“On a road to nowhere…” The Government’s inability to tackle violent radicalisation and extremism continues
The government continues to provide reactionary responses to address the continuing threat posed by violent extremism on both sides of the ideological spectrum. The impetus for the launch of the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism1 was Lee Rigby’s murder on 22nd May 2013. This was a clear indication of the government’s inability to either accept or at least acknowledge that it doesn’t completely know what it is doing in this fundamentally important field of counter-terrorism. This apparent ineptitude to provide a clear strategy, especially in face of the challenges relating to Syria and Iraq, continues to cause concern – even among the Church of England.2
Lord Carlile’s previous June 2011 Prevent Review3 was supposed to provide recommendations to overhaul and improve the then existing strategy implemented by the former Labour government and provide a more comprehensive and far reaching framework that would, among other things, also tackle far-right extremism. With the murders of an elderly Muslim, Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham on 29th April and Lee Rigby on 22nd May, 2013 what went wrong with the revised strategy? Perhaps the more pertinent question is: Did the previous strategy tackle the type of extremist threat that lead to these two heinous murders?
The Panorama documentary; The Untold Story (19th December 2013) highlighted the intelligence service’s knowledge of at least one of the Woolwich killers, Michael Adebolajo’s activities and their subsequent attempts to recruit him.4 Their clandestine and counter-productive approach failed and unsurprisingly, he was then effectively left alone to continue on his path towards violent extremism. While many questions remain surrounding the intelligence service’s behaviour and tactics, we should not lose sight of similar, double standards among extremist protagonists – both sides of this proverbial coin (i.e. intelligence services on the one side and extremist protagonists on the other) are unattractive and unsavoury in their methods of recruitment from the same pool of vulnerable individuals.
Effective Grassroots Strategies
In my interview on the programme, I stated my belief that STREET (Strategy To Reach Empower & Educate Teenagers), a youth outreach and intervention programme, could have possibly prevented the Woolwich murder had we still been functioning at previous levels. This, I accept, was a bold statement to make when looking retrospectively at what occurred that fateful day. It is even easy for cynics to say that anyone would make such a claim in hindsight. However, I stand by my claim based on the previous success of STREET and its work among youth whose backgrounds are not too dissimilar to Adebolajo and Adebolawe. In fact, many of them come from far more challenging environments than these two. Legitimate grievances and concerns shared by many mainstream, law-abiding Muslims regarding the UK’s foreign policy were cited by him as justification for the attack on 22nd May 2013. However, this is unacceptable from both religious and societal perspectives. His distorted rationale cannot be used to justify Lee Rigby’s murder in the same way that Pavlo Lapshyn’s racism and hatred of Muslims cannot justify his reasons for murdering Mohammed Saleem, prior to the Woolwich attack, on 29th April.
To further illustrate the government’s inability to effectively tackle the current issues, I refer to another previous but unrelated incident – the near fatal shooting of 5 year old Thusha Kamaleswaranin Stockwell in March 2010.5 Anthony McCalla – ‘Mad Ants’ as he was commonly known – was convicted for this crime. He was already well known to various agencies associated with Lambeth Council in south London who regarded him as high-risk and likely to cause harm to others. Prior to his release from prison for a previous offence, two of these local agencies approached my team requesting that he be referred to STREET due to its successful intervention and engagement work with young men like McCalla. We reluctantly declined from accepting him into our programme, citing the lack of human resources due to sudden funding cuts that severely reduced our capacity for such engagement work. That was in January 2010 – three months before Thusha was shot.6
Our work, contrary to what critics and opponents assert, involves addressing and confronting the violent radical ideas of a few attendees within a safe, confidential environment without recourse to anyone other than the participant. It also includes essential engagement work with the often nihilistic gang culture many youth find themselves in. The confidentiality and sensitivity of our approach have gained the trust of those who have engaged with STREET. Our success has, of course, been to the chagrin of opponents who accuse the organisation of being part of the intelligence apparatus on the one hand (i.e. extremist protagonists and their supporters) or part of the radicalisation process on the other (right wing think-tanks and their Muslim counterparts). In some ways their polarised perspectives actually serve to validate STREET and the work it does, placing it closer to the mainstream centre of society’s socio-religious spectrum.
Extremists, as we have unfortunately witnessed, from both sides of the socio-ideological spectrum, are largely indiscriminate when targeting their perceived enemies. A few exceptions to the rule do not change this fact. Unfortunately, Lee Rigby and Mohammed Saleem were more ‘visible’ or obvious, unsuspecting targets.
The government would do well to reconsider who its advisers are in view of their flawed knee-jerk policies and the fact that such policies have arguably exacerbated the climate we now find ourselves in. Adebolajo’s frustrations at his failed attempts to apparently join Al Shabbab in Somali remind me of Zacarius Moussoaui’s (the 20th 9/11 attacker) anger at not being able to participate in what he considered a legitimate battle ground for Jihad. This resulted in both individuals deciding to look within their own societies to enact the crimes for which they have been found guilty. While my observation should not be taken as a call to enable all and sundry to travel globally seeking what they perceive to be a Jihad, the government or its agencies do not appear to have thought through recent policy to prosecute returning fighters from Syria.7 It would be interesting to see whether the same policy will apply for other religious groups that travel to support their brethren in faith when they perceive them to be under attack, persecution or war as we have witnessed with Hadar Goldin who was on active duty for the IDF when he was killed in the recent Israel/Gaza conflict. He apparently possessed dual nationalities – one of them being British.8 When others return from this particular conflict, will they be subject to the same scrutiny and laws?
A Failed Government Policy
The existing government foreign policy is yet another contradiction as it relates to tackling issues of violence against victims of extremism. Nationality and increasingly, religion have become determining factors regarding the government’s action or inaction as we have witnessed with the plight of the Yazidi community in Iraq on the one hand and the Palestinians in Gaza on the other. This has been clearly illustrated by David Cameron:
‘Prime Minister David Cameron reminded us that we are a Christian country. We must step up to the plate in offering help and support to our fellow Christians and other persecuted minorities in Iraq.’9
Contrast this unwavering position towards the Yazidi community in Iraq with his muteness regarding the slaughter of innocent Palestinians in Gaza. It is no wonder why one of the few Muslim members of his government – Baroness Syeda Warsi – resigned citing its ‘morally indefensible’ position.10 Baroness Warsi’s decision was a noble one – it is however unlikely that we can expect such nobility from Cameron or the present Conservative government with its double standards. This is unfortunate, given his previous call for a return to ‘British values.’11
1 The Guardian: ‘David Cameron launches anti-terror task force to tackle extremism,’ 26th May 2013: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/may/26/david-cameron-anti-terror-task-force
2 The Yorkshire Post: ‘Church leaders criticise Cameron over lack of foreign policy direction,’ 19th August, 2014: http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/main-topics/general-news/church-leaders-criticise-cameron-over-lack-of-foreign-policy-direction-1-6790262
3 Lord Carlile of Berriew Q.C: ‘Report to the Home Secretary of Independent Oversight of Prevent Review and Strategy,’ May 2011: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/97977/lord-carlile-report.pdf
5 Vikram Dodd, The Guardian: ‘Man held over Stockwell shooting,’ 31st March 2011: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/mar/31/stockwell-shooting-police-question-target
6 Kurt Barling, BBC News: Stockwell shooting: Gang member was ‘high-risk,’ 13th April 2012: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-17702581
7 Martin Benham: ‘Brits who fight in Syria face life in Jail,’ London Evening Standard, 3rd February 2014: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/exclusive-brits-who-fight-in-syria-face-life-in-jail-9104171.html
8 The Huffington Post; ‘Foreign Office investigating reports captured Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin is British’, 1st August 2014: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/08/01/foreign-office-investigating-reports-hadar-goldin-israeli-soldier-captured-by-hamas-is-british_n_5641317.html
9 The Press and Journal: ‘Call to give Iraqis sanctuary in Britain’, 14th August 2014: https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/uk/314650/call-to-give-iraqis-sanctuary-in-uk/
10 The Guardian: ‘Baroness Warsi resigns over UK’s ‘morally indefensible’ stance on Gaza,’ 5th August, 2014: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/aug/05/lady-warsi-resigns-government-gaza-stance
11 MailOnline: ‘British values aren’t optional, they’re vital. That’s why I will promote them in EVERY school…’ 15th June, 2014: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2658171/DAVID-CAMERON-British-values-arent-optional-theyre-vital-Thats-I-promote-EVERY-school-As-row-rages-Trojan-Horse-takeover-classrooms-Prime-Minister-delivers-uncompromising-pledge.html
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