Mohammed Amin is Vice Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity.
Since Theresa May’s announcement of the revised Prevent strategy, Muslim organisations and “community leaders” have, sadly but predictably, been queuing up to criticise it. As a contrast, the Conservative Muslim Forum’s published view is summarised in its last sentence “The CMF considers that the review will considerably improve the Prevent programme, will do what it can to assist the Government, and calls upon all British citizens to do the same.”
It’s the ideology, stupid!
While the occasional demented individual wants to set off an explosion for fun, every terrorist organisation that I am aware of has believed in something, and has justified its murderous activities by an ideology articulated as best it can. Accordingly, I am deeply disappointed that many Muslim organisations deny that the Al Qaeda-linked terrorists who threaten us have an ideology. Such denial makes it impossible for such Muslim organisations to rebut the ideology. How can you rebut something whose very existence you deny? Instead, these Muslim organisations wrongly place the entire blame for terrorism on British and American foreign policy.
Every terrorist group has had fellow travellers, who believe in the same ideology but have no active terrorist involvement. Believing something has never been a crime in Britain, but such fellow believers are the easiest people to recruit into active terrorism; even when not recruited they provide intellectual and emotional support to the terrorists. Therefore the ideology of Al Qaeda must be countered in parallel with counter-terrorist security measures.
Foreign policy also matters
Conversely, there are a few politicians who make equally incredible claims from a different position. I will never forget Prime Minister Tony Blair looking straight into the camera and stating flatly that British foreign policy made no difference to the level of the terrorist threat. Any residual credibility he had was lost at that point, with me and I suspect with most of the population, since we all knew that the security services had warned him otherwise before the invasion of Iraq.
The intellectually honest position is to accept that our foreign policy may either increase or reduce the risk of terrorism, but that Britain will never make the risk of increasing terrorism the sole determinant of our foreign policy.
What all of us need to do
The Prevent strategy document details the ideology that underlies Al Qaeda and its affiliates. Our actions and words can either strengthen that ideology’s appeal to British Muslims, or they can weaken and indeed eliminate its appeal.
There is a long list of things British Muslims can do: here are just three examples:
- Becoming personally successful directly refutes the narrative that Britain is at war with Islam and oppresses Muslims. Every British Muslim millionaire, elected politician, academic or professional helps to counter that lie, simply by existing.
- Challenging the extremists’ narrative whenever it is encountered. Islamist extremists paint a picture of unremitting “Western” hostility to Islam and Muslims, listing such issues as Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, the Iraq war, the Afghan war, etc. However, they conveniently leave out cases where British, French or American armed forces have saved Muslim lives such as ending the wars in Bosnia, Kosovo and Sierra Leone, or the current intervention in Libya. Whenever anyone is spouting this nonsense, sensible Muslims should speak up and point out the extremists’ deliberate distortions.
- Using vocabulary which counters the language of division that Al Qaeda promotes. The words you use affect how you see the world. I refer to “our country” instead of talking about “Britain”; saying “Britain” implies that you are talking about a foreign place. Muslims should use “we” to refer to all British people collectively; other words should be used when referring to their particular ethnic or religious community, such as “British Muslims of Pakistani descent".
The 96% of the British population that is not Muslim also has a key role to play in countering the Al Qaeda narrative of permanent hostility between Muslims and non-Muslims.
The starting point is to avoid strengthening the narrative, applying the adage “Before opening mouth, engage brain!” For example Philip Hollobone’s Face Coverings (Regulation) Bill might as well have been sponsored by Al Qaeda, given the damage it would do to our country if it ever got anywhere near the statute book.
More positively, it helps to learn something about Islam from reliable sources rather instead of tabloid newspapers. If you are afraid you might end up reading propaganda by Muslims, I recommend “Islam – Past, Present & Future” by Hans Kung, a 700-page book by one of the world’s leading Roman Catholic theologians. If that is too much knowledge, I have written a ten page introduction to Islam for non-Muslims. You will then be well placed to remind everyone you meet that Christians, Jews and Muslims all worship the same God, and agree about Him far more than they disagree.