When the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill received Royal Assent on February 12, it had dawned upon Britain's Muslim community that a new era of 'McCarthyite witch-hunting' had begun. After 13 years of the war on terror, the CTS Act serves as one of the most damaging pieces of legislation to affect not only the Muslim community, but the wider British public.
Counter-Terrorism and Security Act
In effect, public sector workers will be forced to become state spies, obliging doctors, dentists, university staff, school and nursery teachers to report their colleagues, patients, students and pupils as young as three to the authorities. Additionally, the bill which has been criticised by more than 500 professors as being a threat to freedom of speech fell on deaf ears.
The underlying problem with the CTS Act is that like every piece of legislation that the government has implemented post 9/11 and 7/7, legal terms are broadly undefined. Labels such as 'extremism' and 'British values' will be misapplied, and defined by the authorities in an ad hoc manner to alienate the entire Muslim community. Inevitably, we will see an increase in unsubstantiated reporting based on paranoia and fear, a spike in unlawful detention, and the criminalisation of Muslims who follow orthodox Islam.
In light of this daunting reality, a joint statement against the Government's alleged criminalisation of Islam was signed by numerous British Muslim organisations, scholars, imams, activists, teachers, doctors and journalists. The open letter which was issued on Wednesday had 62 signatories at the time of publication, but had reached 200 within 24 hours. The strongly worded statement was released after plans for further counter-extremism measures were leaked by the Telegraph in the weekend. The draft document outlines a "more assertive" approach to promoting British values and "challenging the extremists who fundamentally oppose them."
Spearheaded by home secretary Theresa May, the crackdown would introduce vigorous regulations on citizenship and travel, as well as tougher measures to prevent Britons from travelling to war zones such Iraq and Syria. Immigrants who do not learn English could see their welfare benefits cut, as part of a muscular approach to impose integration, while citizenship would only be granted to those who embrace "British values" - whatever that may entail.
Joint UK Muslim Statement
The joint statement signed by a wide spectrum of Muslim figures from different theological, sectarian and political backgrounds stated:
1. Rejection of the exploitation of Muslim issues and the 'terror threat' for political capital, in particular in the run up to the General Elections.
2. The deploring of the continued public targeting of Muslims through endless 'anti-terror' laws.
3. Rejection of the portrayal of Muslims and the Muslim community as a security threat.
4. The use of undefined and politically charged words like 'radicalisation' and 'extremism' to criminalise legitimate political discourse and criticism of the stance of successive UK governments towards Muslims domestically and abroad.
5. Rejection of terms such as "extremist" to censor normative Islamic beliefs founded in the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.
6. Commitment to robust political and ideological debate and discourse for the betterment of humanity at large.
7. Rejection of the Government's support for brutal dictatorial regimes in the Muslim world.
8. Reaffirmation of holding onto Islamic beliefs and principles.
9. Calling upon fair-minded Britons to scrutinise the Government's scare tactics, fear-mongering and machinations of politicians.
Notable signatories included: former Taliban hostage Yvonne Ridley, Tony Blair's sister-in-law Lauren Booth, former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, and broadcaster Mohammed Shafiq to name just a few. Moderate Sufis, conservative Deobandis, orthodox Salafis, Shias, as well as teachers, lawyers, journalists, and health care professionals from around the country have signed the statement.
Though the Muslim Council Britain (MCB) is yet to sign, affiliates under their umbrella have supported the statement. Other organisations such as the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB), Inspire and Quilliam Foundation have not been approached due to their lack of grassroots support within the Muslim community, and their support for the Government's much frowned upon and failing Prevent strategy, which is perceived with much suspicion by many Muslims.
Fact or fiction?
The open letter which received significant media coverage on Wednesday, demonstrated that large swathes of Britain's Muslim community had unified due to communal concerns over the Government's new anti-terrorism and counter-extremism policies, which would indiscriminately target Muslims.
A Home Office spokesperson told VICE News that: "It is utterly absurd to suggest there is any criminalisation of British Muslims. Everybody is equal in Britain -- equality is a fundamental British value and one that we are proud to uphold. Instead of making unfounded statements the signatories should work with us to defeat extremism and terrorism and stand up to those whose twisted ideology subverts the peaceful religion of Islam."
In the contrary, a number of key signatories told me that the Home Office's response to Vice News was mere lip service to "tackling extremism", and a guise to censor normative Islam by conflating it with the conveyor belt theory and radicalisation. With the General Election less than 60 days away, parliamentarians are battling it out over the economy, education, the NHS, housing, Europe and...national security. The rhetoric coming out of Whitehall on national security, especially after the ISIS executioner "Jihadi John's" identity was revealed as Mohammed Emwazi, will be used to for political mileage. It is evident from all three political parties' unquestioning support for the CTS Bill that the Muslim community's concerns and interests were at the tail-end of their priority list.
However, as the number of Muslim signatories continues to increase, it will be interesting to see what tangible actions will be taken moving forward by the various figureheads to get their grievances taken seriously.