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British Jihadis - Turning Mothers Into Informants Is No Solution

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In the government's latest Orwellian measure, mothers and wives of "would-be jihadists" are ‎being urged to report on their loved ones, avowedly to "prevent tragedies". It won't escape notice ‎however, that despite protestations to the contrary, a message emanating from the police carries ‎criminalising potential. ‎

This latest strategy to deter Britons from heading to fight in Syria comes despite evidence ‎suggesting most families are oblivious to their relatives' decision. Abdul Waheed Majeed, who died ‎in Syria in February this year is one of a number of Brits who told his family he was going on a ‎humanitarian mission. Other parents, like those of Abdullah Deghayes were unaware their son had ‎even left the country until it was too late. Ensuring any extremist views acquired by fighters abroad ‎are neutralised when arriving back on British shores is as critical for Muslims as it is anyone else, but ‎relying on Muslim women to undertake the work of the security services is not only likely to be ‎ineffective, it also risks further undermining women in highly patriarchal settings as possible ‎‎'agents', not to be trusted. ‎

Research in December from the King's College-based ICSR estimated 1,900 people from western ‎Europe have travelled to Syria to fight, including 366 from the UK. In terms of the threat posed by ‎their return, Shiraz Maher from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political ‎Violence suggests around 1 in 9 returning fighters represent cause for concern. And yet this latest ‎advice suggests all Muslims contemplating travelling to Syria are a possible threat and goes on to ‎place the onus for our national security in the hands of the Muslim community, turning mothers ‎into informants. The call can be situated within an increasingly intrusive state of surveillance and ‎securitisation of the British Muslim community.‎

The Birmingham 'Trojan Horse plot' is just the latest indication that when it comes to Muslims, the ‎counter-terrorism lens is applied even before the facts of the case are established. In every facet ‎of life, from teachers and lecturers asked to spy on students, to healthcare workers on their ‎patients, youth groups whose access to public funding has been made conditional on sharing data ‎with law enforcement agencies, to university Islamic societies under pressure to divulge ‎membership lists - Muslims are well aware they're being closely watched. Who knew even mums ‎would now be roped in! ‎

According to research by ICSR, the profile of foreign fighters is typically male, in their twenties of ‎South-Asian ethnic origin and with recent connections to higher education. Interestingly, this is also ‎the profile which overlaps significantly with those most likely to be unemployed - unemployment ‎among Muslims under the age of 30 is 23 per cent (compared to a UK average for young people of ‎‎17 per cent), stopped and searched, detained at airports , to struggle with poor educational ‎achievements, to be over -represented in our prisons. It is certainly telling that another British fighter, ‎‎23 year old Mohammed el-Araj from Notting Hill, had spent 18 months in prison before he was ‎killed in Syria in November last year. ‎

If you want to know the real reason the prospect of death can seem more appealing than life, then ‎look at the quality of life these young (predominantly) men are facing. Young men of that ‎demographic have a bleak future ahead - hit harder than most by austerity, they can anticipate ‎joblessness, discrimination, police harassment, possible incarceration. To many young men the ‎jihad may seem appealing because it provides ultimate meaning to a life which might otherwise ‎seem hopeless. ‎

The UK today has some of the most draconian "anti-terror" legislation in the developed world and ‎these disproportionately negatively affect Muslim Britons. Harassed and coerced into becoming ‎informants, what kind of a relationship do you expect young Muslims to have with a police force ‎which bulldozes its demands through dawn raids and indefinite detentions, yet seemingly fails to ‎tackle rising anti-Muslim hate crimes? What trust can you expect them to have in a system which ‎has demonstrated clear double standards in the extradition of Muslim British citizens and stripped ‎‎37 UK nationals - many of them Muslims, of their citizenship? Despite polls showing that British ‎Muslims strongly identify with the UK, you could hardly excuse a luke warm commitment to ‎Britishness from citizens who could essentially be stripped of that very identity!‎

Ifthekar Jaman, 23, a customer service rep, whose parents run a takeaway restaurant and who was ‎also killed in Syria described his feeling of disconnect from a society he felt rejected from in one of ‎his final posts on Twitter, he said: "It is better for the authorities to allow these Muslims who want ‎to migrate & do jihad. This way, we're out of your way."‎

Young people, Muslim or not, need a stake in the system. They need to feel that legal, mainstream ‎routes to success are open to them and ultimately they need to find a means of asserting their ‎self-worth. When such avenues are closed, other paths to criminality or extremism can begin to ‎seem more attractive. The UN's counter-radicalisation programme advises "a package of social, ‎political, legal, educational and economic programmes specifically designed to deter disaffected ‎‎(and possibly already radicalised) individuals from crossing the line and becoming terrorists". ‎Where are these initiatives?‎

In 2010, the communities and local government committee warned the Prevent programme was ‎backfiring and advised that the Department for Communities should devote itself instead "to ‎dealing with the underlying causes of all forms of extremism and division". Instead of providing ‎young Muslims with new opportunities, the government has formulated a revamped PREVENT ‎strategy which Civil liberties group CAGE has described as "cradle-to-grave" levels of surveillance ‎and discrimination. ‎
In the Muslim community, we don't need studies to tell us that PREVENT has been counter-‎productive in alienating, rather than engaging people. PREVENT is our bête noire. Muslims may not ‎agree on much, but the failure of PREVENT rouses surprising unanimity.

‎ According to Dr. Alex P. Schmid, Director of the Terrorism Research Initiative (TRI), "where (young) ‎people have alternative forms of expressing grievances and dissent, where they have other and ‎better occupational options than joining an armed, underground organisation, the appeal of ‎terrorism is likely to be smaller. " The problem is the government would rather invest money in ‎counterproductive policies virtually designed to alienate the Muslim community than address the ‎need for better schools (clue: not through removing state regulation), jobs, opportunities and ‎more broadly a stake in the system. ‎

Polls indicate that Muslims are even more concerned than the broader public by the risk of extremism, ‎but the current breakdown in trust between the police and the Muslim community means ‎assurances about helping, not criminalising young Muslims are unlikely to be audible. If someone ‎you love is in jeopardy, you stage an intervention, you don't add to their sense of alienation by ‎convincing them even their family members can't be trusted. In other words, you rely on proven ‎methods of social work used for people in crisis. Not criminalisation. The asinine nature of this ‎latest 'surveillance strategy' is evidence of the problematic lens through which Muslims continue ‎to be filtered. In order to confront extremism, the police needs to forge trust with the very ‎communities they consistently casts blanket suspicion over, and ultimately we as a society need to ‎create sufficient stakes for young Muslim men to believe they have a viable future here in the UK. ‎