Yesterday, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javed, gave a speech in London on “Confronting Extremism Together”. At a time when nationalist attitudes are on the rise in Europe and we have a US President whose open bigotry and stoking of white nationalism could quite conceivably lead to the assassination of Muslim Congresswomen such as Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, it is all the more crucial that all of us who seek a better and more tolerant future work together and challenge those who seek to undermine our freedoms and shared values.
Firstly though, how can we define extremism? The Home Secretary, offered the following definition:
“At its heart, extremism is a rejection of the shared values that make this country great: freedom, equality, democracy, free speech, respect for minorities, and the rule of law.”
That isn’t actually a bad definition and it is quite likely one that – hopefully – all decent minded people would be able to subscribe to.
The Home Secretary singled out two groups by name for criticism yesterday – both Muslim led organisations: CAGE and MEND. Are these groups really extremist? The Home Secretary did not say why he believed that they fall foul of the above definition of extremism. That was a very curious omission especially when he went to the length of specifically singling them out in his speech.
Both organisations have done some valuable work. MEND has focused on challenging anti-Muslim bigotry in the media and successfully campaigned to ensure that police forces throughout the country record incidents of anti-Muslim hatred, just as they were already recording incidents of anti-Jewish hatred. CAGE has done us all a service by shining a light on the area of government funding and creation of supposedly “community-led” Muslim groups. Quite a number of Muslim groups that have come into being in recent years try and portray themselves as being independent whereas they are actually creations of the Home Office and its secretive Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU). No doubt such disclosures are embarrassing to the Home Office and especially to the groups that are trying to portray themselves as being “independent”, but the government should not have tried to conceal this information from taxpayers in the first place. Sadly, honesty and transparency are qualities that quite a few people in government have issues with upholding.
This is not to say that CAGE and MEND are above criticism. I think both CAGE and MEND made a major mistake in failing to support the government’s counter-terrorism programme PREVENT. There is no question that mistakes have been made with PREVENT but that does not mean that the programme as a whole should be scrapped. No government facing a terror threat can afford not to have a counter-terrorism programme seeking to unify communities against the very real threat of violent extremists be they of the al-Qa’ida/ISIS or far-right variety.
Still, let’s get back to the government’s definition of extremism. Is it one that the government itself would pass? Let us take a look at some of the actions (not mere words) that we have seen in recent years from our government:
- The government provides £13.4 million/year in funding to the Jewish Community Security Trust “to ensure the security of Jewish faith schools, synagogues and communal buildings following concerns raised by the Jewish community.” Which other minority faith group organisation receives this amount of funding? There are over ten times as many UK Muslims as Jews. Do you think that a UK Muslim group receives £134 million or even the same annual £13.4 million to ensure the security of Muslim schools and mosques etc? Of course not – and incidentally I would not want them (or the CST) to. We fund the police to ensure the necessary safety and security of all communities and the money should surely be given to them instead. See here for my previous blog on this issue. The government is clearly failing to treat minorities equally. Is the government therefore extremist by its own definition?
- Is the government really a promoter of freedom and free speech? It has allied itself and maintains very friendly relations with highly repressive Arab regimes in the Middle East. Are the peoples of those countries not deserving of freedom and free speech? How would they regard our government’s policies in the region? As being extremist perhaps?
- This week, David Lidington confirmed that the UK would not be establishing a judge-led inquiry to look into the UK’s involvement in the cases of rendition and torture that took place following 9/11. Amnesty International has branded the government’s failure as “disgraceful” and pointed out that a parliamentary committee had said ” it had been blocked by the Government from accessing all the necessary evidence and prevented from conducting a credible, thorough inquiry.” Bearing in mind that the overwhelming number of the victims of rendition and torture following 9/11 are Muslims, do the UK government’s actions demonstrate a “respect for minorities” and “the rule of law” as they require in their definition of extremism?
One of the foremost teachings of the Qur’an is that this life is ephemeral and a test and that the life Hereafter is the real home. It should enable Muslims to resist the allure of government positions and salaries at the expense of speaking the truth to power and seeking justice and fairness.