It's no surprise that David Cameron's five year plan to deal with Islamic extremism at home pins all the blame on the Muslim community
In his Birmingham speech about how to get Muslim people to identify with Britain, David Cameron announced nothing but further attacks on Muslims at home and abroad.
Given the Tories' track record it is no surprise that his five year plan to deal with Islamic extremism at home pins all the blame on the Muslim community. Muslims, apparently, have not integrated sufficiently and they have allowed 'extremist voices' to dominate 'within Muslim debate'.
The conclusion? A further clampdown on Muslim's civil livberties is necessary in order to get them to identify more fully with British values of tolerance, democracy and free speech. The argument that 'non-violent extremism' can lead to 'violent extremism' opens the door to Orwellian levels of surviellance and harrasment. Watch out. The world of thought crime is now with us.
Most of the speech was spent denying a connection between 'radicalisation' and Muslim's 'historic grievances'. The reason is simple; not content with demonising domestic Muslim communities, he is trying to clear the way for escalating the bombing campaign against Syria, a campaign it now turns out he has already started in secret and against the will of parliament.
The problem is, all available facts prove his argument wrong. In a passage that incidentally seems to undermine the whole campaign, he tries to make the case that extremism is a permanent problem, that there will always be people 'drawn to Islamist extremism'.
In fact, the level of terrorist activity changes dramatically over time. US State Department figures are startlingly clear. As the War on Terror unrolled, the world witnessed probably the biggest increase in terrorist attacks in history. The number of people killed by terrorist attacks spiralled from a few hundred on average in the years before the War on Terror, to 10,000 in 2007, and it has risen since.
A host of government and academic studies emphasise the importance of the link Cameron is trying to deny. As early as 2004, for example, a UK Foreign and Commonwealth report on young Muslims and extremism:
'It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment amongst Muslims including young Muslims is a perceived ‘double standard’ in the foreign policy of western governments (and often those of Muslim governments), in particular Britain and the US…'
Later in his speech David Cameron seemed to contradict the view that perceptions of foreign policy aren't relevant when he argued that recent British foreign policy had been pro-Muslim. He went on to make the case that it is mainly terrorists that are killing Muslims: 'It’s groups like [Islamic State], al-Qaida and Boko Haram that are the ones murdering Muslims.”
Now it is absolutely true that the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks take place in predominantly Muslim countries. According to one study the five countries with the highest terrorist risk are Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
But these are not just any Muslim countries. These are amongst the very countries torn apart by western occupations, drones and bombs. Terrorism is part of the bitter legacy of the West's wars, something that has heaped misery on peoples already reeling from the impact of 'Operation Enduring Freedom' and associated disasters.
But Cameron's implication that terrorism kills more people, Muslim or other, than recent Western wars is a travesty. Probably the most in-depth study of the impact of the War on Terror suggests that Western military action has led to the death of two million people since 2001. The spread of terrorism is a frightening and gathering disaster, but it hasn't accounted for anything like the level of suffering meted out by the West over the last fourteen years.
Now the government and the military are intent on a major escalation in Britian's involvement in the Middle East. Over the weekend former Chief of the Defence Staff General Richards was talking about the need for tanks and boots on the ground in Syria. Western miltary action against Isis has so far been fruitless. But its not just that escalation will not deal with Isis, it will accelerate the descent of the whole region into chaos, a chaos which is creating the conditions in which Jihadi groups flourish.
A common response is, 'are you saying we should do nothing?' The prevalence of this response, particularly in the media, reflects the fact that the only foreign policy that British administrations seem to be able conceive of is one based on military action.
There are obvious things that could be done. We could stop arming and supporting the most reactionary, repressive and aggressive regimes in the region for example.
We could stop selling weapons to Saudi Arabia which is fighting a devestating war against Yemen, and along with Qatar - another key Western ally - funding Jabhat Al-Nusra, the Al Qaida affiliate in Syria.
We could end our diplomatic, political and military support for Israel whose persecution of the Palestinian people is one of the great sources of bitterness and dsicontent around the region. We could, too, stop supporting the El-Sisi's dictatorship in Egypt which has crushed the hopes of millions in the Middle East and beyond for a popular movemnent for democracy.
These things barely enter the mainstream debate. Indeed, in a sinister turn of phrase, Cameron rejects attempts to link terrorism with the experience of the serial wars as 'grievance justification'. The attacks on the Muslim communities are part of a concerted attempt to sideline serious discussion about consequences, causes or history. In place of rational debate, we are being asked – told in fact – to believe instead that extremism is all about what Muslims do and don't do.
Two years ago, public opinion and opposition to war forced Cameron to say he 'got' that public and parliament were against the war and promise that the government would 'act accordingly'. We now know he was lying. He could hardly not 'get' the way parliament had voted, but he has since authorised British bombing of Syria anyhow.
Now, after ignoring its will, he wants to come back to parliament to get endorsement for an escalation of the bombing of Syria, this time on the opposite side. Once again, the anti war movement needs to step into action.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
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