Overnight a western political leader was finally making the case that Islamic values can’t be countered by denial, but must be fought with better values – with western values. It was not an American president however who outright rejected the “all-cultures-are-equal” multicuralism model, but a British Prime Minister, arguing that young Brits taken in by “the Islamic narrative” can only be avoided by attacking that narrative, by supporting other Muslims who attack it, and – in the end – by promoting a better one.
He’s mushy on what that better “narrative” is and what exactly western values are. But he’s clear that today’s violence is everything to do with Islam. This should be major news.
[UK] Prime Minister [David Cameron]’s Birmingham speech on radicalisation and Muslim communities in the UK given earlier today is a rather important one [says Douglas Murray in the ‘Spectator’]. Regular readers will know that I’m not easy to please in this area, but it seems to me that David Cameron has come to understand the real problem of Islamic extremism and has been developing his attitudes towards that problem…
The Prime Minister is right to present the threat of radical Islam as an ideological threat which needs countering. And he is particularly right in stressing the non-governmental, civil-societal responses that are needed if the problem is going to be brought under control. The whole speech seems to me to benefit from a deeper and broader understanding of the problem than any other speech recently given by a Western leader.
And although I know it won’t be enough for some, the speech contains a number of important shifts in tone. For instance the Prime Minister’s warning that people who go to join ISIS will be ‘cannon fodder’ is an important change in emphasis which I’ve called for here before… Another positive development is the change in emphasis from supporting Muslim groups because they claim to be representative of the majority of Muslims to supporting Muslim progressives who are supportive of Britain.
Another crucial shift in emphasis is in relation to the whole question of how to address the religious elephant in the room. For many years, after any and every terrorist attack, Prime Ministers, politicians and police chiefs have said that Islamist violence has ‘nothing to do with Islam.’ Now finally David Cameron has found a way to correct this misleading statement and said of Islamist violence, ‘To deny it has anything to do with Islam means you disempower the critical reforming voices.’ This is a vital change in emphasis.
Maajid Nawaz who has argued that a 'change in attitude' is needed towards Islamist extremism, and who helped prepare the speech, reckoned this is a key feature: naming & isolating what he calls “Islamism” and “Jihadism”—made possible by a new taxonomy.
- Over generations, we have built something extraordinary in Britain – a successful multi-racial, multi-faith democracy. It’s open, diverse, welcoming – these characteristics are as British as queuing and talking about the weather… It is here in Britain where in one or two generations people can come with nothing and rise as high as their talent allows… So as we talk about the threat of extremism and the challenge of integration, we should not do our country down – we are, without a shadow of doubt, a beacon to the world.
- It begins – it must begin – by understanding the threat we face and why we face it. What we are fighting, in Islamist extremism, is an ideology. It is an extreme doctrine.
- At its furthest end it seeks to destroy nation-states to invent its own barbaric realm. And it often backs violence to achieve this aim – mostly violence against fellow Muslims – who don’t subscribe to its sick worldview.
But you don’t have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish.
ideas which are hostile to basic liberal values such as democracy, freedom and sexual equality.
- So when people say “it’s because of the involvement in the Iraq War that people are attacking the West”, we should remind them: 9/11 – the biggest loss of life of British citizens in a terrorist attack – happened before the Iraq War.
- When they say that these are wronged Muslims getting revenge on their Western wrongdoers, let’s remind them: from Kosovo to Somalia, countries like Britain have stepped in to save Muslim people from massacres – it’s groups like ISIL, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram that are the ones murdering Muslims.
- Now others might say: it’s because terrorists are driven to their actions by poverty. But that ignores the fact that many of these terrorists have had the full advantages of prosperous families or a Western university education.
- We must be clear. The root cause of the threat we face is the extremist ideology itself.
- First, any strategy to defeat extremism must confront, head on, the extreme ideology that underpins it. We must take its component parts to pieces - the cultish worldview, the conspiracy theories, and yes, the so-called glamorous parts of it as well.
In doing so, let’s not forget our strongest weapon: our own liberal values.
- We should expose their extremism for what it is – a belief system that glorifies violence and subjugates its people – not least Muslim people.
We should contrast their bigotry, aggression and theocracy with our values. We have, in our country, a very clear creed and we need to promote it much more confidently. Wherever we are from, whatever our background, whatever our religion, there are things we share together.
- We are all British. We respect democracy and the rule of law. We believe in freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of worship, equal rights regardless of race, sex, sexuality or faith.
We believe in respecting different faiths but also expecting those faiths to support the British way of life. These are British values. And are underpinned by distinct British institutions. Our freedom comes from our Parliamentary democracy. The rule of law exists because of our independent judiciary. This is the home that we are building together.
- We must also de-glamourise the extremist cause, especially ISIL. This is a group that throws people off buildings, that burns them alive, and as Channel 4’s documentary last week showed, its men rape underage girls, and stone innocent women to death. This isn’t a pioneering movement – it is vicious, brutal, and a fundamentally abhorrent existence.
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 ISIL.
- So when we bring forward our Counter- Extremism Strategy in the autumn, here are the things we will be looking at:
- using people who really understand the true nature of what life is like under ISIL to communicate to young and vulnerable people the brutal reality of this ideology
- empowering the UK’s Syrian, Iraqi and Kurdish communities, so they can have platforms from which to speak out against the carnage ISIL is conducting in their countries
- countering this ideology better on the ground through specific de-radicalisation programmes
I also want to go much further in dealing with this ideology in prison and online. We need to have a total rethink of what we do in our prisons to tackle extremism. And we need our internet companies to go further in helping us identify potential terrorists online. [Oops! – Ed.]
- And as we do all of this work to counter the Islamist extremist ideology, let’s also recognise that we will have to enter some pretty uncomfortable debates – especially cultural ones. Too often we have lacked the confidence to enforce our values, for fear of causing offence. The failure in the past to confront the horrors of forced marriage I view as a case in point. So is the utter brutality of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
It sickens me to think that there were nearly 4,000 cases of FGM reported in our country last year alone. Four thousand cases; think about that. And 11,000 cases of so called honour-based violence over the last 5 years – and that’s just the reported cases.
We need more co-ordinated efforts to drive this out of our society. More prosecutions. No more turning a blind eye on the false basis of cultural sensitivities. Why does this matter so much?
Well, think what passive tolerance says to young British Muslim girls.
We can’t expect them to see the power and liberating force of our values if we don’t stand up for them when they come under attack. So I am glad we have gone further than any government in tackling these appalling crimes. And we are keeping up the pressure on cultural practices that can run directly counter to these vital values.
That’s why the Home Secretary has already announced a review of sharia courts.
- * But confronting non-violent extremism isn’t just about changing laws, it’s about all of us, changing our approach. Take, for example, some of our universities. Now, of course universities are bastions of free speech and incubators of new and challenging ideas. But sometimes they fail to see the creeping extremism on their campuses.
When David Irving goes to a university to deny the Holocaust – university leaders rightly come out and condemn him. They don’t deny his right to speak but they do challenge what he says. But when an Islamist extremist goes there to promote their poisonous ideology, too often university leaders look the other way through a mixture of misguided liberalism and cultural sensitivity.
As I said, this is not about clamping down on free speech. It’s just about applying our shared values uniformly.
- * Now the third plank of our strategy is to embolden different voices within the Muslim community. Just as we do not engage with extremist groups and individuals, we’re now going to actively encourage the reforming and moderate Muslim voices. This is a significant shift in government approach – and an important one.
In the past, governments have been too quick to dismiss the religious aspect of Islamist extremism. That is totally understandable. It cannot be said clearly enough: this extremist ideology is not true Islam. I have said it myself many, many times, and it’s absolutely right to do so. And I’ll say it again today.
But simply denying any connection between the religion of Islam and the extremists doesn’t work, because these extremists are self-identifying as Muslims. The fact is from Woolwich to Tunisia, from Ottawa to Bali, these murderers all spout the same twisted narrative, one that claims to be based on a particular faith.
Now it is an exercise in futility to deny that. And more than that, it can be dangerous. To deny it has anything to do with Islam means you disempower the critical reforming voices; the voices that are challenging the fusing of religion and politics; the voices that want to challenge the scriptural basis which extremists claim to be acting on; the voices that are crucial in providing an alternative worldview that could stop a teenager’s slide along the spectrum of extremism.
These reforming voices, they have a tough enough time as it is: the extremists are the ones who have the money, the leaders, the iconography and the propaganda machines. We need to turn the tables.
We can’t stand neutral in this battle of ideas. We have to back those who share our values.
- * Britain has never been cowed by fear or hatred or terror.
Our Great British resolve faced down Hitler; it defeated Communism; it saw off the IRA’s assaults on our way of life. Time and again we have stood up to aggression and tyranny.
We have refused to compromise on our values or to give up our way of life. And we shall do so again.
Together we will defeat the extremists and build a stronger and more cohesive country, for our children, our grandchildren and for every generation to come.
From any modern western leader, this is all virtually new. There will be many hurdles, both practical and cultural. Let’s hope it gets traction.