I was quite disappointed when a blurred image of me featured in yesterday’s episode of Panorama ‘After Paris: The Battle for British Islam’. The image was lifted from an event discussing the ‘Criminalisation of Islam’ at SOAS, where I clearly remember BBC’s John Ware sitting in the front row. Perhaps he was taking notes on what he could use against the panellists, and chose not to include selective snippets of my lecture in his programme, like he did with Sheikh Haitham al Haddad, because it was based entirely on empirical findings.
In comparison, Ware’s programme lacked any academic basis to substantiate his narrative. What should have been renamed as ‘Paranoia: The Non-Existential Us and Them Fallacy’, turned out to be an imbalanced perspective of the causes of terrorism, and the idea that non-violent extremism somehow leads to violence. The inclusion of academic and scholastic works to critically provide an alternative perspective was absent. In reality, the programme was divisive in nature, and equated to nothing more than propaganda for the government’s proposed Counter-Terrorism and Security(CTS) bill.
There were references made to the murder of British soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich 2013, as well as the recent killing of French magazine Charlie Hebdo journalists in Paris last week. However, Ware continued to amaze me for all the wrong reasons by totally dismissing, or rather conveniently ignoring, the link between foreign policy grievances and violent extremism. Nor did any of his ‘distinguished’ guests acknowledge Britain’s military escapades in the Muslim world to incidents such as 7/7 and Woolwich.
The Algerian ethnicity of the perpetrators was another factor that was predictably brushed under the carpet. There was no reference to the origin of radicalisation of French Muslims, besides Ware’s carefully crafted narrative of the conveyor-belt theory. For example, the role of France in massacring thousands of Muslims in Algeria between 1956-62, to backing a military coup between 1991-92, which sabotaged the democratic process, and inevitably led to the militarisation of young political Algerians.
Ware’s selection of guests was also embarrassingly poor in providing a nuanced commentary on this particular subject matter. But then again, that was expected when you invite self-professed specialists with hardly any grassroots support within mainstream Muslim communities. Furthermore, the journalistic principle of impartiality was non-existent, as the guests spoke with absolute freedom without being challenged – especially not by Ware!
Former jihadist, Manwar Ali of JIMAS who made a 180 degree turn when he went on a march with the EDL after Woolwich, didn’t really provide anything of substance. Muslim Feminist, Sara Khan, parroted the same rhetoric as Ali. Similarly, Muslim modernist Adam Deen demonstrated how unimportant, and out of touch his perspective on extremism was – outright rejecting any link between foreign policy and radicalisation. Deen’s repetitive reference to a “puritanical” version of Islam as the main cause of radicalisation and non-violent extremism, could not remotely counter the arguments presented by numerous counter-terrorism experts and academics who refuted this link.
Foreign policy and terrorism
Last Tuesday, I attended a report launch at the House of Commons hosted by think tank Claystone entitled, ‘A Decade Lost: Rethinking Radicalisation and Extremism‘, authored by counter terrorism expert Professor Arun Kundnani. The ground breaking report packed the room with faith groups, academics, human rights organisations, policy makers, and journalists. The event was chaired by Yasmin Qureshi MP for Bolton, and Peter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator was a guest panellist.
Professor Kundnani’s report was published in light of the government’s CTS bill, which many human rights groups believe could potentially be one of the most damaging legislation for the British Muslim community.
The proposed bill includes measures, which at the very least questions the basic civil liberties every citizen in the UK is entitled to. For example, teachers and child-minders will be expected to report toddlers to the police, universities will monitor Muslim students and speakers by censoring open dialogue on campus, the confiscation of passports, accessing personal mail, and the revoking of citizenship without due process, to name just a few.
Professor Kundnani mentioned in his overview that the UK government’s counter terrorism Prevent strategy was specifically designed to target the Muslim community, whilst disregarding Britain’s foreign policy as one of the main influences behind extremism and radicalisation. He also mentioned how prominent Muslim activists, charities, and schools were being targeted as the government’s ideological definition of extremism was being indiscriminately applied.
From an academic perspective, Professor Kundnani stated how ‘radical’ views were not prerequisites to violent extremism. He highlighted that academics and think tanks that had previously advocated this theory had retracted their position as the War on Terror developed, and admitted that foreign policy was the main instigator behind terrorism.
Was this report that was authored by a revered non-Muslim academic even considered by Ware or his guests as a reference point or counter-narrative? Of course not, why should they? It’s either ‘Happy Muslim’ or extreme Muslim. ‘Poppy hijab’ or no hijab. #NotInMyName or yes in your name. United against ISIS or united with ISIS. The ‘us and them’ clash of civilisation narrative was not initiated by Muslims. I recall George W Bush using that specific line before his illegal crusade in Iraq.
The political agenda pushed by journalists such as Ware, is nothing short of a divisive and destructive mechanism to socially facilitate the British public’s support, or at least acceptance for a draconian legislation, such as the CTS bill by capitalising on people’s fear of Muslims.