Continuing calls by Tory leaders to adopt a more hardline approach towards tackling extremism ignore the roots of the problem and risk ‘otherising’ Muslims who are also its victims.
Writing in the Telegraph today PM David Cameron insisted that Britain could only defeat extremism by standing up for British values of “peace, democracy, tolerance and freedom” and being more intolerant of intolerance – rejecting anyone whose views condone the Islamist extremist narrative and create the conditions for it to flourish”.
He was joined by the Mayor London, Boris Johnson who said we must not shy away from using the words “Muslim” or “Islamic” when describing the terrorists responsible for extremist attacks.”That just lets too many people off the hook,” he said. “If we deny any connection between terrorism and religion, then we are saying there is no problem in any of the mosques; that there is nothing in the religious texts that is capable of being twisted or misunderstood; that there are no religious leaders whipping up hatred of the west, no perverting of religious belief for political ends.”
IHRC finds the comments of both leaders irresponsible and misplaced. Set in the context of comments made recently by the PM that Muslims were ‘quietly condoning’ extremism they seem to suggest that universal values are not shared by Muslims. This is dangerous and risks creating a narrative of ‘us and them’, pitting wider society against a minority that is presented as beyond the pale.
The comments are also alarming for the fact that they seem to indicate a gratuitous desire in government circles for a more authoritarian approach towards British Muslims. Successive governments have wasted little opportunity in using terrorist attacks as a pretext to introduce measures that target the freedom of religion and expression of the Muslim community. The approach is a godsend for extremists who point to it as evidence that Muslims will never be equal citizens in the west.
These measures are counter-productive in that they seek to both prevent discussion of legitimate topics and the adoption of positions that run counter to government foreign policy such as for example the desirability of Islamic governance. It has led to Muslims shutting-up shop and being scared away from discussing important issues leaving an information vacuum that the likes of ISIL can readily exploit.
Both leaders also fail to address Saudi Arabia’s contribution to ISIL-inspired extremism through the regime’s continued promotion of sectarianism and the narrow, exclusivist reading of Islam. Instead of standing up to Riyadh and demanding action Britain and the west in general prefer to cosy up to a regime which they see as a loyal servant in the region.
IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh said: “To date the government’s approach to tackling terrorism has been based on prejudice and self-interest and that’s why it has been an abject failure. Any response must be properly targeted to attack the source of the problem, not the rights of the very people that are key to finding a solution and who are its double-edged victims.”
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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
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