THE BLOG

The UK and Syria: Turning Anger and Passivity Into Constructive Action

28/04/2014 11:13 BST | Updated 25/06/2014 10:59 BST

The latest initiative of the British counter-terror police, to ask British Muslim women to persuade their relatives not to go to Syria to fight, is an unfortunate legacy of the widely-criticised PREVENT strategy. Yet again, British counter-terror police are seeking to present themselves as friends of British Muslims - but yet again it's a relationship built on holding an entire demographic as responsible and guilty for "terrorism".

Launched a day after Tony Blair's comments on the threat of 'radical Islam', this latest police initiative fails to tackle the root cause of the 'jihadi terror threat', namely the large-scale suffering of so many people within a Muslim-majority country. More specifically with regards to Syria, many people are horrified by the prevailing power of a brutal family-run kleptocracy and disillusioned with a global political reality which accepts the deaths of 200,000 people (regarded as brothers and sisters by many British Muslims). Family members of Brits killed fighting in Syria have stated the primary motivation for fighting in Syria comes from the desire to fight Assad. Even British fighters with ISIS (the most extreme jihadist faction in Syria) have stated that they have no desire to attack Britain.

Meanwhile, the UK's senior national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, Helen Ball, says that Muslim women should inform the police if their children are spending more time on the internet or getting angry about what's going on in Syria. As a British non-Muslim who not only spends time on the internet but gets angry about Syria, I'm not considered as a terrorist threat. But by Ball's logic, any of my Muslim friends who also do this are potential terrorists wanting to attack Britain, and they should therefore be reported to the police by their own mothers. The illogical nature of Ball's statement has already been noticed with the satirical hashtag #SignsYourSonMayBeGoingToSyria trending on Twitter. Yet this shouldn't mask the fundamentally racist nature of a campaign which clamps down on political activity amongst one specific British community, and further alienates the very people it claims to be seeking to bring on board.

Instead, the British government should focus on policies which will contribute to a meaningful change on the ground within Syria, not only to alleviate short-term suffering but also to facilitate the long-term, Syrian-led re-building of Syria whilst also offering a means to participation for angry British youths who want to help. Firstly, the government should provide more humanitarian aid. At present 3.5 million Syrians have no access whatsoever to humanitarian aid, a total disgrace given the fanfare that surrounded the pledges of aid by foreign governments. Despite the UN appeal in January 2014 for $6bn in humanitarian aid for Syria, just $2.3bn has been pledged so far, and staggeringly just £1.1bn has actually been donated. An aid increase would make a crucial difference to the situation on the ground, and provide a route for Brits to assist peacefully such as by fund-raising.

Secondly, the UK could accept more refugees. Latest figures suggest at least 9 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes since Assad's crackdown began following protests in 2011. Yet, for all David Cameron has spoken of the UK having a "moral responsibility to help", the UK has accepted just 500 refugees, or 0.000055% of all Syrian refugees. To put this in some perspective, Lebanon has taken in so many refugees that every 1 in 5 people in Lebanon is now a Syrian refugee. The UK would do well to follow the example of Turkey, which has been widely praised for its response to the refugee crisis, which has included granting refugees access to education and healthcare. Taking in more refugees would not only help to deal with the current humanitarian crisis, but demonstrate the UK's genuine desire to help Syrians, at the same time also providing an opportunity for young Brits of all faiths to engage in constructive assistance.

Thirdly, the British government could increase efforts to work with Syrian-led NGOs which seek to assist Syria in the long-term. There are ongoing projects to deliver educational programmes in Syria on the subject of international law (so as to lay the foundations for a future society based upon human rights), or which are working to relieve the level of immediate suffering and to facilitate reconciliation. British support for such initiatives would not only contribute to the reconstruction of Syria, but would also show that there are possibilities for non-violent activism.

The focus on policing those who are emotionally affected by the situation in Syria does not deal with the crisis in hand. People have the right to be angry, and should be angry at the sheer death and destruction being wreaked on Syria by the regime. The British government should be pleased that young people are both angry and keen to do something to help. The best way to stop the 'threat' of 'radicalisation' is to transform legitimate anger into productive non-violent action to help Syria.