Martin Parsons concludes his three-part series considering how to counter radical Islamism. Part II was yesterday.
In the previous two articles (here and here) I have outlined how attitudes to sharia are the most important touchstone in defining radicalisation. Sharia is the boundary line that defines most clearly the difference between on the one hand, ordinary British Muslims who follow a traditional, devotional form of their faith and who contribute much to our British way of life and on the other hand, extremists who pose a serious threat to our historic British values and the freedoms they give us.
In 2007 research conducted by Policy Exchange revealed that 37% of British Muslims aged 16-24 said they would prefer to live under sharia than under British law, while a similar number of Muslims under 35 said they agreed with the sharia stipulation that anyone who converted from Islam to another faith should be executed.
These findings not only clearly illustrate that attitudes to sharia are a key touchstone in defining radicalisation among British Muslims, they also point to a demographic time bomb in this respect. Previous estimates of the number of British Muslims who had been radicalised generally suggested between 13% and 15%. However, Policy Exchange’s research suggests that more than a third of Muslims aged under 35 have been radicalised. It is therefore essential that the new Government takes action both to undo the appeasement of the sharia agenda that took place under the previous Labour government and to challenge young British Muslims that advocacy of sharia is a line that must not be crossed.
To counter the growing sharia based radicalisation I would recommend that the government considers at least the following steps:
1. Set up a commission to examine what needs to be done to reverse the steps towards accommodation of sharia that the previous government made. These include a whole range of ‘sharia complaint’ financial products, which, as has been outlined elsewhere are not only seen by Islamists as a major way of gaining influence and control over economic affairs, but are also almost impossible to regulate. However, the scope of the commission needs to go well beyond financial affairs to include education, the police and such public bodies as the Food Standards Agency. For example, serious questions need to be asked about the Food Standards Agency's role in promoting halal food (halal literally means 'sharia-compliant'), which is now being served unlabelled in many non-Muslim food outlets, including even the Houses of Parliament.
2. As an immediate step the Government should halt all progress by the Treasury towards the issue of sukkuk (sharia) government bonds and suspend the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 Order 2010 which has effectively allowed commercial sukkuk bonds to start being used in Britain this year.
3. Immediately restrict the use of arbitration tribunals to purely commercial issues to prevent them being used as backdoor sharia courts to enforce sharia judgements on issues such as family law and other non-commercial areas.
4. Replace Labour’s 1998 Human Rights Act with an alternative act based on the British, rather than European system of human rights (i.e. limiting the power of government over individuals, rather than giving specific 'rights' to individuals), so that Islamists cannot use it to push test cases through the courts that seek to increase the islamisation process.
5. A firm but gentle challenge needs to be made to ordinary British Muslims that sharia is the touchstone, the line towards radicalisation that must not be crossed. This is necessary both because the previous Labour government failed to send out a clear signal to Muslims about where they were drawing the line between radicals and ordinary Muslims and because many Muslims have somewhat romantic notions about sharia, but little real knowledge of what it actually involves.
6. Counter-radicalisation programmes should highlight the differences between sharia and key aspects of historic British law and values, such as one law for all regardless of religion or gender etc; freedom to practise and propagate religion, including the freedom to convert to another faith; freedom of speech etc. Unfortunately, the previous government was unable to do this because, as I observed two and half years ago, the Labour government themselves were undermining at least 50% of key historic British values.
7. In determining whether faith-based schools should receive registration from the Department for Education, the known attitudes of key sponsors and board members to sharia should be a key factor. This will enable some of the schools that are likely to promote extremism to be identified. It will also avoid the sort of 'one size catches all' approach to faith-based schools that led the previous Labour government to apply anti-extremism measures to Anglican and Catholic state schools, as if they were creating the same sort of problems that certain Islamic schools were.
8. End all forms of government support and engagement with organisations that either support sharia themselves or have key leaders who advocate its adoption in Britain or abroad. Islamist extremists need to be treated in exactly the same way as other extremists such as white racist groups.