Cameron launches new counter-extremism plan
London - British Prime Minister David Cameron launched a five-year-plan to tackle Islamic extremism in Britain, decrying the “failure of integration” that has led hundreds of Britons to join the Islamic State (ISIS) and firmly linking non-violent extremism and terrorism.
In a July 20th speech in Birmingham, Cameron warned that the fight against extremism is the “struggle of our generation”. He set out four major objectives of the government’s plan: countering “warped” extremist ideology; tackling radicalisation; dealing with the “drowning out” of moderate Muslim voices; and addressing the “identity crisis” among British Muslim youth.
Cameron introduced a raft of measures to prop up his government’s more nuanced strategy, including promising funding, protection and “political representation” to UK Muslim groups that demonstrate an adherence to “British values”.
He also promised sweeping housing reforms to tackle the issue of “segregation” in schools and housing.
The prime minister warned Muslims against travelling to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS at a time when his government is contemplating expanding air strikes in Iraq to include ISIS targets in Syria.
“If you are a boy, they will brainwash you, strap bombs to your body and blow you up. If you are a girl, they will enslave and abuse you. That is the sick and brutal reality of ISIS,” Cameron said.
“We must de-glamourise the extremist cause, especially ISIS. This isn’t a pioneering movement. It is vicious, brutal, fundamentally abhorrent.”
The strategy marks a major departure in Britain’s approach to addressing home-grown terrorism by a Conservative government freed from constraints imposed by its former Liberal Democrat coalition partners, linking non-violent extremism and terrorism, acknowledging “segregation” among social housing and opening debate about “British values”.
“No more turning a blind eye on the basis of cultural sensitivities,” Cameron said.
The new strategy was met with mixed reactions from Britain’s Muslim community, with some applauding the government’s commitment to tackling difficult issues surrounding identity and others warning it could lead to further disenfranchisement among young British Muslims.
UK counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam issued a statement welcoming the government’s focus on counter-extremism. “As we have long advocated, there is a pressing need to challenge all forms of extremism, not simply its violent manifestations… Naming and shaming the Islamist ideology is a key step forward,” the group said.
“This is the clearest commitment to countering non-violent extremism that I have seen in the last five years and we hope it is followed up with a comprehensive strategy that will unify the UK against extremism of all kinds,” said Quilliam Managing Director Haras Rafiq.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an umbrella body with more than 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations and mosques, struck a note of warning.
MCB Secretary-General Shuja Shafi said: “We worry that these latest suggestions will set new litmus tests which may brand us all as extremists, even though we uphold and celebrate the rule of law, democracy and rights for all. Dissenting is a proud tradition of ours that must not be driven underground.”
While CAGE, an advocacy group that came under fire after its research director, Asim Qureshi, described ISIS executioner Mohammed Emwazi, better known as “Jihadi John”, as a “beautiful young man”, warned that Cameron’s tactics would “backfire”.
“David Cameron’s counterterrorism agenda will create more distrust and alienation among British Muslims and an atmosphere in which political dissent is criminalised. He seeks to tear down a framework of laws built over centuries,” a statement from the group said.
CAGE spokesman Cerie Bullivant told The Arab Weekly that Cameron is wrong to equate non-violent extremism and political violence, claiming that the government’s foreign policy plays a major part in pushing young Muslims towards radicalisation.
“CIA Director John Brennan said [in June] that foreign policy does play a part in stimulating and stirring threats to national security but the government would have us all believe that foreign policy has nothing to do with terrorism.
The Cameron government wants to ignore that because it asks too many questions close to home for them, and when we ask those questions we get branded as extremists,” Bullivant said.