An anti-terror report published today by Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee betrays a continuing cross-party obsession with rendering the Muslim community as part of a security discourse.
Among the recommendations made in ‘Counter-Terrorism’ are withdrawing passports from people believed to be preparing to go abroad to fight, stripping them of their nationality if they are overseas and deemed to be a threat to UK national interests, and subjecting people returning from foreign conflicts to deradicalisation programmes.
The recommendations are based on a security assessment positing the fragmentation of al-Qaeda and the magnetic pull of the Syrian civil war to attract foreign combatants as the principal terrorism threats to the UK. Indeed the biggest concern of the report is establishing the purported risk posed by returning British Muslims who have fought in Syria or elsewhere.
IHRC finds the focus on the Muslim community to be disproportionate, inconsistent and discriminatory. By the government’s own reckoning the number of Britons fighting in Syria is relatively low – between 50 and 400 – and none have so far returned to carry out terror attacks at home or indeed expressed a desire to do so.
Moreover the number of Muslims fighting in Syria is probably no more or less than the number of Britons who fought in Libya to depose Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 during which time British politicians said little if anything about their alleged exposure to extremist ideology and military training.
We are also concerned about the selective application of anti-terrorism policy primarily to Muslims. We see little to differentiate British Muslims fighting in Syria from British Jews serving in the Israeli Defence Forces and yet no British politician has ever expressed any concerns that they will return from the Occupied Territories to commit human rights abuses or terrorism at home. Nor has anyone ever suggested they are forced to undergo deradicalisation programmes.
The report also enforces the odious government policy of withdrawing passports from British citizens suspected of planning to travel abroad for purposes that conflict with British interests. The policy was amended last year to make it easier for the Home Secretary to confiscate passports and has since been used 14 times. Because there is no legal requirement to report the confiscations we cannot establish the ethnicity or religion of those affected but it would not come as a surprise to discover that most or all of them are Muslims. Instead of recommending effective judicial oversight for the confiscation orders the report merely recommends that the Home Secretary reports his/her decisions to Parliament on a regular basis.
IHRC is also concerned by the recommendation to grant extra legal powers to the Charity Commission to counter the abuse of charities by terrorists. The Commission already has a dubious record of investigating Muslim-run charities on the basis of unsubstantiated terrorism allegations from hostile third parties. Extending its powers would be a green light for more unjustified politically motivated scrutiny.
IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh said: “The continuing focus on Muslims in Britain as a terrorism threat forms part of a wider discourse of demonisation based on racial/religious tropes. These tropes create disunity and division and also foster hatred against minority communities. This report only contributes to the material and policies demonising Muslims.”
Notes to Editors:
For media enquiries please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 4420 8904 4222 or +44 7958 607475
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