The Centre for Islamic Shi‘a Studies, an academic research centre specialising in the Shi‘a Muslim faith, welcomes Prime Minister David Cameron’s commitment to tackle extremism, in both its forms, violent and non-violent. CISS believes that non-violent extremist views held by minorities on the fringes of societies could in some cases lead to violent extremism, if left unchecked and unchallenged.
This is true across the spectrum of society, from extremist Muslims to the BNP and EDL. We firmly believe in the need for society to act together in the face of all kinds of intolerant and exclusionist rhetoric.
CISS also commends the Prime Minster for clearly distinguishing between Islam the religion, and its politicization by a minority of Muslims, and moreover that being a devout and observant Muslim is not the same as being an extremist. It is very unfortunate that after more than half a century of significant Muslim presence in the UK, and a decade after 9/11, misinformation about Islam and Muslims is rife among large segments of society and in the media. We hope this distinction drawn by the Prime Minster will be observed in the media’s discourse on issues of extremism and security in the future.
The Prime Minster opened his speech at the Munich Security Conference by saying: “I want to focus my speech on terrorism”, yet he chose to address issues of multiculturalism and integration in the same speech. We believe that the Prime Minster has conflated the need for British Muslim communities to better integrate within wider society, with the issue of security and terrorism. By so doing, David Cameron runs the risk of committing the same error as his predecessors, and dealing with the millions of British Muslims as a security risk. While we as a society need to have a mature and reasoned debate on the issue of integration, we believe that it is a debate that should take place on its own merit and should not be associated with the terrorist threat facing the UK.
It is also pertinent to remind PM Cameron of the failure of this and previous governments in tackling some of the social factors contributing to extremism, such as unemployment and lack of educational and leisure facilities, as well as controversial foreign policy which studies indicate is an important factor in causing discontent among Muslim communities. Addressing extremism through a security agenda will only further alienate communities and will generate distrust of governments and its policies. Attempts to find quick solutions through expenditure of millions of pounds of tax payer money on hand picked individuals and ‘gatekeeper’ groups who claim to represent Muslim communities and have done nothing to tackle extremism have failed miserably and reflects the shallow thinking of policymakers. We hope the PM takes this into account when deciding on the next steps forward for addressing the issues of political and religious and other forms of extremism.