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A Look at David Cameron's Speech on Terrorism and UK Muslims

A Look at David Cameron's Speech on Terrorism and UK Muslims

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday February 08 2011

  Prime Minister David Cameron used his speech at the Munich Security Conference in Germany on Saturday to “set out his views on radicalisation and Islamic extremism.”

The PM has already come under fire for making the speech on the day the EDL hosted a ‘homecoming march’ in Luton. More controversial still are the contents of the PM’s address to the Munich conference which look to have been lifted from the pages of a ‘leaked’ QF report from last year advising the incoming Coalition government on a revamp of the discredited Prevent programme.

The PM said:

.”..terrorism is not linked exclusively to any one religion or ethnic group….we should acknowledge that this threat comes in Europe overwhelmingly from young men who follow a completely perverse, warped interpretation of Islam, and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens.”

He went on to claim the cause for young Muslims being seduced by the warped interpretation of Islam came down to a “question of identity,” and a weak affiliation to the British nation and British values.

The PM’s point is contradicted by survey data from the Gallup East West Facts project, which actually shows British Muslim identification with nation and national institutions exceeding that of other Britons. More significant, is the Gallup survey and the OSI Muslims in Europe survey results demonstrating the high levels of discrimination faced by Muslims in European societies and the consequential effects on cohesion and equality. Such reports criticize policies on integrating minorities that put the onus on “embracing values” instead of addressing the practical problems Muslims face in their everyday lives that keep them on the margins of society.

Moreover, as Mehdi Hasan points out, points out, were those white converts to Islam implicated in terrorist activities suffering from low levels of identification with British values and British society? Should we to read in the PM’s remarks a racial element – suggesting that ‘non-White’ Muslims are in need of induction in British values though he acknowledges that terrorism and political violence is not a scourge unique to one group or community of people?

Cameron goes on to read a script that could easily be lifted from any neo-con tract and its adumbration of the flawed ‘conveyor belt theory’ to radicalization and terrorism. He said:

“We have got to get to the root of the problem, and we need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of where these terrorist attacks lie.  That is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism.  We should be equally clear what we mean by this term, and we must distinguish it from Islam….At the furthest end are those who back terrorism to promote their ultimate goal: an entire Islamist realm, governed by an interpretation of Sharia. Move along the spectrum, and you find people who may reject violence, but who accept various parts of the extremist worldview, including real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values.  It is vital that we make this distinction between religion on the one hand, and political ideology on the other.”

He continues, “The point is this: the ideology of extremism is the problem; Islam emphatically is not.

“They [extremists] lump all Muslims together, compiling a list of grievances, and argue that if only governments addressed these grievances, the terrorism would stop.”

He goes on to list poverty, grievances over foreign policy and the West’s uncritical support of authoritarian regimes and dictators in Muslim majority states as reasons often cited for terrorism and political violence. Cameron rejects that these could serve as explanatory factors by stating that “many of those found guilty of terrorist offences in the UK and elsewhere have been graduates and often middle class;” “there are many people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, who are angry about Western foreign policy, but who don’t resort to acts of terrorism” and “if it’s the lack of democracy that is the problem, why are there so many extremists in free and open societies?”

Causes for radicalization and terrorism are certainly intricate and complex but the PM is wrong to distinguish causes that drive Muslims to engage in this sort of activity from antecedents of terrorism and political violence emanating from the pursuit of other ideologies.

The PM goes on to challenge multiculturalism and makes the strange allegation that society has sometimes been reticent to challenge practices exercised by minority communities.

He said, “Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.  We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.  We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.”

The PM’s point of sleepwalking into segregation as Trevor Phillips once put it isn’t supported by facts which show that Muslims are more likely to wish to live in mixed areas. And his claim of society being “cautious” or “fearful” of addressing issues such as forced marriage will seem laughable to British Muslims who regularly face front page absurdities on Muslim life in Britain and suffer the indignity of practices that have nothing to do with Islam being used to malign their religion and their faith identity.

The PM goes on to state:

“In some mosques, preachers of hate can sow misinformation about the plight of Muslims elsewhere.” 

But while the PM argues in favour of Egypt gravitating towards “the proper building blocks of a free and democratic society” and a “more active, muscular liberalism” at home, with its “freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality,” the attitude taken towards challenging provocative views has been to ban them. As Demos have pointed out in their report on conspiracy theories, challenging them openly and through critical engagement is a far more effective way of undoing them than imposing a blanket ban.

He says, “In our communities, groups and organizations led by young, dynamic leaders promote separatism by encouraging Muslims to define themselves solely in terms of their religion.

“All these interaction can engender a sense of community, a substitute for what the wider society failed to supply.”

The claim that organizations are driving Muslims to identify with religion alone is most bizarre given that British Muslims regularly answer polls to say that their religion plays an important part in their lives. Are they incapable of determining their attachment to faith autonomously? Are we to assume that they are driven herd-like into embracing a faith identity without agency?

And why assume that a sense of community cannot coexist with an attachment to nation and national identity? This is merely another way of framing the ridiculous question of whether Muslims are “Muslim first or British first”?

The point is more striking when we observe that in an advert placed in the Jewish Chronicle by the Conservative Party ahead of the last election, the Tories promised to “protect the Jewish community”.

Cameron continues to address ‘non-violent extremists’ saying “…instead of ignoring this extremist ideology, we – as governments and as societies – have got to confront it, in all its forms.  And second, instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone.

“Governments must also be shrewder in dealing with those that, while not violent, are in some cases part of the problem.  We need to think much harder about who it’s in the public interest to work with.  Some organisations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism.

“So we should properly judge these organisations: do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths?  Do they believe in equality of all before the law?  Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government?  Do they encourage integration or separation?  These are the sorts of questions we need to ask.”

The questions are pertinent indeed and are ones Muslims hold up to the Conservatives and other political parties:

“Do they believe in universal human rights – including for women and people of other faiths? “ – What of the right of Muslim women to adopt the headscarf and the face veil in our “free and open societies”?

“Do they believe in equality of all before the law?” – What of Muslims who look to avail themselves of free school and faith school policies akin to other faith groups? And what of Muslims who look to avail themselves of the Arbitration Act and its provisions for shari’ah courts akin to the Beth Din courts?

“Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government?” – Indeed, how does our government measure up given its unwillingness to engage with Hamas, the democratically elected authority in Gaza? And what of our past support for regimes that have frustrated the rights of people to elect their own government?

“Do they encourage integration or separation?” – How does the government fare when Muslim continue to face disproportionate levels of discrimination in the workplace and suffer growing levels of prejudice and hostility of which media commentators, the BNP and the EDL are manifestations?

The PM argued for “stronger societies and stronger identities at home,” and “more active, muscular liberalism” predicated on the “freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law, equal rights regardless of race, sex or sexuality.  It says to its citizens, this is what defines us as a society: to belong here is to believe in these things.”

He also said, that “Someone can be a devout Muslim and not be an extremist” and that “We need to argue that prophecies of a global war of religion pitting Muslims against the rest of the world are nonsense.”

The PM is indeed right and he would find British Muslims committed to his vision of a stronger society and a stronger identity. He would find them concurring with the need to assert and remain true to our liberal democratic foundations. But in neglecting the available evidence on British Muslims and their attachment to Britain and the values that “define us as a society,” in repeating the flawed arguments of the neo-con camps and their fixation with criminalising “non-violent extremists” like a modern day thought police on the premise of their “conveyor belt theory”, and by not addressing the challenges British Muslims face in their efforts to mainstream their identity and their voice in society and politics, the PM far from extinguishing the notion that there is a “global war of religion pitting Muslims against the rest of the world”,  manages to reinforce it.


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