Shabnam Nasimi is a Third Sector Consultant. She is the founder and Chairman of the Conservative Friends of Afghanistan.
We saw two different worlds, or at least two different value systems when my family and I migrated to the UK from Afghanistan in 1991 – where the worlds most wanted terrorist Osama Bin Laden was in hiding. On one side, there was a welcoming British society, tolerant and respectful; on the other, my Muslim identity and background. It was one of those totemic issues: tolerant Britain vs backward religious fundamentalism.
It is this clash of cultures that led to Shamima Begum to join ISIS in Syria. An exploited, warped, unrepentant, atypical and seemingly not-very-bright teenager who is evidently as much of a stranger to British norms as she is to the traditional, classical Islam. She fled Britain when she was 15, married a Dutch jihadi, and reportedly now has a baby, two of her children already being dead.
At issue is the question of where are we failing when it comes to the integration of ethnic minority communities in the UK and understanding how to tackle online extremism and grooming of our youth?
The disconnect between the people and politicians is greater now than any time I can recall; and nowhere is this disconnect greater than when it comes to law and order.
The Tory manifesto has emphasised that they will be the toughest on law and order from any major party in decades. But what will this actually mean for online grooming and extremism that leads to our youth to become radicalised and going down a path of crime?
The simple fact is that Islamist extremism poses a serious threat to the safety of British people. Priti Patel is absolutely right to say people who have gone out to support or fight for the so-called Islamic State will not be allowed back, no matter what left-wing politicians and commentators say. Deprivation should never be the first choice but when some of the world’s most dangerous people have the right to return to our shores, everything must be done to prevent that. End of story.
But how can we ensure that young people are not radicalised in the first place?
Whilst ISIS may have been defeated in Syria and the leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi was killed recently during an American military operation – they have found safe havens in Iraq with a longstanding aim to spread further into Central Asia and Afghanistan and a strong likelihood of retaliatory attacks.
As a former Prevent Coordinator, I have focused on how developments in technology mean conflicts are no longer restricted by geographic boundaries. The internet, in particular social platforms, provides a place for extreme content to be spread. As part of my role, I had to flag extremist videos to platforms like YouTube with a view to getting them taken down. One of the videos showed an extreme Islamist preacher telling people not to vote in UK elections, leading to a racist rant of the un-Islamic nature of British society and its values – which I found extremely uncomfortable to watch.
What struck me was how the person in the racist video made his arguments sound as if they were based on scientific research. You could see how a young or impressionable person could stumble across it, watch it and repeat what they’d heard to their friends at school. And despite being flagged in 2017, the video I saw was still up two years later.
Much remains to be done amongst the social media community in sharing trends and information regarding extremist content. In turn, the Government has an important role to play in making clear which regulation applies to service providers and holding them to account when harmful content is left online for too long. In the end, this is about the kinds of extremism, whether that be Islamism or the far-right, that can lead to very violent crime.
We must work to curb extremist preaching, teach religious counter-narratives and give gendered extremism education, while learning the lessons from Prevent and Channel. We need a careful, considered approach that is respectful of the human rights of everyone.
It is the Government’s responsibility to keep British citizens safe – and enough is enough. Tech companies who don’t clean up their platforms should be prepared to face the force of the law.
These are not “ring-wing” policies as the Left will no doubt claim – they are policies that deliver on the people’s priorities.