The UK Government’s announcement of a new counter-extremism bill earlier this week amounts to the religious persecution of the Muslim community, writes Jahangir Mohammed.
Just before the General Election, we had the Counter Terrorism and Security Act – a whole raft of new laws targeting Muslims. This included mass surveillance of the Muslim community through a Prevent duty imposed on most public servants. Public sector workers are now to be turned into ideological crusaders against Muslims, helping to identify the enemy within, those with bad ideas and values.
As a young lecturer, I used to teach the development of British social policy. This policy will destroy the very essence of the British tradition of public services, which took great social and political reformers over a century to nurture. These services were meant to be for all those who need them, free from political and value judgements.
When our public servants become ideological instruments of the state, they will be acting no differently to that of the party machine of the Soviet satellite states. Communist state servants ensured that only the values and ideas of the “Party” could be espoused. Religious, alternative political beliefs, values, and gatherings were all considered a threat to the ruling ideology and could not be allowed. People were sent to exile camps in Siberia for daring to challenge ruling ideas and values.
UK Police State
We may not be quite at that stage in Britain yet, but Theresa May’s latest counter extremism proposals will ensure that we get there. These plans, as the Home Secretary was at pains to point out, target people who are law abiding citizens but have the wrong ideas, values, religious and political beliefs (in her opinion and that of neo-con architects of her policies).
The wrongness has not yet been fully defined, nor have the groups and individuals that hold the “bad” ideas been named, but they are all to be outlawed, and turned into criminals anyway. These proposals are no longer about violence or terrorism; we have a decade’s worth of laws to stop that. Nor is it about hate speech, we have plenty of laws to stop that.
Let us be clear and blunt about these proposals, they are about ideological and religious supremacy. They are about speech crime and expression of thought crime. They are singularly aimed at the ideas, expression and speech of Muslims. In effect, and I will say it if nobody else has the courage to do so. These laws are about legitimising the religious persecution of Muslims in Britain. Coupled with the CTS Act and the Prevent duty, they will ensure that religious persecution and criminalisation of Muslims is fully institutionalised.
The problem that Theresa May and the UK Government have, and which came across in her rambling nonsensical performance on the BBC today programme, is, that she knows all the ideas, values, people and groups they want to target are Muslim. But, they cannot give specific details because that will expose that they are targeting one religious community. So instead, they repeat general woolly definitions and statements about who and what they are trying to outlaw.
They do not wish to openly be seen as targeting Muslims, because at the same time as persecuting Muslims at home, they need Muslim wealth and resources for their economic recovery. Britain’s debt riddled economy and debt fuelled growth can only be saved with large injections of real cash, the source of which lies in the Muslim world. If Britain is seen as a risky place for Muslims to live and invest, then the flow of Muslim wealth into this country will be reversed.
Just exclusive to Muslims?
The real problem with these proposals will occur when they become law. Although targeting Muslims, in statute the laws will have to be applicable to all. So extreme right wing, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and even secular groups exhibit some of the ideas, values and behaviours that have been outlined which need to be rooted out.
They also have organisations, hold events at venues, and have TV channels with much more controversial and divisive speakers. This raises questions that journalists should be asking. So for example, will groups like the English Defence League be banned, or Christian Evangelical TV stations be targeted? Is it only Muslim speakers who can “promote division” and have non mainstream ideas and values? Don’t political parties themselves divide society?
Some Muslims will no doubt argue we do have some “nutters” in our midst to deal with. But I believe in equality for “nutters” too. Why Muslim “nutters” should be treated any differently from those of wider society. Freedoms like laws are meant to apply equally, but currently they are not.
The more recent British political tradition that “bad” ideas values and beliefs should not be outlawed but be exposed, debated and argued with better ideas has gone out of the window. The belief now appears to be that ideas and values that are defined as “bad” by politicians and the media should be outlawed.
These counter Muslim proposals (we should call it the counter Muslim bill) is in effect an admission by the Government that they are unable to reason, debate and argue with the increasingly knowledgeable, articulate young Muslims who are able to interrogate British history, western ideology, expose foreign policy and, project their own identity, values and ideas in the public British social and political arena (that’s why they propose to ban venues that hold events and censor Muslim TV stations).
Instead of seeing diversity of ideas and values as strength for British society as a whole, they view it as a threat. Instead of allowing a natural development of thoughts and views, which will eventually lead to stronger ideas and values, they see Islam and Muslims as a Trojan horse.
Just as they (the Establishment) see the growing quest for Islamic self-determination in the Muslim world as a threat to their supremacy and respond with war; similarly they respond at home with a reassertion of what they see as western Judeo-Christian ideological supremacy, by criminalising Islamic and Muslim expression. “Entryism” is simply a cover to prevent independent Muslim identity, ideas and values making their mark and establishing themselves on British social and political life.
Multi-culturalism or mass assimilation?
This is really about ending plurality and multi-culturalism. Multi-culturalism is something the Establishment in this country have always resented and never been comfortable with. Their preference was always for natural assimilation of minorities. Now they have opted for force assimilation.
The political ideas of the EDL and Britain First, don’t just exist in isolation, they find expression through the mouths of mainstream politicians and are given life through their policies.
These laws are not about “extremism” they are about outlawing dissenting voices and independent expression of identities, as well as development of independent Muslim community structures. They amount to religious persecution of a community.
It seems that the British Government are oblivious to the lessons of history. Communist states, suppressed dissenting ideas, activities and religious identities for over 70 years. They did not finish them or change people’s views.
When communism collapsed, people’s beliefs and values once again found expression.
Theresa May could get her way in a Parliament dominated by English ideological crusaders, but the she will not stop people from holding onto beliefs and ideas. They will simply go underground and reside in people’s hearts and minds and find expression elsewhere at some point, just as they did in British India (yes we have been here before see Hunter Commission).
When people’s ideas and values are repressed it simply strengthens them. The Government will more than likely win the battle for votes in Parliament over this Bill, ironically enforcing the Whip. But it will lose the battle for ideas and values, although it may change the behaviour of Muslims until they decide to resist. In that struggle, the British people will be on our side.
The British government may win the battle but will certainly lose the war, both here and abroad.
Jahangir Mohammed is the Director of the Centre for Muslim Affairs.