I have been reading Demosâ€™ recently published report, The Edge of Violence: a radical approach to extremism. The report focused on radicalism and terrorism in Muslim communities in Europe and Canada, and examined the relationship and difference between non-violent radicals and radicals who are terrorists. The reports shows the difference between non-violent radicals (who, for example, might call for a Caliphate but don’t advocate a violent revolution) and radicals who become terrorists or support terrorism in the West. With these findings, the report’s authors make some recommendations on how Al-Qaeda inspired/linked terrorism can be combated the West, and how British Muslims can be turned from this path; this is what I am going to focus on.
The report found that non-violent radicals (henceforth radicals) often have a greater understanding of Islamic jurisprudence to support their views, while terrorists tended to quote and misquote selectively from a few sources, including the Qur’an. The authors recommend a greater focus on open debate about Islamic theological issues, as has been tried in countries like Saudi Arabia. This would take place not just in the media but at a local level, in town halls, mosques and in similar venues. This seems like a good idea, as we rarely see experts in Islamic theology on our screens or in our newspapers, with the media preferring to give space to extremist voices who then become representative of Islam in the eyes of some on the public. We on Pickled Politics have found that this has worked with the likes of the BNP, who like to avoid detailed challenges to their policies and ideologies, instead preferring to focus on broad, simplistic slogans.
What should be the role of the government in all this? The authors caution against too much government interference in some areas; ministers and the state need to be careful not to try and define what Islamic ideology is. As they recognise, Muslims too closely associated with the government can be painted as Western dupes. Yet there is still a large role for the government, from counter-terrorism to funding certain groups.
Demosâ€™ report does make a number of criticisms of the present strategy. It argues that current Prevent model, which aims to stop Muslims turning to terrorism, is spread too widely; counter-terrorism measures should be kept clearly separate from policies designed to reduce poverty, as there is little evidence that poverty in the West makes Muslims more likely to turn to terrorism.
Part of terrorism’s appeal in the West has always been that it is seen as an act of rebellion against the system, and this understandably attracts people who want to rebel. Once again, the authors recommend open and informed debate as part of the solution, rather than cracking down. The more Al-Qaeda is seen as a mysterious and dangerous brand, goes the argument, the more attractive it will be to disaffected youth. The response should be to challenge it, to mock it, and to point out the comic errors of many of its devotees. In short, make it a laughing stock. There is also plenty of overlap between the way some terrorists act and the way some gangs act, so the authors recommend using successful anti-gang initiatives to target terrorists too.
There are a number of other recommendations, from the creation of a US-style Peace Corps (where the state would pay for Muslims to go out to Muslim lands to work as volunteers there) to mandatory English standards for imams. The report generally envisages a greater role for Muslims themselves in counter-terrorist activity, whether as informants or as calming influences. Its most controversial aspect is the role it envisages for radicals.
As the report makes clear, its â€˜radicalsâ€™ do not advocate violence in the West, or in any non-Muslim lands. Yet a number of those interviewed support the right of Muslims to fight against NATO forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, though most did not encourage non Iraqi/Afghan Muslims to travel to these lands to fight. Whatever you think of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, given the widely publicised murderous behaviour of the two main â€˜resistanceâ€™ forces (the Taliban and Al Qaeda) and their frequent use of suicide bombers to deliberately murder civilians (mostly Muslim ones), this is disturbing. If those fighting NATO troops actually were a national resistance, and tried their best to minimise civilian causalities, such support would be understandable, but they are not.
In fairness to the authors, they are trying to investigate how a perfect British counter-terrorist strategy would function; they make explicit reference to this, and are at pains to point out that they are not interested in what is moral, but what works. Their argument is that for many terrorists, the radical voice is more convincing and given that these radicals denounce terrorism in Britain, the British government should use them to help steer terrorists/potential terrorists away from violence.
The authors are perhaps correct. Successfully defeating a group driven by ideology usually involves drawing more moderate members of that group in the sphere of the state (such as happened with the IRA). It is difficult to defeat terrorists using purely military means (the recent war in Sri Lanka shows that you have to be willing to inflict significant civilian causalities in a short period). Yet it still leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and in some ways is a return to counter-terrorist policy in the 1990s, when Islamist radicals were largely left to their own devices providing they werenâ€™t openly calling for jihad in Britain.
I would recommend reading the executive summary and suggestions; it is an interesting piece with plenty of good ideas about how to tackle a very thorny issue (and could provide some tips for other counter-terrorist policies, such as those dealing with white supremacists). I would have like to have seen more criticism of how the media help to demonise and stereotype Muslims, but that was probably outside of the report’s remit.
I do however remain unconvinced by their stance on radical participation; for those who have denounced suicide bombings, then it is probably a good idea to bring them on board to help steer Muslims away from terrorism. For those who are ambivalent or supportive of people who deliberately target crowded market places to kill as many civilians as possible, then they should be kept away from any official position of power.
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Filed in: Muslim,Terrorism