How to Victimize a Community: The British Government’s Approach to “Counter-terrorism”

Revelations published yesterday by the liberal arm of the British press provide yet more evidence of the systemic repression and targeting of the British Muslim community. An article in The Independent claimed that “…personal information concerning the private lives of almost 1,000 British Muslim university students is to be shared with US intelligence agencies in the wake of the Detroit bomb scare.” ((Syma Mohammed and Robert Verkaik. “CIA given details of British Muslim students.” The Independent, Thursday 1 April 2010.)) The article goes on to add that the homes of more than 50 students have been visited by police officers without a single arrest. This follows on the back of a report released by MP’s this week criticizing the Government’s key policies on countering ‘extremism’ which they said were ‘alienating’ Muslim communities. ((Vikram Dodd. “MPs demand investigation into Muslim ‘spy’ allegations against Prevent.” The Guardian, Tuesday 30 March 2010.)) This is closely tied to a report by the Independent last year referring to the harassment of young Muslims by the police and security service, whose officers had tried to recruit them as spies. ((Syma Mohammed and Robert Verkaik. “CIA given details of British Muslim students.” The Independent, Thursday 1 April 2010.))

Ironically all these repressive measures have their root in what is now well known to be “…one of the most elaborate systems of surveillance ever seen in Britain” ((“Spooked: how not to prevent violent extremism.” IRR News.)) in the form of the government’s PREVENT programme, one of the key agendas in its ‘counter-terrorism’ strategy. The programme has been in operation in England since 2007 and promises to soon take root in Scotland. This programme involves a massive intelligence drive, it is inherently racist in nature, exclusively targeting Muslims and viewing the Muslim community as ‘suspect,’while Muslim opposition to the War in Afghanistan is disingenuously linked to ‘violent extremism’ despite broader opposition.

These attempts, both subtle and explicit, to pacify and break the political will of the Muslim community are starting to unfurl any doubts about the government’s ‘real’ agenda in its stated claim to ‘counter radicalism’. The special treatment meted out to young Muslims was further confirmed in the punishments inflicted on those who participated in last year’s London’s demonstrations against the Zionist assault on Gaza, repelling any illusion that the democratic process offers anything to young Muslims seeking to ‘legitimately’ confront specific injustices and concerns. Though the protests drew a disparate audience, the sentences were ‘truly exceptional’ in the words of The Guardian‘s Seamus Milne. ((Seamus Milne. “This tide of anti-Muslim hatred is a threat to us all.” The Guardian, 25 February 2010.)) Out of 119 people arrested, 78 were charged (only two non-Muslims). Fifteen were convicted predominantly of ‘violent disorder’ and sentenced to between eight months and two and a half years, having switched to guilty pleas to avoid heavier penalties. These relentless attempts to censor and manipulate Muslim participation in civil society can only have the inevitable effect of drawing some towards more militant means of expression.

Corralled and hounded from all corners it is indeed a precarious time to be a young Muslim in Britain. This is only buttressed by the consistent and relentless attempts to promote a ‘moderate Islam’ which the government has conveniently sought out to shift the burden from its own infractions and displace the focus on Islam itself, as if were some infectious disease in need of treatment or a wound in need of repair. Evidenced by the vast sums of money invested into ‘deradicalisation’ initiatives and support provided to programs including The Quillam Foundation and The Radical Middle Way, it is indeed difficult not to feel unmoored from society, to not feel distanced, detached and aloof for a young Muslim not willing to align to the status quo. Perpetually shunned by the system with a cloud of suspicion that constantly looms, while at the same being told to ‘accept’ the trappings of that society, to ‘integrate’ and ‘assimilate’ to the very values that perpetuate widespread torture on innocent detainees in Guantanamo Bay, that carry out two illegal wars instigating incalculable bloodshed on Muslim populations in ‘our’ names and for ‘our’ security, and that subversively suppress and undermine domestic ‘dissent’ and opposition. This is to say nothing of the above-average poverty rates for Muslims living in Britain, in addition to the racist assaults, threats and intimidation by the English Defence League and the British National Party. The contradictions that the authorities have sought to consciously stave off and conceal are now more than ever bursting at their seams and likely to provoke some kind of response. It is no longer enough to maintain the myth that ‘the same rules apply’ or to pass the buck to the so-called ‘moderate majority’ to deal with a community that the government itself has failed. While previous generations of Muslims were content to sit on the sidelines of world affairs, the present generation is not of the same ilk and will not yield to any agenda that treats them any different.

Shahid Bux is a postgraduate student in International Relations at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. Read other articles by Shahid.

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  1. Haggai One Nine said on April 2nd, 2010 at 7:01pm #

    It is a pity that the Independent newspaper did not remind its readers that the current pettiness is built on a hundred years of the English Establishment’s hatred of the Muslim, beginning with the 1915 betrayal set out in the Macmahon-Hussein agreement, the blueprint of the Sykes-Picot conspiracy and the ensuing 30 years of terrorism of Palestine orchestrated courtesy of the British army.