A national campaign urging Muslim women to prevent their menfolk from travelling to fight in Syria is misplaced and will only strengthen the perception of British Muslims as a problematic community.
Coordinated events involving police, counter-extremism officials and Muslim women’s groups will take place today in London, Manchester and Birmingham to launch the campaign which will also involve leaflets being distributed at UK ports deterring people from going to fight in Syria and warning them of the legal consequences should they return home.
IHRC believes that the campaign is part of a deliberate government anti-terrorism and extremism policy that seeks to set apart the Muslim community and treat it differently from the population at large.
As a criminal act under UK terrorism laws, fighting abroad should be treated just like any other criminal activity whether it be supplying narcotics or theft. To our knowledge the police have never developed campaigns which involve approaching family members to deter their kinfolk from committing these and other categories of crimes.
Singling out an activity involving a very small minority of Muslims risks reinforcing the perception that Muslims are a violent community uniquely prone to terrorism. As such the campaign is likely to be counterproductive because it risks alienating the very people it claims to be seeking to bring on board.
The campaign, which falls under the government’s PREVENT strategy to tackle extremism, also depends on Muslim women having confidence in PREVENT officials. However this is likely to prove a tall order since PREVENT is widely seen in the Muslim community as a tool of repression allowing authorities to snoop on and harass Muslim individuals for holding views that run counter to British foreign policy in the Muslim world.
IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh said: “The fact that this is primarily a policing, as opposed to an educational or information initiative underlines the criticism we have been making for a long time now that the Muslim community is being viewed purely as a criminal or security concern. Whatever contact the law enforcement authorities have with the community is based around the assumption that Muslims are either terrorists or potential terrorists.”
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IHRC is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
Islamic Human Rights Commission
Telephone (+44) 20 8904 4222