This week, the British Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government wrote a letter to Muslim leaders in Britain urging them to do more to combat radicalisation. This article is a response to the letter.
Dear Rt Hon Pickles and Lord Ahmad,
Peace be upon you too, or, Waalaykum Asalam.
Thank you for your letter to Muslims living in Britain.
In this difficult climate, where violence and extremism has been testing bonds of inter-communal harmony and tolerance, your letter reaching out to us means a lot. In particular, we appreciate that you acknowledge that “acts of extremism are not representative of Islam”. We also wholeheartedly agree that “there is more work to do” and that “integration and radicalisation cannot be solved from Whitehall alone. Strong community-based leadership at a local level is needed”.
We share your concerns: we are also alarmed and concerned about the rise of fundamentalism and extremism within the Muslim community. The Paris incident shocked Muslims as much as it shocked non-Muslims. As a religious community, we fully recognise that if individuals within our community are inciting hatred or depriving others of rights — whether that be the right to life, to freedom of expression, to speech or any other right — we as leaders and indeed the community must help discourage such actions, in particular by persuading youth vulnerable to commit such acts to refrain from them and express their disagreements in peaceful ways.
Yet, we cannot do this without your help. Indeed, until you share our burden and take concrete steps to defeat the root causes of radicalisation, I am afraid we will just be pointing fingers at each other and will achieve little. That is, the challenges of radicalisation cannot be solved in mosques alone; the British government has a much larger role to play than you seem to acknowledge.
Let me explain.
As experienced British politicians, you must know that in order to persuade anyone to do anything differently, one must have credibility. That is, we must not come across as Janus-faced or hypocritical when we talk about “values” and “rights”.
And therein lies the problem.
British politicians and government continually deploy the rhetoric of ‘British values’, ‘human rights’ and ‘freedoms’ internationally to do precisely what the extremists do; that is, ‘destroy’ the freedoms of those who look or talk and believe differently to us. Britain has violated international norms and human rights on multiple occasions. Indeed, we have seen terrible things committed in the name of ‘British’ or ‘Western’ values. Such actions are an affront to the greatness of Britain.
How then can we persuade others that we are serious when it comes to, as you say, “free speech, the rule of law and democracy”?
Here is what we think you can do to change things. You, as persons in power in Britain, are in a unique position in British society. You have a precious and historic opportunity, and an important responsibility. We believe that together we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British values and demonstrate that we actually believe our own rhetoric about rights and that we will not apply them selectively and with discrimination.
Accordingly, we have a few simple suggestions.
First, you must assure us that you will not drag Britain or its values down by continuing to invade weaker countries in the name of ‘self-defence’ causing immense destruction. Around 350,000 people have been killed by the wars started by Britain and its ally, the United States, since 2001 alone. At the very least, 174,000 of these were civilians who never attacked nor harmed Britain. You may craft interesting theoretical arguments to justify why British violence was somehow different or justifiable; you may say that the attacks of 9/11, which killed around 2,753 innocent people motivated these “necessary” invasions but that is precisely the kind of causal logic that terrorist groups deploy to justify attacks against British or Western interests; the difference lies in their choice of words — they use the rhetoric of ‘Islam’ and you invoke the rhetoric of ‘Western values’. The bottom line does not lie: 174,000 innocent people have been killed. Simply because we do not see 350,000 dead or hear their stories on television does not erase the enormous magnitude of destruction that Britain has participated in.
Next, you must promise us that Britain will not aid or abet or participate in illegal and aggressive wars: yes, by this, we mean Iraq; it was not so long ago that a government of Britain acted in concert with George W Bush to invade a country that had not attacked any other country, on false pretexts, such as the existence of “weapons of mass destruction” or because, as Tony Blair felt “Saddam was a “monster”. Today, Iraq is a broken country with hundreds of thousands of families devastated. Can you promise that Britain will never again take actions that tear a country apart and rob people of the right to life?
Moving on, you must put systems in place so that Britain does not continue to violate or help others violate humanitarian law. Will you commit that Britain will never again help other countries (by for example, providing intelligence) or act on its own, in bombing and killing women and children as they sleep or attend weddings and funerals several thousand miles away from the British border, through drone attacks or otherwise?
We know European lives matter, but so do the lives of children and women in Pakistan. The United States says it miraculously only targets the guilty, but surely we in Britain do not believe in being judge and executioner on such a large scale?
Further, it is now common knowledge that “in recent years a number of people who have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco and elsewhere have alleged that UK officials knew of their ill-treatment and not only did nothing to prevent it but actively assisted their abusers”. Can you promise that Britain will not be complicit in violating the right not to be tortured or engage in ‘extraordinary rendition’ again?
We must also not be two-faced when we talk about the ‘rule of law’ and ‘free speech’ whilst quietly aiding regimes abroad that believe in the precise opposite of such values: one need not look any further than the Middle East to see how Britain beds itself with regimes that have little regard for “British values”, lest we forget that the “monster” Blair referred to (Saddam) was a friend of Britain, even as he gassed the Kurds. Indeed, “£2.35billion of loans [were] handed out to foreign … countries much of [which] has been spent on British-made arms, which are then used to control citizens of repressive regimes.”
Finally, in the same way that Muslims in Britain have been asked to identify vulnerable persons who are at risk of radicalisation, it is only fair that you do precisely the same by invoking the rule of law and punishing those in positions of power who ended up wrecking countless non-European lives and countries.
We are confident that if we together work by taking steps to truly and visibly signal that freedom and human rights matter, we can be successful and treat the cancer of ideological radicalism and overcome those who wish to spread war and destruction, whether in the name of ‘Islam’ or the ‘West’.
We welcome your thoughts, ideas and initiatives on how to ensure that Britain’s true message of peace triumphs over those who have tortured British values in recent times.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd, 2015.