Fahad Ansari responds to the Prime Minister’s speech, “Enough is Enough”, and explores the decades of failed policies that she seeks to re-hash.
Following the horrific terrorist attacks in London on Friday, Theresa May delivered a speech in which she claimed that there has been far too much tolerance of extremism in Britain. “Enough is Enough” she boldly declared outlining a four point plan to counter the new trend in terrorism.
Unfortunately, for all her rhetoric, the Prime Minister’s proposals are not new. They are neither innovative nor unique. It is deeply concerning that despite 17 years of fighting terrorism, the government of the day’s response to the latest attack is to simply fall back on to its default position – calling for increased powers for police and the security services, an increase in the length of custodial sentences and a focus on fostering better social cohesion. The strategy is one that has failed to make Britain any safer than it was in 2001. On the contrary, Britain is a far more dangerous place to live for all communities today than it was when the War on Terror began.
May’s plan is fundamentally flawed as it falsely identifies the drivers of terrorism as an inherent hatred for “our Western values of freedom, democracy and human rights” and a belief that they are incompatible with Islam. In parroting the mantra of both George W. Bush and Tony Blair almost two decades later, Theresa May betrays the fact that she has learned very little from the errors of her predecessors. This precarious oversimplification of a very complex issue may be useful for soundbites for the evening news but brings us dangerously short of resolving the terrorism threat.
A solution according to the PM is a repetition of her own personal mantra from her time as Home Secretary: a need to propagate the superiority of British values. As many commentators have pointed out, linking terrorism to integration and social cohesion produces a dangerous confusion over the roots of the problem, which ultimately stigmatises and alienates some of the poorest communities in this country.
It is telling that in her entire speech, May fails to address the stated motivations of the terrorists themselves, that increasingly apparent elephant in the room known as Foreign Policy. ISIS hailed the Manchester attack as a response to Britain’s “transgressions against the lands of the Muslims”, a victory against “the crusaders” of the west and a response to airstrikes in Iraq. Khalid Masood revealed his own motivation in a Whatsapp message sent minutes before he carried out the attack in Westminster declaring that he was taking revenge for Western military actions in Muslim countries in the Middle East. From Usama Bin Laden to the 7/7 bombers, from the killers of Lee Rigby to the recent attacks from ISIS, all have spoken of the fact that British foreign policy has been a direct motivation for their actions. To acknowledge this is not justification. To ignore it however is grossly negligent.
If Theresa May is not comfortable in listening to the demands of terrorists, she should at least respect the expert opinions of those entrusted with our security. As far back as 2003, the Joint Intelligence Committee, representing the main British intelligence agencies, explicitly warned the Blair government that invading Iraq would “increase significantly” the threat of terrorism. That included risks of attack within the UK from al-Qaeda and other “Islamist terrorist groups and individuals”. In 2005, a few weeks before the 7/7 bombings, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre issued another warning to the Blair government noting that events in Iraq “are continuing to act as motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity in the UK”. If this was not sufficient, in 2011 in a lecture attended by Theresa May herself, former director-general of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller unequivocally drew the connection between the Iraq war and the 7/7 attacks stating:
“[The invasion of Iraq] increased the terrorist threat by convincing more people that Osama Bin Laden’s claim that Islam was under attack was correct. It provided an arena for the jihad for which he had called, so that many of his supporters, including British citizens, travelled to Iraq to attack Western forces. It also showed very clearly that foreign and domestic policy are intertwined. Actions overseas have an impact at home. And our involvement in Iraq spurred some young British Muslims to turn to terror.“
So yes Prime Minister, Enough is Enough. Let us open up the discussion on foreign policy and the role it plays in driving terrorism. Whether it is the UK’s military action in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, its betrayal of the Palestinian people, or its massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia, foreign policy does play its part in fomenting terrorism and needs to change. Today, in what has become almost synonymous with blasphemy laws in theocratic states, those who question the link between foreign policy and terrorism, are maligned and labelled as apologists and sympathisers. In April this year, former MP David Ward was sacked from the Liberal Democrats for tweeting that “all terrorist attacks in UK stem from our foreign policy”. And if it is all to do with their hating our way of life, then why are most of the victims of ISIS Muslims living in the Islamic world?
Enough is Enough Prime Minister. Let us review the current counter-terrorism strategy but not with a view to increasing police powers but assessing whether there are already too many powers in place. With over a dozen different counter-terrorism bills passed into law since 2000 and the implementation of the PREVENT strategy across public service providers, more extremism referrals are being made to the police than ever before. As the current Home Secretary has now finally admitted, PREVENT is essentially an intelligence gathering exercise, used to spy on the Muslim community. It has been opposed by numerous trade unions, civil society organisations and hundreds of academics.
Enough is Enough Prime Minister. With children as young as four years old being reported to the police and subsequently detained and questioned (without the consent or presence of the parent) over issues such as possessing a toy gun, being accused of speaking Arabic or attending a mosque, not celebrating Christmas, or drawing a cucumber and university students being reported for reading books about terrorism in the campus library as part of their course material, it does beg the question as to whether the net is being cast far too wide resulting in real threats slipping under the radar. When all acts of religiosity or an interest in politics by Muslims are deemed to be worthy of reporting, one can imagine how overwhelmed the police must be in dealing with all of this ‘intelligence’. It is little wonder then why the likes of Salman Abedi managed to commit his atrocity despite having been referred by the local community on no less than five occasions. It is now also emerging that one of the suspected London Bridge attackers was reported to the counter terrorism police on two occasions with no further action taken. With finite resources at their disposal, the police and security services cannot realistically be expected to protect this country from those who actually threaten our safety when there has been such a proliferation of reporting based largely on ignorance, prejudice, and profiling.
Enough is Enough Prime Minister. Do you not realise that equating conservative religious values and political activism with extremism is counter-productive? Do you not accept that it is because of such a policy that the security services have had to deal with 23,000 “subjects of interest” to date? 23,000 is an army corps. If that is what the security services really believe to be the threat, then we really all should be very afraid. But if these ‘subjects of interest’ are on this list because of nothing more than conservative religious beliefs, political activism and overzealous reporting under PREVENT, then we are wasting our resources. The Muslim community should not be afraid of discussing the concept of jihad. For years now, this discussion has been stifled and censored by mosques, Islamic centres, schools and universities out of fear of being reported under PREVENT. If these discussions can take place, perhaps young minds can be taught the distinction between legitimate jihad and acts of terrorism. It of course will raise uncomfortable questions about the legitimacy of jihad against military targets in conflict zones and how that balances with the law of the land one lives in, but closing down all forums for such discussions only perpetuates the problem. Without traditional scholars being able to address these questions, young minds are ripe for exploitation by the likes of Daesh who thrive in an environment where their ideas are not challenged within a religious framework.
Enough is Enough Prime Minister. Why are approximately 50,000 travellers to and from the UK detained and questioned under the Terrorism Act every year when only 0.02% of those stops have led to any further action? That these stops are not intelligence led and can be done without any suspicion has resulted in hundreds of thousands of innocent people being harassed and questioned over the past 17 years, the vast majority of whom have been non-White. Is this power not only discriminatory in its effect but also disproportionate and a unwise use of limited resources, when the security services are unable to prevent actual terrorists from harming this country?
Five years ago, it emerged that evidence was fabricated against Dr Rizwaan Sabir, then a university student, to detain him for 7 days under the Terrorism Act. Perhaps if the police were not trying to ensnare innocent people in such a manner, they could focus on finding the real terrorists in our midst.
Enough is Enough Prime Minister. We are all tired of you playing politics with the security and safety of this country. We are fed up of the propaganda and posturing to roll out the same failed policy time and time again. We have become weary from the rhetoric of division and the imposition of collective guilt upon our community after each attack. We are frustrated with being asked to prove our humanity each time by rushing to condemn something that no sane individual can condone. Most of all, we are frightened for ourselves and our children of both being killed in an atrocity and hurt in the inevitable violent backlash that follows.
Enough is Enough.
CC image courtesy of Prachatai on Flickr
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