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Responding to David Cameron’s ‘clash of civilisations’ speech

July 22, 2015

Following David Cameron’s speech this week on his proposed counter-extremism measures, Asim Qureshi writes this piece, critical of the Prime Minister’s approach and the language used as divisive and evoke a combative state between communities instead of bridging the divide between communities and the state. Cameron, again fails to address the causes and grievances and instead focuses on conspiracy theories advocated by a minority of people.

Part of David Cameron’s endorsement of the PREVENT strategy and CHANNEL deradicalisation programmes in the UK, is the notion that the government wishes to end the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality that plagues ‘extremists’ in the UK. However, his speech outlining new counter-extremism measures fortifies the very clash that he claims he is seeking to avoid. This is underlined in the language he uses:

         “What we are fighting, in Islamist extremism, is an ideology.
         It is an extreme doctrine.
         And like any extreme doctrine, it is subversive.
         At its furthest end it seeks to destroy nation-states to invent its own barbaric realm.
         And it often backs violence to achieve this aim…
         …mostly violence against fellow Muslims – who don’t subscribe to its sick worldview.”

There are a number of things wrong with these utterances.
To begin with, Cameron refers to the contest between ideas as a fight, reminiscent of George Bush’s War on Terror “crusade” in 2001. How is this fight to take place? What are the jurisdictional boundaries of the fight, and what are the rules of engagement?

To say that the language is poorly framed would be to undermine its significance. There is malicious intent in the words; they evoke a combative state towards communities, as opposed to redressing or bridging the divide between them and the state.

What are the hallmarks of this ideology that Cameron references? It is “extreme” and “subversive” and wants to “destroy” and is “barbaric” and “sick” and uses “violence”. These words tell us very little about what this ideology is, other than that it is evil and that we should hate it. The ultimate aim is to instill fear, as opposed to build cohesion.

Conspiracies are not the issue

It is absurd that the Prime Minister pays so much homage to the conspiracy theory elements of what some (Muslims and non-Muslims) believe, rather than engaging with the actual grievances Muslims have.
Just to be clear on what the majority of Muslims believe in relation to the prevailing conspiracy theories:

  1. Muslims don’t believe that Jews have malevolent power. They do however believe that Israel’s atrocities against the Palestinian people are disproportionally whitewashed and given impunity by Western powers.
  2. Muslims don’t believe there is a concerted effort by governments to humiliate Islam. They are concerned that so much of what governments do, gives that impression – we would just rather it all stopped so we could stop thinking there might just be something there.
  3. Those involved in ‘truth’ movements around 9/11 and 7/7, are largely from non-Muslim backgrounds. You very rarely hear of people within Muslim communities speaking in these tones. Rather, there has been widespread condemnation of those actions, even though Muslims feel that they have no responsibility towards the criminal acts of individuals. ### ### Revising history from 9/11 is a mistake

For David Cameron, the starting point of the War on Terror was 9/11, as if there was a complete vacuum when it came to the West’s relationship with the Muslim world before then. According to his revisionist version of history, nothing was wrong with the world, then 9/11 happened, and that heralded a new era.

But nothing could be further from the truth. There is a long history of political violence prior to 9/11 between the Muslim world and the West, with lengthy grievances attached to both. When detainees were sent to Bagram Airbase after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, each cell at Bagram had a flashpoint in the conflict between East and West attached to it, such as the 1988 Lockerbie bombing or the 1979 attack on the US Embassy in Tehran. The American soldiers were not distinguishing between Sunni or Shia flashpoints, but rather othered Muslims as a whole.

There is also an assumption implicit in Cameron’s speech that 9/11 was an attack on all the West, rather than on the United States specifically.

This narrative, invariably leads David Cameron to adopt a ‘white saviour complex’ where he evokes Kosovo and Somalia as examples of where Britain has been magnanimously involved.

I was a very young man when the conflict in Kosovo began, and I knew many of the details of what was taking place due to reports coming from the region through refugees and others. NATO intervened when the massacres had already taken place. Only when slaughter beyond reckoning had occurred, did NATO feel the time had come to intervene. The saviour role that Cameron ascribes to Britain in this context is dubious and should be questioned.

Terrorism is not built on ideology

“But let’s not delude ourselves. We could deal with all these issues – and some people in our country and elsewhere would still be drawn to Islamist extremism.”

For David Cameron the grievances that Muslims feel, can all be dealt with – except they have never been dealt with.

The last 14 years of the War on Terror have been based on the idea that somehow the existential threat of terrorism and political violence can be defeated by a securitized approach manifested in the government’s toxic* PREVENT strategy. This approach has not only failed*, but it has actually made us all less safe than ever.

The emergence of groups such as the Islamic State, condemned by Muslim scholars across the globe, are a phenomenon borne of decisions made by governments in 2002, not from ideology.

The best evidence of this is the fact that the very al-Qaeda scholars the West was so concerned about then, are now at the front lines of challenging the Islamic State on the very ideological basis into which Cameron groups them all.

The British Prime Minister’s speech is yet another example of poor thinking and short sightedness. Should the UK government remain on this combative course, things will not get any better.

 (CC image courtesy of Number 10 on Flickr)

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Responding to David Cameron’s ‘clash of civilisations’ speech
Responding to David Cameron’s ‘clash of civilisations’ speech