Tunisia attack vindicates Cameron on Islamists

Friday 10/07/2015

London - The massacre of tourists in the Tunisian coastal resort of Sousse has given new impetus to the British gov­ernment’s campaign against Islamist ideology, which is at the heart of its new counter-extremism meas­ures.

The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the Sousse attack, in which 30 of the 38 victims were British citizens, making the atroc­ity the most deadly attack on Brit­ish citizens since the 2005 bombing of public transport by Islamist ter­rorists in London in which 52 were killed.

In the wake of Sousse, British Prime Minister David Cameron placed a heavy emphasis on com­bating the ideas that he says moti­vate such acts of violence.

Addressing parliament, Cameron urged Britons to be “more intoler­ant of intolerance”, drawing atten­tion to the ideological dimension of Islamist terrorism and emphasising that “people who do these things do it in the name of a perverted and twisted ideology which hijacks the Islamic faith”.

The basis of the Conservative gov­ernment’s approach is what Cam­eron has termed a “full spectrum” response that fights both non-vi­olent extremism as well as acts of violence.

Extremism is defined by the UK government 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. We also regard calls for the death of mem­bers of our armed forces as extrem­ist.”

This definition is strikingly broad and has been criticised by rights groups as amounting to the policing of individual beliefs but Cameron has argued forcefully for linking ex­tremist ideas to violent acts of ter­ror.

Cameron advocated such an ap­proach in 2011 during a keynote speech at the Munich Security Con­ference.

“As evidence emerges about those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were ini­tially influenced by what some have called non-violent extremists and they then took those radi­cal beliefs to the next level by embracing violence,” Cameron said.

The Conservative strategy to chal­lenge non-violent extremism, how­ever, was not fully implemented be­cause of divisions within the previ­ous government between the Conservative party and their Liberal Demo­cratic coalition partners, as well as opposi­tion within the Conservative party itself. Significantly, the most sen­ior Muslim member of the Conserva­tive Party, Sayeeda Warsi, was opposed to the approach.

Writing in the Guardian newspaper af­ter her resignation from government in the summer of 2014, Warsi criticised the tendency “to view ever-increasing numbers of Muslim organisations or individual activists with suspicion”.

In March, Warsi attended an event in parliament hosted by Islamist ex­tremist Azad Ali, who has expressed his “love” for ultra-extremist al- Qaeda ideologue and terrorist An­war Awlaki, who was killed by a US drone strike in 2011, and has at­tended speeches by the high-profile al-Qaeda ideologue Abu Qatada.

Cameron responded to Warsi on the BBC radio show Today by saying that, in the wake of the Sousse at­tack, the argument over his gov­ernment’s counter-extremism strategy had decisively been won by those taking a tougher line with non-violent extrem­ists.

“I have an honest disa­greement with Sayeeda, with whom I have debated this many times,” the prime minister said. “My point is that we should engage with imams, with Mus­lim communities, with Muslim or­ganisations but we should have some basic rules in terms of our engagement. If organisations back extrem­ist preach­ers… then I think we have a serious prob­lem.”

The goal of combating non-violent extremism is to make views associated with terrorism unacceptable, much as racism has become socially unacceptable in Brit­ain over the last three decades.

One manifestation of the new approach, the so-called prevent duty, went into force July 1st. This requirement, part of the Counter- Terrorism and Security Act of 2015, imposes a legal obligation on a range of organisations — in­cluding schools, local authorities, prisons, police and health bodies — to have “due regard to preventing people from being drawn into ter­rorism”.

Security Minister John Hayes says the new obligation is “about pro­tecting people from the poisonous and pernicious influence of extrem­ist ideas that are used to legitimise terrorism”.

In schools, the prevent duty will require teachers to inform social services and the police if they en­counter views and behaviour that may indicate a child is being drawn into extremism.

Christine Blower, general secre­tary of the National Union of Teach­ers, criticised the government’s approach as “causing significant nervousness and confusion among teachers… The prevent duty is felt by many teachers to be counterpro­ductive and wide of the mark.”

The government appears un­moved by such criticism of its strat­egy, however, and has other meas­ures in the pipeline designed to target Islamist thought by regulating spaces where Islamists are believed to propagate extreme views, such as informal sharia courts, unregu­lated supplementary schools and the governing bodies of schools, all of which have been the subject of high-profile scandals involving Islamists in recent years. Planned measures include a government in­vestigation into the application of sharia law in England and Wales, a national review of supplementary schools and a national database of school governors.

In his address to parliament, Cam­eron indicated that the new pre­vent duty was only a small part of a tougher approach and promised to “go further” in the coming weeks.