It’s time for anti-Prevent activists from the Muslim community to get their act together and take control of the ISIS narrative, argues Roshan Muhammed Salih.
Every time a British Muslim travels to Syria to join ISIS or is killed fighting for them we are subjected to the same old media inquisitions led by those working for and on behalf of the government’s Prevent counter-terrorism agenda.
So the “ex extremists” of the Quilliam Foundation or Abu Muntasir or charlatans like Inspire’s Sara Khan will lecture us on how the Muslim community is becoming radicalised and is failing to do anything about it.
Their message will be reinforced by right-wing pantomime clowns like Douglas Murray or the Zionists from the Henry Jackson Society.
All of them will peddle the narrative that the security services’ powers must be bolstered to combat the threat from Islamic extremism and terrorism. And they will argue that the Muslim community will need to be more closely monitored to weed out the extremists who pose a threat to our way of life.
But those of us who aren’t on the government payroll and who have a real expertise in the causes of radicalisation (as well as a grassroots connection with the community) know very well that the government and their stooges have no chance of actually solving the problem.
Why? Because it can only be solved if ALL the causes of radicalisation are addressed (including British foreign policy and Islamophobia) and by people who have the credibility to do it.
Why do British Muslims join ISIS?
The reasons why scores of mainly young Muslims are joining ISIS are very numerous and complex and it can be very difficult to explain them to a non-Muslim audience in simple soundbites.
But in order to counter the “establishment narrative” which focuses on blaming Muslims, I believe we should be making the following points:
1. Historically, the British government is largely to blame for the rise of radicalism within the Muslim community because of its support for wars and occupations of Muslim countries.
2. Nevertheless, a relatively small number of British Muslims are joining ISIS and this is wrong and very worrying. They are joining because they have a misguided understanding of Islam and a simplistic grasp of the reality of the Syrian situation.
3. British Muslims also feel extremely alienated by racism and Islamophobia at home personified by government policy (Prevent) and the often blatant Islamophobia peddled by the media.
4. The British state must also accept its share of responsibility for creating ISIS. They have been instrumental in destabilising Iraq and Syria and therefore they’ve created the conditions for extremist groups to thrive. The British state also allowed “jihadis” to travel relatively freely to Syria for at least two years (2011-13) when it was their stated policy to overthrow Bashar al Assad.
5. We must also remember that the current “Syria jihadi media frenzy” is being deliberately exaggerated to justify a campaign for increased security budgets and more draconian counter-terror policies.
6. We must not get hysterical about the supposed threat that we face from jihadis, and we shouldn’t scare the public because ultimately the threat to Britain is small.
7. The current policies to counter extremism are counter-productive and destined to fail because they rely on a neo-conservative understanding of the problem and are imposed on the Muslim community rather than based on a partnership with it.
8. The best way for the authorities to counter this problem is to enter into a genuine engagement with grassroots community activists rather than adopting a confrontational approach to them.
The cost of not acting
The fact is the likes of Quilliam or anyone associated with Prevent are considered to be complete jokes by those who may actually be prone to radicalisation. Nobody who’s seriously thinking about joining ISIS will give two hoots about what they say.
On the other hand, those Muslim organisations and individuals who remain committed and practising Muslims, who understand the justified grievances of the community, and who are staunchly against the government’s targeting of Muslims at home and abroad do have that credibility.
It is their voices who should be leading this debate and setting the agenda, not the likes of Maajid Nawaz or Sara Khan.
British Muslims may not all agree on the ins-and-outs of the political situation in Syria, but we do all agree that (given the complexities of the battlefield) British Muslims shouldn’t be going there to fight.
So why aren’t we organising campaigns and doing work (independent of government) in our communities to dissuade our youth from travelling there whilst still being steadfast in our unequivocal opposition to British foreign policy and the targeting of Muslims at home?
Why aren’t we the stand-out voices in this debate given that our expertise dwarfs that of everyone else?
If we make a concerted effort to regain the initiative over a problem that is slipping out of our control we would be doing our Islamic duty to give good naseeha to our youth and to keep all our communities safe.
Moreover, those so-called ex extremists who genuinely want to make a difference to their communities will have somewhere to go. At the moment only Prevent is offering them a home.
But if we fail to act then we don’t really have any right to complain if the media inquisition overwhelms us and our rights are slowly taken away.
In addition, a small minority of our youth will continue to drift away into mindless extremism, and the government and their pet poodles will continue to set the agenda.
You can follow Roshan on Twitter @RMSalih