Muslim groups with large grassroots following have condemned the UK Government’s counter-extremism policy which were announced today.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) – which is the UK’s largest Muslim umbrella group – said the government strategy was based on flawed analysis, could be counter-productive and risks alienating Muslim communities.
It also called for transparency as public funds go to “questionable counter-extremism initiatives” and announced it would hold a conference next month to examine “community-led” responses to the challenge of terrorism.
The Muslim Council of Britain’s Secretary General, Dr Shuja Shafi, said: “British Muslims have stood up and been counted in their opposition to terrorism. That is why we welcome effective and evidence-based initiatives to counter terrorism.
“The threat of terrorism is real and serious. Facing this challenge requires engagement with all sections of society particularly the diversity of British Muslim communities in an open and frank dialogue.
“Yet, today’s ‘one nation’ counter-extremism strategy continues down a flawed path, focusing on Muslims in particular, and are based on fuzzy conceptions of British values. It risks being counter-productive by alienating the very people needed to confront Al-Qaeda or Daesh-related terrorism: British Muslim communities.
“For over 10 years we have had to contend with a misguided ‘conveyor-belt theory’ analysis that conflates terrorism with subjective notions of extremism and Islamic practices. Whether it is in mosques, education or charities, the strategy will reinforce perceptions that all aspects of Muslim life must undergo a ‘compliance’ test to prove our loyalty to this country.
He added: “We understand that the Counter-Extremism Strategy will single out and ‘close mosques where extremist meetings have taken place’. Do such mosques really exist and by whose definition are they deemed to be extremist?
“We cannot help also detect the McCarthyist undertones in the proposal to create blacklists and exclude and ban people deemed to be extremist. If we are to have such lists at all, they should be determined through a transparent process and subject to judicial oversight to prevent any discrimination and political interference based on pressure from foreign governments.
“The Strategy also comes with additional public funds divested towards countering extremism. We hope they are distributed in a transparent way with clear measurable goals to tackle all forms of extremism and will support all groups who are working towards building a more cohesive society.
“Past mistakes should be avoided where monies were and continue to be doled out to organisations or individuals whose main or primary qualification is to serve as echo-chambers for what Government wishes to hear.
“In the Muslim Council of Britain’s view, there needs to be clarity of purpose: is this new policy initiative about tackling alienation, or seeking more securitisation? The former requires long-term capacity building and empowerment of Muslim civil society organisations and addressing structural socio-economic imbalances; the latter is about preventing criminality and enforcing the law. To lump both in one programme of action is not logical.”
Earlier today, the Home Secretary vowed to “systematically confront and challenge extremist ideology” as she detailed new curbs on those who “spread hate”.
Radical preachers will be banned from posting material online and anyone with convictions for extremist activity will be barred from working with children.
Deradicalisation classes will be made mandatory for others deemed a threat.
Also among the measures within the counter-extremism strategy are:
- A full review of public institutions such as schools, further and higher education colleges, local authorities, the NHS and the civil service to ensure they are protected from “entryism” – or infiltration – by extremists
- An official investigation into the application of Sharia law in the UK
- Extremism disruption orders to stop individuals engaging in extremist behaviour
- Closure orders for law enforcement and local authorities to close down premises used to support extremism
- Tougher powers for broadcasting regulator Ofcom so action can be taken against radio and television channels showing extremist content
- Demands that internet service providers do more to remove extremist material and identify those responsible for it
Home Secretary Theresa May said non-violent extremism could not go “uncontested” as it led to the erosion of women’s rights, the spread of intolerance and bigotry and the separation of some communities “from the mainstream”.
She said that applied to neo-Nazi extremism just as much as Islamist doctrine.
“We will systematically confront and challenge extremist ideology, exposing it for the lie it is. And we will thwart its destructive consequences,” she continued.
“We will disrupt all those who seek to spread hate and we will prosecute all those who break the law.”
“War on Muslims”
Meanwhile, the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) called the anti-terror laws “a war on Muslims.”
The IHRC said it had “viewed with alarm the ever-loudening drumbeat from Whitehall over extremism. We believe that the threat of extremism is being deliberately exaggerated to justify the introduction of discriminatory policies targeting the Muslim community.
“In recent years the definition of extremism has become so expansive that it now covers activities such as expressing conservative religious views or criticising government policy, actions that are not considered problematic if carried out by members of other communities.
“IHRC views current anti-terrorism policy as Islamophobic since it rests on the assumption that by dint of their faith all Muslims are potential terrorists who must be steered off that course by the state.
“We also believe that far from being driven by a desire to fight terrorism, anti-terrorism policy is the leading edge of a government strategy to control and shape Islam and Muslims in Britain. It is part of a social engineering exercise that has at its heart suveilling Muslims from cradle to grave and legislating what they can and can’t believe or say.
“The repeated emphasis in the new strategy on the need to conform to British values is another cynical attempt to juxtapose them against Islamic values. It is a deliberate and disgraceful ploy to mark the Muslim community as an ‘outgroup’ and justify further official discrimination against its members.
“This anti-Muslim discourse is not only socially divisive but is also increasingly encouraging hate crimes against Muslims such as physical and verbal attacks and discrimination in the workplace.”
IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh added: “The extent to which anti-terror laws have become a pretext for removing fundamental rights from Muslims and discriminating against them can only suggest that the present government is engaged in a war against Muslims rather than against terrorism.
“If there is any extremism that needs to be eradicated it should start with a government that is hellbent on continuing to demonise and criminalise Muslims. We call on all fair minded people to oppose these latest plans which undermine the hard won liberties and rights of everyone.”
Hizb ut-Tahrir, who some have speculated might be banned under the new government plans, said that they amount to “police state policies.”
Media spokesman Taji Mustafa said: ”What does it say of his confidence – or lack of it – in being able to counter ideas, if he bans and bullies, rather than debates ideas? What does it say of his confidence – or lack of it – in the judicial system of this country that he plans to take a flamethrower to Magna Carta, bypassing due process and giving the executive more power to criminalise peoples’ views and lifestyles, rather than use existing laws which outlaw incitement to violence?”
“Is every critic of liberal values or the democratic system to be labeled an ‘extremist’, in this so-called ‘free society’?”
“Amongst all his proposals, which would make employers and public services part of his ‘stasi’ state, there is still some room for amusement in his ridiculous proposal to waste yet more money funding government friendly groups, who have done him the service of trying to reform Islam! Having failed to convince the Muslim community to adopt his ideas, he now has to bribe people.
“Why should anyone have confidence in another raft of ‘anti-extremism’ policies that have led Muslim children to be reported to police-led counter-extremism programs for requesting prayer facilities, declining to play musical instruments, holding pro-Palestinian political views and for using the word ‘eco-terrorist’?
“Our aim in Hizb ut-Tahrir is to continue to expose pernicious policies like these wherever and whenever we can. We will continue to work in protecting people’s Islamic identity at a time when they are being bullied into hiding it.
“We will continue to discuss important political issues, and inform Muslims about Islam’s political views to the best of our ability. To accept the rules of ‘Prevent’ and remain silent whilst everyone in society can discuss issues such as Syria, Palestine, Jihad, Shari’ah and Islamic State – would be a crazy approach.
“Most Imams and Islamic scholars do not dare discuss these issues in any meaningful way for fear of being labeled ‘extremist’ or ‘hate-preachers’ – thereby leaving a mountain of unanswered questions for the Muslim youth. This is utterly stupid in an era when young people need legitimate Islamic answers to difficult questions.”
Finally, Mohammed Hussain, iERA’s Head of PR and Media, said the government’s counter-extremism policy “contains a number of problematic elements both in language and spirit”.
He said: “It conflates issues that are happening abroad yet ignores legitimate foreign policy grievances. It mentions an ‘Islamist ideology’ but fails to define what makes up this ‘poisonous ideology’, as well as substantiating how it can manifest into violence.
“Beyond the scaremongering and overzealous rhetoric, there must be a fact-based approach in tackling the perceived threat of ‘Islamist extremism’ as there would be in any other societal problem.
“Lastly, the Government should understand that censoring mainstream Muslim scholars and groups who hold normative Islamic beliefs is counter-productive, and in fact, it can be the solution to the whole extremism quagmire.”