The British “Muslim Brotherhood Review”, a document produced in late 2014 and released publicly in late 2015, sought to establish a factual basis on which the government could make policy with regard to “non-violent” Islamist extremists. The Review has remained something of a live issue in British politics—and by extension in the politics of other interested parties—for various reasons, and recently the matter flared up again.
Lord Marlesford, a Conservative peer, put down a question for the Home office on 23 February:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to publish in full the internal review of the Muslim Brotherhood commissioned in April 2014; what assessment they have made of the conclusions contained in the summary report Muslim Brotherhood Review: Main Findings (HC 679), published in December 2015, that the Muslim Brotherhood represents a “revolutionary challenge towards established states” and has “been contrary to national interests and national security”; and what plans they have to undertake a further review of the Muslim Brotherhood.
On 9 March, the government responded via Baroness Williams of Trafford:
There are no plans to publish the internal review into the Muslim Brotherhood. Our assessment of the Muslim Brotherhood remains as set out in the summary report published in December 2015. The UK Government continues to assess the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities when appropriate to ensure our position is based on the latest information available and we will consider action against the review’s commitments if and where legal thresholds are met.
Contacted by EER, Lord Marlesford said he was “disappointed that HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] are continuing their refusal to publish the full report by Sir John Jenkins into the Muslim Brotherhood.” Jenkins, the then-ambassador to Saudi Arabia, was the lead author of the report. “In my view political Islam is a serious threat to the security of democratic countries,” Marlesford went on. “Theocracy, which the [Brotherhood] favour, is the antithesis of democracy. And for the Islamists to deny the right of independent nations to exist is a challenge to the very basis of modern civilisation. The answer must be for religious leaders, of whatever faith, to recognise that their role is to guide but not to rule.”
This issue about the release of the “full report” has recurred ever since the document’s release in December 2015, and it is based on layers of misunderstanding, as Jenkins explained to EER when reached for comment. In this case, the government had given a “standard reply” to Lord Marlesford because “we had this argument at the time” and it was settled, said Jenkins. What is poorly understood, even by the British public and media, is that the Review was never intended to be public at all.
Despite persistent suggestions that Prime Minister David Cameron ordered the Brotherhood Review under pressure from foreign governments, he had done no such thing. As Jenkins points out, the Conservative-led government had adopted a stance of trying to contain the spread of Islamist subversion much earlier, with Cameron’s speech on “state multiculturalism” in 2011. What Jenkins was tasked with, he explains, was an internal review that “was meant to inform government policy”, but not be published, hence containing such vast amounts of sensitive intelligence information, details on sources, and the rest of it.
There was to be a “separate exercise to produce government recommendations”, Jenkins went on, and if or when these recommendations were to be entered into legislation and the matter moved to Parliament, this would be the point that the existence of the Review would be “exposed” to the public—though not necessarily the Review as a document, merely the fact that the government had reviewed the state’s position as against what it had been under the prior Labour government.
The Review, then, should be seen not merely as a fact-finding exercise—though it certainly was—but as a tool of administrative governance. The government of the day had decided on a general change of direction in how Britain was to deal with Islamism domestically, and the Review was a way to provide reference material for why this was necessary and to get the various departments to start pulling in the same direction as the Prime Minister. It has to be remembered, this is a time when security services are just recovering from their idea that empowering “non-violent” extremists is a viable counter-terrorism strategy, and state agencies like the Department for International Development (DFID) are working closely with since-blacklisted Islamist charities.
Put simply, says Jenkins, the Review has “attained this rather mythic quality”, with an importance out of all proportion ascribed to it, at least in part because of a grave misunderstanding about the bureaucratic context into which it was born.
Where the Review does have considerable significance is as an early marker of what Jenkins notes is a “direction of travel” in Europe, namely a realisation that tackling terrorism and violence alone is not enough; that Islamism as a threat to liberal and constitutional order has to be confronted. France and Austria have gotten a lot of media attention for their crackdowns on this extremism, but European states that were once rather hesitant on this—Germany most saliently—have taken the same basic approach of late for the simple reason that the problems that the British government had recognized and sought to tackle by means of the Review are real, are common all across the West, and have not gone away with the passing of time.