Liberalism might be our strongest weapon in the battle against Jihadismby Sameer Rahim / December 10, 2015 / Leave a comment
Read the rest of Prospect’s big ideas of 2016 here
Since the rise of IS and its attacks in Europe, the British government has augmented its counter-terrorism policies with plans to counter Islamist ideology. This battle of ideas, reminiscent of the anti-Communist campaigns of the Cold War, emphasises loyalty to “fundamental British values.” The focus on national identity is new. For many years, the official British attitude towards ethnic and religious minorities was one of live and let live. As long as you obeyed the law, you could believe and express pretty much what you wanted. This was in sharp contrast to the French, who try to restrict cultural practices that do not conform to secular republican principles—banning the face veil, for example.
But the government now favours a more muscular, French-style project of cultural assimilation. In June 2015, the Prime Minister David Cameron warned that some British Muslims were “silently condoning” IS and that non-violent extremism needed to be tackled. From last September, it has been compulsory for schools actively to promote British values. This year the government will publish a report into preventing “extremist entryism” in public institutions including schools, colleges, the civil service and local authorities. There will be an official investigation into Islamic mediation tribunals and faith-based supplementary schools. In 2016 Ofcom will be strengthened to regulate religious television and radio stations. Legislation will be presented to Parliament proposing disruption orders for non-violent radical preachers—a kind of “extremism asbo.” All these measures are supposed to police more carefully what is described as a “pre-criminal space” which, it is argued, is an incubator for terrorism.
How effective such measures will be remains to be seen. Concerns have been raised about the freedom of speech implications of banning non-violent—if unpalatable—ideas such as campaigning for an Islamic caliphate. There is also the danger of alienating the very people who most need help integrating. There has already been the case of a three-year-old in Tower Hamlets being reported for potential signs of extremism; and a three-month long investigation by Staffordshire University into the activities of a graduate student who read an academic book on terrorism in the library. Arguably more powerful than proving loyalty to Britishness, though, is the tolerance found in London and Paris. The “Bataclan Generation” targeted by IS is diverse, pragmatic and attractive to outsiders. Such liberalism might be Europe’s strongest weapon in the ideological battle with jihadism.
Now watch David Cameron on Muslims “quietly condoning” extremism: