The Tories and their war against extremism

The recently elected Conservative leader David Cameron has put in place two politicians who have done much to blur the lines between extremism and non-extremism. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is the one who consistently used the terms of violent extremists and non-violent extremists without properly defining the difference between the two. What is more, the much criticised Prevent Strategy hasn’t helped either. Aminul Hoque, a lecturer and author on British Islamic identity at the University of London, said last month that it was “failing”. “As a strategy, as a government policy document, it has not worked. The irony is that it has become counter-productive. “If the idea was to understand the roots of extremism, the roots of radicalisation, by putting a magnifying glass across the Muslim communities of Great Britain, what has happened is that has widened the schism between the ‘Muslim’ us and the British ‘other’.” The Home Office, not surprisingly, disputes this view. “We made sure Prevent would tackle all forms of terrorism, not just Islamist-related terrorism,” their spokesman told me, adding that the programme was given a major overhaul in 2011. The Home Office says there are now Prevent programmes in place in all key sectors, including local government, health, education, prisons, immigration and charities. Hannah Stuart, research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a right-wing think-tank in London, says Prevent has had its successes but they are hard to quantify. “There have been more incidents recently with community centres reporting their concerns to the police and agencies. We have seen potential incidents of terrorism stopped,” she says. “It is the messages we need to challenge... whether that is online or on the streets... we need to be equipping our young people with the critical thinking to assess those messages to be able to challenge them.” While Dr Matthew Wilkinson, director of the think-tank Curriculum for Cohesion and an expert on Islamic ideology, believes part of the solution lies in better religious education. “A very unhealthy gap has developed between the quality and status of religious education in schools because it is often a marginal subject. “So for example, you get a statistic where 89% of British Muslim youngsters see Islam as their main identifier but RE is the least popular subject. So that speaks of a huge gap which RE is not filling in to create a proper place for young people.” Dr Wilkinson, whose expertise in Islamic theology has been used in 11 recent legal cases, is of the same view as the author Aminul Hoque when it comes to the success or failure of Prevent. The government’s counter-terrorism strategy has been remarkably successful at the level of security and the basic protection of British citizens, he says, with any number of plots foiled and people brought to justice. But at the level of affecting hearts and minds for the better? “Prevent,” he says, “has been largely unsuccessful.” We then have Michael Gove, the new Justice Secretary, who wants to water down Islam for the Muslims like no one else before. This spells bad news for conservative Muslims who adhere strictly to the tenets of their religion which includes what they wear, how they behave, and who they choose to interact with. Worrying times for the Muslims of this community who only hope that saner heads will prevail and that freedoms and justice are not compromised along the way.