The initial reaction by Home Secretary, Theresa May, was to claim there was no evidence that the gunman who shot dead 38 people on a Tunisian beach this month specifically targeted British holidaymakers. The overwhelming number of victims killed in the attack were Britons. It took place on the eve of Armed Forces Day in the UK but like an attack on the Bardo National Museum in Tunis in March, the possibility could not be ruled out it was directed at western tourists per se.
The massacre at the coastal resort of Sousse was carried out by a student named Seifeddine Rezgui who walked down the beach and into a hotel firing a Kalashnikov gun. It seemed more akin to regular mass shootings that occur in America often inside schools. But responsibility was claimed by the so-called Islamic State and rightly condemned as terrorism. In contrast, the latest massacre in the US at a Charleston church prayer meeting was apparently admitted by Dylann Storm Roof, a suspected white supremacist, and cynically blamed on the country’s liberal gun laws.
In a speech in Slovakia, Prime Minister, David Cameron, had the audacity to virtually accuse British Muslims of “quietly condoning” what he described as Islamist extremist ideology. “One that says the West is bad, that democracy is wrong, that women are inferior, that homosexuality is evil.” He demanded Muslim families speak out against the “poisonous ideology” driving hundreds of young people to join ISIL. But notably he made no similar calls to the white population regarding the Charleston massacre.
At the beginning of the fasting month of Ramadan, Cameron had drawn a parallel between Muslim values and British values, making a point about how they overlap and affirming the important contribution Muslims make to society as part of “one nation”. But this was contradicted 24 hours later when berating the community for normalising hatred for western values.
It is not the first time that the Prime Minister has chosen foreign audiences to target the Muslim population in his own country after previous speeches in Germany and China. The latest in Slovakia was before the Tunisia massacres and brought criticism including from his former cabinet colleague Baroness Warsi, who warned it was an “ill advised” and “misjudged” speech.
“It may be the case that there are a few thousand people who support those going to Syria to fight, but there was no need to demonise an entire community,” the former Conservative Chair said.
Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi also took Cameron to task for his double standards, saying she didn’t hear “a single word, or anyone saying, that the whole of the white population of America has to apologize for the actions of one white man.” “It feels absolutely awful. I’m getting really tired of having to apologize,” she told BBC radio after he called on Britain’s 2.8 million Muslims to do more, at home and in their mosques, to work against the appeal of the Islamic State group.
Following the attack in Sousse, the Prime Minister again in an article for the Daily Telegraph went further in demonising Muslims, when insisting that Britain could only defeat extremism by standing up for British values of “peace, democracy, tolerance and freedom” and being more intolerant of intolerance – rejecting anyone whose views condone the Islamist extremist narrative and create the conditions for it to flourish.”
Rather surprisingly he boasted that Britain was “already delivering the second largest number of airstrikes over Iraq, where ISIL has taken hold.” But he made no mention that it was where the UK had fought a questionably illegal war that had left ungoverned spaces, which he admitted were “areas in which the terrorist groups thrive.”
In Libya, where Britain with Nato had left such a mess, and which is now a source of manpower and military hardware for the terrorists in Iraq and Syria, he acknowledged that his government was “working with the UN, our EU and US partners to support the formation of a Government of National Accord.”
While the Prime Minister recognised that there are “many reasons” why young people become radicalised, his focus has been on the notion of Muslim community complicity. He described it as a “war” with extremists and confronting the “poisonous ideology” that coincides with the imposition of new statutory duties on public bodies to prevent radicalisation. It changes the goal posts so the battle effectively includes non-violent extremism and what people are allowed to think.
The whole premise is wrong-headed as The Muslim News has continually argued and warned against. British Muslims are being used as the scapegoat for Government’s failings. Cameron increasingly continues to be taken by narratives of the so-called “conveyor belt” thesis of radicalisation which have been debunked by virtually everyone from former MI5 officers to leading terrorism experts.
If it is a war, the first thing is to recognise the enemy instead of deliberately distorting that it is a supposed ideological battle within Islam that Muslims have to engage in. If there is any narrative, it is what the West has invented and a mantle that terrorists have eagerly taken up. However, the narrative neglects our flowed foreign policy which, according to intelligence reports, academic studies etc, is cited as a key driver of radicalisation.
To name but two, the last MI5 chief Eliza Manningham-Buller and Stella Rimington both warned how the Iraq war was likely to have radicalised a new generation of young disaffected British Muslims. It is not just foreign policy but the hypocrisy behind it. Isis (or Daesh as it is now termed by many) itself is the product of the US and British occupation and destruction of Iraq.
If there is any irony about ideology it is that the countries in the Gulf which share much with ISIS and yet there is no criticism of their autocratic rule in a country that the west depends so much upon for oil and Britain for huge arms contracts.