A SENIOR Muslim minister has reassured young Muslims about proposed terror laws after they voiced fears about being placed under “greater scrutiny” following David Cameron’s keynote speech on tackling extremism.
In a landmark speech in Birmingham about tackling extremism and the threat of radicalisation among some young people, the prime minister said moderate Muslims in Britain should speak out against Islamist militants, and added it was wrong to deny any connection between their religion and acts of violence.
Cameron also promised on Monday (20) further powers to target anti-Semitic “conspiracy theorists” and those justifying terrorism by blaming Western foreign policy who helped radicalise young people.
After the speech, young Muslims told Eastern Eye they were now fearful of speaking out against the government and foreign policy in case they were harassed by intelligence services.
They are also concerned that any new laws will ultimately put the British Muslim community under greater scrutiny and could further alienate Muslims, particularly the young.
Lord Tariq Ahmad, minister for countering extremism, said he had a “pivotal role” in creating the legislation and would make sure it was “fair”.
“I will make sure the legislation is fair, does what it seeks to do which is protect the very freedoms and liberties we all regard dear,” he said.
“We can practise, preach and propagate our faith here, and what we seek to to do is to protect those religious freedoms; it is the very basis of what makes us a democratic nation.”
He added: “We’re not doing this in a vacuum. It’s about bringing people together and ensuring what we bring forward is not perceived to be against a particular community.”
Cameron’s speech set out aspects of a five-year strategy that will include new legislation to be published later this year. The bill is set to offer powers to “put out of action the key extremist influencers who are careful to operate just inside the law, but who clearly detest British society and everything we stand for”, he said.
Around 700 Britons are estimated to have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join IS militants, some of whom have since returned.
Mohammed Khaled, a young Muslim from Luton who is studying for a masters at the University of Bedfordshire, told Eastern Eye that Cameron had “royally missed the point”.
“There’s an element that the current and former British governments haven’t been able to identify that would explain why home-grown, even internationally- grown, violent extremists are born. This is foreign policy. It’s not the only contributing factor to extremism. Socio-economic deprivation and psychological instability also play a large part.
“Yet the government still continues to look to everything, but its own foreign policy to tackle extremism. The continuous attack on British Muslims, particularly the already disenfranchised Muslim youth, with more draconian laws only further seeks to alienate them and constantly ignoring legitimate foreign policy grievances generates more and more anger.”
Cameron sought to reassure Muslims that new measures, like getting teachers to help prevent pupils from being drawn into terrorism, was “not about criminalising or spying on Muslim children”.
However, the chair of Muslim Women’s Network, Shaista Gohir, who listened to the speech at the school said she was concerned that further proposals could stigmatise students.
“We’ve come across somebody in college who said something about foreign policy and the tutor wasn’t happy about it and then reported it to counter terrorism,” Gohir said.
“The views weren’t particularly positive, but it wasn’t something that was an offence either. Now this teenager has the counter terrorism on her back all the time and she feels harassed.
“The problem there is if this person feels that they haven’t done anything and they are not extremist, then that is going to push them towards extremism thinking, ‘yes the extremists are right, you get harassed for no reason’.
“We need to be careful in our response that we don’t give extremists or ISIS an excuse to recruit people. We need to make it measured without stigmatising people, that’s the hard part.”
Molana Rayhan, an Imam in Luton, described the prime minister’s comments about integration as misleading.
“He (Cameron) repeatedly talks about integration when the vast majority of British Muslims are more than integrated. He must appreciate the good work the Imams and Muslim leaders are doing in preaching peace and harmony in their local communities. They are the true moderate Muslims.”
A further aim of the Conservative government’s strategy will be to target “home-grown” militants, Cameron announced. To meet that goal, the prime minister said religious drivers behind extremism had to be acknowledged and that moderate Muslim voices needed to be heard. He outlined plans to commission a review into how ethnic communities in Britain could become more integrated.
Cameron said: “I have charged Louise Casey to carry out a review of how to boost opportunity and integration in these communities and bring Britain together as one nation.
“She will look at issues like how we can ensure people learn English; how we boost employment outcomes, especially for women; how state agencies can work with these communities to properly promote integration and opportunity but also learning lessons from past mistakes – when funding was simply handed over to self-appointed ‘community leaders’ who sometimes used the money in a divisive way.”
Under the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill, which became law in February, public bodies, such as schools, universities and local authorities, have a duty to help prevent people being drawn into terrorism.
Aftab Akram, 26, a transport design graduate at Staffordshire University, said Britain needed to win back the trust of Muslims, and not “persecute” them further.
“I don’t agree with Cameron on the failures of integration and trying to prevent further segregation. I believe it’s perfectly natural to surround yourself with people like you and with similar goals. As such, I, as a British Asian and Muslim, would love to move into a multi-cultural area. This is not because I have failed to integrate.”
Former assistant commissioner for the Met Police, Tarique Ghaffur previously called for an independent judicial inquiry into the radicalisation of young Muslims in the wake of the July 7 bombings.
He said: “The way to do it is get back in the community and collect intelligence. If you leave it just to the security services, you’ll end up overcriminalising the community and filling our jails.
“When they (extremists) go into prisons they contaminate other people it becomes a university for spreading extremism. The over politicisation of these issues will effectively just lead to people talking about them but doing nothing.”
Concluding his most detailed speech on the issue since he was re-elected as prime minister, Cameron added the police needed to step up and not stand by as crimes took place.
“We need universities to stand up against extremism; broadcasters to give platforms to different voices; and internet service providers to do their bit.”