The Faults in the British Approach to Tackling Extremism

In a bid to raise awareness of ways to go about preventing and combatting violent extremism in the UK, David Cameron made the following (extremely creepy) statement whilst outlining the parameters of the new counter-terrorism bill:

For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance. This Government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach.

So, essentially, Cameron intends to bring to life the sort of dystopian England described in George Orwell’s ‘1984’ (a great read, by the way). Whether or not you are breaking the law, the government holds the right to identify you as a potential extremist. Even stepping slightly out of line may result in disastrous consequences, and the government has urged teachers, doctors, dentists and other professionals to be vigilant and receptive of ‘signs of extremism’ in children as young as three years old. Aged three, I was a huge fan of guns and play-fighting. Would I have been reported to the authorities as an extremist in the making?

While I strongly agree that it is down to the government to combat extremism to make Britain a safer place, I do not believe that paranoia and excessive suspicion is necessary- it may even be harmful. If you constantly scapegoat and suspect young Muslims, they will grow up wishing to fulfil the expectance associated with them. In sociology, such occurrences are referred to as ‘self-fulfilling prophecies’. For Muslims, religion is a very significant aspect of their identities. Constantly drawing attention to the expectation of young Muslims becoming extremists will undoubtedly result in an adverse reaction of some sort.

“We live in a damaged and volatile world and, like us, young people are trying to make sense of it, like us, they’re trying to come to conclusions about cause, effect and solutions, and like us they want a space to discuss it.” – Alex Kenny, Executive Member of NUT

Teachers (according to my aunt, a geography teacher) are being asked to ferret for the following (highly irrational) signs in children, and the new counter-terror rules aimed at exposing radicalisation require schools to report suspicions about pupils to the police.

  • If a student has recently started to wear a headscarf or similar religious garment/ sudden and rapid changes in religious practice
  • If a Muslim pupil is extremely outspoken/ politically active (me!)
  • Secretive behaviour (all teens)
  • Risk-taking ‘hedonistic’ behaviour (again, all teens)
  • Expressing or questioning controversial views
  • Showing sympathy towards extremist causes
  • Low tolerance for other communities and religious beliefs
  • Travel/ previous residence abroad

The National Union of Teachers says the rules are stifling debate in schools. Some believe this is somehow a positive approach to preventing extremism- averting discussion. I believe this is utter nonsense. How can you expect a highly impressionable and confused child to resist radicalisation without guidance from teachers?

One Wandsworth teacher, Jan Nielsen, said: “We are expected to be front-line stormtroopers who listen, spy and notify the authorities of students who we are suspicious of.” Surely this is unreasonable- being suspicious of all Muslim students due to the faults of three girls (whom, had they been given the appropriate guidance beforehand, probably wouldn’t have made the trip to Syria). I believe Muslims are being demonised and unfairly turned into suspects.

Indeed, groups such as ‘ISIS’ are technically ‘Islamist groups’, however the people they senselessly murder are also mostly Muslims. This proves that there is a whole spectrum of interpretation surrounding Islam. Muslims in the East are generally very different to Muslims here in the UK, as we British Muslims harbour an amalgam of British and peaceful Islamic values. I am a proud British Muslim, and nobody may deny me of my right to practise my faith whilst being a patriotic Brit purely because some terrorist group who claims to share the same ideological stances as me exists elsewhere in the world.

What really agitates me is society’s general conflation between immigration and Islam in the UK. The British public make foolish and ignorant comments such as “Muslims should follow the British values or go back to their countries!”. To generalise here is pretty stupid, as there are 2,786,635 Muslims in the UK, many of which are your average everyday Brits who go to school/work, have families and contribute to British society as is expected of them. Other people express more intense political opinions, ordering Muslims to renounce their faiths, or get out of Britain, as though Britain does not belong to British Muslims as much as it belongs to others.

Well, I for one, am a rejector of the status quo. I say, to all my Muslim sisters and brothers, it is our collective right to exist as we see fit, so long as we do not harm anybody in any way, and it is our collective responsibility to show the world what it really means to be a British Muslim.

© Sadia Ahmed 2015