Last week, a report entitled ‘The Missing Muslims’ was published by Citizens UK, which aimed to assess a plethora of issues pertaining to “unlocking the potential” of British Muslim communities.
The report was praised within some quarters of the British Muslim community, whilst others rightly raised legitimate concerns regarding its tone, language and insinuations. At face value, it was certainly refreshing to see the inclusion —in an advisory capacity— on the “Muslim Leadership Group”, of some mainstream activists and imams, such as Sahar al-Faifi, Maulana Yunus Dudwala, and the Muslim Council of Britain (who had been isolated by the Tories for the past seven years).
In this regard, compared with previous efforts —and despite the inclusion of other advisers with dubious track records— the report was more “representative” of the groups and individuals being consulted.
But while this undoubtedly represents a step forward, the diverse list of Muslim leaders who were consulted cannot be used as a pretext to automatically accept the findings. Rather, what gives the report its greater claim to objectivity (compared with previous efforts, notably The Casey Review) is the significant shift towards responsible language and evidence-based conclusions.
Putting the bulk of the areas covered in the report aside, there were a few points about integration, with a specific focus on English-speaking imams, and an independent review of the UK Government’s flagship counter-extremism strategy – Prevent – which caught my attention.
The integration of Muslims, principally third-generation British-born Muslims of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, has been an area of contention for the best part of 20 years. Indeed, it predates the War on Terror.
From Tony Blair’s failed attempts at multiculturalism, to David Cameron’s ‘muscular’ approach to enforcing ‘fundamental British values’, the same questions have been asked over and over again: “Are Muslims doing enough to integrate?”, “Why are Muslims so segregated and isolated?”, “Muslims don’t mix enough with the wider public”, “Do Muslims see Britain as their country or does their loyalty lie elsewhere?” and so forth.
Numerous surveys and polls have shown that Muslims are, indeed, “loyal” citizens. They are proud of being “British” and do not see a conflict between being British and being Muslim. Most importantly, they have consistently shown that they would report others —including co-religionists— to the authorities if they ever suspected them of being involved in terrorism-related activities. However, as has been made extremely clear to Muslim communities in Britain, this is evidently insufficient for them to be fully trusted.
British Muslims have been intermingling with non-Muslims at schools, colleges, universities, at workplaces across numerous industries and sectors, as well as neighbours, for decades. And yet, the myth of Muslim “self-segregation” is consistently peddled by the establishment and corporate media. Perhaps the undeniable realities of “white flight”, the concentration of Eastern Europeans in particular towns and cities, the segregation of the white “underclass” across hundreds of housing estates in the Midlands and the north, and the ghettoisation of black communities is something of less concern because these communities seem to have “culturally integrated” without posing a national security threat.
But the reality is that humans are social creatures. Whilst we love to meet, greet and walk on our two feet, we tend to also be inclined towards residing amongst those we have religious, cultural, racial, ethnic and linguistic affinities with – especially when living as minorities.
However, the ‘Missing Muslims’ report, as indicated by its very title, ultimately concludes that British Muslims still need to do more; rather than taking an honest look into how State policies (domestic and foreign), institutional Islamophobia, structural racism, employment discrimination, media demonisation, and attempts to redefine Islam via the lens of “good” and “bad” binaries, have shaped the Muslim psyche of today.
This brings me onto the issue of policies, more specifically: the Prevent strategy. The report highlights that Prevent has been evidently problematic in terms of implementation —resulting in causing further mistrust and alienation among British Muslims— while concluding that an independent review of Prevent was long overdue.
I think it is fair to say that opposition to Prevent, and calls for its abolition, can no longer be dismissed as propaganda by Islamists and their “regressive lefty” allies; unless we count the United Nations, the National Union of Teachers, 300 academics, and 140 experts in that category.
Both the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and the former independent reviewer of anti-terror laws, David Anderson QC, amongst others, have called for an independent review of Prevent, with a judicial oversight. However, after the damning recent revelations about the flawed scientific research (EG22+) underpinning Prevent (research which had been used to place it on a statutory footing under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015), is an independent review really enough? In my humble opinion, such a review would not be worth the paper it would be written on.
The issues highlighted in my earlier points about integration are intrinsically linked to the ideological objectives of the Prevent strategy, which claims to also pursue far-right extremism, though statisticsstrongly suggest otherwise.
Ultimately, the task of getting Muslims to accept an arbitrary set of ill-defined “British values” whilst assimilating to a secular, liberal lifestyle, under the banner of being “moderate” or “progressive”, is at the heart of the Prevent strategy’s McCarthyite cold war against normative Islam, which it sees as an ideological threat at home, and a geopolitical one abroad.
Those who try to smugly counter the case against Prevent by asking “what is the alternative?” do so either out of vested interest or genuine ignorance, notably by accepting the premise that there is an inherent issue of violent extremism within Muslim communities. I’m sorry to disappoint them, but the only genuine “alternative to Prevent” is No Prevent at all; including any attempts to re-brand the strategy through the inclusion of handpicked “mainstream Muslims”.
A real and radical “alternative” to Prevent
But if there was ever a real alternative to Prevent, one that actually does what it says on the tin – i.e. to make the streets of Britain safer by preventing acts of terrorism carried out by “Islamist” terrorists – I would argue that it ought to do the following:
– Abolish the existing Prevent strategy without creating re-branded “alternatives” claiming inclusivity of “mainstream” Muslims.
– Abandon the post 9/11 Countering-Violent Extremism (CVE) framework, set out by the Rand Corporation and neoconservatives in the US. I am not referring here to the flawed science of ERG22+, which underpins Prevent, but the pre-crime “conveyor belt theory”.
– Allow mainstream Sunni Muslim scholars and activists, even those whose views the government may find abhorrent, illiberal, or distasteful, the freedom to discuss normative Islamic concepts like Sharia law, the Caliphate, Jihad, citizenship in a non-Muslim country, and the liberation of Palestine, Kashmir and Syria. By criminalising and censoring mainstream figures, the British Muslim youth’s genuine and sincere grievances are not addressed properly, leaving them vulnerable to online grooming or adopting distorted interpretations of Islam.
– If the UK government is going to “engage” with mainstream Muslims, it should do so without dangling the carrot of state funding, pushing army recruitment drives, or promoting assimilation agendas dressed up as “integration initiatives”. The government should seek the counsel of mainstream Muslim leaders but deal with them as equal citizens, not as colonial subjects of the British Raj.
– Tighten press regulations, which currently allow the freedom to mock mainstream Islamic beliefs, concepts, figures, and rituals with impunity.
– Treat Islamophobic hate crimes exactly as it does similar offenses, such as anti-Semitic hate crimes. This includes hate speech and social media abuse.
– Be absolutely transparent about the definition of “extremism” in its non-violent variants. We are aware that Prevent’s definition of “extremism” is the only one available in the absence of a legal definition. However, many Muslims would like to know whether the government is referring only to ISIS and Al Qaeda when talking about “extremist ideology”, or does it also include law-abiding, non-violent groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb-ut Tahrir, Salafis, Deobandis and traditional Barelvis, who conceptually believe in the re-establishment of the Caliphate, Sharia law being superior to secular laws, the illegitimacy of Israel, and Islam as the only religion of truth that will lead to eternal salvation – do these views qualify as espousing “extremist” beliefs?
– Scrap all post 7/7 anti-terror laws, and instead deploy existing criminal laws like murder and the Explosives Act, which were sufficient during the era of the IRA bombing campaign.
– Last but not least –indeed, arguably the most important of all these points– the UK government must radically change its current foreign policy in the Muslim-majority world, and at the very least acknowledge the damage it has caused historically in the region, especially during the era of British colonialism. This includes closing down all military bases and bringing back every single British soldier and MI6 agent stationed in the Muslim majority world, as well as reviewing the UK’s unstinting support for Israel, the selling of weapons to despotic regimes, the looting of natural resources, political interference in democratic processes, and backing the violent censorship of Islamic movements and resistance groups in occupied lands.
I am confident, that if the above recommendations were implemented, there would be minimal to zero “domestic terrorism” in the UK, and I strongly believe Downing Street already knows this.
Many reading this will think these demands excessive or unrealistic, and they would be right. What I have presented above is unrealistic because that is the nature and scale of the hegemonic political and ideological system we are dealing with; the same neoliberal system complicit in the tragedy of Grenfell Tower while striking a £1bn deal with Christian extremists and watching nurses being reduced to visiting foodbanks.
As to those of my fellow Muslims who are constantly seeking “engagement” opportunities with the government in an effort to pragmatically deal with the hand Muslims have been dealt, I realise it is a genuine case of damage limitation. By all means, Muslim organisations and leaders can continue playing the never-ending game of fire fighting, especially when it comes to watering down discriminatory legislation. Sadly, however, the majority of Muslim groups and figures are not highlighting even some of the points that I have presented when sitting at the negotiating table, thereby continuing this perpetual cycle of self-blame and self-critique.
Additionally, no amount of peer-reviewed research into anti-terror legislation, or independent reviews of Prevent, or integration initiatives, or community engagement will be able to stop a handful of criminals from carrying out heinous crimes based on a distorted interpretation of Islam.
As such, giving out roses and samosas after these attacks, refusing to pray funeral rites over the perpetrator, and issuing endless joint condemnations will not make this country safer, or prevent the “radicalisation” of Muslim youth – but we already know this, because, as a community, we have been doing the aforementioned for the last 15 years.
I am well aware of the sociological, psychological, socioeconomic, structural, and institutional factors which make the issue of home-grown terrorism a multi-causal quagmire, but, in my opinion, they are all incidental issues, not causally central in leading someone to commit violence.
The only strategy that has not been attempted or tested in trying to understand the Muslim psyche in the age of the War on Terror, is for Britain to stop sponsoring and committing terrorism abroad. And yet, Muslim representatives have generally failed to articulate this basic point —or explain how it is linked to issues of integration, radicalisation and domestic terrorism— without resorting to academic jargon and obtuse abstractions.
Whilst I appreciate that continuously citing historical and foreign policy grievances is becoming something of a broken record, and that it can seem like a deflection strategy to evade some collective responsibility for politically-motivated violence committed by Muslims, one must ask why this remains a song on repeat?
So let’s conclude by asking ourselves the following questions, each inviting a glaringly obvious answer:
Did mass-scale Islamist-inspired terrorism exist before 9/11 and 7/7 in the Western world? No. Did poverty, high unemployment, “ghettoisation”, lack of integration, and racial and religious discrimination of Muslims of Asian and North African descent exist in Europe before the War on terror? Yes.
Did these sociological and socioeconomic realities ever transpire into religiously or politically motivated violence before the War on Terror? No. Did Western powers begin their political and military interference in the Muslim majority world after 9/11? Of course not, that history stretches back at least 150 years (in the case of Europe).
Taking all of the above into consideration, surely it is time to have an honest and open discourse about how we can collectively make Britain a safer country? Even more importantly, surely we can do so without the deflective and deceptive rhetoric of politicians, who seek to justify a global hegemonic order by blaming minorities and censoring peaceful dissent?