In a report to be published on Monday, the independent think tank Demos will claim Government actions are breeding resentment and alienation among Britain’s Muslims, allowing violent extremists to gain sympathy from some quarters of the Muslim communities. Based on over twelve months of embedded research, Bringing it Home: Community based approaches to counter-terrorism argues that, despite some commendable attempts at engagement, the Government’s actions continue to drive a wedge between the majority of British Muslims and the rest of society, rather than isolating the violent few.
The authors argue that without a strategic blueprint for putting community relations at the heart of security, the Government is denied a valuable resource in tackling the threat of home grown al Qaida inspired terrorism. The approach to Muslim communities called for by the report would offer a source of intelligence; support in diverting potential extremists away from violence; community level allies in seeking social justice; and an acceptance of necessary measures taken by police and other security services.
While it recognises the Government’s good intentions, the research finds that efforts to engage Muslims have often fallen short:
The government’s attempts to engage Muslims in the policy-making process have been criticised as being rushed, conducted on the government’s terms, failing to break away from the usual suspects, and with little follow through. The government has also been highly reluctant to engage with the many reasonable grievances of the community – from Iraq to social justice – in the fear that any kind of acknowledgement could suggest that the terrorists have just cause or that the government is somehow complicit. This has made honest conversations difficult, as too many vital subjects remain out of bounds.
Hampering the Governments efforts has been an overly simplistic characterisation of Muslim communities, which fails to account for the diversity of local experience. By viewing Muslims as a single interest group the Government has failed to draw a clear enough distinction between angry Muslim opinion and those that would seek to inflict violence and terror. The result is that rather than being isolated, extremists are able to attract support from communities cut adrift from mainstream British society.
The report proposes a four point plan for the Government to better win the support of Muslim communities:
· Adopt a ‘localist’ approach in dealing with diversity within Muslim communities;
· Continue to engage with the issue of faith by funding initiatives like the ‘Radical Middle Way’ while stepping up engagement with currently excluded faith groups;
· Adopt a stance that sees transparency and accountability in policy-making as an essential element of security
· Respond to the grievances of Muslim communities – either to accept them or refute them. In order to do this it must be agreed that no topics are off limits for discussion
In realising the aims of this plan, the authors make a number of policy recommendations around improving the lives of British Muslims and involving them more directly in shaping the security agenda. In particular the authors call on the Government to open up the foreign policy-making process:
The Foreign Office, Department for International Development and Ministry of Defence should increase the number of their staff dedicated to outreach with minority communities in the UK and organise regular public discussions around the country to get community input on key foreign policy questions.
While finding that Muslims have yet to be convinced by the Government’s attempts to engage them in counter terrorism, the report is optimistic that there is the will to do so. In a speech given to Demos earlier this year, the Home Secretary argued that the Government, police and security services need to work in partnership with communities if they are to be effective in tackling new threats to our collective security. Bringing it Home sets out an agenda to make this ambition real.