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This narrative stands incomplete because the origins of modern terrorism ought to be traced back to the actions of the Irgun and Stern gangs in mandated Palestine in the 1940s - it is well worth noting Ken Livingstone's assessment that this was " not just the terrorism practiced against Palestinians but the terrorism practiced against the British troops before the expiration of the Mandate. And it was actually a future Prime Minister to be of Israel who oversaw the murder of British troops by hanging them, attaching grenades to their body parts so that the troops that came to cut them down would have their hands and faces blown off as well." Similarly, why should one not remember the letter bomb assassination campaign initiated by Israel in the 60s and 70s targetting Palestinian intellectuals - the poet Kamal Nasir was one victim in 1972 - at the hands of Ehud Barak no less? Should not one cite Ariel Sharon's tour around Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem in September 2000 as the spark for the Second Intifada? So long as the broader historical context is not appreciated and officially recognised, analyses of 'international terrorism' will lack credibility.
The report also links 'violent extremist ideology' with "challenges to the legitimacy of Israel" (Section 5.09). There are many who do not support 'violent extremism' yet regard the creation of Israel an injustice to the Palestinians and the State of Israel to be in breach of numerous UN resolutions and international law conventions. Where will they stand?
Would not an outcome of Contest 2 be that any individual proferring verbal and financial support for Palestine and other just liberation causes against occupation forces is deemed a potential 'violent extremist? Thus one person's reasonable stand becomes another person's extremism with the State as arbiter!
Elsewhere the Home Secretary's report refers to the Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh, who "was killed in November 2004 after the release of his film about violence against women in Islamic societies" [Section 3.12]. This bare statement - not qualified in any way - conveys a link between Islam and the oppression of women - and in a further lack of clarity - notes that the murderer Muhammed Bouyeri "was associated with a larger Dutch organisation known as the Hofstad Group, which seems [sic] to have planned a range of other attacks in the Netherlands". It would have been apt to have also noted that Bouyeri had a history of mental illness and had emerged from a psychiatric hospital prior to the act.
The report asserts a "set of core values. These include human rights, the respect for law, legitimate and accountable government, justice, freedom, tolerance and opportunity for all" [Section 7.03]. Elsewhere it states "the duty of all of us - Governments, citizens and communities is to challenge those who, for whatever reason, reject the rights to which we are committed, scorn the institutions and values of our parliamentary democracy,dismiss the rule of law and promote intolerance and discrimination...."[p.87]. These are welcome restatements of the covenant, to which the Government - no less than citizens - will be held to account.
20th April 2009
1st April 2009, Steve Hewitt
1st April 2009, Bob Lambert & Jonathan Githens-Mazer
30th March 2009, Richard Kerbaj
A Government source told The Times: 'The Government is already talking about different ways to engage with the Muslim community instead of just through large organisations. It will deal with regions or trusted individuals. Why do you need to deal with national umbrella bodies?'
The clash between the Government and the MCB coincided with the launch this week of Labour’s new counter-terrorism strategy, Contest 2, aimed at challenging those who condone violent extremism and terror attacks."
30th March 2009, Gary Younge
Last week's launch of the government's new counter-terror strategy, Contest 2, was preceded by Hazel Blears' threat to deny funding to the Muslim Council of Britain because of comments its deputy secretary, Daud Abdullah, made about supporting Palestinians. It shows how these domestic tensions are intertwined with foreign policy".
30th March 2009, www.Sala@m.co.uk
30th March 2009, Karima Hamdan in UmmahPulse
There have been some changes from the pre-launch briefings – the jaw-dropping stupidity of the extremist checklist as detailed in a previous JumahPulse has been quietly dropped after Jack Straw (amongst others) pointed out that not only did it define most Muslims as extremist but the majority of Jews and Christians, especially Catholics – like former PM Tony Blair.
As one may recall, the main problem with the draft version of Contest 2 was the assumption that there was a 'conveyer belt' to terrorism – to put it crudely, up until about a month ago the government officially believed that a Muslim could go from one day thinking that same gender sex is a sin against Allah to the next day strapping bombs beneath their clothing.
It demonstrated an almost frightening lack of understanding of where normal Muslims are coming from. It also showed that there were rather too many briefings of government ministers made by blinkered rightwing pressure groups, namely the Policy Exchange, the Centre for Social Cohesion and the government-funded Quilliam Foundation who all like to peddle their poorly-researched, mediocre 'big idea' namely that following the principles of Islam make one an "Islamist" and thus a threat to society.
Strangely for the government, the attitude that causes it to seek to lecture the Muslim community on its lack of cohesion is not reflected by the hard facts from the government's own research. The Citizenship Survey 2007 found that on the question of community cohesion, 84% of ethnic groups felt that there was good community cohesion compared with 81% of white people with 'little variation in perceptions of cohesion across individual ethnic groups'."
26th March 2009, Seamas Milne
26th March 2009, The Economist
" 'NOT just the methods' of Islamism must be confronted, said Tony Blair after the suicide-bombings in London in 2005, 'but the ideas.'.... The battle of ideas, however, sees ministers less certain and less unified. Britain has sought to prevent violent Islamism by backing faith-based community groups that, however reactionary, stop short of advocating terrorism. Only they have the “street cred” to win over impressionable youths, say advocates of this orthodoxy...A fault-line exists within and between government departments: Jack Straw, the justice minister, backs the status quo; Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears, the home secretary and communities secretary respectively, want to deal with a new cast of characters.
Trailed as a victory for the champions of change, the new strategy, as revealed, strikes many as a hedge. The government will “challenge” rather than proscribe non-violent reactionaries. Even this will be left largely to a panoply of small public-sector bodies and faith-based groups with little central direction. The police will retain a large role—a mistake, says Policy Exchange, a Conservative-leaning think-tank, pointing to the constabulary’s indifference to ideas and focus on short-term security. But the strategy does not make clear whether the state will continue actively to enlist reactionaries in the fight against jihad; some think that ministers will use this latitude to be more discriminating about whom they treat with.
Either way, the struggle within government continues. Ms Blears recently suspended relations with the Muslim Council of Britain, the biggest of the Islamic community groups, after a senior figure allegedly endorsed violence against foreign ships preventing arms from entering Gaza. Labour women, intolerant of Islamist views on gender, make up a disproportionate chunk of those demanding change. Ms Smith and Ms Blears have backbench allies such as Kate Hoey, Ann Cryer and Ruth Kelly (Ms Blears’s predecessor and author of the foreword to the Policy Exchange report, a glimpse of the growing co-operation, often covert, between the reformers on each side of the party-political divide).
25th March 2009, Alan Travis
The dispute, involving a senior government minister and one of the most significant Muslim "umbrella" organisations, coincided with the launch of the Contest 2 counter-terror strategy and illustrated the determination of ministers to challenge radical views that fall short of support for violence but reject and undermine 'our shared values'.
Ministers have pulled back from spelling out a checklist of views that might constitute extremism. Instead, the Home Office strategy document published yesterday opts for a more low-key commitment to challenge those who 'reject parliamentary democracy, dismiss the rule of law and promote intolerance and discrimination on the basis of race, faith, ethnicity, gender or sexuality'..."
25th March 2009, Madeleine Bunting
The counter-terrorism document, Contest, urges engagement and dialogue with the Muslim community to prevent alienation and disaffection taking root, while at the same time Blears seems to have decided to bring to a head a long-running grievance with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an umbrella body for hundreds of mosques and community organisations across the country.
Blears insists that her disagreement with the MCB reflects the key principle within Contest of challenging extremist views. But inevitably the two will be confused by many Muslims as yet another example of how government actions are often at odds with a much more pragmatic rhetoric of collaboration...Since the MCB has never had much funding from government - a few grants for specific projects but no core funding and nothing since 2004 - and since many member organisations will continue to liaise with local authorities on preventing terrorism strategies, Blears's decision is unlikely to have any effect on its work day to day. Some regard this latest outburst from Blears as populist grandstanding in the wake of the recent incident in Luton when a soldiers' parade was heckled by a group of Muslim demonstrators.
But the MCB is confident that in the long term the government will need to re-engage with it."
22nd March 2009, Mail on Sunday
17th February 2009, The Guardian (journalist Vikram Dodd)
Source: The Guardian, 17th Febuary 2009
"As we have rolled out the Prevent strategy and become more effective in challenging extremist ideologies, we have seen a greater challenge from extremist groups who are careful to avoid promoting violence. Instead they cynically skirt the fringes of laws that rightly defend free speech to promote hate-filled ideologies. They may not explicitly promote violence, but they can create a climate of fear and distrust where violence becomes more likely" - her declaration at a speech at the Annual Prevent Conference in December 2008
Secretary of Stage for Communities & Local Government Hazel Blears listed other elements of 'extremism' - "...when it comes to discourse about the nature of what we might call political Islamisms in the plural, it is also clear that we can discern some common threads in that 'far-reaching network of violence and hatred': a belief in the supremacy of the Muslim people, in a divine duty to bring the world under the control of hegemonic Islam, in the establishment of a theocratic Caliphate, and in the undemocratic imposition of theocratic law on whole societies: these are the defining and common characteristics of the disparate strands of this ideology here and around the world." - speech on 25th February 2009 at the LSE
Clearly the Government is venturing into quicksand - do British values not include the encouragement of free speech and argument - within the law? The ministers also sound a bit like high officials of the Spanish Inquisition - seeking to read into people's minds and judging their intentions, and denying legitimacy to certain views. Would Mesdames Smith and Blears be stating where acceptable Shariah ends and unacceptable Shariah beings? At another level, would Christians with strong views on gender and sexuality also be deemed 'extremist' - or is it only Muslims who are prone to this pathology?
The Government's proposals were rapidly interpreted within Muslims circles and elsewhere as a step to far - for example one community paper noted "it would be incomprehensible to brand anyone who advocates a caliphate, promotes Shari'ah law, believes in jihad and argues homosexuality is a sin, as extremists...if the new draft strategy is to be believed, virtually the whole of the Muslim community would be considered as extremists (this is already being put into practice anyway) and will feel alienated" - the Muslim News 27th February 2009
Widening anti-terrorism focus from 'violent extremism' to 'extremism' would just get up people's backs. And what would be the objective tests of what constitutes 'non-violent extremism'? What guidelines would now be issued to local government, educational establishments and other previously neutral public bodies that are unfortunately expected to participate in anti-terrorism measures? Clearly in widening the anti-terrorism agenda from 'violent extremism' to 'extremism' there is a disastrous loss of clarity.
From what has emerged in the public domain, Contest 2 is clearly going to be policy that is very contentious and lacking in credibility. Some key ministers in this Government, while grandstanding on 'shared values', are actually undermining democracy in the UK and promoting intolerance.
This was in response to an invitation sent out by the Muslim Council of Britain, that outlined some of the issues causing concern:
The MCB Secretary General noted that "the MCB would be failing in its duty if it did not seek the advice of our own respected ulama and activists on such matters and provide a message of solidarity to the community."
The representative of the Lancashire Council of Mosques indicated that his body had decided not to accept PVE funding. Mufti Aslam urged participants to remain focussed on issues relevant to the UK; Mrs Zareen Ahmed urged for a measured response from the community on Contest 2.
Community responses - 25th March 2009: The Muslim Council of Britain is to hold a public meeting of representatives of British Muslim organisations on Saturday 28th March 2009 (11 AM -2:00 PM) at the Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque (Regents Park), London to discuss the attempts led by the some Government Ministers to try and undermine the independence of the Muslim Council of Britain, the UK's largest Muslim umbrella body.
"How to alienate Muslims even more" by Kawsar Zaman - 30th May 2009: " The government's Contest 2 strategy has achieved unequivocal condemnation from Muslim leaders across the spectrum for its baseless approach. It criminalises that which is perfectly legitimate and within the confines of the law. Suspicion about the real motives of our government has spread deep into the Muslim community and particularly affects those most vulnerable to radicalisation, young Muslims, who are, at present, facing an identity crisis."
Source: The Guardian, 30th May 2009
"Conversations with Muslim Community leaders in Redbridge about the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) agenda", report of the Redbridge Faith Forum - April 2009: Some of the biggest concerns of Muslims community leaders both in the interviews and from email newsletter sources were about the newly announced government’s Contest2 Programme.
One leader of a Mosque said: "We are very worried, following the Panorama programme on 16.2.09 about Contest2, that people’s civil liberties and freedom of speech are being undermined by the new Contest2, which tackles extremism [not just violent extremism]. I am absolutely dumbfounded, shocked and flabbergasted by this. We fear the British government is dictating what a religion can believe in".
"In my mind Contest2 is interlinked to PVE in the overall strategy. My God, what’s happening here? If Contest2 is rolled out, there's a fear that lots of Muslims will be labelled as extremists. The government is defining what is halal/haram for Islam (– eg over homosexuality). Who is the government to say that"?
"We fear that Contest2 will increase extremism and drive it underground. So PVE has raised suspicion. Context2 cuts the democratic option. Contest2 tries to say how Islam will be –If I speak out about Palestine I will be labelled an extremist. That itself will stimulate extremism in others".