With extremism in our midst, David Cameron unveils a 5-year plan, with four planks, to tackle one major extremism threat, writes Sufyan Ismail.
David Cameron’s speech on his 5-year plan to tackle extremism covered a huge amount of ground to say the least. From parents cancelling children’s passports to Cameron financing his brand of ‘good Muslims’, it was all on show.
So what’s my take? Well the good, the bad and pretty ugly are all in here. Let’s start with the good;
British Muslims travelling to Syria to fight for ISIL is undoubtedly a detestable problem; let’s be clear, nobody likes ISIL, their philosophy or methods, and on countless occasions Muslims like myself have condemned them. So a genuine desire by the PM (and I believe it is genuine) to tackle the problem head-on is heartwarming.
Equally encouraging is the PM’s description of Islamophobia as “sickening” alongside the numerous references to the sickening far-right. Some might, (rather justifiably), say talk is cheap, what has he done to tackle Islamophobia? The Tories pre-election promise to ensure Islamophobia is recorded as a separate category of crime by police forces in England and Wales (similar to racism and anti-semitism currently), has yet to materialize.
Equally powerful is the accusation pertaining to the far-right with justified accusations that the Tory government and PREVENT policy has done precious little to tackle the threat of far right extremism and the radicalisation of young people safeguarding them from white supremacist ideologies; verbal condemnation is never enough.
For now though, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume ‘intention is the first step to action’.
So now the bad and as the old saying goes, ‘if you start off in the wrong place you will almost certainly end up in the wrong place’. Cameron has a fixation with “ideology” being the primary (arguably even sole) driver of radicalization. This is deeply troubling when empirical analysis tells such a different story.
The Guardian yesterday published work by Professor Andrew Silke, an academic and advisor to the OSCT on counter-extremism. Silke argued that factors driving individuals to extremism was not ideology but “identity issues”.
Silke said the government’s Prevent strategy for tackling terrorism was too focused on extremism with no research to back up such an approach.
Equally important is the anecdotal evidence derived from the mass of British Muslims who also feel ideology is just one (less significant) factor amongst many others causing radicalization.
One of Cameron’s planks is “identity” and while he posits the appeal of ISIL to young minds that lack a “sense of belonging” to Britain, he does not unpack why young Muslims may be acutely affected by alienation and a lack of attachment to the UK. The lived experience of Muslims looks something like this: –
- Rising Islamophobia in Britain – Data published by the Metropolitan Police coupled with FOIs submitted by MEND (Muslim engagement and Development) detailing anti-Muslim hate crimes year on year show that Islamophobia is rising. Something must be done to curb this trend.
- Deeply negative press coverage on British Muslims – An academic study by Lancaster University shows that for every one mention of “moderate” Muslims in the British Press, there are 21 mentions of “extremist” Muslims. This tendency for disproportionate negative coverage of Islam and Muslims has a corrosive effect on British Muslims and their treatment by wider society.
- Employment discrimination – The ‘double ethnic penalty’ faced by Muslim communities has been policy knowledge for over a decade and despite newer research cementing evidence of the level of employment discrimination faced by British Muslims, the highest of all minority groups, we have seen next to no policy interventions to address the issue by the Tories.
- Foreign policies – what Cameron called “grievance justifications” are more than grievances and certainly warrant serious attention given the evidence base of its being an important causal factor. No less than the former head of the security services, Dame Eliza Manningham Buller has spoken about the impact of the Iraq war on radicalising young Muslims.
Before I offer concluding remarks, I want to touch on the ugly in Cameron’s speech and there certainly was some of it.
Trojan Horse (Hoax) – Cameron reiterated the fictitious Trojan Horse plot (or as I may put it Trojan ‘Hoax’ plot). When the Parliamentary Education Committee concluded that with “the exception of one isolated incident in one school, there was no plot”, what on earth is the PM doing reiterating this nonsense? It’s shocking to find a false premise reiterated to justify interventions of the sort proposed in yesterday’s speech.
Attacks on NUS and Muslim organisations – This was really underhanded I felt and not befitting a Prime Minister. It just doesn’t feel right and looks even worse. He attacked the NUS for ‘allying itself with CAGE’ and then criticised CAGE for the ‘Jihadi John’ saga. I’ll let CAGE defend themselves on the Jihadi John front but if the PM was going to attack the NUS for allying with CAGE then surely he should have balanced his analysis by praising the NUS for its sterling work in exposing the Henry Jackson Society’s erroneously named ‘Student Rights’ organization which the NUS concluded was a ‘anti-Islam’ organization, stating “Student Rights are not a legitimate organisation, with a total lack of transparency and have been the source of many sensationalist stories demonising Muslims”.
Good Muslims, Bad Muslim – If the PM and his advisory team had started off in the right place, then playing the ‘good Muslim, bad Muslim’ game is not a bad idea. But if your calibration is deeply deviated from the start and diametrically divergent to empirical evidence, academic analysis and Muslim community experience, then not only are you unlikely to achieve your overall objective of reducing extremism but in truth you could wind up being totally counter-productive and defeating your own cause. As Cameron is obsessed with ideology, irrespective of any proof to back this approach (and worse still so much academic research pointing to the contrary), he is playing in to the hands of the ‘self-appointed’ experts on counter terrorism like the Quilliam Foundation, a deeply neocon supported initiative with precious little experience in counter terrorism and virtually no credibility amongst British Muslims. One can also add the likes of Inspire (a Muslim women’s’ empowerment initiative) in this sphere too. The frequent pairing of these two organisations is not accidental; it is calculated, to project the idea of “moderate Muslim”. We already know, from the previous Prevent strategy and the heavy endorsement of Quilliam and the Sufi Muslim Council which flowed from it, what “moderate Muslim” means in policy circles. What’s worse is that Cameron is threatening to potentially bankroll his type of Muslim. Talk about out of the frying pan and into the fire!
A Final Delirious Jump For Joy!
There was, however, one part of Cameron’s speech which sent me delirious with excitement and I’m almost jumping for joy. Mid-way through the intense sweaty encounter Cameron expressed his disgust at those who believe ‘Muslims are secretly taking over the Government, and we should not work with them’.
The idea is often articulated as ‘entryism’ and is regularly levied against Muslims simply wanting to engage in the system as should be perfectly compatible with the PM’s mantra about democracy and British values. This ‘entryist’ allegation is a favourite tactic used by neo-con organisations and detractors to demonise mainstream British Muslims and keep them out of mainstream politics (a tactic which ultimately is in nobody’s interest).
Most recently the Islamophobe Andrew Gilligan littered one of his articles with ‘entryist’ references against mainstream Muslims organisations. Therefore, I must thank you Mr Cameron for standing up to such people!
Sufyan Ismail is a serial entrepreneur, philanthropist and the CEO of MEND.