Saturday, 15 November 2014

Countering extreme Islamism – it’s the religion, stupid!

So prime minister David Cameron has just announced proposed measures to combat UK citizens from returning after having fought  as well as stopping UK citizens from going to fight  jihad in Syria and Iraq. The measures are expected to come into force next year. Of the many new powers, particularly eye-catching are the following two:

1) On the grounds of reasonable suspicion that a British citizen intends to travel abroad to engage in terrorist related activities, the police will be able to issue travel bans. Previously such bans could only be imposed by the Home Secretary by way of an executive order (the Royal Prerogative).  

2) On the grounds of reasonable suspicion that a British citizen is involved in terrorist activities abroad, the Home Secretary can impose an exclusion order, barring the suspect from returning to Britain for as long as two years. The suspect’s passport will be revoked but not his/her citizenship. Thus, with a definite ban and retained citizenship the government can aver that the suspect has not been made stateless. A holy principle in international human rights law, it is illegal to render an individual stateless. The suspect will be able to return to the UK, providing that he/she consents: 
“to be escorted by UK authorities and agree that they may be prosecuted, placed on a terrorism prevention and investigation measure (Tpim) or be required to adhere to strict bail-like conditions including interview with the police, regular reporting, notification of change of address and engagement in counter-extremism activities.”

As with all anti-terror legislation, these measures are peppered with risky encroachments on principles of civil liberty and rule of law. Human rights lawyers are already out in force, for instance Liberty’s Sami Chakrabarti who scorned the prime minister for: 
Dumping suspect citizens like toxic waste, abdicating your responsibilities to the international community, […] a very strange way of promoting the Rule of Law.”

I too have my reservations, but am at least thankful that the government didn’t overturn the presumption of innocence, for instance by implementing  as London mayor Boris Johnson suggested  a rebuttable presumption that anyone travelling to Syria or Iraq unbeknownst to the authorities is to be presumed guilty of terrorism until proven innocent (methinks Boris should stop going Stalin on us and revert to supporting the fundamental common law principles that more than any distinguishes our civilization from the jihadists).

Still, despite my reservations, I welcome the measures on the whole as they send clear signals to potential jihadists that there will be a heavy price if you follow through. This is very much needed, seeing as hundreds of Brits are fighting in Syria, not least under the banner of ISIS; a matter of fact compounded by Jihadi John  the infamous beheader of US and British hostages  apparently being British.

Three British jihadists in a recruitment video for ISIS 

So credit where credit’s due. The government should be applauded for daring to put its foot down. The fly in the ointment was that the prime minister, when presenting the measures, concurrently reverted to the old chestnut of trying to combat Islamic extremism by celebrating Islam as a great world religion of peace” and supporting the Islamic believers who abhor the twisted narrative of the extremists. 

I'm sorry, but the remedy against religion is not more religion, however moderate it claims to be. The problem is religion, stupid! Comparing extremists and moderates is the equivalent  if a religious metaphor is permitted  of comparing degrees in Hell. Supporting the latter to combat the former amounts to combating loony fairy tale believers with slightly less loony fairy tale believers  throwing political and pecuniary support at the latter, empowering and legitimizing them and their fairy tale interpretations as political force.

After a jihadist atrocity the media are quick to interview  and political parties swiftly move to underpin  ‘moderate’ imams and Muslim scholars. Intellectuals from left to centre-right laud these illuminators of fairy tales. They are afforded status of official representatives of the multifaceted Muslim community, they are celebrated as they lambaste the atrocity as a perversion of (their interpretation of) Islam  including that the jihadist won't go to heaven.

And secular, liberal citizens like myself who believe in wholesale integration are supposed to support this!? Community identification after religious lines, which also bear with it seeds of parallel societies? I say, people who support this strategy have got some chutzpah to act surprised when young and impressionable people raised in such an environment go on to be recruited into religious extremism.

Ed Husain, whom I otherwise hold in high regard, unfortunately seems to subscribe to said strategy. In a recent editorial he professed that ”[t]he answer to bad religion is good religion”. And according to Hussain's ‘good’ interpretation of Islam, the jihadist was: 
“a murderer heading to hell, as highlighted by countless verses of the Koran and sayings of the Prophet”
Further, Husain declared proudly that: 
“Last month 120 Muslim scholars condemned IS [ISIS]. The esteemed Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah issued a fatwa against the IS caliphate, and called on Muslims to reject this crime in the name of religion.”

British prime minister David Cameron
To combat religious extremism, is the solution really to be found in the religion? Shall society support some Sheik issuing fatwas against other fairy tale believers issuing fatwas? These so-called moderates, however benign their intentions might be, are still part of the problem as they represent religion as a lifestyle and relevant political force.  Yet they and their mosques and organisations are forwarded in mainstream media and politics as the ‘true’ representatives of the Muslim community and are given support to combat religious extremism. By so doing, politicians and intellectuals are just legitimizing religion on the political arena  condoning it as a political force  thus fortifying the very ontological platform on which extreme Islamism thrives.

Surely, strengthening religion as the prime political denominator of a community should be anathema to the secular, scientific, liberal society. The ones who should be supported, interviewed and forwarded are Muslims who offer a secular (sensible), liberal alternative to extreme Islamism. People like Maajid Nawaz  and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

Tough political secularism  combined with a militant intolerance to parallel societies  is the only long-term solution to the spectre of politicized religion. A politically secular society where you can still believe in and practice your fairy tales in private, but where they do not have a place in the public sphere and are not given credence by political parties nor support through the public purse.

I repeat, it’s the  religion, stupid! As Jon Stewart put it:
“Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.”