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We Need a New, Progressive Strategy to Tackle Terrorism

26/11/2015 17:16 GMT | Updated 26/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Everyone over the past week has had an opinion over how to respond to the horrific events in Paris last Friday. Too often those opinions have taken the place of quiet mourning and reflection as we stand in solidarity with those we have lost, their loved ones and the French people.

When we do get around to expressing our views on what to do next, the very least we can do is have a proper dialogue and not talk past each other.

Some have argued that the threat of terrorism is more clear and present than ever, and that our response must be unwavering and robust. Others have argued that the wonderful compassion and solidarity shown to France should have been extended to innocent victims of war and terror across the world (Beirut and Baghdad suffered terror attacks within hours of Paris) rather than being selective. They have also argued that France's decision to wage a 'merciless' war and immediate air strikes on the Da'esh-occupied civilian city of Raqqa was an unhelpful response.

To me it seems strange that such arguments have been treated as opposite 'sides' in a fractious and hostile debate.

There is much to be critical of about Britain, France and the US' misadventures in the Middle East. The Iraq War fuelled sectarian violence long after it was over and the regime of 'guilty until proven innocent' represented by Prevent and the Terrorism Acts fuel resentment and help demonise Islam and Muslims. So does the insistence that every Muslim is obliged to 'do something' about terrorism if they are to avoid being under scrutiny. So often do I hear young people during my work as an elected member frustrated despairingly say "on one hand the media complains we don't integrate enough and when we do, we are either accused of taking over or on a field trip with ISIS".

All of this needs addressing. We cannot fight terrorism effectively while the methods we are using to do so - drone strikes, repressive legislation, closing borders arbitrarily - help fuel the problem and stoke up intercommunal tension.

But pointing out the flaws in the way we do things now is meaningless if we cannot answer the question of what we would do differently. The right's simple response - to answer terrorism with warfare - can only be questioned effectively if progressives articulate a clear, alternative strategy.

We need an approach that is holistic, and about more than locating and detaining suspects using state force. The better side of Prevent has gone some way toward funding genuinely positive community projects that allow people to discuss and address issues surrounding extremism and violence, but it has not gone far enough.

In East London, where three teenage girls were groomed into going to Syria, we have taken the lead in using the power of community cohesion to stamp out the politics of hate. Women's groups have organised to counter the spread of hatred, safeguarding children guides have been distributed to schools and mosques and madrassahs, and community groups have been supported in bringing people together. We need to build role models, and that cannot happen when we are so often set up to fail.

That may sound like trying to solve a problem by talking about it alone, but it has clear benefits. Terror is not imported. It relies on networks of people at home seduced by violent ideology. That can only be tackled by building strong relationships - the kind that ensured a local family had enough confidence in law enforcement to report their own child who they believed was at risk.

There is an urge within most of us to set the world to rights, and that is something profoundly positive. But too often it runs the risk of imposing ourselves upon nations and people that we have little real idea how to help, as is demonstrated by the sheer amount of Western weaponry wielded by Da'esh's fighters in the Syrian desert. Rather than relying on the military we should be asking ourselves what we can do - whether it's withdrawing British support for and alliances with brutal regimes in the Middle East, or whether it's working within our own communities to strengthen those bonds that enable us to identify and respond to threats.

I would like to see Muslim communities and the government agencies working together to tackle radicalisation in a cohesive and evidence-based way. We have a duty to resist the politics of hate wherever it manifests itself, and in whatever form. That means standing firm against the rising tide of Islamophobia which has seen violent attacks on Muslims (including murder attempts) surge while mainstream columnists and politicians invoke fears of a 'Muslim fifth column' infiltrating civil society. It means welcoming refugees. It means embracing solutions to problems based on the transformative power of reason, diplomacy, conversation and human compassion - in short, the exact opposite of how extremists behave. And it means all those of all colours and creeds who agree on both the urgent need to defeat racism and defeat terrorism coming together, involving grassroots organisations and drawing up a pragmatic plan for a better world.

Terrorists fear our unity and solidarity far more than they fear bombs.