Journalist, Producer & Researcher

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Britain Could Really Use its Own Version of 'All-American Muslim'

In November, American television network TLC launched a new reality show entitled ‘All-American Muslim.’
The eight-part series follows five Muslim American families living in Dearborn, Michigan in the United States. The show aims at removing the stereotypes surrounding American Muslims by offering an intimate look at the customs and celebrations, misconceptions and conflicts these families face outside and within their own community.

From a high school football coach to working mothers trying to balance a career and a family, America is finally getting the chance to see what Muslims are like; not as extremists and suicide bombers but as normal human beings.

‘All-American Muslim’ Controversy

The show recently sparked enormous controversy after American home improvement giant, Lowe’s, pulled advertising space from the show because a group who call themselves the Florida Family Association did not like Muslims to be seen as normal human beings.

Despite this setback, the show gained popularity and hundreds have joined the campaign to support the show and condemn Lowe’s for supporting bigotry.

Could, perhaps, British television do with a similar show, depicting the lives of British Muslims as normal human beings integrating into British society?

British Media’s portrayal of Muslims is almost always negative

From the rise of the far-right to articles posted in the Daily Mail and The Sun, Muslims are often always portrayed by the British media in a negative light. If Muslims are not extremists, they’re dangerous, oppressed or secluded from society. One has to merely switch on any British soap opera from Eastenders which shows a Muslim man shunned by his family for being gay to Waterloo Road where you see a Muslim teenager going against her religion by dating a non-Muslim. British television shows either depicts Muslims as oppressed, going against Islam or struggling to fit in. Even in government, one just has to look at British counter-terrorism policy where the focus remains on Muslims needing to integrate.

But in reality, the majority of British Muslims are just like every other British citizen out there. Just like how ‘All-American Muslim’ shows us a Deputy Chief of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office working to keep his country safe, a U.S Federal Agent, a trendy female entrepreneur trying to open a nightclub and working mothers trying to balance a job and a family, there are numerous British Muslims going through similar experiences. Just as Americans were shocked to see Muslims contributing to American society by being employed, educated and down-to-earth, British Muslims also play a major part in British society; as doctors, nurses, civil servants, entrepreneurs, beauticians, lawyers, housewives and much more.

But the British Media doesn’t portray this. Instead, from current affairs to films and television shows, we see Muslims involved in honour killings, domestic violence, protests and suicide bombings. When it comes to Islam and Muslims on British television, there always has to be some sort of political stance attached to it.

As a result, Islamophobia has been escalating across Britain. An article published by The Independent, showed that since 9/11, some 40% to 60% of the mosques, Islamic centres and Muslim organisations in the UK have suffered at least one attack. The Metropolitan Police have also confirmed a record number of hate crimes towards Muslims. ‘‘Islamophobia has passed the dinner-table test and has become widely socially acceptable in Britain,’’ according to Baroness Warsi, the Conservative chairman.

Muslim accessibility to media

Let’s also not forget the barriers faced by Muslims and ethnic minorities to even make it in the media industry. A report published by the Guardian, showed that ethnic minorities, particularly women, are underrepresented by mainstream British media outlets. There are over 2 million Muslims living in Britain making up 4.6% of the population. How diverse and normal would it be to turn on BBC news or ITV news and see a Muslim woman wearing the headscarf giving the weather news or even reporting on a football match?

‘All-American-Muslim’ has been eye-opening for Americans resulting in American viewers expressing comments such as ‘‘they’re just like us’’ and ‘‘I like Muslims now.’’

A series similar to this depicting British Muslims working, living and dealing with everyday issues could be one solution in countering Islamophobia and removing the stereotypes surrounding Muslims. It could also be financially rewarding with a possible 2 million Muslim viewers tuning in.

TLC was brave enough to undertake such a venture. I wonder which British mainstream media outlet will follow? BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5…we’re all waiting.

First Published by Suite101
Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Midlands Mosque Vandalised on Remembrance Day

A Midlands mosque was vandalised on the morning of Armistice Day in what is suspected to be a hate crime.
The Masjid-E-Umar in Darlaston, West Midlands was vandalised on the morning of Remembrance Day in what is suspected to be a hate crime in retaliation against the fifty Muslim individuals who took part in burning poppies on Remembrance Day 2010.

The attack occurred between the hours of 7:30am and 11:00am. The suspects were said to have jumped over the locked gates and spray painted a graffiti image of a poppy on the mosque door with the text ‘‘Burn this one’’ to signal the mosque as a supporter of the poppy burning incident.

In 2010, to commemorate Remembrance Day, fifty individuals under a now banned extremist group Muslim Against Crusades, took part in b
urning poppies near Albert Hall in London causing disruption.

CCTV was in operation outside the mosque but no footage of the perpetrators had been captured.

Police arrived on the scene shortly after 12pm and patrolled the area for the remainder of the day. The graffiti was removed but the mosque door was damaged.

This isn’t the first time that the Darlaston mosque has been attacked. Two years ago, an attacker spray painted racist words on the mosque but was caught on CCTV and received community service. And following the London 7/7 bombings, a brick was thrown at the mosque leaving permanent damage to the building.

A Darlaston community member said that the racists who attacked the mosque were ignorant as they ‘‘are over 2 million Muslims in the UK, how can they blame the actions of fifty people to be the beliefs of 2 million?’’ Another community member expressed her thoughts on the attackers, “they have no understanding or respect for any religion,” she said. “This is a place of worship. We live in a multicultural society. We have to respect each other. That’s what it means to be British.”

Other Attacks on Mosques

Similar attacks on mosques throughout the UK have been occurring, some even more violent than the one at Masjid-E-Umar. In July 2011, a Luton mosque was
attacked in the early hours of the morning. The attackers broke the mosque windows and sprayed graffiti on the walls.

At the Redbridge Islamic Centre, an
incident was reported where attackers shouted racial abuse and threw bricks at the building while worshippers were inside, injuring one man.

Following from the deadly hit-and-run of three Muslim men in Birmingham, in the wake of the 2011 riots, several mosques in Birmingham
received a number of threats.

Original reporting conducted by Reyhana Patel and published by Suite101.

Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
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Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Banning Extremist Groups: Productive or Counter-productive?

The Home Office's decision to ban Muslim Against Crusades is counter-productive and will have little effect on curbing the group's activities

On Friday November 11th 2011, British Home Secretary, Theresa May, banned extremist group Muslims Against Crusades (MAC) on the grounds of glorifying terrorism, which is an offence under the Terrorism Act. The decision to ban the group came as an attempt to prevent a repeat of last year’s Remembrance Day disruptions, when fifty individuals of MAC took part in burning poppies near Albert Hall in London clashing with far-right extremist group, the English Defence League (EDL).

The Blair government introduced the ‘glorification principle’ into the Terrorism Act 2006 granting Home Secretaries the power to ban groups whose expression and conduct could be construed as glorifying terrorism.

However, the Home Secretary’s decision has been criticised as one of desperation to counter the intensive negative coverage on the immigration checks fiasco and to avoid a second Armistice Day being marred by poppy burning extremists.

Despite the ban which came into effect from Friday which makes ''membership or support of MAC a criminal offence,'' the ban will have little effect on curbing MAC’s activities.

Is banning extremist groups the way forward in tackling terrorism?

Banning extremist groups whether it is Muslims Against Crusades or the English Defence League is counter-productive and will have little effect on stopping these groups from spreading their hate propaganda and disrupting community relations.

MAC was a renamed successor to already banned groups such as Islam4UK, Al-Muhajiroun and other proscribed organisations where the MAC leader, Anjem Choudary, was active in other ways. All had the same ideology and principles but as each was proscribed, a new group was formed. The same will happen for MAC. It will rebrand itself (if they haven’t already done so) and recommence their activities.

How to deal with extremists

How should the government tackle such groups? Banning groups will not stop its members and sympathisers from continuing with their message. The best way to stop extremist groups is to isolate them, challenge them in a robust and aggressive way and tackle the ideology behind such views.

MAC was given enormous publicity with their poppy burning incident last year which resulted in public outrage from communities across Britain including the Muslim community.

The EDL has been given platforms on mainstream media outlets such as the BBC to express such views.

This publicity will only serve as recruitment tools for these groups as well as motivate them to pursue their cause even further. By ignoring such groups and not allocating them extensive media coverage, you take away the power from them.

Tackling the ideology behind such views and getting down to the root causes of such extremist views is another method to deal with extremist groups. Labour’s Prevent strategy has been somewhat successful in addressing the root problems and the Coalition government’s revised Prevent has promised to tackle the ideology behind such groups to try to eradicate such views.

What about the EDL?

While the ban has been welcomed by many communities across the UK, there have been outcries by members of the British Public as to why only MAC and not the EDL was banned when both preach hate propaganda and values that are ‘un-British.’

Anders Breivik, the man behind the Norway attacks had strong links with the EDL and his motivations to carry out the Oslo attacks were strongly influenced by the ideology behind this far-right group. EDL’s demonstrations have also been known for violence and disrupting peace.

According to an article published by Left Foot Forward, there are also other groups which preach the same message as MAC and no action has been taken by the government to halt their activities.

For instance, Anjem Choudry had been been operating the ‘Centre for Islamic Services’ (CIS) from a building in Whitechapel owned by his big brother (Yazdani ‘Dani’ Choudary) for well over a year . Tower Hamlets council even allowed CIS to advertise in the council ‘East End Life’ paper for several months.MAC has also used the CIS to recruit supporters for their cause.

A crackdown on operations such as these would be productive rather than just implementing a ban on extremist groups.

It appears that the Home Secretary’s motivation to ban Muslim Against Crusades was merely to avoid an unpleasant Remembrance Day 2011 rather than a meaningful step forward in trying to combat extremism.

First Published by Suite101

Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Friday, 14 October 2011

91% Decrease in Use of Terrorism Stop and Search Powers

A report has been released by the Home Office which highlights 2010/2011 statistical information on terrorism arrests; its outcomes and the use of stop and search powers in Britain under the Terrorism Act.

The figures show a 91% decrease in stop and searches under the Terrorism Act but also shows that more than half of those arrested under terrorism offences in 2010/2011 were released without charge.

Here are some of the key statistics of the report:

Terrorism Arrests and Outcomes 2010/2011
There were 121 terrorism arrests in 2010/11, down from 178 in 2009/10 and lower than the annual average of 206 since 1 April 2002. Since 11 September 2001, there have been a total of 1,963 terrorism arrests.

Thirty-seven per cent of terrorism arrests in 2010/11 resulted in a charge (45 individuals). Fifty-two per cent of those arrested for suspected terrorism offences were released without charge (63 individuals) and the remaining 11 per cent were dealt with under alternative action (13 individuals).

Forty-two per cent of charges resulting from terrorism arrests in 2010/11 were terrorism-related as compared with 60 per cent since 11 September 2001.

In 2010/11 no individuals were held in pre-charge detention for longer than 7 days. Six people have been held for the then maximum period of 28 days, since the extension of the pre-charge detention period in 2006. The maximum period for pre-charge detention was reduced to 14 days on 25 January 2011.

All three of those individuals arrested and prosecuted in 2010/11 for terrorism related offences were convicted. 

Thirteen defendants were awaiting trial as at 31 March 2011.

As at 31 March 2011, 119 persons were in prison custody for terrorist-related offences in Great Britain, of whom 22 were classified as domestic extremists/separatists. The majority (70%) of persons imprisoned were UK nationals. Since April 2005, 41 per cent of all terrorism suspects arrested were recorded by the police as of Asian ethnic appearance. Of these, 22 per cent were subsequently charged with a terrorism-related offence. For those arrested who were of Black ethnic appearance, 35 per cent were charged, compared with 18 per cent for those who were of White ethnic appearance and 14 per cent for those classified as Other.

Stop and searches under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000/2001
There were 11 stops and searches made under section 44 of the Terrorism Act between 1 January and 31 March 2011 in Great Britain, compared with 14,250 in the corresponding quarter in 2009/10.

Of those stopped and searched under section 44 in 2010/11 the majority defined themselves as White (57%). A further 18 per cent defined themselves as being Asian or Asian British, ten per cent defined themselves as Black or Black British and the remaining four per cent self-classified as being Chinese or other.

In 2010/2011, there were 9, 652 stops and searches made under section 44 for the Terrorism Act 2000, 91% lower than the 102, 504 searches in 2009/10.

These latest figures will be welcomed by many as it shows a decrease in Asians and Black minorities being discriminated by police under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act.

In January 2011, stop and searches were made illegal by the European Court of Human Rights because of its use in disproportionately targeting Asian and Black ethnic minorities. 

There has also been public outrage at the high percentage of individuals who have been arrested under the Terrorism Act and released without charge.

Published by Suite101

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Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ten Years On: The Silent Victims of 9/11

While we remember those who died as a result of al-Qaeda's actions on September 11th 2001, we must also remember the silent victims of 9/11

Ten years ago, on this very day, terrorists, working for al-Qaeda, hijacked planes and flew them into buildings on American soil. Over 2,000 people in New York, Washington D.C and Pennsylvania died as a result.

In the after-math of 9/11, the Bush and Blair administration responded to the attacks in the exact way al-Qaeda wanted…fighting fire with fire.

The decision to take down the Taliban by invading Afghanistan and targeting civilians gave al-Qaeda the motivation to further expand and recruit for their cause. As Chris Hedges, former al-Qaeda correspondent for the New York Times points out:

‘‘The language of violence, the language of occupation—the occupation of the Middle East, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—has been the best recruiting tool al-Qaeda has been handed.’’

Al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups have always used western intervention as a justification for their actions. Invading Iraq only built that momentum as al-Qaeda tried to establish an ‘America Hates Muslims’ message to those under attack.

While we remember with great sadness, those 2,982 victims who died on September 11th 2001, we must also remember the silent victims of 9/11.

The Silent Victims of 9/11

Since the United States commenced military action in Iraq, over one million Iraqis have been killed and over 4, 000 (officially acknowledged) U.S military personnel have been sacrificed. Over 5,000 Iraqis have been killed in terrorist attacks alone. This is more than those killed in the United States on September 11th 2001.

While it is impossible to determine the number of civilian deaths in Afghanistan, it is estimated that this figure could also be well into the millions and thousands for military personnel. These figures are increasing everyday.

The cost of revenging 9/11, believe it or not, has now reached an estimated $1,247,603,518,251 USD.

We must also remember the victims of the ‘war on terror.’ People like Jean Charles de Menezes who was shot by British police for ‘looking’ like a suicide bomber; those who were awaken in the early hours of the morning by police searching their homes and the hundreds of others across the world who have been innocently accused of being involved in terrorism.

Let’s also not forget the hundreds of innocent inmates who were and are still held, some tortured, in Guantanamo Bay. A document published by Wikileaks showed that hundreds of Guantanamo detainees are merely innocent Afghans or Pakistanis, including drivers, farmers and chefs who were illegally charged for offences relating to terrorism and placed in Guantanamo Bay.

Victims of al-Qaeda

While the stereotype has always been that western countries are the only victims of al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, this is far from the case. Muslims are actually the main victims of al-Qaeda’s deadly terrorist attacks against the West. According to an article published in the Washington Times, in 2004 to 2008, only 15 percent of the 3,010 victims killed in al Qaeda-related attacks were Western. And in 2006 to 2008, only 2 percent (12 of 661 victims) were from the West, and the remaining 98 percent of those killed were inhabitants of countries with Muslim majorities.

While many of us around the world attend and watch memorial services or express our condolences to those who were killed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, we too must remember those million plus who have also been victims of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks. They also deserve their two minutes of silence.

First Published by Suite101

Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The English Defence League-The new wave of extremism in Britian

Clampdown on Britain's far-right movement the English Defence League is needed before Britain witnesses an Anders Breivik style attack.

As the news emerged that the man behind the Oslo attacks was Anders Breivik, a Christian, Norwegian right-wing extremist, hundreds across the world immediately expressed their shock and wonder as to what led Breivik to commit such acts.

As it was discovered that Breivik had links and was influenced by Britain’s most notorious far-right movement, the English Defence League (EDL), discussions and attention turned to the EDL and right-wing extremism as policy-makers and politicians assured the public only a minority of individuals in Britain hold such views.

However, this is far from the case. Shockingly enough, a large percentage of British individuals hold similar views on Islam and are sympathetic to the EDL’s cause.

The English Defence League (EDL)

The EDL is a far-right street protest movement which burst into the scene in 2009. The group which claims to oppose Islamist extremism have been at the forefront of damaging cohesion in communities across Britain. Although the EDL have stated that they’re against Islamist extremism and not Islam, their protests and targets have been areas where there are large populations of Muslims. Members of the EDL have also been involved in creating public disorder by attacking mosques and inciting fear and hatred in communities across Britain.

Sympathy for the EDL?

I grew up outside Britain. My first professional employment in England was in an administrative role in a very multicultural environment. It astonished me to find that many people had limited knowledge on other cultures and religions other than their own, particularly Islam and Muslims.

As I discovered more about the EDL, I was even more astonished to find that a lot of young individuals considered this organisation to be part of British culture and were sympathetic to their views and actions. As I dug deeper to gain some understanding as to why anyone could hold such views (I was under the impression that British people had a high level of tolerance for diversity and Islam), I realised their influence was coming from media outlets such as the Daily Mail and The Sun which have been strong adherents of the anti-Islam movement in Britain.

The Poppy burning event that took place on Remembrance Day 2010 by thirty Muslim individuals, under an extremist group Muslim Against Crusaders, resulted in my Facebook page being filled with anti-Islam posts such as “Muslims go home,’’ ‘‘Muslims if you don’t like our country, go back to your own,’’ ignoring the fact that half of those involved in the poppy burning demonstration in London were a tiny minority and probably born and bred in Britain. Where could they go home to exactly?

But it wasn’t just my Facebook page that I was seeing such comments. An article posted shortly after the incident , showed that approximately 240, 000 UK Facebook users posted bigotry comments in response to the incident such as ‘‘rageheads Pakis,’’ ‘‘filthy Muslims’’ and “save a poppy burn a Muslim.’’ These were read and reposted by hundreds worldwide.

Tolerance and Diversity

Not all British people hold such views. There are a lot of people who believe in diversity, freedom of speech and share the principles of tolerance and multiculturalism. Sadly enough, I’ve found that those who don’t are usually from deprived communities, uneducated and ignorant to the extent that they’ve relied on right-wing media outlets to understand Islam and Britain.

While these individuals may not be extreme enough to attend an EDL demonstration or carry acts such as Breivik, sympathising with the cause is enough for politicians and law enforcement officers to be worried. As Mathew Goodwin, a researcher into right-wing extremism at the University of Nottingham points out:

‘‘The electoral rise of far right parties across Europe in recent years has been much noticed. But the far right is also shifting toward a more confrontational, violent strategy. Many militants have concluded that the far right politicians sitting in parliaments across Europe have failed to stop immigration, and that the ballot box cannot stem the growth of Muslim communities. For angry white men such as Breivik, only violence is left.’’

Right-Wing Extremism vs. Islamist Extremism

While over £60m have been spent on combating Islamist extremism under a controversial Preventing Extremism programme, it is time for another £60m to deal with this emerging right-wing extremism threat.

And policy-makers are now realising this as the focus from Islamist extremism and Muslims shifts to right-wing extremism and underprivileged British ‘white’ born youths. Already the ground-breaking Channel project, which has focused on Islamist extremism, has been widely expanded to spot those who may be at risk of being radicalised by groups such as the EDL. According to reporter Sam Chadderton, authorities in Lancashire have been receiving a number of referrals from adults concerning children who may be influenced by right-wing views. And just last week, a 25,000 signature petition has been handed to the Scotland Yard calling for the police to ban an EDL march scheduled to take place the 3rd September in Tower Hamlets, a largely Muslim populated area. Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron has also been at the forefront of condemning the motives of the EDL by labeling its members as ‘sick.’

The £60 million invested into preventing Islamist extremism across Britain may have succeeded to engage and empower Muslim communities to the extent that the threat has now been reduced. However, in the process, the far-right has been allowed to prosper and gain in numbers. It’s now time for counter-terrorism efforts to focus on combating right-wing extremism before Britain witnesses its very own Anders Breivik style attack.

First Published by Suite 101: 

Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication. 

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Britain’s new Preventing Extremism strategy…. will it work the second time around?

Britain's new Preventing violent Extremism policy fails to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim community...again.

Earlier this month, the coalition government published the long-awaited overhaul of the Prevent policy aimed at combating home-grown terrorism.

Developed in the wake of the 7/7 bombings, Prevent is one of the four strands of the British government’s counter-terrorism policy known as CONTEST. Under the Prevent scheme, over £80m has been distributed to local authorities, police, community organizations and youth groups to tackle radicalization, mainly amongst Muslim women and youth.

Despite some of its successes, the policy has been criticized as alienating Muslim communities through its focus on integration and cohesion. Upon taking office in 2010, the coalition government ordered an immediate review into Prevent.

While this new government had the opportunity to act upon the mistakes of the previous Prevent policy, it appears once again the revised anti-terror policy will also alienate those most needed to engage in the fight against extremism.

The Revised Prevent Policy

The Prevent strategy has now been broken down into three objectives:

  1. respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism
  2. prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure that they are given appropriate advice and support; and
  3. work with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalization.
The Highlights of the Prevent Review

  • Community cohesion activities and work surrounding extremism will be separated, the former overseen by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
  • Funding will be prioritized according to risk rather than demographics. 25 local authorities have already been identified as high risk areas. However while this is an improvement, a more realistic approach would be to have local authorities identify their own threat and risk.
  • Prevent will tackle both violent and non-violent extremists. The government is only committed to working with those organizations that support mainstream British values. These being values of universal human rights, equality before the law, democracy and full participation in British society.
  • Prevent has been expanded to tackle all forms of extremism such as right-wing. This will be modified as the threat changes. However, as al-Qaeda inspired terrorism is still the greatest threat to national security, this form of extremism will have top priority at present.
  • Police-community work will be enhanced in terms of security. The previous Prevent strategy has been successful in building policy-community relationships. Whether this should be carried out through a counter-terrorism framework rather than a community cohesion agenda is questionable.
  • Channel Project will remain. The Channel project has been successful in identifying vulnerable individuals and driving them away from extremist views.
  • The concept of integration and ‘Britishness’ will once again be a focus for Prevent, but not the sole objective.
  • Government is committed to working with key sectors such as charities, health centers and social services to support vulnerable individuals. This will involve asking doctors and teachers to covertly ‘spy’ on patients and students to identify those vulnerable to fall into extremist ideology.
  • Harsher measures to combat radicalization via the internet. This will involve identifying and getting rid of materials which are considered ‘extreme.’
  • The issues of foreign policy have been sidelined.
  • More research into radicalization is to be carried out overseas. While this has its benefits, research carried out inside Britain’s communities would be more beneficial to assessing home-grown radicalization.
  • Evaluation procedures into Prevent projects and funding will be enhanced.
Winning the Hearts and Minds of Britain’s Muslims

While some positive things have come out of this 116 page review, David Cameron has missed his opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim community.

Under the revised Prevent, there is muddled thinking about those who have ‘Islamist’ views and politically active Muslims who are inspired by Islam.

Should individuals whose ideas are extreme but not illegal be alienated? Should Muslims who believe in Sharia law be considered potential extremists? As believing in Sharia law is an obligation in Islam, would that leave the entire Muslim population to be non-violent extremists?

This leaves the policy of categorizing moderate Muslims from those who hold extreme views to continue as Britain tries to instill a moderate version of Islam within Muslim communities.

There are also numerous projects which have been able to help combat terrorism whose funding has been axed because they do not uphold mainstream British values. Such examples include the STREET project which has been successful at keeping vulnerable Muslim youth away from terrorism.

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), an umbrella organization for student Islamic societies, has been singled out as an organization which supports extremism. This is very hypocritical considering FOSIS have been at the forefront of confronting Islamist extremism in the form of lectures and debates, one which was recently held at the University College London and attended by many individuals who are involved in the delivery and implementation of Prevent.

Even though the coalition government has indicated its opposition to spying on Muslim communities, under this new Prevent, local institutions would be asked to identify those most at risk of posing a threat. And since the greatest threat at present to British national security is al-Qaeda inspired terrorism, Muslim individuals will be targeted.

The Reactions to the Prevent Review

No surprise, in the days following the review, many organizations and individuals has condemned this new strategy to be a total failure and a further alienation of Muslim communities.

It appears that once again government has not widely consulted with those who seek the knowledge and expertise to effectively offer a more realistic approach to combat extremism.

While the revised strategy has made some general improvements, such as separating mainstream community cohesion work from preventing extremism work and continuing funding for successful projects, its integration approach to ‘Britishness’ and expanding and targeting non-violent extremists is counter-productive.

Looking to the future for Cameron and Clegg

In the months ahead, the coalition government will have to carefully outline how Prevent will be delivered and implemented in order for it to be somewhat of a success. The issue at stake is how to successfully deliver this strategy without stigmatizing Muslim individuals. This will be difficult to establish considering the focus remains on Muslim individuals.

Home Secretary Theresa May indicated that ‘‘the Prevent policy inherited from the previous government was flawed’’ The revised Prevent policy has told us nothing new. It is just as confusing and unclear on how to combat extremism.

It appears that David Cameron has won this battle in Whitehall with his vision of tackling terrorism at the forefront of this revised policy. One has to wonder though, where is Nick Clegg in all of this?

First Published by Suite101. Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Does Osama Bin Laden's Death Signal the End of Al Qaeda?

Osama bin Laden's death is not the end of al-Qaeda and it is not by far the end of terrorism.

Hundreds of people have been seen celebrating across the world this week. The majority are American people who can finally bring closure to what happened on 9/11. Many across the world think the war on terror is over. Some are breathing a sigh of relief, thinking airport security checks are in the past and the war in Afghanistan is finished, while others are expressing their concerns over his death and building up conspiracy theories.

Al-Qaeda is not dead

While many are so eager to believe Osama bin Laden’s death is the end of al-Qaeda and terrorism, this is far from the case. Since 9/11, al-Qaeda has been overly exaggerated by western governments and media to be major players in the global network of Islamist extremism. The truth is al-Qaeda as a group is merely a brand. Its goal is to revive the Islamic Caliphate by taking down Muslim governments and replacing them with Islamic states. This ideology existed long before al-Qaeda; bin laden has simply made this ideology globally known and attracted supporters through 9/11.

His death is not the end of this ideology and it is not by far the end of Islamist extremism. He leaves behind a core set of followers who will continue to see him as a martyr and eagerly follow in his footsteps.

In his address to the nation confirming bin Laden’s death, President Obama promised to continue to work to dismantle al-Qaeda’s network. Even if this is accomplished, the ideology of al-Qaeda will continue to exist until the root causes of the problem are addressed.

Root Causes of Extremism

The root causes are occupation and oppression. For years now, the Middle Eastern people have suffered at the hands of western intervention and dictatorships. Battered by years of corruption, poverty, unemployment and oppression, Islamist groups have become an outlet for civilians, particularly the youth, to express their anger and take action. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan administered by George Bush and Tony Blair has only further served as a major recruitment tool for al-Qaeda. According to Chris Hedges, former al-Qaeda correspondent for the New York Times , Bush and Blair’s response to 9/11 was exactly what al-Qaeda wanted. The decision to take down the Taliban gave al-Qaeda a motivation and reason to recruit for their cause. Al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups have always used western intervention as a justification for their actions. As a result, there exists today, affiliates of al-Qaeda scattered all across the world wanting and hoping to achieve something as major and disastrous as bin Laden.

While the world continues to think the war on terror is over, al-Qaeda’s ideology, with or without bin Laden will still continue. Until the root causes of the problems of extremism are finally addressed by western governments, only then can anyone say terrorism is being combated.


Clarke, Richard. ‘‘ Bin Laden’s Dead. Al-Qaeda is not” The New York Times. 2 May 2011.

Burke, Jason. ‘‘What is Al-Qaeda?’’ The Guardian. 13 July 2003.

First published by Suite101

Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Preventing Violent Extremism in the UK: The Next Steps

From differing views on multiculturalism to who government should engage with, there is tension inside the coalition government on how to combat terrorism.

In 2007, the Blair government invested over £140 million into a controversial Preventing Violent Extremism policy to stop people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorist activity. Dubbed Prevent for short, the strategy was launched as a community-led initiative to engage with members of the community to stop them from being influenced into violent extremism. This was supposed to be achieved through partnerships and engagement with Muslim communities. However, the strategy has come under severe scrutiny from human rights organisations, government officials, local authorities, community leaders and politicians as one to be counterproductive and alienating Muslim communities through its focus on Muslims, integration and Islam.

Following the 2011 general election, the coalition government highlighted its commitment to Prevent but ordered an immediate review into the strategy. The review is now four months late because inside government, there is tension on how to revamp this strategy.

David Cameron’s Vision

In his speech at the Munich Security Conference, the PM blamed multiculturalism and a lack of integration by Muslim communities to be the problem for violent extremism and offered identity, integration and cohesion to be integral components of preventing violent extremism in the U.K. He outlined that the previous Prevent strategy’s policy had allocated large sums of money to Muslim groups to address their grievances and this was counterproductive. He also criticised the tactic of working with non-violent extremists, indicating that his government had no intention of engaging with any organisation or group that did not promote integration, human rights and democracy.

Nick Clegg’s Vision

Nick Clegg on the other hand, gave his counterargument in a speech, insisting that multiculturalism was the solution to an ‘‘open, confident, society.’’ He expressed his concern over alienating those groups who did not promote democracy and integration, indicating that engaging with non-violent extremists was integral to preventing all types of extremism. He made reference to the Global Peace and Unity Conference, in which Liberal Democrats took part and David Cameron ordered a boycott claiming some of the speakers at the conference were promoting Islamist extremism.

‘‘You get in and win,’’ the deputy PM insisted. ‘‘The overwhelming majority of the people attending this conference are active, engaged and law-abiding citizens. We don't win people to liberal ideals by giving ourselves a leave of absence from the argument.’’

Looking at Reality

While both Cameron and Clegg are divided on who to engage with and how best to tackle violent extremism, Clegg’s vision offers a more realistic approach. Anyone familiar with the subject would know that establishing partnerships with non-violent extremists is an integral component of preventing violent extremism, whether it is in the form of gathering intelligence or an intervention method to prevent an individual from going down a violent extremism path.

The concept of Prevent is a preventative approach and this involves implementing measures to stop individuals from turning to violent extremism. The previous Prevent strategy has been successful to the extent that it has been able to establish strong partnerships between Muslim communities and local institutions, specifically with the police. This is further supported in a study commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which highlighted that Muslim communities showed a “a higher level of trust and confidence in the police than the general population’’ as a result of the work done by Prevent.

There have also been numerous projects and programmes that have been successful in taking a stand against violent extremism through Prevent funding. Initiatives like the STREET Project associated with Brixton Mosque in South London may not have the same ideologies that Cameron wishes, but they have been at the forefront of denouncing Islamist extremism and have been major players in preventing extremism long before 7/7. Cutting funding for initiatives like these could have devastating consequences within Muslim communities and the strong successful partnerships already established under the previous Prevent programme could collapse leaving a gap in the recruitment process for radical groups.

While the debate continues within the coalition, it is hoped that the deputy prime minister’s vision will form the basis for the new Prevent strategy, rather than Cameron’s vision, which will no doubt turn out to be a step backwards in combating violent extremism.

First published by Suite101:

Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

David Cameron’s speech at the Munich Security Conference- What does it mean for the future of Prevent?

Last Saturday, David Cameron, in his speech at the Munich Security Conference, prompted a nationwide debate on multiculturalism, terrorism and Islam. Many individuals have criticised his speech as counter-productive, an attack on Muslim communities and fuelling right-wing extremism.

No doubt, this speech is almost the introduction to what is to be laid out in the new Preventing violent extremism (Prevent) agenda out very soon. While the PM made some interesting points, he also set out some disturbing strategies to the approach that the coalition government intends to take on tackling violent extremism.

David Cameron was right to indicate that Islam and Islamist ideology are ‘‘two different things,’’ that getting to the root of the problem is the only way to stop radicalisation and that defining ‘moderate’ Muslims in counter-terrorism policy is unacceptable. Like many, I also welcomed the decision to tackle all forms of extremism, whether it being right-wing, Islamist or Irish-related and that terrorism is not linked to a particular religion or ethnic group.

However, Cameron also made some worrying points that are most likely to appear in the revised Prevent strategy. The issue of the current Prevent agenda was that of lumping cohesion and preventing violent extremism work under a counter-terrorism framework. While community cohesion and community development are vital factors in the fight against terrorism, the initiatives under the Prevent agenda that have been successful in leading individuals to reject violent extremism, have mainly been as a result of cohesion work, which many argue could equally be achieved if placed under a cohesion agenda. This was outlined in numerous research studies and it was expected that the coalition government would have separated the two, placing cohesion work under a cohesion framework and focusing Prevent work directly relating to extremism. However, in his address in Munich, Cameron appears to have merged the two together, insisting that identity and cohesion are integral components in preventing violent extremism.

The PM also failed to mention the good work that many organisations with the help of Prevent money have been able to achieve, particularly the significant partnerships established between local institutions and communities. Instead, he emphasised that allocating large sums of money at Muslim communities to address grievances and tackle poverty was not the solution to violent extremism and that ideology and integration were the issues that needed to be addressed.

Another disturbing factor is the decision to completely alienate non-violent extremists and only engage with those organisations that fully adhere to ‘British’ values and support the ‘war on terror.’ Working with non-violent extremists is extremely important, not only to national security, but also for open dialogue and trust to be established between the police and communities. One of the criticisms of the current Prevent agenda was that individuals wanting funding for a project could only do so if they were willing to sign up to a counter-terrorism agenda. Under the PM’s vision, nothing will change as only those who adhere to British values and support counter-terrorism policies can only receive public funding for any kind of project, whether it being cohesion related or directly linked to extremism.

This approach will only drive these movements further underground and create further distrust and alienation of Muslim communities. The most effective way to tackle non-violent views is to openly challenge them in a robust and aggressive way. Alienating non-violent extremists is a dangerous policy and will only serve as a strong recruitment tool for extremist groups, like Al-Qaeda. This is supported in a number of studies including a report published by Demos, which argues that banning non-violent views is counter-productive.

Cameron strongly highlighted that it ‘‘it was time to turn the page on the failed policies of the past.’’ The current Prevent agenda has been critcised as alienating Muslim communities through its focus on Muslim communities, integration and Islam. From this speech, it appears once again, that this new government is taking a similar approach and that Prevent will again mainly focus on these areas with a much more emphasis on Muslims individuals needing to become more ‘British.’ This can only be seen as a step backwards in trying to counter violent extremism.