Wasiq Wasiq, an Advisor to Muslims Against Anti-Semitism (MAAS)
The death of Sir David Amess at the hands of what seems to be an act of Islamist-inspired terrorism should come as no surprise. For the last two decades, Islamist extremists have been at the forefront of these terrorist related deaths in the United Kingdom. Indeed, we had above average deaths as a result of Islamist terrorism in 2005 and 2017 compared to any other year in this period.
Islamist extremists will continue to exist, just as terrorism will. Ending them and the acts they carry out is unrealistic, but managing them is not. It is, therefore, pertinent to tackle Islamist groups seeking to undermine counter-terrorism strategies if we are to have any hope of producing a positive impact.
The government can reduce the potential impact of terrorism in several ways, including legislation, intelligence, and policy initiatives. Furthermore, the more robust these measures are, the more likely law enforcement can take appropriate action in a timely manner. One such measure currently under the spotlight is the PREVENT strategy, set up in 2011 and is part of the counterterrorism strategy known as CONTEST.
The aim of PREVENT is to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. This responsibility is outsourced to statutory bodies such as schools, universities, and healthcare professionals. But since its inception, it has faced a hostile reception from interest groups that appear to be sympathetic towards Islamist extremism or Islamist extremists themselves.
A report in 2017 by the Henry Jackson Society highlighted how hostile rhetoric from Islamist organizations towards PREVENT sought to undermine the counter-radicalization strategy by claiming it disproportionality targets Muslims and is “Islamophobic”. The report goes further: it states that a number of Islamist groups are loosely aligned to each other, employing the same arguments despite their competing motivations. Shared interests amongst Islamist groups drives them to work together against count-terrorism measures, which potentially puts the public at risk.
False accusations of Islamophobia or racism, or fear of the same, can have potentially have deadly consequences. In 2017, Salman Abedi, an Islamic State (ISIS) operative, detonated a bomb in the Manchester Arena that killed 22 people, including children. It was one of the highest death tolls Britain had experienced since 2005. One of the reasons why Abedi was not tackled, was because the security guard—Kyle Lawler—feared being labelled racist if he highlighted a person from an ethnic minority acting suspiciously.
Lawler was put into this difficult position not because he didn’t want to do his job, but because for years Islamist groups have been pushing a narrative that every time a Muslim is questioned or highlighted to have been involved in some form of radicalization—whether true or not—it is racist and Islamophobic. These accusations paralyze professionals from carrying out their duties in a responsible way. However, it is not just security guards that find themselves caught up in this environment; the same appears to be true for MPs.
Zarah Sultana—Labour MP for Coventry South—speaking at Westminster Hall on a debate about Islamophobia, highlighted and complained that students were being referred to PREVENT for supporting Palestinians. She advanced the claim by citing an example of a student being referred to the program because he wore a “Free Palestine” badge. But, as it transpires, the claim was widely debunked and Sultana was offered to attend the Home Office to learn more about PREVENT.
No one is immune from the toxic environment Islamist groups create. They are getting away with creating this environment because they are not being robustly challenged enough. The diverse Muslim community in the United Kingdom needs to take a stand, just as the general public do. Allowing Islamists groups an unchallenged platform only emboldens them to pursue their aims and weakens the public’s confidence in counterterrorism measures.
The British government now faces a decision: either they allow Islamist groups to continue to undermine every attempt the government makes at keeping the public safe, or they crack down on them and their apparent support for Islamist extremism. Managing the threat of extremism and terrorism is difficult, but Islamist organizations are making that job more difficult. We need to tackle the latter if we are to improve former, but this requires political will and the support of the public.
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