The Blog

Self-interest, Sycophancy and Strategic Failure - How Britain Lost The War On Muslim Radicalisation

What we see today - the radicalisation of young British Muslims, the alienation and marginalisation from mainstream society and joining ISIL / Islamic State - has not happened overnight. It has been a slow and painful slide into the abyss.

What we see today - the radicalisation of young British Muslims, the alienation and marginalisation from mainstream society and joining ISIL / Islamic State - has not happened overnight. It has been a slow and painful slide into the abyss.

The British government has been warned repeatedly over its failed strategy on countering radicalisation. Key stakeholders continued to stubbornly listen to the wrong voices and fund programs based on political sycophancy, in the deluded hope that it would all just work out. The decision to focus on, and create, a politics of schism based on a British Islam, to focus on outputs rather than outcomes, has been rejected by both mainstream Muslim civil society organisations and key Muslim leaders. Prior to his sidelining in the last reshuffle, the former Secretary of State for Education was a driving force behind the current UK counter-extremism agenda. Michael Gove had not only been working with Douglas Murray (infamous for his neo-conservative anti-Muslim extremist rhetoric) on the European Freedom Fund, but was personally advising and funding the Quilliam Foundation who have been Cameron and Clegg's go to people on counter extremism - championed by no lesser voice than Paddy Ashdown, possibly having been sold a shared narrative related to his experiences in Northern Ireland. The same organisation was not only instrumental in Number 10's 2011 Munich speech but will have been more recently known for embracing an unreformed Tommy Robinson (as confirmed with Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight) after my 18 months with him leading to his departure from the far right English Defence League. If it is the case that we have extremists, who have never really moved away from their Manichean view of the world instead merely replacing one form of extremism and clash-of-civilisation narrative for another, selling their services as reformed extremists, who are then in turn influencing counter-extremism policy; not only do we need to ask how this has been allowed to happen, but what has been the consequence and how to do start to reconstruct our strategies. We can then begin to understand how Quilliam was funded to take Robinson in to visit schools to spread his ideological view. As a senior cabinet minister told me at the time, it was precisely because Gove didn't consider Robinson to be extreme, that he was prepared to fund the project through his personal ministerial budget. Without a real understanding of extremism, an objective definition or measure, we have allowed this crucial agenda to be manipulated for personal interest rather than protection of civil society.

The answer to tackling the problem of radicalisation lies in our Government first facing some uncomfortable truths:

The failed vision. The Quilliam view on tackling radicalisation has diverted funds from grass roots programs which may have ostensibly intercepted the Woolwich killers. To think contemporary civilisational, geo-political issues fuelled by socio-economic disenfranchisement are going to be answered by cheap, saleable and scalable counter-narratives, is fundamentally flawed.

Follow the money. Unaccountability and a total lack of transparency over who has been funding our leading counter extremism organisation at the heart of government is simply unsustainable in the current climate. Excuses like "we had one print copy and its been misplaced" just won't do.

If it's broke, fix it. The straight line from Cantle to Cameron's ill-advised 'multiculturalism failed' Munich speech resulted in the perpetuation of a New Labour policy which was already failing: not 'multiculti' but the refusal to tackle disenfranchisement and the conflation with faith rather than socio-economic factors. Individuals and Muslim organisations opposing the current strategy inherited and continued by David Cameron, ended up blacklisted and undermined politically; the belief is that the modus operandi used over The Spittoon has continued to undermine critics.

Fearing fear itself. One can only imagine how difficult it is in the current climate to want to discuss and address issues of radicalisation. The safe spaces are non-existent. Those are truly brave souls that engage at the grass roots. Instead of empowering communities, Muslim organisations have been subjected to the new-McCarthyism when instead they needed to have open, internal conversations to reform and renew their understanding and implementation of Islam. The disconnecting of Islamic practice from belief is a failed model. The Spiritual Revolution is a traditional theological process but it has been derailed by the wrong funding model for third sector groups and the hollowing-out of Muslim organisations who were delivering best practice and positive results during John Denham's tenure at the Department of Communities and Local Government.

The education of young Muslims. Whilst there are more 'dar ul ulooms' (Muslim seminaries) in the UK than the whole of the Middle East, British Islamic education remains unfunded unlike in some European nations such as Finland, and so they are free to extol any ideological view. There is no question that Muslim communities are working hard, as they have always done, to bridge the gaps but when Education Secretaries are more set upon creating a Euro / Anglo centric model of the world and funding counter-extremism programs to mainstream the far right; what hope can there be for a the poorest BME communities, already being failed, and now increasingly unable to close the educational funding gap left by the removal of EMA and a university degree costing tens of thousands of pounds.

Leveson. The failure of the press regulatory framework permitted the flow of anti-Muslim articles in the media to be, in some instances, entirely fabricated and whilst the unhealthy relationship between police and journalists lead to terrorism 'scoops', later discredited. Dr Chris Allen from the University of Birmingham cited for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia, that some three quarters of the British public know little or nothing about Islam (yes, even now in 2014) and two thirds of those that do, get their information purely from the media. Frightening.

The wrong stuff. Notwithstanding being repeatedly served-up non-mainstream, immoderate and unrepresentative views from people such as Taj Hargey and Anjem Choudary, the British cultural milieu remains largely defined by non-Muslim writers on Muslim affairs; despite making up the majority of Muslims in the UK, we still have no mainstream sunni Muslim columnists. When we disconnect mainstream Muslim society from British society in today's post-liberalist world, it is not difficult to see why there are so few readily reachable points of Islamic reference. And so amidst the incessant media onslaught against them, Muslim youth are left in an ideological vacuum to seek out their Islamic references precisely because society has denied them this right of having it provided for them.

On British foreign policy, actions speak louder than words. The potent belief persists amongst many (and shock-horror, not merely amongst Muslims), that whatever the cost in human suffering, British foreign policy weakens certain Muslim interests on the global stage whilst supporting protagonists like Israel at virtually all costs, regardless of the human rights violations, genocide and war crimes. The perceived targeting of Muslim majority nations striving for an independent political settlement, independent of Western interest, through pro-action, complicity and silence; the Iraq War; complicity in the massacre and genocide of Palestinians; inaction over 200,000 deaths in Syria (de facto support for Assad by taking action against British citizens who go to take up arms against him); the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Burma (whilst honouring Aung San Suu Kyi with accolades); the gratuitous use of extra-judicial killing, drone strikes and more - can only create a grievance narrative. With the world on fire, that some look to take the future of their realities into their own hands, should be central to combating radicalisation; for the greater good we need to disregard the imprimatur of British institutional failings.

Metadata.Recent reports and disclosures from Snowden and Drake, state that programs from the US used to identify radicalisation have created a two-tier system, with organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain (Europe's largest Muslim civil society organisation) blacklisted on one side and and on the other, the whitelisting of Quilliam and the Islamic Society of Britain.

"We kill people based on metadata" - Gen. Michael Hayden, former NSA and CIA chief

There is no question that Muslim communities have a vital role to play in engaging young British Muslims with social activism, the current renewal of enlightenment movement and our democratic processes, but this can only ever be one thread in a broader tapestry. Whilst I have long spoken about the Muslim Civil Rights crisis and voiced my concerns about extremism in the public sphere, until the government recognises the shortcomings which brought us to this crisis point, the reality is that we will continue to see young disenfranchised British Muslims, failed by both state and communities, venturing overseas to fulfil their destinies.

Mohammed Ansar is a political and social commentator, with a history of working with communities and government on countering-extremism