The Tories are certainly off the leash—as prime minister David Cameron’s Muslim-bashing speech to a security conference in Slovakia last week demonstrated.
Heralding a new battery of repressive measures contained in the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, Cameron pointed the finger at Britain’s Muslims.
He accused them of secretly harbouring sympathies with Isis, thereby preparing the ideological path for those who are going off to fight in Syria and Iraq.
Of course there was no evidence produced to back this up. Cameron merely asserted that “non-violent extremists” opposed to British values in the Muslim community must be secretly encouraging young people to join Isis. After all, what other reasons could there be for them going off to fight?
The new law deliberately blurs the line between holding ideas that the state defines as “extremist” or opposing “British values” and violent acts of terrorism.
As many lawyers have pointed out, no-one can possibly know where that line is drawn—until you are arrested or your passport is taken away from you.
There is now a legal obligation on public servants, from nursery school teachers to GPs and social workers, to spot and report “signs of radicalisation”.
Everyone who is concerned to defend our civil liberties should be alarmed at the perspective that is now opening up.
The law will further instil fear into Muslims and shrink space for legitimate dissent, for example, against British foreign policy and military campaigns.
Muslims are increasingly portrayed as though they are mindless sheep easily led down the jihadi path by fiery preachers or Isis YouTube postings. Or they are vulnerable children “groomed” into doing something by an abusive adult.
They need a firm hand and a big stick to keep them on the straight and narrow.
We may furiously disagree with those individuals travelling to join Isis. But we should at least credit them having formed reasons for doing so. We might then learn something useful.
As New Statesman columnist Myriam Francois-Cerrah pointed out, according to Cameron’s view “the root of their departure is to be located nowhere in Britain or its policies (domestic or foreign) and entirely within the realm of ‘ideas’ –or ‘Islamist ideology’. Because Muslims don’t live in Britain, they live in Islam. Or Islamism. Or whatever.
“The truth of course is that while ideas play their part, material conditions have far more influence in determining people’s behaviour than ideas per se—something the government seems determined to ignore”.
I offer my humble self as a case-study.
I am not a pacifist. I believe there are circumstances when it is right to use violence, for example in self-defence or against an oppressor.
I believe that the law under capitalism is ultimately an expression of class rule, and there is any number of them I would be prepared to break.
I have no idea what “British values” are. And anyhow I have never thought of myself as British, and I never will.
How did I arrive at this worldview? Perhaps one could argue that I was groomed and radicalised by extremists at an impressionable age.
It is true that “paper sellers” would accost me on my way home from work—this was before the internet—and thrust a newspaper into my hands. It talked of the need for a violent overthrow of society, the suppression of the ruling class and total destruction of class divisions.
Was this the first step on the conveyor-belt on my journey of radicalisation? Was I then brained-washed by years of party branch meetings?
Perhaps it was my parents’ fault for not preaching a moderate outlook and respect for authority?
Or was it joining a manipulative non-violent extremist organisation as a teenager—Amnesty International. There I was shocked and emotionally disturbed by the plight of political prisoners, usually locked in a dungeon by Western-friendly despots.
Politicised or radicalised? Extremist or dissenter? Reader, for now at least, you decide.