Britain’s Extremism Question
On September 30, Theresa May, the British Home Secretary, gave a speech at the Conservative Party’s annual conference, in which she outlined the threat posed to Britain by terrorism from abroad and extremism at home.
After giving the customary assurance that the actions of ISIS have no basis in Islam and proffering a quote from the Quran, May boasted of the Government’s record fighting fundamentalism, promised new powers to fight extremist groups and declared her gritty determination to uphold “British values.”
This grandiose speech revealed ambition – albeit mostly May’s own. It did not, however, demonstrate any real progress. The Home Secretary’s effusions were example of a government that has only half-heartedly responded to the problem of extremist ideology. It is a government that likes to talk but fails to act.
May announced that, in order to “defeat the ideology that lies behind the threat,” the Government would be:
“…toughening up the charity rules and the powers of the Charity Commission, working with Ofcom [the television regulator] to deal with extremist broadcasts, improving the inspection regime and strengthening the rules for schools. We are working with the Ministry of Justice to tackle radicalisation in prisons, demanding more from universities to prevent radicalisation on campus, and improving our ability to take down terrorist material from the internet. Since the start of this year, the police have secured the removal of more than 30,000 pieces of terrorist material. We have an established network of organisations that work with people who are drifting into extremism and violence.”
Few, admittedly, could envy May’s position. There is no easy fix for extremism. This government, however, boasts of successes it has not achieved. Let’s examine them one by one.
On October 22, the British government announced new funding and legislation to strengthen the Charity Commission’s attempts to identify and suppress the misuse of charities for the purposes of supporting terrorism or promoting extremist ideas.
The majority of the new statutory measures focus on tackling the activities of trustees. The Commission will now have the discretionary power to disqualify a person from becoming a trustee simply “where the Charity Commission considers them unfit.”
Although a firmer attitude is welcome, the basis for this approach is part of the problem: the government continues to work on the wistful principle that charities promote extremism merely because of one or two wayward trustees. The Charity Commission and Government still appear unable to grasp that charities might be established for the very purpose of promoting extremism.
In 2013, the Charity Commission’s annual report recorded a visit to the offices of an (unnamed) charity and revealed that:
“We visited the charity’s premises and saw images of the leader of the group that is a proscribed terrorist organisation were displayed on the walls of the charity’s offices. We also identified that the charity had organised marches at which supporters of the proscribed organisation were present … We instructed the trustees to take down the material and to take other steps to ensure they are not appearing to support a proscribed terrorist group. We also instructed the trustees to develop and implement robust controls to manage the charity’s activities and the use of its premises.”
Rather than address the problem that a British charity — which, at the very least, is legally required to avoid political behaviour — was endorsing a terrorist organization banned under British law, the Commission chose instead to find fault with the charity’s openness about its inclinations, its failure to conceal them more shrewdly, and a lack of adequate bureaucracy.
The new measures announced this month also include, according to the government’s press release, a new £8 million investment to “establish systems for strategic risk profiling, proactive monitoring and investigations….regulatory processes and digitise services to release capacity for proactive monitoring…”
Such bureaucrat-speak sounds meaningless; it is most often worthless.
May claimed that this Government’s policy “doesn’t just focus on violent extremism, it deals with non-violent extremism too” and that it has established “strict rules and checks to make sure we do not fund and do not work with people and organisations that do not share British values.”
Despite these claims, the Government, however, continues to fund extremist charities. As we revealed in September (and picked up by the Daily Telegraph), the Department for Communities and Local Government recently provided a grant of £18,000 ($29,000) to the Muslim Charities Forum, a charitable body and umbrella group for a number of leading extremist charities, most of which are members of the Union of Good, a fundraising body established by the Muslim Brotherhood to raise money for the terror group Hamas.
In addition, between 2011 and 2014, £1.5 million of taxpayers’ money was granted to Islamic Relief. Branches of this extremist charity have funded Hamas-run institutions, including the Islamic University of Gaza and the Al-Falah Benevolent Society. Islamic Relief has also given platforms to hate preachers such as Haitham Al-Haddad, who has labelled Jews as “pigs and apes”; Yusuf Estes, who has circulated a description of homosexuals as “deviants” and “devils”; and Abdurraheem Green, who advocates beating women in order to “bring them to goodness.”
Theresa May’s promised new measures are also expected to provide the Commission with powers “enabling the Charity Commission to close down a charity.” The National Audit Office, however, has previously recorded that one of the reasons for the Charity Commission’s foundering is its failure to make use of extant statutory powers. Since 2011, the Commission has had the discretionary ability to remove existing trustees or place its own interim manager in charge of a problematic charity. This power, however, has been very rarely exercised.
It seems rather unlikely, then, that an option to shut down a charity would be utilized. Such an action is also unlikely to be encouraged by the Government as long as taxpayers’ money continue to fund extremist groups.
If the Home Secretary were truly serious about “dealing with non-violent extremism,” the Government would put an immediate stop to the provision of taxpayer funds to extremist groups and would help the Charity Commission take immediate, decisive action.
OFCOM, a statutory body that regulates British media broadcasters, has censured a number of British television channels for promoting extremist views. In February 2013, for instance, the regulator found that Peace TV broadcast a programme with the Islamist preacher Zakir Naik, in which he called for the killing of apostates. In a similar vein, broadcasts by Noor TV and DM Digital advocated the murder of blasphemers.
Theresa May has promised to work closely with OFCOM to curb “extremist broadcasts,” which might include granting powers to restrict particular preachers from broadcasting at all. Of course, this crackdown does not apply to television channels based in Britain but transmitted internationally. In April, for example, OFCOM admitted it could do nothing to challenge extremist Shia preachers at Fardak TV from broadcasting anti-Sunni diatribes.
The bigger problem, however, is that, much like the response to extremist charities, the Government is focussed on individuals rather than institutions. Can the Home Office also not understand that some media stations might have been established to promote extremist views?
One such example is the Islam Channel, which was once found to have advertised DVDs of sermons by the late al-Qaeda ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki. In 2010, the channel was censured by OFCOM for advocating violence against women and discussing the permissibility of marital rape.
These incidents did not occur because of a temporary lapse in standards, or an errant guest or two. The Islam Channel’s CEO, Mohammed Ali Harrath, is, in fact, a founder of the violent Islamist group, the Tunisian Islamic Front. Harrath has claimed that the Jews control America, and is a noted supporter of the Al Qaeda preacher Abu Qatada.
According to one counter-extremism group: “Several presenters on the Islam Channel are also active members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a global movement which is dedicated to establishing a totalitarian state in which women and religious minorities would be systematically deprived of their basic human rights.”
If May were serious about curbing extremist broadcasting, she would tackle the broadcasters themselves.
In 2013, local government officials received a letter that revealed a concerted attempt by Islamist groups to infiltrate schools. This became known as the “Trojan Horse” plot. An inquiry commissioned by the Government concluded there had been a “co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into some schools in the city.” At one Birmingham school, for instance, jihadist videos were shown to pupils.
Since the “Trojan Horse” plot was brought to light, an intense media focus on extremism in schools has uncovered dozens of examples of extremists working in the educational sector.
In April 2014, for instance, Freedom of Information data revealed schools run by schools run by extremist charities were receiving taxpayers’ money, including the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation, which had been previously described by the Prime Minister himself as a Hizb ut-Tahrir “front organisation.”
In the city of Luton, school inspectors found material at the Olive Tree primary school which promoted extremist teachings, including a book entitled ‘The Ideal Muslim’, which encouraged parents to hit their children if they failed to pray.
Ahmed Al-Nashash, the deputy head-teacher at the Olive Tree School, has praised the “blood purity” of the Hamas “mujahideen” [jihadists]
In 2013, the Gatestone Institute reported that dozens of schools required their pupils to wear the niqab. The taxpayer-funded Al Madinah Free School in Derby even demanded that female teachers, regardless of their religion, wear a hijab. The school forced girls to sit at the back of classrooms, banned musical instruments, replaced lessons with prayer sessions during Ramadan, and forced female pupils to cede their places in queues to the male students.
One of the reasons for the Government’s apparent obliviousness to extremism in schools was that the responsibility for the inspection of dozens of Islamic schools had been passed on to a “faith schools watchdog”, which was partly controlled by the Islamic schools’ own lobbying body, the Association of Muslim Schools (AMS).
The vice-chair of the AMS was Tahir Alam, who is accused of being one of the ringleaders of the “Trojan Horse” plot. The founder of AMS, Ibrahim Hewitt, is chairman of the extremist charity Interpal, which is banned under US law as a terrorist organization. Hewitt, who advocates the killing of adulterers and apostates, has also established a school in Leicester, which has since received almost £1 million of taxpayers’ money.
The Government, to its credit, has responded forcefully to some instances of extremism. The inquiry into the “Trojan Horse” plot was carried out by Peter Clarke, the former of the police’s Counter Terrorism Command; OFSTED, the schools watchdog, has carried out dozens of snap inspections; and a number of investigations into other schools accused of promoting fundamentalism have been established.
As with charities and the media, however, the Government is ignoring the institutional problem. The chief inspector at OFSTED, Sir Michael Wilshaw, has recommended “mandatory training for school governors” and the Department of Education is encouraging the “teaching of British values.” One Government report even claims that a “voluntary code of practice” will help curb extremism. These endeavours mean little if extremist organizations involved with the running of schools are not shut out.
The Al Muntada Al Islami Trust, for example, is an extremist Salafi charity that runs a number of schools in London. Al Muntada regularly hosts extremist preachers at their events and conferences, such as Nabil Al-Awadi, now accused of working as a key financier for ISIS; and Muhammed al Arifi, who encourages jihad against “non-believers” and believes that “devotion to Jihad for the sake of Allah, and the desire to shed blood, to smash skulls and to sever limbs for the sake of Allah and in defence of His religion, is, undoubtedly, an honour for the believer.” Furthermore, Nigerian newspapers have reported that Al Muntada is also funding Boko Haram, an Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group.
One of the prospectuses for an Al Muntada secondary school includes pictures of school pupils in long outer garments, black veils and with their faces blotted out.
Why should these extremist groups be given license to teach children at all? The problem of extremism in schools is extensive. The most important place to start is with schools supported by the taxpayer. Increasingly, observers will be asking whether “faith schools” should, in fact, ever receive public funding.
Theresa May announced that her department was “working with the Ministry of Justice to tackle radicalisation in prisons.” As part of this effort against prison extremism, the Government is relying on “appropriately recruited Muslim Prison Chaplains…employed to challenge the extremist views of prisoners.”
Imam Azadul Hussain, for example, is a prison chaplain who recently spoke at an event organised by CAGE (formerly known as CagePrisoners), a pro-Taliban group led by the confessed terrorist Moazzam Begg. The event was jointly hosted with HHUGS, a charity that provides financial support to the families of convicted terrorists. Azadul Hussain has also promoted claims that “Jewish Al-Sisi [the Egyptian leader]” has turned Egypt into an “Israeli-controlled territory.” On his Facebook page, Hussain propagates material published by MPAC, an anti-Semitic British Islamist group banned from campuses by the National Union of Students; and the Convivencia Trust, an Islamist charity whose officials have voiced praise for Hitler and described Shia Muslims as “donkeys of Jews.”
According to the British academic Sophie Gilliat-Ray, many of these chaplains belong to the Deobandi sect of Islam. As The Times, in 2007, reported on the spread of the Deobandi movement in Britain: “Almost half of Britain’s mosques are under the control of a hard-line Islamic sect whose leading preacher loathes Western values and has called on Muslims to “shed blood” for Allah. …The ultra-conservative movement, which gave birth to the Taleban in Afghanistan, now runs more than 600 of Britain’s 1,350 mosques.”
A number of leading extreme Islamist organizations are also involved in prison chaplaincy programs. The Markfield Institute, for instance, runs courses “to prepare Muslim chaplains for work in higher and further education, prisons and hospitals.”
The Markfield Institute is part of the Islamic Foundation, which was established by Jamaat-e-Islami, responsible for acts of genocide during the 1971 war in Bangladesh. The Times reported in 2003 that two Islamic Foundation trustees were on the UN sanctions list of people associated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The Islamic Foundation’s current chairman, Khurshid Ahmad, has described the Taliban as “refulgent and splendid” and has warned of the “implication of Europe’s being in the clasp of Jews.”
It appears that the Government’s cure might in fact be prison extremism’s cause.
Theresa May stated that the Government is “demanding more from universities to prevent radicalisation on campus.” This has involved the use of “coordinators” who work to “offer training, raise awareness among staff of the warning signs of extremist behaviour and have already helped institutions review their external speaker policies.”
Extremism on campus, however, is not just a problem among a few students; it is also found among the faculty. One senior lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, for instance, is Mahmood Chandia, who has taught that music was a way in which Jews spread “the Satanic web” to corrupt young Muslims.
At the London School of Economics, a Hizb ut-Tahrir member named Dr Reza Pankhurst is employed as a graduate teaching assistant. At the University of Gloucestershire, lecturers at the Markfield Institute have included Azzam Tamimi, a Hamas “special envoy” who told the BBC that he would willingly carry out a suicide bombing in Israel.
While hundreds of extremist preachers address student groups each year across the country, however, university authorities continue to deny that campus extremism is a problem. Baroness Warsi, while Minister of State for Faith and Communities, and Nicola Dandridge, the head of Universities UK, have both claimed that university extremism is an exaggerated threat.
Even when former students commit terrorist acts, investigations tend to whitewash the problem. University College London, for example, established an inquiry to examine the radicalization of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the failed “underwear bomber.” The panel of the inquiry included Muhammad Abdul Bari, a British Islamist leader who has defended the East London Mosque’s decision to host an event with Anwar Al-Awlaki, the late Al Qaeda leader, and once offered the East London Mosque as a platform to Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, the Jamaat-e-Islami leader since sentenced to death in Bangladesh for his war crimes during the 1971 War of Independence.
In addition, leading academics who advise government on counter-extremist issues have themselves, on occasion, offered legitimacy to extremists. Dr Sophie Gilliat-Ray, for instance, is an academic at the University of Cardiff who has invited hate preachers such as Muhammad Ibn Adam Al-Kawthari to address her students. Al-Kawthari encourages acts of jihad, supports the killing of adulterers, and has claimed that, “We live in an age where evils such as incest among the non-Muslims is becoming common.” In spite of this, Gilliat-Ray was appointed an advisor to the Government’s PREVENT program, which is supposed to identify and curb religious extremism.
As with the prisons, the Government has pointed proudly to its chaplaincy program. And also like the prisons, some of these chaplains are themselves connected to extremist ideas. Shakeel Begg, for instance, is the Islamic chaplain at Goldsmiths University. Begg describes jihad as “the greatest of deeds” and has voiced support for terrorist attacks in Israel.
There has been little discernable progress in the fight against campus extremism. Extremist clerics continue to indoctrinate students with intolerant and anti-Western ideas. Faculty, student unions and campus chaplains often even refuse to comment on invitations extended to extremist speakers by radical student societies.
If the government wished, it could do a great deal more. As universities receive enormous amounts of public funds, the government could, for example, threaten to reduce this income if faculties do not tackle extremism on their campuses.
Any attempt to regulate the Internet and censor its content is an illiberal and Sisyphean task. Theresa May boasts that, “police have secured the removal of more than 30,000 pieces of terrorist material.”
For every website that is removed, another ten will spring up. Much like the attempts to ban certain extremist groups from campus, the same people and the same ideas invariably emerge again under a different name or upon a different website.
30,000 pieces of terrorist material sounds very impressive. But it does not take into account the enormous amounts of material that the police are unable to remove, or the information available on the “Dark Web.”
The effort to censor the Internet ultimately means very little. It is yet again indicative of a Government that is more devoted to impressive headlines instead of actual results.
During her speech, Theresa May stated that, “We have an established network of organisations that work with people who are drifting into extremism and violence.” She also made it clear that the Conservative-led Government had abandoned the previous Labour Government’s habit of providing funds to non-violent extremist groups in the hope of tempering the violent extremists:
“There are now strict rules and checks to make sure we do not fund and do not work with people and organisations that do not share British values. And our policy doesn’t just focus on violent extremism, it deals with non-violent extremism too.”
From the examples presented earlier, such as the recent Government grant to the Muslim Charities Forum, we know that this claim is not entirely true.
But what about the Government’s counter-extremism program? In the past, taxpayer funds were given to a variety of extremist groups. The present administration claims to have stopped that practice.
While a list of current recipients of counter-extremism funds is not yet available, we do know that the Government has funded the Muslim Council of Wales, an affiliate of the Muslim Council of Britain, an Islamist body run by activists from the Muslim Brotherhood and its South Asian cousin, Jamaat-e-Islami.
Saleem Kidwai, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Wales, has run events with the pro-jihadist group CAGE (formerly known as Cage Prisoners) and is a vocal supporter of Zakir Naik, an Islamist hate preacher banned from the UK, who has stated that, “every Muslim should be terrorist.” Naik has also claimed that Jews “control America” and has advocated the killing of apostates and homosexuals.
Kidwai is a trustee of the Dar ul-Isra Mosque in Cardiff, along with Munir Ashi, a pro-Hamas activist who has proclaimed: “Israel very soon will disappear, inshallah [God willing].”
In London, meanwhile, the local Council and Metropolitan Police have provided several tens of thousands of pounds in grants to the Finsbury Park mosque, which is run by Mohammed Sawalha, a Hamas activist described by a Muslim Brotherhood website as being “responsible for the political unit of the international Muslim Brotherhood in the UK.” The BBC has reported that Sawalha is also “said to have masterminded much of Hamas’s political and military strategy ” out of London.”
There are a number of conclusions to be drawn from Theresa May’s speech.
First, it is evident that the Government still does not recognize, or does not want to recognize, what sort of groups non-violent extremism comprises. The Home Secretary announced that the Home Office was working “to undermine and eliminate extremism in all its forms.” As demonstrated by the many examples presented above — such as the £1.5 million of taxpayer funds given to the Islamic Relief, which promotes hate preachers in Britain and maintains financial links with terror-financing charities in the Middle East — May’s claim is manifestly untrue.
It seems that the Government’s definition of non-violent extremism is limited to groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Anjem Choudary’s Al Muhajiroun, both of which are more obviously extreme organizations. Muslim Brotherhood groups, meanwhile, mostly operate under a humanitarian guise. Their extremism remains, however, very thinly veiled. And yet the Government is happy for prominent politicians to support these charities and for taxpayers’ money to fund them, despite indications that the recent inquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood will name these charities as problematic.
The Government refuses to admit that the “soft Islamism” of the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami is part of the extremism “conveyor belt” that ultimately turns radicals into terrorists.
Second, it seems that the Government is running out of ideas and so has turned instead to censorship. Theresa May promised the increased use of “Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures”, which restrict suspects’ movements without the need for prosecution. The Daily Telegraph reports that May has also “promised a ban on extremists being interviewed on television, speaking at public meetings or using the internet, as well as an extension of ministers’ authority to outlaw groups suspected of encouraging terrorism or violence.” Under the new “Extremist Disruption Orders,” even Facebook and Twitter posts by designated “extremists” will have to be approved by the police in advance. Furthermore, the Home Office wants to require companies to maintain records of people’s internet, email and mobile phone activity.
Similar bans on extremist individuals appearing on television broadcasts took place in Northern Ireland during the 1980s. Padraig Reidy writes in the Telegraph that this “led to the ridiculous scenario where Gerry Adams and other republican representatives had their statements dubbed by actors before interviews were broadcast, as if it were not their words but their very voices that might attract sympathy for terrorism.”
Government prohibitions of groups such as Al Muhajiroun have been pointless, with members simply establishing a new group within a few hours of the old one being banned. On campus, bans on extremist student groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir have simply led to their activists setting up a myriad of new groups all around the country using names such as the “Belief and Reason Society.” Furthermore, many of the announced measures aimed at Islamist extremists will serve as recruitment call for extremist groups, which can point to censorship as proof that Muslims are being victimized.
Most of these proposed new measures once again point to a Government that has either run out of ideas or is too afraid to take appropriate action.
It is unclear why this is the case, as, thirdly, the Government has failed to curb its own funding for extremist groups. The Department of Justice has tasked extremist prison chaplains with countering extremism, the Department for Communities and Local Government has funded interfaith groups partly-run by anti-Semitic and anti-Ahmaddiyah groups, and local police forces have given money to Muslim Brotherhood groups and umbrella organizations for a number of Salafi charities.
Moreover, the government has failed to make use of laws already on the statute books. Bodies such as the Charity Commission have failed to use their existing statutory powers to tackle charities with links to terrorism and the Criminal Prosecution Service has failed to prosecute members of already-proscribed organizations.
Under the Labour Government, counter-extremism programs were mostly aimed at violent extremists, which often led, as mentioned earlier, the Home Office and local councils to work with “non-violent” extremist groups. Since 2010, the Conservative-led government started to focus on non-violent extremists, but this was limited to groups regarded as archetypically bad, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir.
It appears that the Home Office urgently needs to define “extremism.” This definition should include the smiling Islamist who attends interfaith vigils during the day but propagates anti-Semitism and expresses support for Hamas at night.
Extremism is a dangerous animal, but presently it is being given both the carrot and the stick. As long as we allow the human face of Islamist extremism to subsist, and even flourish, we will continue to churn out radicalized Muslim youth who will choose the Kalashnikov over a university degree. No one claims that the answer to Islamist extremism is easy. The question of extremism, however, is remarkably simple. If only the government would understand.