Nothing highlights the sorry state of this government’s plan to combat ISIS and Islamic extremism more than David Cameron words this week. To defeat “this poisonous ideology,” he wrote: “We must strengthen our institutions that put our values into practice: our democracy, our rule of law, the rights of minorities, our free media, our law enforcements – all the things the terrorists hate.”
But does anyone really believe Cameron is interested in strengthening our rule of law, rights of minorities and the free media when he’s threatening to shut down the BBC and gutting the Human Rights Act? Does he think people are oblivious to his hypocrisy? That British Muslims don’t read the news and absorb information from around them? Then education minister Nicky Morgan turned up to say homophobia may be a sign of extremism – the same minister who earlier voted against gay marriage.
Let’s be clear: we absolutely need to fight the ideology that fuels ISIS, not just abroad but in Britain. Last week the New York Times reported on how an American teacher was groomed for ISIS by a British man who runs a Muslim charity. The former CPS star Nazir Afzal is right when he says British Muslim ‘leaders’ are failing them. I’ve written lots about the origins of ISIS and the ideal of the Khilafah which has drawn many Muslims to join it, and others to excuse its horrific acts. I’m perfectly aware of the threat it poses and what it does.
We need a consistent and credible counter-terrorism plan, instead we have gimmicks that just single out Muslims. If anything, that only strengthens the ISIS narrative not weakens it.
This is now the government’s definition of extremism: “The vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist.”
Christian groups already worry it could spell “disaster” for religious people. But the government won’t go after them of course. Nor is the government likely to go after the English Defence League, the BNP, Britain First or National Action – the far-right groups that would also fall under that definition.
Instead, its more likely that Muslim children will be branded ‘extremist’ for not celebrating Christmas. In turn, that will embolden extremists who will keep pointing out that the establishment is picking on Muslims because it hates them.
Yesterday on Newsnight, the former Met chief Ian Blair said the same thing: “I just think we have to be incredibly careful, we shouldn’t be doing this to the community, we should be doing this with the community.”
Cameron won’t listen – he is interested in winning a PR battle and sounding tough so the public think he is doing something.
Part of the reason he can get away with it is because opposition to the bill has been so dis-jointed. The Labour party is too busy navel-gazing to worry about national security. The Lib Dems have attacked it but the media doesn’t listen to them any more.
Moreover, British Muslims have been completely out-manoeuvred on this issue and are badly losing the public argument.
In almost every recent media debate on this issue, the Muslim representative is likely to say the government has this wrong because the extremists are driven by foreign policy and events in the Middle East. There may be an element of truth to that but it’s a ridiculous argument to make.
I say this because the aim of Muslim groups should be to join together with the widest coalition possible to oppose the government’s plans. It could unite protest groups from Greenpeace to Fathers4Justice, and get Tory libertarians to join hands with lefties and Muslims.
But an argument that sounds like blaming foreign policy for ISIS appeals only to some Muslims and SWP-types, which puts off many others. That, in turn, betrays the very people who will be hit by this. Broad coalition building requires making arguments that appeal to middle-England: i.e. how these terror policies can easily be abused to catch any protesters and spy on almost anyone. But, so far, Muslims have predictably fallen into Cameron’s trap and that has allowed him to continue without breaking a sweat.
If these anti-terror laws are put in place they will be the most draconian attacks on our civil liberties this country has ever seen. It’s unlikely that Ian Blair’s late intervention will make a difference, since Cameron wants to look and sound tough and announce something that make people think something is being done.
Some people will be hood-winked by Cameron in believing that he is making us safer. But if anything, he is making ISIS even more potent.