RABBIL SIKDAR assesses the impact of Tory strategies to counter ‘extremism’ – and how they have made the situation worse
AFTER six years of marginalisation and alienation, six years of rising prejudice and discrimination and the fresh failure of another government policy, is it not time for the Conservatives to admit that their approach on tackling Islamic radicalisation has been a failure?
The Prevent strategy was hailed by its supporters as the protection of British values and clamping down on extremism.
Protecting liberty and tolerance through methods that seemed anything but.
Isn’t that the sign that should tell us the extremists are winning? Britain for a long time now has abandoned policies that respect civil liberties and human rights in chasing after terrorists. But few things are as sinister as the Prevent strategy.
It has resulted in banning speakers from university campuses for supposedly promoting views estranged from British values, censoring free expression of Muslim students for fear of being flagged as potential radicals and effectively turning the entire public sector into surveillance-sweeping zone that asks individuals to spy on fellow workers for signs of extremism.
In the case of schools and colleges, teachers are meant to report on students.
The problem with all of this is that the Tories have widened the definition of extremism to effectively include ordinary conservative Muslims.
Views on female genital mutilation, homosexuality and apostasy are treated as signs of radicalisation, rather than occasional symptoms.
The problem isn’t in challenging these regressive views. They must always be challenged.
But conflating extremism and conservative behaviour isn’t just dangerous in effectively tarnishing and criminalising people who are innocent — even if they are guilty of some otherwise shocking views — it’s just empirically incorrect.
Case studies have repeatedly refuted the idea that extremism draws upon a fountain of religious ideas.
Those who have become radicalised have often been irreligious, not necessarily liberal either, but motivated by secular, political factors.
Socio-economic factors such as poverty, drugs and dysfunctional families have played their part.
Unaddressed grievances with foreign policy have been hugely significant in radicalising many who were left deeply angered by the Iraq war.
Mostly it’s been a search for a sense of inclusion and belonging, an identity crisis fuelled by rising Islamophobia and internal oppression.
Consider how British society talks about Muslims and the result is a sense of alienation that even liberal secularists such as myself feel.
A connection between the Muslim individual and British soil is severed. It doesn’t feel like home when there is so much hostility.
Even more so when there are countless Muslims drumming into your head that this will never be our home truly and that anyone who tries to integrate is too Westernised.
And it is this last point that makes the approach of the Prevent strategy so infuriating.
It has damaged a generational struggle between liberal Muslims and conservatives.
What the Prevent strategy has done is present the Muslim community as a homogenous group rather than an intricately diverse group with differences determined by ethnicity, gender, class and other factors.
What this has created is an understandably defensive reaction in the Muslim community.
Attacks on all have brought about an attitude of unity that can really read for uniformity. The entire Muslim community is under attack so therefore now is not the time for internal divisions.
Everyone must support each other, rally behind each other.
The problem is that not all of us feel like that. For liberal Muslims in favour of individual liberty, secularism, feminism and democracy, our opponents have always been conservative Muslims, not just a draconian state.
The Prevent strategy has set back the struggles of progressive Muslims by forcing many to stand alongside conservative Muslims.
We are faced with a common threat in the shape of the Prevent strategy, one that attacks our shared identity. Differences are to be put aside.
Where once internal divisions would have been just that, now they are treated as acts of community betrayal.
Progressive Muslims who speak out and condemn internal misogyny, homophobia and sectarianism are treated as sell-outs and colonial puppets.
Newsflash: not all of us who believe in basic things like equality and liberties are Maajid Nawaz.
This is something non-Muslim leftists speaking out against the Prevent strategy do not wholly realise.
They share platforms with socially conservative individuals who are responsible for marginalising pockets of the Muslim community, treating them as not proper, genuine Muslims.
Conservative Muslims in their eyes are not just mainstream Muslims but “normative Muslims.”
Am I as a liberal Muslim supposed to accept that my own liberation from state discrimination relies on handing the platform of the anti-Prevent response to those who would tarnish me as a Muslim because I don’t share their views?
We need an alternative to Prevent: one that supports deeper integration and universalises liberal values without estranging and alienating young Muslims as the Prevent has done.
Right now British Muslims are treated as the fifth column. It hasn’t just affected the entire community, it has set liberals within the community further back in our bid to change community norms.