On July 20, Prime Minister David Cameron outlined his government's plans to counteract Islamic extremism, which he described as the "struggle of our generation."
In a speech before Ninestiles School, in the city of Birmingham, Cameron articulated a view of the Islamist threat that, just a couple of years ago, few else in British politics would have dared to support.
In a report for BBC Radio 4, the journalist John Ware described Cameron's speech, and the government's proposed counter-extremism measures, as "something no British government has ever done in my lifetime: the launch of a formal strategy to recognize, challenge and root out ideology."
Cameron's speech was wide-ranging. It addressed the causes, methods and consequences of Islamist extremism.
(Image source: BBC video screenshot)
We must recognize, Cameron reasoned, that Islamist terror is the product of Islamist ideology. It is definitely not, he argued, "because of historic injustices and recent wars, or because of poverty and hardship. This argument, what I call the grievance justification, must be challenged. ... others might say: it's because terrorists are driven to their actions by poverty. But that ignores the fact that many of these terrorists have had the full advantages of prosperous families or a Western university education."
"Extreme doctrine" is to blame -- a doctrine that is "hostile to basic liberal values ... Ideas which actively promote discrimination, sectarianism and segregation. ... which privilege one identity to the detriment of the rights and freedoms of others." This is a doctrine "based on conspiracy: that Jews exercise malevolent power; or that Western powers, in concert with Israel, are deliberately humiliating Muslims, because they aim to destroy Islam."
People are drawn to such extremist ideas, Cameron argued, because:
"[Y]ou don't have to believe in barbaric violence to be drawn to the ideology. No-one becomes a terrorist from a standing start. It starts with a process of radicalisation. When you look in detail at the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were first influenced by what some would call non-violent extremists.
"It may begin with hearing about the so-called Jewish conspiracy and then develop into hostility to the West and fundamental liberal values, before finally becoming a cultish attachment to death. Put another way, the extremist world view is the gateway, and violence is the ultimate destination."
To counteract the extremist threat, Cameron concludes, the government will "tackle both parts of the creed -- the non-violent and violent. This means confronting groups and organisations that may not advocate violence -- but which do promote other parts of the extremist narrative."
Further, no longer will extremist groups be able to burnish their moderate credentials by pointing to ISIS as the Islamic bogeyman:
"We've got to show that if you say 'yes I condemn terror -- but the Kuffar are inferior', or 'violence in London isn't justified, but suicide bombs in Israel are a different matter' – then you too are part of the problem. Unwittingly or not, and in a lot of cases it's not unwittingly, you are providing succour to those who want to commit, or get others to commit to, violence.
For example, I find it remarkable that some groups say 'We don't support ISIL' as if that alone proves their anti-extremist credentials. And let's be clear Al-Qaeda don't support ISIL. So we can't let the bar sink to that level. Condemning a mass-murdering, child-raping organisation cannot be enough to prove you're challenging the extremists."
Rather radically for a Western leader, Cameron also asserted that, "simply denying any connection between the religion of Islam and the extremists doesn't work... it is an exercise in futility to deny that. And more than that, it can be dangerous. To deny it has anything to do with Islam means you disempower the critical reforming voices; the voices that are challenging the fusing of religion and politics..."
Cameron's speech was groundbreaking. No previous Prime Minister in past decades would have dared to make such statements. This is not to say, however, that it is without fault.
Cameron is not just talk. An "Extremism Analysis Unit" has been set up within the Home Office, which will serve to tackle Islamist extremism, including "non-violent" groups. According to the journalist John Ware, the new body is currently preparing lists of extremist preachers and groups.
More importantly, a variety of new legislation is being brought before Parliament. However, some of the proposed laws, critics argue, are draconian. "Banning Orders" will outlaw designated "extremist groups." "Extremism Disruption Orders," meanwhile, will restrict designated "extremists" from appearing on television, or publishing without the authorities' approval. And "Closure Orders" will allow the government to close any institution deemed guilty of promoting extremism.
Cameron has correctly and radically diagnosed the problem of Islamic extremism. His solutions, however, do not appear promising.
A more useful next step would be for the government to tackle its own relationships with extremist groups. Britain's registered charities offer a particularly vivid example of Islamist extremism going unchallenged.
In 2014, I wrote about the Islamic Network, a group that describes itself as "a da'wah [proselytizing] organisation which aims to promote awareness and understanding of the religion of Islam."
In a series of religious rulings published on its website, the Islamic Network charity advocated the murder of apostates; encouraged Muslims to hate non-Muslims; stated that when non-Muslims die, "the whole of humanity are relieved;" and described Western civilisation as "evil." Further, the Islamic Network directed a great deal of hatred towards the Jews. Its website claimed: "The Jews strive their utmost to corrupt the beliefs, morals and manners of the Muslims. The Jews scheme and crave after possessing the Muslim lands, as well as the lands of others."
In spite of these views, the Islamic Network is a registered charity, which means it is entitled to subsidy from the taxpayer.
As a result of revealing the material published on the Islamic Network's website, as well as several complaints submitted to the Charity Commission, the government opened an inquiry into the charity. After a year of deliberation, the Charity Commission published its report, which concluded that the Islamic Network had indeed published extremist material.
The Charity Commission's solution, however, was to give the charity's trustees booklets titled, "How to manage risks in your charity," and warn them not to do it again.
Britain may finally have a government that understands the problem of Islamist extremism, but if government bodies fail to challenge extremist charities such as the Islamic Network, then what use is this enlightenment?
The Islamic Network is but one of many dozens of examples. Why is the British organization Interpal, for example, still allowed to be a registered charity? Interpal is a designated terrorist organization under United States law. Its trustees regularly meet with senior leaders of the terror group Hamas. In 2013, for instance, Interpal trustee Essam Yusuf took part in a ceremony with the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, at which they expressed praise for Hamas' military wing, the Al Qassam Brigades, and glorified "martyrdom."
Or what of Islamic Relief, one of Britain's largest charities? Established by the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Relief's directors have included Ahmed Al-Rawi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader who, in 2004, supported jihad against British and American troops in Iraq; and Essam El-Haddad, who is accused by an Egyptian court of divulging Egyptian state secrets to Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, and using Islamic Relief to finance global terrorism.
Despite Islamic Relief's links to Islamist extremism, the charity continues to receive millions of pounds from the British government.
David Cameron's speech on July 20 should be applauded. If another political party had won the recent general election, no such speech would have been made. But before the Prime Minister turns his hand to censorship, perhaps the government should address extremist groups closer to home.