British Prime Minister David Cameron is due to make a speech in Birmingham today setting out the government’s five-year strategy for tackling extremist ideology in which he will say “the root cause of the threat we face is the extremist ideology itself,” arguing that we need first to understand what makes Islamist extremism so attractive to people in order to prevent it.
However the PM is mistaken in believing that extremist ideology arises in a political and social vacuum and that some Muslims are naturally inclined towards extremism.
IHRC is deeply concerned by the growing focus on non-violent extremism as an incubator of violent extremism. This is a theme that has gained political traction in recent months and allowed the government to broach official intervention (including criminalising) against people holding views which are deemed to fall outside an assumed core of ‘British values’.
IHRC has already expressed alarm over the fact that these British values seem to be being defined in opposition to Islamic values and practices rather than being a substantive, positive expression of shared ideals. We also believe it is a very racist and exclusivist concept.
Moreover, the idea that radical non-violent ideas should be tackled as some sort of necessary progenitor of violent extremism is as potentially discriminatory against Muslims as it is inaccurate. It seems unlikely that ideologies such as fascism, radical Marxism, Zionism, or anarchism will be targeted, since it is obvious that merely holding radical views is not a necessary causeof violent radicalism.
If government policy continues in this direction it only risks further demonising the Muslim community and reinforcing the perception that Britain is at war with Muslims, not extremism.
David Cameron should also look closer to home when he complains that extremists are overpowering other voices within Muslim debate. Recent government anti-terror policies and the intensification of the PREVENT anti-radicalisation programme have had the effect of taking issues such as British foreign policy, terrorism, and Palestinian self-determination off the table as Muslims fear being stigmatised as extremist by the authorities for expressing views that are contrary to government policies.
IHRC is again worried by the repeated suggestion that it is a failure to integrate which has made Muslims particularly prone to extremism. Extensive research has shown beyond doubt that Muslims admit to a near universal loyalty to Britain and overwhelming opposition to extremism. However the same studies also show that they display high levels of alienation from British society mainly as a result of widespread prejudice. It is this that the government needs to be addressing.
IHRC spokesperson Arzu Merali said: “Cameron’s claims simply reinforce the now widely held prejudice that Muslim politics and practice are violently inimical to the society we live in. In fact policy after policy from this and previous governments have forced Muslims into silence over valid claims whilst lauding a fictional idea of European supremacy over them and other beleaguered minorities. It is time for a push back against this divisive and sinister narrative.”
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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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Telephone (+44) 20 8904 4222