Britain’s Tories lay out counter-extremism strategy
London - Britain’s governing Conservative Party has announced a wide-ranging strategy to counter the influence of Islamist extremists in the country, amid growing concerns that public institutions have been infiltrated by terrorism sympathisers and a series of high-profile embarrassments in which British citizens have been involved in violence overseas.
In contrast with previous strategies that have been heavily focused on preventing violent extremist activity, the new strategy will also target “non-violent extremism”, defined as “the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.
The announced strategy is the culmination of an approach first articulated by British Prime Minister David Cameron in a key-note speech at the Munich Security Conference in February 2011, in which he flagged “Islamist extremism” as being an ideology that includes “those who back terrorism” as well as “people who may reject violence but who accept various parts of the extremist world view including real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values.”
Concern about Islamists being antithetical to British society has grown in the wake of a number of scandals in which radicals within Britain have been accused of promoting extremism and infiltrating public institutions. The most prominent of these, the so-called Trojan horse plot, involved Islamists planning to take over the governing bodies of schools in Birmingham to promote an extremist agenda. A government enquiry into the plot concluded there was “a common ideological stance among key linked individuals and the implementation of conservative religious practices in the schools where these individuals have influence”.
More recently, the high-profile killer of foreign hostages for the Islamic State (ISIS) terror group, formerly known as “Jihadi John”, was revealed to be British resident Mohammed Emwazi, who studied computer programming at the University of Westminster. Former students at the university have said they believe he may have been radicalised while studying there.
Despite the public outcry following the unmasking of Emwazi and his links to Britain, politicians appear unaware of the affiliations of those presenting themselves as legitimate representatives of Muslim communities. In March it was revealed that Members of Parliament and senior Conservative Party member Baroness Warsi, one of the most high-profile Muslims in Britain, attended an event hosted in parliament by Islamist extremist Azad Ali.
Ali wrote on his blog in 2008 that terrorist Anwar Awlaki was “one of my favourite speakers and scholars”. Awlaki was killed by a US drone strike in 2011 and described by US President Barack Obama as “the chief of external operations for AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula)”. Ali was a former chairman of the now-dissolved Muslim Safety Forum, which met regularly as official liaisons with London’s Metropolitan Police to discuss issues concerning the Muslim community.
In a bid to prevent the infiltration of official bodies by extremist individuals, Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May has set up The Extremism Analysis Unit, which will “set out clearly for the first time which individuals and organisations the government and public sector should engage and should not engage.”
The moves to better understand the phenomena of extremism and protect public institutions from it, known as “entryism”, the conscious infiltration of organisations by other groups in order to expand their influence, have been welcomed by some experts.
Hannah Stuart, a research fellow at The Henry Jackson Society think-tank, welcomed the establishment of The Extremism Analysis Unit, pointing out that the government has unwittingly funded debates in which extremist Islamist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, have participated. Both Conservative and Labour governments have sought to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir.
“Recently, a front group for Hizb ut-Tahrir spoke in front of the Education Select Committee about sexual relationship education. They put on a different name and hide their affiliations and the government doesn’t see it … So I think it’s very good that they need to understand the phenomena and the groups and the individuals much more,” she said.
Other individuals active in Muslim communities in Britain, however, have expressed concerns about the new approach. Alyas Karmani, an imam, community activist and elected member of Bradford City Council, sees the new strategy as creating a “quasi-legal” process whereby the government becomes the arbiter of which groups are acceptable.
“We’ve got legislation about the prescription of groups that are deemed to promote terrorism … Why do you need to make a quasi-legislation … deeming them (non-terrorist organisations) to be an unacceptable organisation? Really it’s McCarthyite, really it’s Orwellian and McCarthyite in its very essence,” he said. Karmani said he had been branded a non-violent extremist under the strategy.
“I’m one of those people that are legal but unacceptable … even though I’m an elected member, I’ve voted as a councilman here in Bradford, even though I’m one of the loudest voices against sexual violence in the country,” he said.
British newspaper the Telegraph recently reported Karmani’s counter-radicalisation group, Street UK, had links with hardline Islamist clerics that condemn democracy as un-Islamic. Street UK had its government grant cancelled in 2011 for financing the publication of a booklet by Islamist group Salafi Manhaj.