The UK Government recently announced its Counter Extremism Strategy, a document which refers to 'British values' 54 times. Within this report, extremism is defined as 'the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.' These are certainly fine values -- which British governments have consistently failed to support.
Britain has been responsible for the undermining of democracy, turning a blind eye to abuses by its allies, using extraordinary rendition to get around the rule of law, passing over the denial of individual liberties to dissidents, and the evasion of the dismal situation for religious minorities. Ironically, David Cameron's first act after the unveiling of this act was setting trade deals with China, hardly notable for its democracy, rule of law, individual liberty or tolerance for different faiths. This was followed by a rock star reception for Indian PM Narendra Modi, whose rule has seen a shocking increase in Hindu supremacist ideology and attacks on minorities.
The paranoia around 'entryism', defined as 'extremist individuals, groups and organisations consciously seeking to gain positions of influence to better enable them to promote their own extremist agendas', has a particularly rich irony, when many extremist individuals have been invited to Number 10 for tea. For decades, extremists have had no need for deception. Britain has supportedtheocrats and dictators as long as it served British business interests, whether under Tory or Labour rule. This list includes Muhammad Zia ul-Haq and the Taliban, primary architects of the Islamisation of South Asia; Muammar Gaddafi, and so forth. Saudi Arabia's repression of its people and its disrespect for human rights is almost identical to that of the Daesh Islamic State. It is also the major source of toxic Wahhabi-generated propaganda that has been so influential in fomenting extremism. Britain's long trade relationship with this state is a flagrant exhibition of double standards.
It was British policy that allowed London to become a centre for jihadist organising in the 1990s under the cynical and ultimately flawed idea that it would prevent attacks on British soil. During that decade, British intelligence turned a deliberate blind eye to jihadist campaigning, recruitment and fundraising. Hence, Britain provided Al Qaeda with a base to plan the US embassy bombings, amongst other terrorist attacks. British politicians developed the 'take me to your leader' politics that pandered to, and promoted, various unrepresentative Muslim groups that marginalised progressive Muslims, young Muslims and Muslim women.
So-called 'British values' have supported Islamic fundamentalism for decades, whether from those who found it expedient to place British business interests and political stratagems above humanitarianism, or from those who perceive any criticism of radical Islam as xenophobic. It is, naturally, only this latter failing, as it is associated with the political left, that is mentioned in the Tory strategy.
This policy is a document that follows on the heels of Theresa May's incendiary myth-making around immigration, and in which forms of gender-based violence unrelated to extremism, such as 'honour'-based violence and child grooming, have apparently been thrown into the extremism pot for flavour. This stated concern for violence against women occurs just as the very services who protect women and girls from violence face annihilation under the merciless economics of austerity. Although the inclusion of right-wing extremists within the strategy gestures towards an even-handed approach, the repeated populist appeal to 'Britishness' reinforces their narrow ethno-nationalism. Politics conceived on a national level are out of step with the globalised and interconnected world we live in today, and with the complex identifications of people growing up between cultures. At this point, we need to build bridges rather than reinforce boundaries.
Combatting extremism will take a multinational movement towards international relations based in humanitarian principles, rather than national self-interest only - a principle that has, in the past, served extremists rather than confronted them, and which reflects the interests of an elite corporate and ruling class rather than the people of Britain, regardless of background or religion. In order to effectively combat extremism, whether the Islamist extremism of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, or the nationalism of Pegida and Britain First, we need an approach with human rights at its heart. We need to defend principles like democracy, freedom of speech, gender equality and the rule of law through exemplifying these on a global scale, not through the same cynical, isolationist policies which have eroded these so-called 'British' values across the rest of the world. If our values are worth anything, we should stand up for them and live by them, both within Britain, and across the world.
Award-winning filmmaker Deeyah Khan's Jihad will be screened at Southbank Centre's Being A Man Festival (BAM) on 27 November at 2pm, followed by a Q&A with Deeyah and the film's protagonists. The full festival takes place on 27-29 November with a programme of talks, debates and performances from over 150 speakers and performers. For more information see www.southbankcentre.co.uk/bam
HuffPost UK is partnering with Southbank Centre's Being A Man Festival, taking place 27 - 29 November. It will focus on lighthearted, serious and challenging issues facing boys and men in the 21st century. There will be talks and debates, concerts, performances, comedy and workshops with contributions from over 200 speakers and performers, including Akala, Frankie Boyle, David Baddiel and Kellie Maloney. Day passes are £15, 3-day passes are £35. For more information, visit the website or call 0844 847 9944.