The Politics Column: We Need a Coherent Strategy to Prevent Young British Muslims Being Drawn into Extremist Violence. but No Such Strategy Yet Exists

By Denham, John | New Statesman (1996), May 22, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Politics Column: We Need a Coherent Strategy to Prevent Young British Muslims Being Drawn into Extremist Violence. but No Such Strategy Yet Exists


Denham, John, New Statesman (1996)


The security services may not have been covered in glory by the official reports on the London bombings, but we must not ignore their insistence that intelligence alone will not protect us from terrorism. Contrary to speculation, the intelligence agencies are acutely aware of the need to attack the root causes of the new threat, for they of all people know that a strategy that depends primarily on observing and catching would-be bombers as they prepare their attacks is doomed to fail. So if we want to avoid a repetition of last summer's tragic events, the security services must make that case to ministers and persuade them to take the right actions.

To make a real difference we need a coherent strategy to prevent young British people being drawn into extremist violence in the first place. Yet despite pressure from across government--including from the intelligence agencies and the police--no such strategy yet exists.

The warning signs were there for long enough. The first British suicide bomber, Richard Reid, was thwarted (though only by his own incompetence) in 2001. Operation Kratos, the so-called shoot-to-kill policy, was introduced to counter suicide bombers in 2003, the year that two Britons set off to bomb Tel Aviv and a young Gloucester man planned to blow up a plane. Now most of the terrorist cases slowly finding their way to the courts involve British citizens.

The lesson of terrorism in Europe is that, once established, it takes a long time to eradicate. Isolated criminal groups such as Baader-Meinhof can be mopped up over a few years, but terrorism that renews itself from a deeper pool--from people who share something of the alienation and grievances that drive the extremists--lasts longer. Eta has just called a halt after 40 years. Who would believe the current convulsions with roots in the Muslim world will end any more quickly?

Despite the warnings before 2005, little serious action was taken in Britain. Yet a comprehensive strategy for tackling British extremism was presented to ministers in the spring of 2004. An analysis by Home Office and Foreign Office officials highlighted the causes drawing a minority of young Muslims towards extremists: anger at double standards in foreign policy; alienation of those trying to find a positive identity in a society that can be hostile to both race and faith; and the activism of young people who want to improve the position of Muslims at home and abroad. But this report was suppressed and even hidden from MPs on the home affairs select committee. …

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