Monday, January 18, 2016 

Even when it seems to be a fuck-up, it isn't.

For anyone who missed it, last week saw the release of a video from the Metropolitan police that showed the authorities still don't have the slightest clue about challenging the propaganda narrative from Islamic State.  Aimed at young mothers tempted to travel to Syria, it featured three female refugees from the country telling them to, essentially, stop being so silly.  Why would anyone take babies to a war zone, they essentially ask.  Why indeed?  None of the women show any emotion, it's shot without any flair, as though to allow the message to be the focus, except the message is completely lacking.  If the women are meant to be speaking from experience, none relate for instance what they had to go through in order to leave, friends they left behind or others who might have died.

To be realistic, knowing how to counter-act Islamic State propaganda is really difficult.  One of the few ways that could work is to, sadly, sink to their level.  Respond to their images of death and destruction with images of their dead, especially if the footage showcases a band of apparently confident fighters one day only for the frame to update to the reality of the next, with bodies strewn across the dusty ground.  This approach obviously won't work with those whose whole aim is to give their lives cheaply, but might make others with a few more braincells think again.  Nor is it going to work well with the average female potential recruit, who is far more likely to be drawn to Islamic State by questions of identity, belonging, religion and rebellion than out of simply wanting to die for something, anything, coupled with knowing there will be little better on offer at home.

Of all the things that do not point towards potential extremism, being unable to speak English is pretty much right at the top of the list.  If anything, not being able to speak English is more likely to make someone less susceptible to becoming radicalised, precisely because that individual will inevitably be more reliant on those around them and less liable to venture further outside of what they already know.  Most of the tension around identity and belonging concerns dealing with the contradictions of feeling, being different in a society that treats you as though you are while saying that you're not; speaking English, being English, but not seeing yourself as English, or not feeling English, all are absent when you can't and so your experience is far more narrow.  Integration and extremism can be connected, but they are not interconnected.

David Cameron knows this.  He said as much.  He recognises there is no "casual connection" between not speaking English and radicalisation.  In his article for the Times he was more precise in saying it could be a problem, if say, a teenage boy from Bradford can't communicate with his mother as she came from Pakistan and can't speak English, and doesn't understand his life as she rarely leaves the house.  Leave aside quite how daft this notion is, as he would almost certainly be as fluent in Urdu or Punjabi or whichever language his mother speaks as he would in English, and it's a truth universal that parents just don't understand regardless of where they're from or what they do, and look instead for the announcement rather than the row surrounding it.  £20 million in funding for women who cannot speak English and who are "isolated" to be helped to learn.  In effect, it's the government making a u-turn on the cuts they've made to speaking English as a second language, as everyone has been pointing at.

Why are they doing so?  One would hope for the reasons that Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West pointed out.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with radicalisation, or the potential for extremism, and everything to do with integration.  However, it seems impossible for government to function, at least without also getting press attention for such a measure to be announced without also making reference to extremism.  Integration on its own is no longer enough.  At the same time, you can't announce a sum, even one as meagre as £20 million to help foreigns learn English without at the same time riling the exact same people who moan precisely because they can't speak English.  So, to placate them you say in fact it's about radicalisation, which shuts them up to an extent but then pisses off everyone else who quite rightly points out how clumsy the whole exercise has been and how it's idiotic that no English = radicalisation.  The whole thing also functions as a dog-whistle - isn't it about time these layabouts learned how to speak English, and why can't they speak English anyway, and why can't they be deported anyway, and aren't Labour to blame for all this anyway?

The positives for the Tories of making such an announcement in such terms have to outweigh the potential negatives.  Yes, they look as though they haven't a clue and are quite nasty with it, but the policy itself suggests they do have a clue and being nasty about it seems to work.  That the sum is £20m suggests, as the 2011 census did, that really very few people can't speak English whatsoever.  It won't help in the slightest with extremism, but then the government and frankly very few have the slightest clue about how to tackle extremism anyway.  For anyone that does, answers on a postcard.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011 

Radicalisation and the ideologues.

It's Tuesday, which means it must be time for another government review to publish its findings. Having yesterday demonstrated muddled thinking and a complete unwillingness to confront the real fundamental problem when it comes to the supposed commercialisation and sexualisation of children, so today we have a report on the Prevent strategy of countering radicalisation which demonstrates muddled thinking as well as an apparent determination to potentially make things much worse.

For this we have the prime minister to principally thank. Where Tony Blair once told the country that the rules of the game were changing, and the prospect of 90 days detention without charge followed shortly after, David Cameron back in February in Munich of all places informed the nation that the time had come for a muscular espousal of our values. In what was meant to be a speech on terrorism he decided the time was right to pronounce on both integration and the failure of "state multiculturalism", when even if the issues are hardly mutually exclusive he had not even begun to exercise the proper level of caution before making sweeping statements of fact. His key new point was that no longer would the government tolerate organisations which hold "extremist" points of view being either funded by the state (which they weren't in the first place) or consider them as useful in combating extremism. Why, you wouldn't expect a fascist political party to help in steering followers away from a violent white supremacist grouping. Why should it be the same when it comes to groups with an adherence to Islamism?

Two months in to a consultation exercise then and the findings of the review had already been set out. As well as being heavily influenced by the personal biases of Michael Gove, he of such remainders as Celsius 7/7, along with Policy Exchange, they of such fine reports as the one which was undermined somewhat by the forging of receipts from mosque bookshops, it also draws heavily from the work of the Quilliam Foundation, the counter-extremism think-tank which is err, mainly funded out of the Prevent budget, and has, err, Michael Gove on its non-executive advisory board. Having started out promisingly, the think-tank has since settled on a course of annoying almost every other Muslim organisation it's come into any sort of contact with, and last year singled out a good number of them as being the kind the government should have little or nothing to do with, among them the Muslim Safety Forum, a grouping which has been praised for its work with the police in helping to understand the concerns of the community.

Not that this closeness has stopped Quilliam from today being highly critical of the end result. The criticism is also rather rich, and more than a little self-contradictory: having previously set out in a secret document which Muslim organisations had extremist leanings, it now finds that Prevent's definition of what Islamism is is flawed. To quote from their press release (PDF):

The Prevent strategy’s definition of Islamism as ‘a philosophy which, in the broadest sense, promotes the application of Islamic values to modern government’ shows a complete misunderstanding of the nature of Islamism and why it is problematic. This current definition downplays the negative aspects of Islamism and ignores the fact that most non-Islamist Muslims also believe in combining Islamic values and modern government. The Prevent strategy’s definition therefore risks smearing ordinary, non-Islamist Muslims as Islamists and thus falsely identifying them as being part of the problem while also implying that Islamism is one of the aspirations of every Muslim.

Yes, smearing ordinary, non-Islamist Muslims as Islamists is something Quilliam would never do, would it? The point however is a sound one, even it comes from those with plenty of baggage. For however much we want to espouse and define ourselves by our values, it's those very values that those at risk of radicalisation and turning to terrorism are either unmoved by or are actively opposed to: the best hope of turning them away from such a path isn't to imply that the entirety of Islamic-influenced political thinking is reactionary and opposed to Western values, especially when much of it isn't, but for such ideology to be recognised as perfectly legitimate. This is exactly why Cameron's analogy of not relying on fascists to be part of the solution to violent white nationalism is so fatuous: those inclined towards Islamism are not going to be suddenly converted to the joys of Western democracy as it stands overnight. Moreover, if we regard the likes of Hizb-ut-Tahrir or the remnants of al-Muhajiroun to be stepping stones towards full on radicalisation in the takfirist jihadist mould, shouldn't we also consider that Islamist groupings opposed to violence but not able to pass the new "extremism" test are viable steps on the road to recovery?

Quilliam is also, notably, critical of the new definition of "extremism" as laid out in the new Prevent strategy, this time for the reason that it isn't tight enough to contain all the awful Islamist groups:

For instance, the definition’s description of extremism as being opposition to ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual tolerance’ is far too open to interpretation. For instance this overlooks that both far-right and Islamist extremists are authoritarians who want more ‘rule of law’ rather than less.

This is besides the fact that governments themselves often have a rather hazy concept of the rule of law and individual liberty. The last one certainly did, whether it was ordering the end of an investigation into corruption or deciding that the threat to the country post-9/11 was so massive that it meant foreign nationals could be detained indefinitely without charge.

It is that threat after all that this entire document is meant to be about thwarting. Just how serious is the threat, though? There hasn't been a major terrorist plot in this country prevented now since the "liquid bombs" ring was broken up, and to tempt fate, there's no sign of one on the horizon. Yes, the threat remains at severe as we are endlessly informed, yet for the most part the last few years have seen the rise of the "lone wolf" attackers, operating alone or with minimal if any contact with the base organisations overseas. Just how these individuals can be prevented from becoming so disillusioned with society that they feel impelled to attack it is almost impossible to prescribe, and this document doesn't really even begin to provide any answers. Yes, some vulnerable individuals have been identified through the Channel programme, along with dozens of others it's reasonable to surmise who had nothing other than temporary interest in the subject of jihadism. Much depends then on the groups the strategy seems intent on all but proscribing at worst and dismissing at best.

This isn't to suggest that all of the changes to the strategy are bad: belatedly it's been decided that it will cover not just Islamist extremism but also what it terms as "Northern Ireland-related terrorism", as well as extreme right-wing ideology, although it massively plays the latter down, something that seems curious when it's the radicals of the English Defence League that currently pose the biggest threat to community cohesion. It's also discarded the previous combination of work on integration along with tackling radicalisation, something that David Cameron could have learned from. So much else though is either counter-productive or worrying: the document applauds the "No Platform" stance of the National Union of Students, something that continues to shut down debate, while urging universities to keep closer tabs on their charges, even if it doesn't say so in as many words. The section on the internet also appears to suggest that the Internet Watch Foundation's role in blocking "extremist" content will be stepped up, as if its completely unaccountable work wasn't already raising more than legitimate concerns.

Counter-terrorism policy is far too important to be left to ideologues, as we saw under the last government. Instead what works has to be prioritised, however much that potentially offends our political sensibilities. For all the nonsense spoken today about "extremist" organisations being funded out of the public purse, the review itself fails to name a single one which was, only saying that groups it would now define as "extremist" had previously picked up public funds. It might well have been some of those small organisations that helped those on the path to outright radicalisation to step back and reconsider; after all, there were no successful attacks over the period it was in operation. We'll have to wait and see if that remains the case in the years to come.

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Monday, February 07, 2011 

Assimilate or you don't belong.

The formation of the coalition government has in many ways relatively spoilt those of us of a socially liberal bent. While there was never much danger of the Tories rolling back the many advances New Labour made on the equality front, it seemed certain that they would continue to pursue the authoritarian policies on law and order which had been the consensus since the days of Michael Howard. Down to a mixture of the forced inclusion of the Liberal Democrats, the defenestration of Chris Grayling and the pairing of Ken Clarke and Theresa May as justice and home secretary respectively, instead of bubble economics and illiberal triangulation we now have austerity and nominal but welcome defiance of red-top "solutions" to crime and disorder.

We have perhaps then been heading for a challenge to that arrangement, although it seemed more likely to come from a scandal/debacle similar to that which did for Charles Clarke than from the prime minister himself. David Cameron's speech in Munich was unexpected precisely because the coalition has done its best to take the politics out of the debate on the terrorist threat, having with the exception of the reforms to the control order system managed to successfully scale back Labour's excesses in legislating while causing the minimal amount of fuss from those who had previously screamed and demanded ever further impositions on liberty for the illusion of more safety. As others have pointed out, it's all the more puzzling because so much of what he said he's dealt with before, albeit it in opposition. Was it too much to expect that he would drop his shallow critique of "state multiculturalism" along with his constant references to the "broken society"?

For whatever reason, and it's difficult to dismiss that it has more than something to do with the increasing problems the coalition is facing as the cuts begin to bite and the economy flatlines, it's time to once again return to exactly what it is that motivates some Muslims to become so disengaged from society that they are willing to kill their fellow citizens. Why else indeed would he conflate terrorism, which those in Munich at the security conference were doubtless expecting him to speak about, with multiculturalism and integration as a whole? It certainly wasn't intended that he would give the speech on the same day as the English Defence League paraded through the boarded up streets of Luton, yet through not offering any overt criticism of the organisation and by all but echoing their message that the only real issue facing us is the refusal of Muslims to engage in wider society he will have certainly provided them with all the encouragement they need to keep bringing disruption to towns and cities across the country. It has only been thanks to supreme patience and the community leaders that Cameron has effectively impugned that there hasn't been a recurrence of the full scale riots of 10 years ago.

It is after all worth taking a step back and examining the supposed threat and just how large it really is. If we take the probably exaggerated estimates of the security services at face value, there are around 2,000 people in this country actively dedicated to what Cameron describes as the violent element of political Islam, a number which even considering the potential harm and suffering they could cause is tiny. As Jamie argues, there really has been relatively little to prevent given even those numbers post 9/11, thanks to a mixture of old-fashioned intelligence work and the stupidity of many of those involved. Nonetheless, Muslims as a whole have found themselves threatened, told to inform on those in their midst, been widely disparaged for failing to do just that and now find that even if they don't hold views defined as being extremist, they're being informed by none other than the prime minister of the country that they don't "belong".

This is the massive flaw in Cameron's Michael Gove/Policy Exchange inspired analysis. Even if we accept that the problem fundamentally is the attraction of violent political Islam as an all encompassing ideology, rather than his straw man of "soft left" compiled grievances, the idea that the solution is a new British identity built around a "muscular" promotion of "our" values is laughable. Cameron's example of communities being allowed to live apart, with white racism condemned while practices such as forced marriage are allowed to go ahead is muddled thinking at its worst, even if it was accurate. How would extremism be dealt a blow if we managed to stop every such arrangement from going ahead? Surely the opposite might well be the case? He goes on to talk of "groups and organisations" and "non-violent extremists" having first influenced those who have gone on to plot or carry out attacks, to which he can only be referring to either Al-Muhajiroun and its successor organisations, all since banned, and/or Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the organisation the Tories previously promised to ban. None of these groups have ever received government funds, and as Sunny points out, those organisations which hold views Cameron now says should proscribe them from direct involvement with the government stopped receiving it in around 2006.

While there is then more than a element of posturing to some of Cameron's points, he often isn't comparing like with like. If political Islam is a perversion of the faith, it requires those that share that faith who may potentially have some views we find abhorrent in order to properly fight against it; this isn't the equivalent of expecting a fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist moment. Some of those who have become radicalised simply won't be convinced by the arguments of the likes of the Quilliam Foundation, however much we would like it to be so. Cameron does in fact all but say this, then instantly contradicts it. This isn't to say that such groups or individuals should receive government funding, but it is counter-productive in the extreme to tell them to their face that they don't belong. Not only is this, as others have again argued, completely alien to the exact concepts of liberal democracy which Cameron wants to espouse and "muscularly" promote, nothing seems more calculated to breed resentment and disillusion with our society. It is exactly what the extremists would and will play on. Assimilate or you're not one of us is a disastrous message to send.

It could well be that this is just another speech that won't be properly followed up with action, or that in reality it just means that Labour's Prevent strategy of showering counter-radicalisation groups and organisations regardless of their provenance with money is coming to an end, as could be expected as the funding for almost everything else dries up. Tony Blair declared the end of state multiculturalism in a similar fashion, and little has changed. Alternatively, and with the announcement of the replacement for ASBOs following a similarly illiberal path, it could mark the end of the one reason to cheer the formation of the coalition.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007 

Between wanting and making.

The Guardian's headline says it all: Rules to make migrates integrate. As always with this government, they don't want people to do something of their own accord, they're going to make them do something, by dropping in threats.

Liam Bryne and Ruth Kelly, both having established themselves as being bloody useless, have written a Fabian pamphlet on integration and "cohesion". As well as introducing a points system for immigration, they propose setting up another one for those seeking citizenship. Those seeking to become British would have to accrue "credits", through time spent here, bringing investment to the country, passing English tests, demonstrating knowledge of the UK, undertaking civic work AND living in a law abiding way. Points would be deducted for that old favourite, anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping or other more serious criminal behaviour.

All of this would make up a "contract", which would be providing to all migrants, setting out what's acceptable and what's not, because they clearly won't understand as they're from foreign countries where they take a shit in the middle of the road and bite the heads off chickens. It's so typically New Labour, so earnestly belittling and patronising that you can almost think they're doing it on purpose. The idea of contracts is clearly one which appeals endlessly to New Labour, as we've previously seen with the proposals from Blair that a citizen, rather than just paying their taxes, needs to make certain agreements with the NHS, schools and the police for services to be provided. It likely started off with the acceptable behaviour contracts that schools themselves often have with unruly pupils, which have since been extended outside the classroom by councils and police who have used them rather than ASBOs and have apparently been a far greater success. The implication though is that New Labour thinks it's perfectly OK to treat us all as naughty children, who need constant clips round the ear to keep them in order.

Migrants are however far easier to bash and talk down to than the actual British population are. The general idea isn't a bad one, it just seems to be making attaining citizenship as onerous as possible for all the wrong reasons, doing something likely to appeal to the tabloids who want the door slammed shut rather than to help make those who want to come and live and work here actually feel welcome.

Similarly twisted is the idea for a "British Values Day". Does anyone know what they are? It's clearly based on the notion that the American sense of patriotism and pride is something worth aspiring towards, when a lot of us quite rightly are sniffy about gratuitous flag-waving and the general belief that any country can be the greatest in the world, with a healthy dose of Christianity seeming to go hand in hand with it. In a nation which is increasingly godless, and which only gets bleary-eyed about the state of the nation when we get knocked out of the football, that seems something to be suspicious about rather than do out of natural joy at the quality of life. The same main problem applies with this at it does with the migrants' credit scheme; it's something that New Labour wants to enforce from above, and if you don't want to celebrate, then they'll make you, like it or not. People have to want to get out the bunting. By all means, give us an extra bank holiday. But don't make us do something in order to deserve it.

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