U-turn needed in policy towards Muslims

24th Dec 2013

It is expected that the role of any leader includes promoting the best interests of his/her country and citizens abroad. Indeed, the Foreign Office spends millions with the British Council and more indirectly with BBC World Service to present such positive images. This begs the question as to why Prime Minister, David Cameron, has not once but twice tarnished the image of British Muslims during overseas trips.

During a visit to China on December 4, Cameron used the occasion to unveil yet further repressive measure against the British Muslim community, warning that people and groups were spreading a “poisonous narrative that can do so much damage to our country and poison and radicalise young minds.”

“There are just too many people who have been radicalised in Islamic centres, who have been in contact with extremist preachers, who have accessed radicalising information on the internet and haven’t been sufficiently challenged. I want to make sure in our country that we do this effectively.”

Cameron previously demonised British Muslims on the world stage when he chose to use his first speech on radicalisation and extremism at the world’s most famous annual security conference in Munich in February 2011. There he controversially called for “a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism” to make Muslims accept British values.

His outspoken warning was for Europe “to wake up” to what was supposedly happening in their countries and was praised by extreme right wing groups including the BNP and EDL as well as the leader of France’s National Front, Marine Le Pen, who said his comments endorsed her party’s views.

His remarks in China were timed with new proposals from the report by his Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism, set up in the wake of the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich. This insisted that the Government will “fight terrorism of every kind, whether based on Islamist, extreme right-wing or any other extremist ideology” yet as in the past, solely focused on new measures directed at Muslims, madrasas and mosques.

The report went further in dubiously attempting to give an official definition of the misguided coined term “Islamist extremism”, claiming it is a distinct ideology not to be confused with traditional religious practice.

Although mention was made of the murder of Mohammed Saleem in April, before the brutal killing of Lee Rigby, the Task Force failed to even raise any specific proposals to counter the rise of fascist and white supremacist groups who are involved in terrorism.

Two years ago, in our editorial, The Muslim News questioned why the Prime Minister delivered such a speech in Munich to an audience much less successful than Britain in integrating ethnic minorities, rather than ringing praise for the accomplishments and benefits of our multicultural, multifaith society. It is puzzling why he chose again to tarnish the name of the three million Muslims who live in the UK. Was this just a thoughtless oversight again by his advisers? Was it endorsed by the Foreign Office, which is seeking better ties with Beijing?

We have argued for many years that terms such as “Islamist radicalism” and “Islamist extremism” must not be used as it demonises the religion and the whole Muslim community. In addition, attempts by the Government to define what “Islamic extremism” is will lead to criminalising many Muslims as the Government’s definition of “extremism” is very broad.  The very fact raising a misnomer the Government is shooting itself in the foot. It seems that the Prime Minister needs to be reminded yet again of his own findings in 2007 that many Muslims were “deeply offended by the use of the word ‘Islamic’ or ‘Islamist’ to describe the terrorist threat we face today.” In public perceptions the conflation of these terms implies Islam is the cause of extremism and terrorism.

Despite shouting from the rooftops, no heed seems to be ever paid to numerous studies and polls that conclude Muslims feel much more integrated with British culture than their European counterparts and are more likely to identify with Britain. Cameron is not known for his grasp on detail as shown by the number of u-turns the Government has had to make in the last three-and-a-half years, which some consider to be as high as 42. Yet the policies that need to be reversed the most are those targeted at Muslims and on the threat of terrorism – here, no changes seem to be even considered.

Instead of regurgitating the excesses of the Blair and Brown governments and digging an even deeper quagmire, the Prime Minister seems to have forgotten about the causes of terrorism, extremism and radicalism. Among others, it was not whispered by the former head of MI5, Eliza Manningham-Butler in 2010 when she told the Chilcot Inquiry that “Our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people – not a whole generation, a few among a generation – who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as being an attack upon Islam.”

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