Cameron unveils 5-year plan to 'deglamorize' lure of extremist groups

Prime Minister David Cameron is laying out his plan in Birmingham, home to one of the UK's largest Muslim populations, focusing on the path many youths travel toward radicalism.

Mindaugas Kulbis/AP/FILE
David Cameron (seen here speaking in Latvia in May) is laying out a five-year plan to counter extremism among British young people.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is announcing today a five-year plan to counter homegrown Islamic radicalism that is feeding efforts by militant groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But while Mr. Cameron plans to focus on countering the message that radicals are using to recruit British youth, critics warn that the prime minister needs to do more to address legitimate criticism of British policies and to promote British ideals.

Cameron is speaking today in Birmingham, home to one of Britain's largest Muslim populations. Writing before the speech (though portions of it were provided to the media ahead of time), The Times of London says that Cameron is particularly focused on "non-violent extremists," i.e. those who hold ideas “hostile to basic liberal values” and who promote “discrimination, sectarianism and segregation.”

Mr Cameron will single out Muslim conspiracy theorists who believe that “Jews exercise malevolent power”, that 9/11 was inspired by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, and that Britain allowed 7/7 because it wanted an anti-Muslim backlash.

“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,” he will say. “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.”

Cameron underscores the need to "de-glamourise the extremist cause, especially [the Islamic State]. This isn’t a pioneering movement – it is vicious, brutal, fundamentally abhorrent."

And here’s my message to any young person here in Britain thinking of going out there: You won’t be some valued member of a movement. You are cannon fodder for them. They will use you. If you are a boy, they will brainwash you, strap bombs to your body and blow you up.

If you are a girl, they will enslave and abuse you. That is the sick and brutal reality of [the Islamic State].

The prime minister offers four reasons why he says British youth are attracted to radical Islam, writes the Guardian.

One – like any extreme doctrine, it can seem energising, especially to young people.

They are watching videos that eulogise [the Islamic State] as a pioneering state taking on the world, that makes celebrities of violent murderers ...

Two – you 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, violence the ultimate destination.

Three: the adherents of this ideology are overpowering other voices within Muslim debate, especially those trying to challenge it.

There are so many strong, positive Muslim voices being drowned out ...

Four: there is also the question of identity.

For all our successes as multi-racial, multi-faith democracy, we have to confront a tragic truth that there are people born and raised in this country who don’t really identify with Britain – and feel little or no attachment to other people here.

Indeed, there is a danger in some of our communities that you can go your whole life and have little to do with people from other faiths and backgrounds.

So when groups like ISIL seek to rally our young people to their poisonous cause, it can offer them a sense of belonging that they can lack here at home, leaving them more susceptible to radicalisation and even violence against other British people to whom they feel no real allegiance.

But while Cameron's speech suggests a new focus on battling the psychology of radicalism, rather than just reacting to those already radicalized when they try to travel to Iraq and Syria or return home to Britain, it is unclear just what Cameron means in terms of new policy. Efforts to engage Islamist arguments before they take root in young minds are not new.

The challenge has always been to fight Islamist ideologies without abridging Western liberal values that promote free expression and exchange of ideas. Cameron's government has come under fire from civil rights groups for espousing programs that run counter to those values, such as the so-called "snooper's charter," a bill to strengthen the government's surveillance operations, many of which target "non-violent extremists."

That is why some British Muslim groups argue that Britain is not simply a target of convenience for angry youth, but is stirring resentment with its policies. Commenting to the Guardian before Cameron's speech, Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the interfaith-dialogue Ramhadan Foundation, said that "Successive governments have also conflated security/ extremism with integration and cohesion which I believe is the wrong debate." Rather, he said, the government must "seriously listen and understand the concerns of British Muslims."

Passing the snooper charter, penalising ordinary citizens and taking their civil liberties away will fail to defeat terrorism. Building communities, trust between Muslims and the police is what will stop terrorism.

There has been no engagement with the British Muslim community on this speech and terrorism in general, this strategy will fail unless British Muslims are consulted and our concerns addressed. Biased Foreign policy decisions by our government are a contributing factor in the threat of terrorism and extremism, ignoring this does a disservice to all decent people.

Bill Durodié, a professor and radicalization expert at the University of Bath, made similar comments to the Guardian, arguing that Britain is "no longer able to promote itself more positively." Cameron must extol the positive aspects of being British, he said, not just criticize radicals like IS.

[R]ather than assume a mystical lure of attraction from elsewhere, he first ought to clarify exactly what it is that people should identify with in Britain. The evidence points to how the young reject the West prior to looking for something else to believe in. Islam is their motif not their motive.

Nor should we be fooled into believing that it is some inchoate sense of grievance that drives some out – as opponents of Cameron will propose. If anything, too many are pandered to, perceiving of themselves as victims rather than really being so.

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