the wood for the trees.

The simple truth is that radicalisation is caused by numerous factors including all of the above. So here’s my shot at breaking it down.

Foreign policy

There’s no doubt in my mind (and in the minds of the vast majority of those who seriously study this topic) that Britain’s foreign policy has been the major motivating factor behind radicalisation. If I had to put a figure on it I would say this is 60-70 per cent of the problem.

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Prior to the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003) there were simply no terrorist attacks or plots to carry them out on British soil.

Western forces invaded Iraq on false intelligence and charges of possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in 2003.
Western forces invaded Iraq on false intelligence and charges of possessing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in 2003.

All those who have succeeded in attacking Britain or who have planned to do so have cited foreign policy as their main motivation. And anyone who has followed the “Muslim conversation” over the last decade would have noticed that it has been dominated by a sense of fury and grievance over Britain’s foreign crusades.

Ironically, during the Arab Spring the attention of “violent Muslim radicals” significantly diverted away from the West and towards the Arab world – in other words they all wanted to do jihad in Libya or Syria.

But after Britain stupidly took the decision to start bombing ISIS in Iraq in 2014 the country has once again become a target for terrorists and it can only be a matter of time before a successful attack against a soft target is launched.

Nevertheless, the bottom line is this – if Britain doesn’t attack Muslim countries abroad, it won’t be attacked at home. Or at least the likelihood of that attack will be seriously reduced.


Number two on my list of the causes of radicalisation would be government and media Islamophobia. Again, putting a figure on it I would say this around 30 per cent of the radicalisation problem.

Government Islamophobia is encapsulated in the Prevent counter-terrorism strategy which every serious thinker in the community considers a massive harassment and spying operation.

More broadly, the government’s counter-terror strategy has brought us the following gems over the past decade or more:

– Detention without charge or trial for terror suspects in prisons and on control orders.

– The long-term jailing of scores of loudmouths and fantasists who had no realistic plan to harm anyone.

Home Secretary Theresa May was recently voted Islamophobe of the Year
Home Secretary Theresa May was recently voted Islamophobe of the Year

– Hundreds of surveillance cameras in Birmingham specifically targeting the Muslim population.

– Undercover cops pretending to convert to Islam and then encouraging their targets to say incendiary things about jihad.

– The systematic cultivation of informants and spies.

– The funding and promotion of non-entities such as the Quilliam Foundation and the Sufi Muslim Council who have no grassroots support or impact in the community.

– The targeting of non-violent Islamists groups and individuals.

– The random harassment of Muslims at airports and other border posts.

And believe me, I could go on…

Media demonisation

Although the British media will shout from the rooftops that it is independent and holds power to account, any serious thinking person will know that in the vast majority of cases this is simply not true.

While fine, independent-minded journalists do exist in this country and sometimes do amazing journalism which genuinely does ruffle feathers, the fact is that 90 per cent of the time British journalism is completely servile to the powers-that-be and gladly regurgitates their propaganda. And Muslims know this only too well.

The obvious Islamophobes in the media are the right-wing newspapers such as The Times, The Telegraph, The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Express and The Star. These publications with their endless stream of hyperbolic stories about “Muslim extremists” really have no shame or decency.

mediaBut we shouldn’t let the supposed left-wing newspapers – such as The Guardian and the Independent- off the hook either. Even they operate well within the the Islamophobic mainstream and peddle the establishment narrative in a more subtle way.

All of these newspapers – as well as the mainstream TV news bulletins on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 – promote what I like to call the “Maajid Nawaz/Anjem Choudary circus.”

On the one hand you have the “good Muslim” – Maajid Nawaz – who blames everything on “Muslim extremists;” so much so that the viewing audience ends up thinking all Muslims are extreme . And on the other hand you have the “bad Muslim” – Anjem Choudary – who castigates Britain and non-Muslims so much that the viewing audience will begin to hate Islam.

Either way, Muslims end up looking bad.

The current “bad Muslim” in the eyes of the media and establishment is Asim Qureshi of CAGE who has been labelled a “Jihadi John apologist” and had his personal life invaded by journalistic trash.

CAGE’s attempt to focus the radicalisation debate on MI5’s own role in harassing Muhammad Emwazi has been drowned out by the completely over-the-top media demonisation of the group.

I must admit that I believe that CAGE’s initial media strategy of trying to humanise Emwazi and blame the security services for his actions was flawed, but that in no way justifies the Islamophobic response to it which by extension targets the community as a whole.


Finally, we come to the most difficult part of this article, the bit where I encourage Muslims to look in the mirror – something we aren’t good at doing.

I am someone who will never take a penny of British government money for the work that I do because I believe their policies towards Muslims are toxic. But nevertheless I am someone who still believes that the Muslim community does have an internal radicalisation problem that only we can solve.

There are some seriously deranged nutters in our midst who are ready to kill innocent civilians in the name of Islam at home and abroad. These utter scumbags are a disgrace to our great religion and none of us should have the slightest sympathy for them.

Again, if I had to put a figure on this “internal issue” I would say it comprises about 10 per cent of the radicalisation problem. I sincerely believe that without the foreign policy and Islamophobia elements this problem would be hardly worth mentioning because they give it the oxygen to breathe, but no full discussion about radicalisation at this time is complete without it.

Jihadi John
Jihadi John

So let’s call a spade a spade – for the past 30 years or more Saudi Arabia has been pumping money into British Islam and heavily promoting their brand of the religion. So much so that several prominent British Muslim religious institutions and at least one major TV channel are effectively controlled by Saudi.

The ideology that these institutions pump out is one dominated by an intolerance towards other brands of Islam and non-Muslims in general, even if they have become more adept at staying within the confines of the law. Subsequently, in an attempt to have their own influence, other countries – such as Qatar and Iran – are also pumping money in.

At some point, we will have to ask ourselves whether this foreign funding of British Islam is a good thing but it will surely continue as long as the community itself refuses to fund its own institutions.

Anyhow, I am not arguing that everyone trained at these Saudi institutions is a potentially violent extremist, but I am saying that some of the stuff they promote (such as sectarianism and the intolerance of others) is not appropriate to the context of British Islam and should not be accepted by any of us.

Secondly, I would argue that several community leaders showed severe short-sightedness by failing to realise just what a negative impact the Syrian conflict would have on the community here.

Instead of warning British Muslims of the dangers of traveling there and getting mixed up with crazy extremist groups (as well as helping to destroy a foreign nation), many leaders focused on demonising the “Assad regime” and ridiculously implied that going to fight against him was akin to heroes going to fight in the Spanish civil war.

But there was simply no excuse for this attitude as it was completely obvious from at least late 2012 that the anti-Assad rebels were dominated by al Qaeda and later ISIS.

So in my opinion the subsequent media demonisation over Syria and the government anti-terror policies that the Muslim community have had to endure are at least a partially self-inflicted wound.


In conclusion, and in the light of what I have said above, I would like to suggest some practical solutions to actually ending the radicalisation and terrorism problem that Britain faces (as opposed to the infantile point-scoring and finger-pointing that we see in the media all the time).

For the British government:

1. Seriously re-think your foreign policy and accept that there is no value in waging wars around the world that do not serve our national interest.

2. Put an end to the Contest counter-terror policy (of which Prevent is a part) and instead come up with policies that take heed of what the Muslim community is actually saying. You should be partnering with “non-violent radicals” in the community instead of demonising them because they can reach the disaffected better than anyone.

parliamentFor the media:

1. Stop treating Muslims as a suspect community that endlessly has to apologise for crimes a few criminals have committed.

2. Stop playing the “good Muslim bad Muslim” game by promoting the likes of Maajid Nawaz and Anjem Choudary who are ultimately two sides of the same coin.

3. Report fairly on the complexities of the Muslim community instead of imposing your values on us, caricaturing us and treating us as one monolithic entity.

For the Muslim community:

1. Do not let foreign money dictate to us how we pursue our lives as British Muslims.

2. Adopt a zero tolerance attitude to those who promote sectarianism and hatred for others.

3. Respect each others’ theological and political differences.

4. Work together on issues of mutual concern, such as Islamophobia.

5. Adopt a zero tolerance attitude to those who adopt a Takfiri mentality (whatever sect they belong to).

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