IN what is clearly a pre-election gambit to present the Conservatives as the party that is ‘tough’ on extremism, the Home Secretary Theresa May’s wishlist of terrorism measures sheds more heat than light.
The hotch-potch of measures weave distinctly different issues – extremism, terrorism, honour crimes, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, sharia law and much more – under a single ‘security’ rubric that targets Muslims and ethnic minorities. It does not identify solutions to the challenges we face as a country and as a society.
Although the Home Secretary, one of three politicians named this week by David Cameron as a potential successor, makes great play of introducing a “positive’ campaign to promote British values as a counterweight to extremism, her speech was ultimately an exercise in semantic sophistry.
Even if British values are – as the Department for Education guidelines suggest – about ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’, then it is not just the extremists, but also the British government that appears to have fallen short of its own standards.
The Home Secretary’s concern around Muslim’s engagement with democracy is bogus because countless studies have highlighted that the ethnic minority turn-out rates in elections is similar to the participation of white voters born and bred in Britain. If ethnic minorities do not turn up to vote in the 2015 elections, it is not because of democratic apathy but the recent changes to the voter registration system.
Likewise, if the rule of law is a measure of being British, then Mrs May’s plans to introduce ‘extremism disruption orders’, using civil powers and the imposition of ‘banning orders’ against extremists groups who cannot be legally proscribed, creates an extra-legal framework that potentially robs Muslims of their rights to legal protection and due judicial process.
Despite Mrs May’s chest-beating cry to the so-called radical Islamists that the security measures will ensure that their ‘game is up’, in reality the UK already has far-reaching counter-terrorism laws and a comprehensive framework for prosecuting individuals and groups who incite religious and racial hatred. The UK does not need more laws or security measures; what it needs is due diligence in the appropriate use of its existing legal framework.
The much-vaunted ‘freedom of expression’ that the Government upholds as being a quintessentially British value is at best a chimera. From measures to stop protests outside Parliament; to the industrial-scale spying on digital communications by GCHQ and to recent attempts to bully universities into banning so-called extremist speakers, these are symptomatic of the double-speak that has come to characterise the Government’s ‘war on terror’ agenda.
Theresa May’s observation that the rights accorded to citizens come with responsibility is absolutely correct. What she does not seem to understand, however, is that the same obligations also apply to governments, particularly where there is a potential for over-reaching the limits of their power.
The Government’s failure to respond to the call by the ex-MI6 chief, Sir Richard Dearlove, to create a single independent watchdog to oversee the work of the security services, highlights the ease with which governments are prepared to accrete powers to themselves but reluctant to relinquish them when it threatens to hold them to account.
Theresa May’s strident call to the Muslim community to co-operate with the Government in tackling extremism in her speech, fails to acknowledge the deep pain that her approach to combating terrorism has caused.
The recent warning by Del Babu, a Muslim former senior police officer, that the anti-terror Prevent strategy has become ‘a toxic brand’ does, in fact, highlight the everyday impact of the ‘war on terror’ which has scooped up decent law-abiding Muslims into the dragnet of surveillance.
If the Government is serious about combating extremism and terrorism, it is critical that it finds an alternative to wielding the perennial stick of blame on the Muslim community.
Unless it begins to interrogate and understand the reasons why Muslims are turning their back on Britain, and walking into the arms of the Isis death cult, they will never be able to guarantee our security.
Unfortunately the tone and content of the Home Secretary’s speech will only widen the breach between the Government and those Muslims at risk of radicalisation, because it is premised on a clear fault-line of a Muslim ‘us’ and a non-Muslim ‘them’.