Neil Berry is right to fear for his country, particularly its Muslim residents “the upshot of a fresh outbreak of Islamist violence in Britain at a time of acute unease.” In an article posted below, courtesy Khaleej Times, he writes: “Increasingly, young British Muslims have felt that they are being systematically targeted by the security services, and the introduction of spy cameras can only sharpen their sense of Britain as a police state with contempt for Muslim civil liberties. ... it is possible to feel that British state’s discriminatory approach to dealing with the threat of Islamic terrorism is in danger of defeating its own object by exacerbating Muslim alienation and inciting the very Islamic radicalism it is meant to pre-empt.”
British government’s approach may be discriminatory and faulty but what is most worrisome is that Berry has nothing to say about the attitude of the British Muslims themselves. Barring some individuals they are doing next to nothing to fight Islamic radicalism and forestall the next 7/7 whose fallout they should know would decidedly be worse than that of the original incident. They have not yet even accepted the fact that it is they, who acted as the original incubator of Islamic radicalism in late 1970s and ‘80s and so need to do something to stem the rot. Indeed they owe it not only to themselves but to the world at large. Originally inspired by Saudi-exported Petro-dollar Islam and then by Pakistani military dictator General Ziaul Haq’s “Nizam-e-Mustafa”, they organised meetings and international conferences, even so-called Muslim parliaments, to host militants and radicals from around the world to instigate their own youth to take to extremism and obscurantism. Omar Bakri Muhammad-led Al-Muhajiroun could not have succeeded in alienating an entire generation of Muslim youths from the mainstream of British society without popular support from British Muslims themselves.
Media and civil society’s job doesn’t finish with criticising the government of the day: they should also point to the follies and worse of the citizenry, more so in a democracy, in which politicians many a time desist from doing the right thing to curry favour with their vote-banks. British governments, both labour and conservative, have been guilty on this count. Islamic radicalism could probably have been nipped in the bud had they acted in 1970s and ‘80s. By 17 August 1988, the date on which Pakistan President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq passed away, it was already too late. Al-Muhajiroun was proscribed under the UK Terrorism Act 2000 only as recently as 14 January 2010, though an intention to ban was announced in August 2005. Some other similar organisations were banned in 1906. London woke up from its sweet slumber only when the group organised its notorious conference "The Magnificent 19", praising the September 11, 2001 attacks. Bakri himself was allowed to spread his poison till 12 August 2005.
David Cameron’s government may be following a policy that could be “exacerbating Muslim alienation and inciting the very Islamic radicalism it is meant to pre-empt”. But the alienation and radicalism themselves are the British Muslims’ own creation. The very idea of “pre-empting” them now is laughable. Apparently Berry has not lived in the United Kingdom or probably on this planet for several decades. Or do the journalists too have a constituency to appease?
n Sultan Shahin, editor, New Age Islam
Five years after 7/7
By Neil Berry
2 July 2010 Once Britain boasted of being the home of liberty, a haven for refugees. Nowadays it is only too quick to brand refugees as undesirable aliens, especially if they hail from the Muslim world. The other day, the United Kingdom Border Agency unceremoniously deported 42 Iraqi asylum-seekers, manhandling them onto a plane back to Baghdad.
It was an image that contrasted starkly with the way former British Prime Minister Tony Blair presented Britain as the Iraqi people’s staunchest friend, pledging to do everything in his power to help them.
The official British line is that, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Iraq is now much safer than it was; in other words, Iraqis simply have no cause to seek asylum. In truth, the expulsions were dictated by crude domestic politics. If Britain’s new Conservative-dominated Coalition Government led by Prime Minister David Cameron is adopting a tough stance over immigration and asylum-seeking, it is because much British opinion believes that under the former Labour Government Britain effectively ceded control of its borders, extending indiscriminate hospitality to all manner of foreigners, not a few Muslim fanatics among them. For all their vaunted commitment to human rights, the Conservatives’ Coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, do not seem inclined to challenge Cameron’s stance.
In British public discourse, the issues of immigration and asylum-seeking has become inextricably mixed up with national security, and thus with the threat of Islamic terrorism and even indeed the very presence in Britain of Muslims. Britain may now have 14 Muslim MPs and the British Cabinet may now include a Muslim minister in the person of the Conservative lawyer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, yet none of this means that perceptions of Muslims among large swathes of British society are anything less than profoundly negative. According to a YouGov opinion poll published last month, 58 per cent of British people associate Muslims with extremism while 50 per cent identify them with terrorism – statistics that might suggest that many Britons would not greatly mind if whole communities of Muslims were to be ejected from Britain, never mind a handful of Muslim asylum-seekers.
There is no escaping the fact that the 2005 7/7 London bombings carried out by British-born Muslims did lasting damage to the image of Muslims in the eyes of British people. What has made matters immeasurably worse is that British newspapers have consistently nurtured the popular belief that Muslims are at best aliens with unbending views and at worst dangerous fanatics bent on destroying the British way of life.
The tabloid press has indeed done much to entrench popular ignorance about Muslims and Muslim affairs. That many readily assume not only that Iraqi asylum-seekers and others are not genuine but in all probability persons of malign intent stems not least from its remorseless demonisation of Muslims. Yet it is not only the coarser sections of the British media that have failed to explain how Britain’s participation in the Iraq War has contributed to a massive refugee crisis whose consequences are being chiefly borne by Jordan and Syria, while Britain jibes at offering sanctuary to tiny numbers of displaced people.
Britain’s harsh handling of Iraqi asylum-seekers is matched by the inhumanity of its treatment of Muslims who are held in detention on suspicion of plotting terrorism without having been formally charged or given access to the evidence on which they were arrested. (So far as many Islamophobic Britons are concerned, the very fact that a Muslim has been arrested is no doubt sufficient proof of guilt.) What the prevailing anti-Muslim climate has also made possible is the steady transformation of Britain into a high security state preoccupied with surveillance. Britain now has over 4 million CCTV cameras, one for every 14 people. Not without reason, many Muslims are convinced that much of this surveillance is directed at them. Currently there are suspicions that security cameras have been installed in areas of Birmingham not for their declared purpose of deterring crime but specifically to spy on Muslims. For the moment, in deference to the objections of local councillors, the cameras have been de-activated but few doubt that they are part of a counter-terrorist agenda; after all, the body that installed them is being paid out of the ‘counter terrorism budget’ of Britain’s Association of Chief Police Officers.
Increasingly, young British Muslims have felt that they are being systematically targeted by the security services, and the introduction of spy cameras can only sharpen their sense of Britain as a police state with contempt for Muslim civil liberties. Right-wing pundits argue that, given the scale of crime and the palpable threats to national security that it faces, Britain cannot be security-conscious enough and that in any case only those with something to feel guilty about could object to the vast investment in national surveillance and the panoply of repressive legislation that has accompanied it. Yet it is possible to feel that British state’s discriminatory approach to dealing with the threat of Islamic terrorism is in danger of defeating its own object by exacerbating Muslim alienation and inciting the very Islamic radicalism it is meant to pre-empt.
What is perhaps remarkable is that in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings Britain’s social cohesion has not shown more evidence of erosion than it has. If it has remained more or less intact, it is in no small part because the horrors of that fateful day took place in London, a vastly cosmopolitan capital where there was almost certainly more understanding than there would have been in a lot of other places that the terrorists were in no wise representative of the great mass of British Muslims. What, though, would be the upshot of a fresh outbreak of Islamist violence in Britain at a time of acute unease, with the government poised to take drastic emergency action to tackle Britain’s dire economic problems? It must be hoped that that remains an academic question.
Neil Berry is a UK-based writer.