Two days ago, after a 10-hour parliamentary debate, the Prime Minister’s motion of bombing Syria was carried, and yesterday RAF jets carried out their first airstrikes against so-called Islamic State. For an Eton-educated politician, David Cameron isn’t particularly bright. 

“Fighting fire with fire only makes the flame bigger”. That’s what my friend Michelle had to say when I asked her for her thoughts on the subject. “The war against terror is almost like a playground fight. If a bully abuses someone, hitting the bully will only provoke them. The only way of truly establishing peace is through talking it out”.

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Five-year-old Raghat was killed during a holiday to a Syrian region, which was deemed a ‘safe distance from ISIS’. Russian airstrikes are targeting civilian areas.
According to Russian News Agency TASS, there are some 50,000 ISIS militants in Syria. Official figures show that Raqqa (the city that Russian and British airstrikes are primarily targetting) has a population of 220,268. So, there are approximately 170,268 innocent civilians in the city, who will either be displaced or killed by the bombs- innocent civilians like Raghat. What have these people- these children- done wrong?

“David Cameron knows that opposition to his ill-thought rush to war is growing…On planning, strategy, ground troops, diplomacy, the terrorist threat, refugees and civilian casualties, it’s become increasingly clear that the prime minister’s proposal simply doesn’t stack up.” –Jeremy Corbyn

Common sense is, undoubtedly, a key component of politics and warfare, however it seems to be something that Mr. Cameron lacks almost entirely. He believes that “military intervention” has been “the right decision to keep the UK safe”. Any human being with more than six brain cells knows that this is not an example of intervention- this is downright provocation, and will no doubt act as a catalyst for an adverse reaction of some sort from Islamic State.

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Additionally, Mr. Cameron is under the impression that bombing Syria will result in a decline in the number of people joining Islamic State. I disagree. To innocent men and women in Raqqa, the British airforce will seem like a terrorist group no different to Daesh. Perhaps some will choose to enjoin in the fight against the West in order to prevent such attacks on their country.

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Either way, joining France, Russia, America and Germany in bombing Syria will certainly not have the totally faultless effect that Mr. Cameron (through his rose-tinted spectacles) believes it will. We cannot fight hypocrisy with even more hypocrisy, and we cannot fight fire with fire.

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