On the 19th June 2015, in a security conference in Slovakia, David Cameron echoed the words of Tony Blair and Charles Clarke ten years ago when they highlighted the ideological causes of terrorism and the need to target the “Islamist extremist ideology”. In his words Cameron said “The cause is ideological. It is an Islamist extremist ideology, one that says the West is bad, that democracy is wrong, that women are inferior, that homosexuality is evil.”
Recent incidents such as three missing Bradford sisters who purportedly tried to get into Syria with their nine children, after their visit to Saudi Arabia, the announcement of Talha Asmal who was named as the ‘youngest suicide bomber’ in the UK and Kenya and a Brit who was among 11 al-Shabab gunmen killed in a failed attack on a military base, have placed the Muslim community under the spotlight again, with complex questions being simplified to a “radicalisation” narrative. An argument that ignores political context and targets Islam as the root cause of their actions.
What lures women and young Muslims into war zone areas such as Syria and Iraq? Is there a conveyor belt of terrorism which encourages young Muslims to go to war torn areas? What role does identity play? What age do people becomes radicalised? Are those that go abroad the victim or the perpetrators?
These deeply layered and complicated questions are simplified to the “theory of radicalisation”. A theory which has justified the wholesale surveillance of the Muslim community via the “Prevent” program, the recent CTS Act and the recently proposed “Control Orders” that would allow the government to ban groups, launch Extremism Disruption Orders and handover more powers to the police such as the revocation of citizenship, data snooping and other draconian measures that are on the verge of turning Britain into a police state.
The Theory of Radicalisation
Two weeks after 7/7, on the 16th July 2005, Tony Blair made his infamous speech in which he described that the sole cause behind the attacks was an “evil ideology“. He then went on to describe what some aspects of this evil ideology consisted of, “the establishment of effectively Taleban states and Sharia law in the Arab world en route to one caliphate of all Muslim nations.”
These points were later echoed by his then Home Secretary Charles Clarke on the 5th October 2005, “What drives these people on is ideas… However there can be no negotiation about the re-creation of the Caliphate; there can be no negotiation about the imposition of Shariah law; there can be no negotiation about the suppression of equality between the sexes; there can be no negotiation about the ending of free speech. These values are fundamental to our civilisation and are simply not up for negotiation.”
In 2009 the British government considered plans which would have formalized the Blair narrative and considered ideas such as a belief in the applicability of Sharia law in contemporary times, the concept of belonging to a single Muslim community internationally (the Ummah), the legitimacy of resisting attack and occupation through the use of force (jihad), and the aspiration of living under an Islamic caliphate as key identifiers of “extremists.”
The spelling out of “extremist” ideas was explicitly stated in the leaked draft Government report known as CONTEST 2. The Guardian newspaper reported on 17/2/2009 that; “According to a draft of the strategy, Contest 2 as it is known in Whitehall, people would be considered as extremists if:
- They advocate a caliphate, a pan-Islamic state encompassing many countries.
- They promote Sharia law.
- They believe in jihad, or armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military.
- They argue that Islam bans homosexuality and that it is a sin against Allah.
- They fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.”
In the final version of the Contest 2 report they omitted these points but this narrative was, and still is, consistently raised in the media by a range of “counter-extremism experts” and think-tanks, who argue that it is indeed “Islamic extremism” that leads to terrorism divorced of any political context.
The Radicalisation Theory is a Myth
The argument that terrorists are purely motivated by the Islamic ideology and irrespective of the political circumstance would inevitably undertake violent acts, conveniently absolves the West of any policies or actions they have undertaken. It also does not stand-up to academic scrutiny. Take for example the prominent terrorism expert, John Horgan. He was the director of the International Centre for the study of terrorism in the University of Pennsylvania from 2007-2013. He said that “The idea that radicalization causes terrorism is perhaps the greatest myth alive today in terrorism research … [First], the overwhelming majority of people who hold radical beliefs do not engage in violence. And second, there is increasing evidence that people who engage in terrorism don’t necessarily hold radical beliefs.”
French sociologist Olivier Roy argues that “the process of violent radicalisation has little to do with religious practice, while radical theology, as salafisme, does not necessarily lead to violence.” The “leap into terrorism” is not religiously inspired but better seen as sharing “many factors with other forms of dissent, either political (the ultra-left), or behavioural: the fascination for sudden suicidal violence as illustrated by the paradigm of random shootings in schools (the ‘Columbine syndrome’)”
Marc Sageman, a former CIA Operations Officer, who previously held a position that supported this theory but then changed his position, suggested that governments should “stop being brainwashed by this notion of radicalisation, there is no such thing. Some people when they’re young acquire extreme views, many of them just grow out of them. Do not overreact-you’ll just create worse problems.”
Mark Sedgewick, a British Historian specialising in terrorism explained that “The concept of radicalisation emphasizes the individual and, to some extent, the ideology and the group, and significantly deemphasizes the wider circumstances – the “root causes” that it became so difficult to talk about after 9/11, and that are still often not brought into analyses. So long as the circumstances that produce Islamist radicals’ declared grievances are not taken into account, it is inevitable that the Islamist radical will often appear as a “rebel without a cause”
Internal government reports leaked to the Sunday Telegraph in 2010 concluded that they “do not believe that it is accurate to regard radicalisation in this country as a linear ‘conveyor belt’ moving from grievance, through radicalisation, to violence,” and that the “thesis seems to both misread the radicalisation process and to give undue weight to ideological factors.” So according to the government’s own officials and experts, suggesting that “Islamist extremist” aspirations (which are part of normative Islam) are a gateway to terrorism is incorrect. Perpetrators may hold these specific beliefs have not been proven to be a causal factor of violence, and such beliefs are similarly shared by millions of other Muslims globally as well as many living in the West.
The conveyor-belt offers a simplistic narrative, which is presented to wider society as the answer and legitimises draconian policies such as the Counter Terrorism Act 2015, the Prevent agenda and the proposed control orders.
This type of narrative was popularised after 2005, notably by Michael Gove’s Celsius 7/7 and Ed Husain’s “The Islamist.” Unfortunately, the waves of erroneous opinions offered by politicians, media commentators, “counter-extremism” experts and self-professed “ex-extremists” certainly do not stand up to any academic scrutiny.
On 12th June 2008, the MI5 concluded that there is no easy way to identify those who become involved in terrorism in Britain. This was after a classified internal research document on radicalisation seen by the Guardian. The sophisticated analysis was based on hundreds of case studies by the security service, and stated clearly that there is no single pathway to violent extremism. The report concluded that it is not possible to draw up a typical profile of the “British terrorist” and challenged the radicalisation process espoused by the government.
While both the Blair narrative and the convenient “conveyor-belt” theory may satisfy the need for explanation, the British Government struggle to admit a stronger link to Western foreign and domestic policy. Therefore this further alienates Muslims who have legitimate foreign policy grievances, as well as sowing distrust and suspicion of Muslims among the wider population.
Prevent is a failure
Ignoring the outcry from academics, the government implemented “Prevent” anyway. The Prevent programme was the manifestation of the theory of radicalisation which was implemented originally by the Labour government in 2007 and then reviewed by the Coalition government. And as expected it has been widely criticised by the Muslim community throughout its implementation.
Take for example, Dal Babu, a former chief superintendent until 2013 said many Muslims did not trust the “Prevent” strategy and many saw it as a form of spying, he described Prevent as a “Toxic brand”.
Professor Ted Cantle from the Institute of Community Cohesion (iCoCo) said “Instead of gaining the support of Muslim communities, the previous Prevent Strategy alienated the majority.”
Dr Matthew Wilkinson, director of the think-tank ‘Curriculum for Cohesion’ said about Prevent that it “has been largely unsuccessful”
Yet instead of abandoning the program the government has been insistent on having a hard-line approach by now enforcing it onto the public sector via the CTS Act. The CTS Act which takes effect from the 1st July 2015, reaches into every aspect of the lives of Muslims in Britain. The public sector will be used to spy on Muslim communities.
This includes Muslims children who are identified as being ‘at-risk’ referred through Channel. The new statutory guidance for Channel under the Prevent scheme from April 2015 describes the Channel programme as a ‘multi-agency approach to identify and provide support to individuals who are at risk of being drawn into terrorism’. It operates within sectors and institutions, such as schools, hospitals and nurseries where they believe there are risks of radicalisation. The police are the first point of contact for those referred under the programme before each case is presented to a local panel.
Prevent is not about national security but about ideological indoctrination
The truth about “Prevent” is that it is a programme designed not to catch terrorists, but to enforce the secular liberal belief system and values upon the next generation of the Muslim Community.
Take for example the recent questionnaire to identify possible children who are at risk of radicalisation from a primary school in London, it had questions such as “Do you agree or disagree that;
- God has a purpose for me?
- I believe my religion is the only correct one?
- It’s okay to marry someone from a different race or religion?
- People should be free to say what they like, even if it offends others?”
These are questions which are trying to ascertain if the beliefs of Muslim children are in concordance to secular liberal versions of equality, plurality and tolerance and thus whether they are on a path of “radicalisation” that would lead to violence.
Mak Chisty, a police commander recently said that we need to move into the “private space” and mentioned what he sees as signs of radicalisation such as not celebrating Christmas, change of attire from Western clothes, stopping drinking and even not shopping at Marks and Spencer’s! Again “extremism” is framed here as actions that don’t conform to liberal culture.
This is also why, the “Channel” program from “Prevent” disproportionality targets Muslims. Since 2007, when Channel was introduced, 153 children under 11, another 690 aged 12–15 and 554 aged 16–17 have been referred to the programme. The religious affiliation of the 2000+ people that were referred showed that from 2007-10, 67% of those referred were Muslim, from 2012-13, 57% were Muslim. Bearing in mind that Muslims makeup less than 5% of the population!
Simplicity is not a replacement for truth
The Government’s “theory of radicalisation” is criminalising normative Islamic beliefs such as Islam’s views on homosexuality, the role of men and women in creating a stable family home, belief in the Shariah and Khilafah for the Muslim world. Together with the barrage of attacks on the Muslim community by the media and far right groups (taking the lead from mainstream politicians) many Muslims feel isolated and vulnerable living in Britain. Their concerns against British foreign policy is delegitimised and, according to Cameron, it is “condoning terrorism.”
This is leading to an environment in which mosques and Imams are fearful in addressing legitimate concerns and directing the feelings of the Muslim community with the correct concepts of Islam. Thus isolated individuals may undertake criminal and unislamic actions to challenge these perceived unjust policies. Other isolated individuals may make the mistaken assumption that ISIS represents an Islamic state even though they are far from it. Without the ability to present the correct Islamic understanding of the Khilafah, the application of Shariah law and the rules of Jihad the Muslim community are left feeling angered and targeted without Islamic guidance. Thus some individuals may act based on ignorance rather than the guidance of Islam.
Therefore the government’s targeting of legitimate Islamic beliefs and silencing Muslims’ opposition to Western foreign policy will only exacerbate the problem and not solve it. The government may well prefer this silencing of the correct method for revival and challenging Western policy as this serves their agenda to distract wider society to their continued interference in the Muslim world (which is the source of instability). Indeed critiquing the flawed government narrative of “radicalisation” and presenting the correct method for revival would undermine both domestic and foreign policy of Britain exposing the real agenda behind their interference which is to secure their economic and political interests and not to create a stable, just and peaceful world.
In this difficult and hostile environment Muslims must not become silent, succumbing to the intimidation by the British government. We must continue to demonstrate the correct Islamic concepts to guide our community to adhere to Islam and challenge the draconian and unjust policies of Britain whether domestic or foreign.