THE BLOG

Has This Sentencing Made Decision Us All Less Safe?

08/12/2014 11:05 GMT | Updated 06/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Yusuf Sarwar has been jailed for 12 years after his mother revealed to police that he was in Syria fighting against the Syrian regime. The former Birmingham University student was jailed after being arrested when he returned to the UK.

Judge Michael Topolski praised his mother for her bravery in coming forward with this information before rewarding her bravery with what might be seen as a harsh sentence - for activities outside of the UK.

Sarwar - it appears - had gone to Syria to fight a regime that our own Government thought (or thinks) is so violent and brutal and, such a threat to the UK that, only a few months ago, it wanted to attack them with missiles.

There is a perceived threat from returning fighters - that they will come back to the UK radicalised and will then take up arms against other UK citizens and commit acts of terrorism here. I am not in a position to say whether that is a real danger but intuitively it seems at least a possibility - so we need to do what we can to prevent that.

The Government has been running a Strategy called 'Prevent' which is aimed at working with the Muslim parts of our society and gaining their trust so that they are more likely to work with authorities to prevent young people becoming radicalised - either here in the UK or by going abroad.

The Strategy is also aimed at other forms of terrorism including that of the extreme right wing - who might attack minority populations in the UK - but in reality it is aimed mostly at Al Qu'ida type terrorism.

It is obviously a very difficult balancing act - to persuade Muslim families that they should trust the authorities enough to tell them about radicalisation or what could be radicalisation going in the community. This would include asking families to say if their children are in Syria or planning to go there. The police and other agencies have to persuade Muslim families that their children will be treated as fairly as anyone else's children - that we are all in this together and have common aims as a society.

I know that part of the language used is saying to Muslim citizens that working with the authorities will help protect their children. This sentencing will send a different message

Another UK citizen - EDL supporter Brian McGee, was recently sentenced to two years in prison for making shrapnel bombs in the UK - he was also in possession of knives and axes. It might be reasonable to assume that McGee planned acts of serious violence actually in the UK and was therefore a more obvious and direct threat to UK citizens than Yusuf Sarwar - and yet his sentence was a fraction of that of Sarwar's.

Anyone planning or carrying out acts of terrorism in the UK should face severe penalties under the law - but this is about acts carried out abroad against a regime our own Government wanted to attack.

Other former British soldiers are currently (or have recently been) out in Syria fighting the Syrian Government - they are called mercenaries - James Hughes, from Reading, and Jamie Read from Lanarkshire are two such ex-soldiers. They are essentially doing what Sarwar was doing - but you can be sure they will not be sentenced to 12 years in prison upon their return.

Some of this is understandable - radicalisation does go on and it is a threat to our safety. But - as far as I am aware - Yusuf Sarwar is not accused of planning any illegal acts of terrorism in this Country.

What are all those police officers and civil servants, involved in the Prevent Strategy meant to say to families when trying to persuade them to give the authorities information about their own children? You can trust us - your child will be treated as anyone else's? Their job just got harder - this sort of sentencing may well do a lot of harm and make us less safe.

Everyone looks for justice and fairness in their societies - Muslim citizens of the UK will have by now drawn their own conclusions from this.