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Issue 238, Friday 27 February 2009 - 2 Rabi' al-Awwal 1430
New counter-terrorism strategy will mean most Muslims are extremists
It has been an agonising slow realisation, but at least the first signs appear to be emerging of a desperately much-needed shift in the West’s strategy to combat the spectre of terrorism that has paid such a heavy toll on community and international relations in recent years.
Last month, Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, sought to put on record the admission that the so-called “war on terror” as a rallying cry since the September 11 attacks has been a mistake and may have caused “more harm than good.” In an article for the Guardian just ahead of US President, Barack Obama, taking office, Miliband delivered a comprehensive critique of the erroneous starting point of the misconceived strategy, recognising that the West cannot “kill its way” out of the threats it faces.
This month, Security and Counter-terrorism Minister, Lord West, went further in acknowledging for the first time the impact of British foreign policy on radicalism. However, West only blamed the previous Blair Government for failing to recognise the direct link, marking a line in the sand that it had finally been corrected.
He poignantly pointed to the effects of Israel’s latest massacre of Palestinians in Gaza. “There is no doubt that when you see these pictures coming back, that in the mind of people making hate, there is a linkage between the US, Israel and the UK,” he said following the refusal by London and Washington to condemn the wanton destruction of Gaza.
While the hints of a u-turn can only be welcomed, they fall far short of rectifying the dangerously counterproductive nature of a raft of policies that have mistakenly focussed on Islam, mosques, imams, and madrasahs as being the root problem. There are deep-seated political issues and, as the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has warned, many anti-terror measures enacted by the UK as well as the US have seriously undermined international human rights law. It highlighted the lack of adequate safeguards in the use of control orders, the weakness of diplomatic assurances in relation to deportations and “excessive detention without charge.” The panel of legal experts expressed its shock at the extent of the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counter-terrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world. It recommends an urgent review of counter-terrorism laws and policies to prevent serious and permanent damage to fundamental human rights principles.
Following the heels of the ICJ report, former head of MI5 security agency, Dame Stella Rimington, accused the UK Government of exploiting the fear of terrorism to restrict civil liberties. “It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism - that we live in fear and under a police state,” Rimington said. She has also previously been critical of such policies as attempts to extend pre-charge detention for terror suspects to 42 days and the controversial plan to introduce ID cards. The low level of prosecutions under hastily enacted terrorism laws has shown that the existing legal system was already well-equipped to handle current threats. Far worse have been the extraordinary renditions including so-called proscribed interrogation techniques adopted by the US, but which we hope may be coming to an end following Obama ordering the closure of Guantánamo Bay detention camp and a review of ad-hoc tribunals and military trials for terror suspects.
The Muslim News has devoted pages of warnings about the Government’s ill-fated policies and realms of terrorism laws that have the opposite effect in building a more harmonious society. But lessons still appear not to have been learnt with reports that ministers are not only planning to press ahead with its Contest strategy to defeat extremists but is intent on widening the definition of so-called Muslim radicals.
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.
The thrust of the Contest strategy originally put in place in 2003 is to use funding to sponsor Government-compliant groups however unrepresentative they may be. 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 practise anyway) and will feel alienated.
Ministers would be better off not being spoon-fed with prejudicial fare by whoever is being used as advisers. The new counter-terrorism strategy needs to be revisited if we want it to prevent marginalising and radicalising yet more people.
As we go to print eight Muslims who were on their way from Lancashire to join the humanitarian convoy in London heading for Gaza were arrested on M65 motorway under the draconian terror law. It was done in the now familiar dramatic way to get maximum publicity with a helicopter, large number of police cars and M65 closed to traffic. Five were released within 48 hours whilst the other three after six days, all without charge. Interestingly, photos of the arrests were leaked to the media and many believe this was a deliberate attempt to discredit the humanitarian convoy to Gaza as the arrests took place on the eve of the departure of the over 100 vehicles to Palestine. This will only vindicate those who say that the anti terror laws are used not because of terror threat but to target innocent Muslims and for political reasons.
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