THE BLOG

The Government, Glass Houses and British Muslims

23/01/2015 17:30 GMT | Updated 25/03/2015 09:59 GMT

However diplomatically it was phrased, and clearly a great deal of thought went into it, the government's letter to Muslim leaders could only be interpreted as a 'buck your ideas up' affair and for all its good intentions has clearly upset moderate Muslims across the UK provoking a hissy fit from a clearly irritated Prime Minister as it did so.

Make no mistake, moderate British Muslims have been expressing their concerns as to the rise of Islamic extremism in the UK since the 1990s and could well argue that they have already made a significant contribution to curbing the excesses of fanatical, Islamist groups.

It was from the Muslim community back in 1990s that information poured in, primarily to the Met's Special Branch, that young Muslims were travelling abroad to, initially Bosnia and then to Pakistan, in order to train and fight with extremist organisations.

Special Branch did closely monitor the activities of extreme Islamist groups such as Hizb ut Tahrir and Al Muhajiroun and in 1995, whilst working at Heathrow, I had a chilling encounter with two individuals who had, without question, been comprehensively 'terrorist trained' in Pakistan. Sadly, the UK authorities seemed convinced that these and similar individuals would not 'mess' on their own doorsteps.

Extreme Islamists in fact triggered a four year period of tension when in 1995, an Al Muhajiroun protest outside a West London College ended with protestors attacking Sikh youths. Tensions quickly spread from London to Slough and to the Midlands.

Hundreds of police had to be deployed at religious festivals and Asian events such as fairs and concerts had to be closely monitored. At a time when the Metropolitan Police were being accused, post Stephen Lawrence, of being institutionally racist, some truly outstanding policing at all levels ensured that there were no major clashes on the streets, no rioting, no serious injuries and no deaths. Much of the credit for this not only belongs to police but to the leaders of both the Sikh and Muslim communities who came together and preached peace and tolerance both at meetings, to the media and in their respective temples and mosques.

During this period extreme Islamic groups attempted to gain a foothold in mosques across London and the rest of the country. They were fiercely resisted by moderate Muslims and some bloody battles ensued which resulted in the vast majority of mosques remaining under the control of the moderates. The fact that the previously notorious Finsbury Park mosque became a centre of radicalisation was partially down to the fact that extremists were unable to gain a foothold elsewhere.

It was indeed from the Muslim community that information was also being received that, thanks to lax immigration controls, radical imams were entering to UK to preach at those few Mosques controlled by extremists.

The question of Muslim youths travelling abroad to fight in the 1990's resulted in calls for tighter border controls but in 1998 a bombshell was dropped by the newly elected Labour government. Despite pleas from the police, the security services and other agencies Home Secretary Jack Straw abolished fully staffed embarkation (departure) controls at airports to save a paltry three million pounds a year.

Since 1998 pleas to Home Secretaries, including Theresa May, to restore departure controls have fallen on deaf ears and the Home Office promise to introduce 'exit controls' in the Spring merely means computerised checks using what is, in essence the eBorders system, to count foreign nationals 'in and out' of the UK.

Over recent years, the flow of UK nationals travelling abroad to train and/or fight has increased with individuals travelling not only to Pakistan but to Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Syria. Only in recent months has any meaningful attention been given to those travelling to Syria and then by grossly overworked air and seaport counter terrorist officers who, because of policing cuts, have not seen their numbers increase despite the threat.

Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood has long campaigned for greater efforts to be made at the UK borders to prevent jihadists travelling abroad by introducing proper controls yet has been ignored. Questions have also been asked as to whether UK police counter terrorist officers should have been deployed to Turkish airports long ago to work with the authorities in order to screen UK nationals who fit the jihadist profile.

Such is the pathetic state of our borders that even in recent weeks, jihadists on bail in the UK have been able to simply walk out of the country and are now able to mock British authorities from Syria.

David Cameron's ill tempered comment, "Anyone, frankly, reading this letter, who has a problem with it, I think really has a problem" and Theresa May's speech to the Jewish Board of Deputies the previous day, merely serves to mask the failings of government in terms of the above mentioned border controls and policing.

The simple fact is that tackling terrorism and protecting communities would be far more effective and practical with the 16,000 officers that the government has thus far removed from UK policing. This in turn means that community policing is dying and with it vast quantities of information that can be turned into crucial 'counter terrorist' intelligence.

It could therefore well be argued that the government suggestions for the Muslim community to do more, as illustrated by the Eric Pickles, Lord Ahmed letter, have a hollow, hypocritical ring about them; indeed I don't recall a similar governmental letter being sent to Catholic churches or leading Catholics when the IRA were at their most rampant.

Given their record in terms of border controls, police numbers and police morale all of which adversely affect the 'war on terror,' this government would perhaps do well to heed the maxim; 'those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.'