British Gov’t to Tackle ‘Non-Violent Islamic Extremism’

By Patrick Goodenough | June 8, 2011 | 4:44 AM EDT

British Home Secretary Theresa May, seen here talking to police officers in London last May, unveiled sweeping new anti-extremism measures on Tuesday. (Photo: Sarel Jansen/Home Office/Flickr)

( – Islamists and other Muslims in Britain are crying foul over the Conservative-led coalition government’s unveiling of sweeping changes to anti-terrorism policies designed to tackle home-grown extremism.

Setting off alarm bells, in particular, are plans to crack down on Islamist groups which, although professing non-violence, hold views that do not “reflect the British mainstream.”

Speaking in the House of Commons, Home Secretary Theresa May – whose portfolio covers policing and counter-terrorism – said the policy first introduced by the Labor government in 2007, known as “Prevent,” was found to be seriously deficient.

Prevent was introduced in the aftermath of the 2005 London train and bus bombings, in which British Muslims killed 52 people and themselves, and injured hundreds more in the morning rush-hour attack.

Citing a recently completed review of the multimillion-dollar policy, May said some of its designated funding had been directed to “the very extremist organizations that Prevent should have been confronting.”

The existing policy had also “failed to tackle the extremist ideology that not only undermines the cohesion of our society, but also inspires would-be terrorists to seek to bring death and destruction to our towns and cities,” she said.

With a pledge not to “make the same mistakes,” the new strategy aims to strengthen prohibitions on foreign “hate preachers,” ramp up efforts to combat terrorists’ use of the Internet, challenge the ideology that supports terrorism, with a focus on potential environments for radicalization such as universities and prisons, and work to ensure that “moderate voices are heard” in the Muslim community.

Not only will the revamped policy aim to stop people from joining or supporting al-Qaeda and likeminded violent groups, but it also will target a different segment.

“Prevent must also recognize and tackle the insidious impact of non-violent extremism, which can create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism and can popularize views which terrorists exploit,” May said.

“We will not fund or work with organizations that do not subscribe to the core values of our society.”

It is this aspect of the policy that particularly angered the Sunni Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (the “Party of Liberation”), which campaigns for a restoration of an Islamic caliphate – a single transnational Islamic entity under shari’a.

Founded in 1953 by a Palestinian Arab with the professed goal of reviving the caliphate (the last one was formally abolished in Turkey in 1924), Hizb ut-Tahrir claims to shun violence. It operates in dozens of countries, including the U.S., in some cases underground where it has been banned.

“This policy has nothing to do with security,” the group’s British spokesman, Taji Mustafa, said in a statement. “It is about forcing a set of values on a community simply because their beliefs do not conform to secular liberal norms.”

Mustafa accused the government of displaying “an open hostility to Islam – threatening to cut funding to some groups – in order to impose [Prime Minister David] Cameron’s definition of ‘British’ values, and coercing Muslims to leave any Islamic values that the government labels ‘extremist.’”

He recalled that the Labor government, which first introduced Prevent, included in its definition of extremism “a belief in the Islamic Caliphate system of governance in the Muslim world; Islamic values in relation to intimate relations between men and women; and views on resistance to Western occupation in the Muslim world.”

“Our message to the Muslim community is: let the government keep their funding and let us keep our Islamic values,” Mustafa said.

Hizb ut-Tahrir used the opportunity to portray Islam as the answer to the world’s economic and social problems.

“At a time when people in the West are seriously questioning the capitalist economic system, the West’s destructive colonial exploits around the world, the sexualization of youth culture, the breakdown of family life, and the rise of disrespect and antisocial behavior, does Mr. Cameron seriously expect Muslims – in Britain or elsewhere – not to look to Islam for answers that would best suit their community and indeed the wider world?” Mustafa asked.

A 116-page report on the new Prevent strategy, presented to parliament on Tuesday, includes a reference to Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

“We believe there is unambiguous evidence to indicate that some extremist organizations, notably Hizb-ut-Tahrir, target specific universities and colleges (notably those with a large number of Muslim students) with the objective of radicalizing and recruiting students,” it says.

Other Muslim groups also are unhappy with the new plans.

The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella group comprising hundreds of organizations, mosques and schools, said the government, like its predecessor, was engaging in “state-sponsored sectarianism by setting arbitrary measures on who is, and who isn’t an extremist.”

“We are faced with a situation where a Muslim will be deemed extremist if defined so by neoconservative think-tanks,” it said.

An Islamic youth organization, the Ramadhan Foundation, said the Muslim community would strongly oppose efforts to “label all Muslims who promote and practice shari’a law as extremists.”

“Freedom, Democracy, human rights and equality are not British values, they are human values that are enshrined in many faiths including Islam,” said the group’s executive director, Mohammed Shafiq.

Difficulties ahead

The Prevent report states that the government is “absolutely committed to protecting freedom of speech in this country.”

“But preventing terrorism will mean challenging extremist (and non-violent) ideas that are also part of a terrorist ideology,” it continues.

Exactly how the new strategy aims to distinguish between views deemed acceptable or otherwise is not clear. The report acknowledges that the lines between extremism and terrorism often are blurred.

It says the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) will coordinate policy regarding which groups the government will engage with.

One body that the report does endorse for an ongoing role in training religious leaders to tackle radicalism is the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB).

Founded in 2007 by four Muslim organizations, facilitated by the DCLG and funded by the Labor’s Prevent program, MINAB now has more than 600 mosques as members.

However, in its response to the government’s announcement the London-based Henry Jackson Society (HJS) raised concerns about MINAB.

“Two of MINAB’s founding groups – the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain – fail to meet the government’s new standards for engagement,” said the HJS, which recently merged with the Center for Social Cohesion, a thinktank focusing on extremism.

“Both groups espouse a narrow form of political Islam inspired by the Islamist parties Jamaat-i-Islami [of Pakistan] and the Muslim Brotherhood and senior members have refused to unequivocally condemn suicide bombings in Israel,” the HJS said.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow