Robert Lambert: 'We Should Work More Closely With Muslims To Combat Al Qaeda'
Partnerships with London's Muslim community have been far more effective at fighting terrorism in the capital than confrontation, a former head of a Metropolitan Police special branch has said.
Dr Robert Lambert, former head of the Muslim Contact Unit, argued in a speech at Chatham House on Tuesday that London would have been better served over the last ten years if Scotland Yard had adopted his approach to fighting the threat of terrorism.
He said some popular beliefs, such as those outlined by Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips in her book 'Londonistan - that to work with the Muslim community was "appeasement" and "a sad sign of the weakness of London policing" - were incorrect.
Lambert was keen to overturn what he saw as the myth that London Muslims were somehow complicit in terrorism, when in fact they were proactive and brave in helping to counter it.
He said his unit at the Met "operated against the grain of the war on terror", but that this was the best approach, as they worked with Muslim community leaders, who had the "status of partnership, not of informants".
He lamented that the war on terror was "still a dominant discourse", but was optimistic that there was now the appetite for debate, "not least because of the Arab Spring, people are looking for more compromise after the excesses of the war on terror".
Lambert reflected on the sobering experience of the past ten years. From his work at the Finsbury Park mosque, he particularly noted that the issue of Palestinian statehood had been a significant factor in recruiting disillusioned young Muslim men.
It was through his experiences of the radical cleric Abu Hamza, who is serving a seven-year sentence for inciting murder and racial hatred, that he realised the significance the Israeli-Palestinian conflict held for young Muslims.
Abu Hamza came up against Interpal, a British aid agency helping the Palestinian territories and Jeremy Corbyn, the local Islington MP, who was helping to mobilise Muslims in pro-Palestinian protests.
"Abu Hamza hated the work of Interpal and of Jeremy Corbyn because for him the Conflict was a way to recruit young muslims into the Al-Qaeda world. They were all very exercised by the plight of the Palestinians, by what is happening to Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, as well as the headline issues'.
Looking to the future, Chatham House have published a report on how to counter anti-Muslim sentiment, which has become an important driver of support for populist right-wing extremists.
The recommendation is to look beyond immigration concerns, to a broader cultural approach to understanding. Matthew Goodwin, the author of the report concluded that:
"Until the mainstream parties begin to exchange lessons and address the actual anxieties over the cultural impact of immigration and rising diversity – populist extremists will continue to attract significant support"