It seems I’m the reason why Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy is going to fail.
Though raised in an inner-city London neighborhood, I’ve been blessed with great opportunities in this wonderful town. I’ve set up a successful business, served my country as a government advisor, and been active with interfaith engagement. I’m about as well-integrated a British subject as you can get.
But I’m afraid. And my peers, fellow integrated British Muslims who travel in similar circles, are equally anxious. We feel insecure and uncertain in the face of the Conservative government’s new direction on countering violent extremism.
Adding to recent bills, our Conservative government launched its new counter-extremism strategy, to target “entryism” by extremists, and tackle extremist ideology. The prime minister, David Cameron, and home secretary, Theresa May, have promised a thorough sweep to identify extremists on the government’s own payroll. I’m skeptical of these efforts because I, too, have been the target of allegations of “entryism,” simply for advising our government on anti-Muslim hatred.
As part of this week’s announcement, the government can also enforce mosque closures, vet travelers entering the country on vaguely defined “British values”; and impose burdensome, redundant and unnecessary checks on schools, nurseries, charities and educational institutions. Such measures lack clarity on process and definition; they also discriminate against loyal British Muslim subjects. Rather than seeing Muslims as British, as friends and allies in a common cause against extremism, they are branded as terror suspects, potential radicals, extremist collaborators, or traitorous subversives. Those loyal and integrated British Muslims who abhor terrorism and actively combat extremism are being alienated by short-sighted policies, giving oxygen for the already inflammatory rhetoric of extremists who insist that Britain at large will never accept Muslims.
Our government is exploiting the sacrality of national security to pursue a dangerous policy of defining an “acceptable” British Islam. To this end, the government has allocated £5 million of public money to organisations already widely distrusted by British Muslims, to promote the government’s preferred form of Islam.
I’m eager to see genuine and responsible security policy on radicalization in my country, but such policy must be built on mutual trust with the Muslim community. British Muslims know only too well the threat of ISIL; they and their families are the biggest targets of its recruitment efforts. Now is the time for the British government to employ a model that demonstrates its desire to build trust and cooperate with the community.
A model for this already exists.
After scrutinizing the British model, the United States has taken a different direction on domestic counter extremism. Proof of the bankruptcy of the British program is its lack of adoption, in any part, by the US government, which instead has made a genuine attempt to reach out and enfranchise American Muslims as partners in common vulnerabilities and exposure. Though far from a perfect collaboration, the US government has been serious in extending, not spurning, a hand of collaboration with the Muslim community, regarding them as fellow stakeholders fighting a common threat. This is in stark contrast to Britain, where even those on the forefront of the battle fear becoming its first casualties under the government’s sweeping new measures.
After the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks, the Obama administration hosted European interior ministers for a conference, partly to share its successes and experiences in domestic counter-terrorism. Such events should continue, and be expanded to higher levels of government. Now, more than ever, the US must assert its leadership, communicate its best practices and share its strengths with its European allies. But for Britain to benefit, it must be willing to listen.