In a first for a Western country, the UK leader clearly named the problem of Islamist extremism as distinct from, but related to, Islam.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron gave a landmark speech recently, on Islamist extremism, naming, for the first time, the root cause behind international terrorism.
He told the audience at a school in Birmingham, “This is what we face – a radical ideology – that is not just subversive, but can seem exciting; one that has often sucked people in from non-violence to violence; one that is overpowering moderate voices within the debate and one which can gain traction because of issues of identity and failures of integration.”
This is the first time a Western leader has names Islamist extremism specifically as the problem and terrorism merely as a symptom of the ideology.
He said, “No-one becomes a terrorist from a standing start. It starts with a process of radicalization. When you look in detail at the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offenses, it is clear that many of them were first influenced by what some would call non-violent extremists.”
These include groups like the Egypian Muslim Brotherhood, founded in 1928 by Nazi sympathizer Hassan al-Banna, Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Pakistani-based Jamaat e-Islami, all of which peddle a soft Islamism which shares the goals of groups like the Islamci State (ISIS) but differ in methodology.
In the USA, Muslim Brotherhood front groups including the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) all play the part of non-violent extremist groups.
All of these organizations condemn the Islamic State, but as Cameron noted, so does Al-Qaeda. “We can’t let the bar sink to that level," he stated. "Condemning a mass-murdering, child-raping organization cannot be enough to prove you’re challenging the extremists.”
He attacked the false narrative that grievances are the root cause of Islamist extremism, correctly noting that “it’s groups like ISIL, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram that are the ones murdering Muslims.”
Although he acknowledged that British and Western foreign policy isn’t perfect and that poverty in Muslim communities is an issue, he correctly highlighted that “We could deal with all these issues – and some people in our country and elsewhere would still be drawn to Islamist extremism.”
The Prime Minister stated, “We must be clear. The root cause of the threat we face is the extremist ideology itself.”
Cameron also addressed the problem of integration of Muslim in the UK, which fuels Islamist extremism. “We have to confront a tragic truth that there are people born and raised in this country who don’t really identify with Britain – and who feel little or no attachment to other people here. Indeed, there is a danger in some of our communities that you can go your whole life and have little to do with people from other faiths and backgrounds,” he said.
This is particularly acute in some Muslim communities like Tower Hamlets, where disgraced ex-mayor Lutfur Rahman operated, in the Prime Minister’s words, with “political corruption on an epic scale, with voters intimidated and a court adjudicating on accusations of ‘undue spiritual influence’ for the first time since the 19th century.”
But the Prime Minister broadened the scope of the government’s counter-extremism strategy to tackle all the interrelated issues that form a part and parcel of the Islamist ideology. He highlighted the pervasive anti-Semitism which runs through the Islamist ideology and called out people who only partially oppose Islamism.
He spoke about sharia law courts in the UK, the role of non-violent hate preachers like Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada, female genital mutilation, the Trojan Horse scandal (where Islamists conspired to take over British schools) and the child sex-abuse scandal in Rotherham (in which over 1,600 girls were systematically raped over a 10-year period by Pakistani grooming gangs).
He also called out the recalcitrance of authorities who have been slow to act to curb extremism due to fears of being called racist.
Cameron bluntly said, “This has got to stop.”
Critically, he said, “Simply denying any connection between the religion of Islam and the extremists doesn’t work, because these extremists are self-identifying as Muslims. The fact is from Woolwich to Tunisia, from Ottawa to Bali, these murderers all spout the same twisted narrative, one that claims to be based on a particular faith. Now it is an exercise in futility to deny that.”
Importantly, he said that Islam is not the issue, rather, this extremist ideology which identifies itself as the only legitimate arbiter of Islam is the issue.
“Our new approach is about isolating the extremists from everyone else, so that all our Muslim communities can be free from the poison of Islamist extremism,” he stated.
Clarion Project has covered all of these issues in the past and long stressed the interconnected nature of the ideology, terrorism, anti-Semitism, abuse of women and children and the like. We also advocate the same solution proposed by Cameron, who said, “We’re now going to actively encourage the reforming and moderate Muslim voices.”
Clarion has conducted many interviews with Muslim (and non-Muslim) human rights activists who are fighting for reform in Muslim communities.
We have also covered the work of women’s rights activists who are fighting for equal rights in Muslim communities worldwide. Our latest film, Honor Diaries, focused on women’s rights activists from communities where honor violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation are rampant.
We also catalogue progressive Muslim organizations whose work has a positive impact fighting for human rights and against the Islamist ideology.
Indeed, one of these groups, the Quilliam Foundation, was influential in the writing of the Prime Minister's speech and has been at the forefront of the struggle against Islamism in the UK.
Co-Founder of Quilliam Maajid Nawaz, himself formerly a member of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, said of the speech, “The Prime Minister made a giant leap for UK counter-extremism.”
The speech is the precursor to the unveiling of the British government’s Counter-Extremism Policy in the autumn.