There isn’t a week that goes by without another policy from the Government demonising, belittling and condescending Muslims. Misguidedly the Prevent strategy has now been extended to incorporate not just violent but “non-violent extremism” . The huge danger is that not only does this institutionalise a restriction to free speech that in reality will primarily be employed against Muslims, it does so without defining the “extremism” in an unambiguous way, allowing even mainstream opinions to be considered “extreme”.
In a speech at Ninestiles Academy in Birmingham last month, Prime Minister, David Cameron, claimed he wanted to engage with Muslims but instead talked down to them. He again peddled the same narrative that somehow there is a link between extremism/terrorism and integration/cohesion in communities and as if all Muslims were responsible for the sudden explosion of support of the ISIS and there is no link at all with wars and conflicts fanned by the West.
“For all our successes as multi-racial, multi-faith democracy, we have to confront a tragic truth that there are people born and raised in this country who don’t really identify with Britain – and who feel little or no attachment to other people here.” Since he has been premier surely Cameron has seen many polls and surveys consistently finding the opposite that Muslims in the UK express a stronger sense of belonging to Britain than their compatriots, are overwhelmingly proud to be British citizen and want to live in diverse and mixed neighbourhoods. Segregation has long been an economic issue, having nothing to do with values.
Another sensitive issue is the Government’s refusal to accept any responsibility for the growth in terrorism attacks and the rise of groups like ISIS. Contrary to copious expert opinions and reports Cameron insists any views linking radicalisation to historic injustices, recent wars, poverty or hardship and must be dismissed and challenged.
Despite experts like former MI5 chiefs Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller and Dame Stella Rimington, who have argued that Iraq war has been in part responsible for radicalisation in young Muslims he still insisted that the rise in terrorism had nothing to do with the Iraq war. Similarly, Muslims were wrong to believe any causes could be linked with Britain’s involvement in wars from Libya to Somalia, as the military interventions were to “save” Muslim people from massacres. He also rejected that others might say “it’s because terrorists are driven to their actions by poverty.” But that ignores the fact that many of these terrorists have had the full advantages of prosperous families or a Western university education.
The root causes were not what he simply referred to as “grievance justification.”
He was “not saying these issues aren’t important” but called on people to “not delude ourselves.” Britain must be clear “the root cause of the threat we face is the extremist ideology itself,” he continued to insist not for the first time. His answer has been to increasingly restrict free speech, while supporting the discredited conveyor belt theory on how people are radicalised.
In his desperation to win his argument, the Prime Minister for whatever reason, resorted to bring in the “utter brutality of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)” as if it had anything to do with terrorism or even Muslims. He also mischievously cited child sex abuse cases and even accusation of political corruption in Tower Hamlets to demonise Muslims.
“The world is not conspiring against Islam; the security services aren’t behind terrorist attacks; our new Prevent duty for schools is not about criminalising or spying on Muslim children. This is paranoia in the extreme,” Cameron warned. After the speech he insisted to The Muslim News in an interview that “Prevent is not there to spy on people. It is there to try and stop you from being sucked into a world of extremism and then violence. We’ll only be able to change people’s minds if we confront extremist view as they are aired. We are asking schools to do more, we are asking others to do more.”
But it is the continual expansion of treating all Muslims as potential terrorists and abusing the Prevent programme to keep the whole community under surveillance from cradle to grave that creates alienation.
Forcing teachers to spy on Muslim children has gone ahead despite the National Union of Teachers passing a motion calling for schools to be removed from Prevent strategy and for Ofsted to be stripped of its role in inspecting whether schools were promoting British values. “We are expected to be frontline storm troopers who listen, spy and notify authorities about the students,” one teacher warned. Worryingly, according to Superintendent Mak Chishty of the Metropolitan Police, not celebrating Christmas, being against alcohol, supporting boycotts, sanctions and disinvestments movements by not shopping at Marks & Spencers, could be potential indications of a Muslim child becoming extremist.
Some 800,000 Muslim pupils could be affected by Prevent under which teachers are obliged to refer children whom they suspect of extremism to a Channel panel. Figures from a Freedom of Information request show that 80% of referrals overall were deemed of no consequence between 2007 and 2013. But at what cost to the dignity of the parents and their child. And there have been already horror stories with so many wrongful referrals, including for just wearing a Free Palestine badge. It can only add to the atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust.
Yet somehow Cameron insisted that the new Prevent duties will “empower parents and teachers to protect children from all forms of extremism – whether Islamist or neo-Nazi.” Previously he has launched his diatribe against Muslims in speeches abroad, in Germany, China and Slovakia, where he had the audacity to virtually accuse
British Muslims of “quietly condoning” Islamist extremist ideology as he called it.
In an article for the Daily Telegraph he 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.”
In response to his latest speech, Home Secretary, Theresa May’s most senior counter terrorism adviser warned against portraying Muslim communities as “intrinsically extremist”. At a Jewish News conference on Israel, the Director General of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, Charles Farr, said there was a “risk” of oversimplification given around 2.7 million Muslims live in Britain but just a few hundred had joined ISIL in the Middle East.
In interviews with The Muslim News, two Labour leader candidates criticised the Prime Minister for effective alienating the entire Muslim community in Britain and attempting to deny them the right of having any opinions themselves at all. “I don’t see how it helps tackle extremism,” Andy Burnham said. “The message that is coming out from politicians and politics makes members from the Muslim community in my own constituency feel like they are being demonised and that is wrong,” said Liz Ken Kendall.
With the Government threatening yet another wave of anti-extremism legislation which in their implementation will be primarily focussed at Muslims, is it not time to call for a halt that enough is enough? So many misguided laws need to be folded back after making the situation much worse. It is fair enough for Cameron to say that he wants to work with the Muslim community, even though he has so far failed spectacularly to engage with mainstream Muslim communities, but the question is whether he wants an echo chamber of those who support his views, or those who genuinely voice the concerns of the community.