Parvez Akhtar is an Engineering Manager at Jaguar Landrover and was Parliamentary Candidate in Coventry North West in the 2015 General Election.
Many Muslim voices, aided by well-meaning libertarians, will be taking to the airwaves to condemn the government’s new proposed counter-terrorism legislation. This is precisely the sort of reaction which has led to the situation in which we currently find ourselves, where a vocal minority have hijacked the agenda from the mainstream community and brainwashed young men and women to commit terrorist acts both at home and abroad. Every time there is an attempt to deal with these groups the argument is spun in such a way to make the whole of the Muslim population feel victimised and under siege.
That is the case once more. We have been told that this legislation is targeting Muslims in a discriminatory way, that it is limiting freedom of speech and freedom of movement and that the definition of extremism is ill-defined, allowing for varied interpretations. All of these are valid concerns and there are examples of unintended consequences from every piece of legislation which need to be addressed with later amendments. However, allowing a group of people to hijack a faith, go unchecked in imposing one strict interpretation of it on all its followers and then use it as a propaganda tool to sow division is equally wrong.
Already we have the usual hostile reaction which will amplify in the coming days and will be covered in the media in a negative way, reinforcing the commonly held view that Islam is a problem. This is an opportunity for the silent majority to step up to the plate and help the wider community see the legislation as a genuine attempt to help them take back control.
Definition aside, for the first time anything that is considered extreme is being outlawed. What is left fits perfectly with British values of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, mutual respect and co-existence. The Bill allows the authorities to seize travel documents if they suspect someone of being involved in terrorism. It temporarily excludes those returning from foreign countries if they pose a threat to the UK on their return. It also contains is a much greater obligation to monitor and report extremist activity and a greater de-radicalisation programme.
I am perfectly comfortable with all of these measures because they will allow us to start to win back control. Of course it is a lot easier to win a debate from a position of mutual trust, but this has been eroded so badly that it is now impossible to win an argument about any aspect of Islam in the public arena.
The extremists have succeeded in turning a large majority of people in this country against Muslims. At the same time, they have succeeded in not allowing Muslims the freedom to express their argument on issues which affect them and which they feel strongly about.
I would argue that this Bill will in time allow us to debate what many consider to be reasons of radicalisation. It is a lot easier to conduct a debate about British foreign policy in Syria or Iraq, speak about the schools in Birmingham or the depictions of the Prophet when you know that it will not be viewed as an extreme position by the majority of the population; when those around you will know that the debate will not lead to violence; and when everyone feels the attempt is genuinely one of engagement and understanding around the substance of the issues at hand.
Those still unconvinced by my reasoning need only think of what they would say to a mother whose son has just killed himself and his fellow travellers on the tube. If a piece of legislation helps a school to identify that individual and the family and then, with the help of the authorities, prevent that young man from being radicalised so that he begins to accept his place in this country – why is that such a bad thing? What would you say to the father whose teenage daughters have left home to join a foreign army when a piece of legislation could have stopped them from travelling by taking away their passports before they could leave?
I know only too well that it is a long way back from the position we have ended up at and it will take a generation to undo the damage that has been incurred, unchecked, for the past two decades. The actions of this government should be viewed as a starting point on the journey back to what Islam truly is – a religion of peace, understanding and mutual co-existence. That is why I would urge everyone not to jump on the bandwagon of condemnation and victimisation because it has become the default thing to do. Instead, let’s break this cycle, take back control of your voice and accept this legislation, because its primary purpose is to help you regain control of your communities, your children and your faith.