Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Will British program alienate Muslims in UK?


IN Britain a program that claims to help root out extremism has garnered considerable publicity.


The Association of Chief Police Officers announced this week that its “Channel Project” has successfully intervened in cases involving about 200 children considered to be at risk of extremist behavior or susceptible of being “groomed” by radicals.


I was initially encouraged when I heard about an intervention program to rescue kids from extremism, thinking naively that the police were concerned about all forms of extremism, from gang activity to curbing neo-Nazi activity.


I quickly discovered that the police, at least in the confines of this program, were not interested in saving young children from gangs and racist behavior. Rather, they were apparently only interested in curbing the West’s greatest fear: Radical Islam.The project originally began in Lancashire in 2007 and was extended last year to West Yorkshire, the Midlands, Bedfordshire and South Wales.


There are now plans to expand the program to the rest of the country.Its scheme works like this: Authorities train parents, teachers and youth workers to recognize signs of radicalism in children, then report those concerns to the police. A community panel then decides on what action to take with the most serious cases referred to social services.


This kind of plan is fraught with so many danger signs it’s beyond comprehension. First, the program clearly targets the Muslim community. By focusing on a single group of people with a 1984 mindset reduces our neighbors, friends and co-workers to informants and spies. This will only damage the inherent trust that we have for the people we know.


Secondly, authorities do not explain how the program trains teachers to identify a 13-year-old “potential terrorist.”Can a teacher’s hidden biases and prejudices be identified to prevent someone from carrying out a hidden agenda to harm a child of a specific ethnic background? Even if a teacher is well-intentioned does that person possess the skills and judgment to make a proper identification?


Does a young boy’s fascination with war, guns and adventure mean he is a potential militant or that he is a typical boy who likes his Xbox too much? Does a young girl’s thoughtful essay on Muslim anger in our post 9/11 world rise to the level of extremist ideology or is it her exercise in freedom of expression?Singling out a specific group of people based on their ethnicity or religion only heightens the fear of people who believe that where there is smoke there is fire.


Painting a group with a broad brush is counter-productive and only further isolates that community.Once a child is identified as being susceptible to “radical Islam” he or she could be stigmatized in the community. There are few secrets in a classroom and if a child is receiving special attention for whatever reason, others will know about or fill in the gaps to rumor and innuendo.


Being labeled a radical under any circumstances and having a police file opened on a child could have lifelong consequences.Sir Norman Bettison, the chief constable of West Yorkshire Police and the senior officer in charge of terror prevention, noted that one of the July 7, 2005, bombers of the London tube was a good student, well-adjusted and well-integrated into British society.


But his classroom writings praising Al-Qaeda did not prompt any special attention from school officials, who were aware of his sympathy for the terrorists. Certainly, we now recognize that intervention is critical in such instances, but what is lacking is the threshold of probable cause to inform the police of what constitutes potential radical ideology.


History has taught us that government attempts to make informants out of our friends and neighbors have backfired more times than has been successful. Americans learned the hard away when hundreds, if not thousands, of people were blacklisted in the 1950s and lost their jobs and often their families for their leftist leanings or that countless lives were lost in Europe during World War II when neighbors routinely turned in their friends to authorities on the slightest infraction.


Fear begets fear and soon we are sliding down a slippery slope to where a scenario similar to the movie “Children of Men” is not so farfetched. For many it’s easier to turn in a student or friend to authorities on the slightest provocation rather than to be thought of as soft on terrorism or unpatriotic.


Common sense often takes a backseat in these cases.We need to be vigilant to identify young people caught up on extremism but we shouldn’t be vigilantes. That is why if the Channel Project is to succeed then a transparent and thorough training program must be in place to establish what defines probable cause to identify a person as a potential extremist.Without specific rules and guidelines we are condemned to become informers and spies without a conscience.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is indeed a tricky question... What to do? There is indeed some community who raise the children to be radicals and potentially terrorists. But there is also people (of all religions) who just want to raise their chilcren the way they think is the best, even if it's seem radical to others... Yes, tricky questions!
Emma

Eva said...

Do you have an alternative solution? I would like to hear how you propose to stop the proliferation of islamic extremism in the UK. After all, Muslims died in the 7/7 London suicide bombings. Shouldn't that concern you?

Anonymous said...

Sorry - Brits gotta protect themselves. Immigrants, and even first generation folk had better try harder to assimilate or risk being called enemies. Seriously, no offense, but that's the way the world works - multi-culturalism etc is a pipe-dream. Go back to Pakistan if you want to live like Pakistanis. If you want to come to the UK, act like it.

Anonymous said...

I think the intervention program is not well thought out. However, I do agree the UK government needs such programs targeting Muslim societies, but not restricted to Muslims. The reason is simple. Muslims have failed their societies by allowing Islamic activist free reign to preach hatred and violence.

Anonymous said...

Your are right that there are multiple problems with the scheme, but do they outweigh the problems incurred by doing nothing? The Muslim community has been given plenty of time to do something - time which no other community in society could ever hope to be given under similar circumstances - yet its response seems to be at best to turn a blind eye.
The Muslim community, so happy to identify itself as a separate entity from everybody else, has to stand up when people who identify themselves as from that community pose such a threat.
You describe, if I've captured the tone correctly, "the west's greatest fear" as if somehow it is an irrational fear. Would you be equally happy to describe Saudi Arabia as having such an irrational fear in its well-publicized fight against terrorism? And multiple other governments of Islamic nations doing the same?
I think you were naive if you assumed the scheme would be directed at neo-Nazis and other such reprehensible people, for even if neo-Nazism was wiped out tomorrow the world wouldn't change for much of the planet's population. If Islamic extremism disappeared, life across the globe would significantly change for millions.
If Muslims keep insisting that Muslims should not be targeted just because other people do bad things as well, then I'm afraid we end up resorting to what you rightly describe as plans "fraught with dangers".
You ask: "Can a teacher’s hidden biases and prejudices be identified to prevent someone from carrying out a hidden agenda to harm a child of a specific ethnic background?" and add: "Singling out a specific group of people based on their ethnicity or religion only heightens the fear of people who believe that where there is smoke there is fire."
Your involving and linking beliefs to ethnicity is disingenuous to say the least. I would also add that we already have the fire, it's the smoke we're trying to find.

sabria jawhar said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for visiting and comments. I appreciate your remarks. First, I admittedly was being a bit sarcastic that I had hoped the project would be used to target neo-Nazis. But having said that, such programs may be more effective if they address all forms of anti-social behavior in whatever form.

But what I am really puzzled about are your comments about the Muslim community, as if we are a huge collective like the Borg; this all-inclusive like-minded group of people who somehow must rise up and root out extremists in our very closed community. The problem with this kind of thinking is that while many of my friends are Muslim, just as many are not. I, and most of the Muslims I know, do not belong to any close-knit Muslim community. We work, attend class, study and go to the movies on Friday night like anybody else. Do we have some special insight in what makes an extremist? No. Do I need time to get my act together to help identify potential terrorists? No. I am as far removed from a suicide bomber as you are. Yet you expect me to do my duty as a Muslim and report suspicious activity, although I have see none other than the Yob behavior after a Newcastle United victory. Although I share the same religion, there are plenty of Muslims of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds that I don't identify with for the same reasons you probably don't identify with some people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds but are of your religion. The Muslims I know have no contact, no special knowledge and no access to extremists. Yet from your comments I have plenty of time to "do something." What is that "something?" I want to know.

Anonymous said...

Sabria,
Thanks for the response and posting my reply.
You rightly point to the crux of the problem: "But what I am really puzzled about are your comments about the Muslim community, as if we are a huge collective like the Borg" - for it seems to me, as I said in my post, that it is Muslims who first identify themselves as such. Read any speech from a Muslim political leader or self-proclaimed leader, listen to your local imam, read any number of articles every day in the Arab press, hear Muslims speak on television or in the street, and you will hear a great many of them divide their vision of the world between Muslims and non-Muslims. Further, when one Muslim is perceived to have done something of value this is expected to reflect on the whole "Muslim community". When it is something bad, that same "Muslim community" claims it is being targeted and says it has nothing to do with them. I am surprised that you yourself say you are puzzled, especially after writing:
"First, the program clearly targets the Muslim community."

Your analogy with loyal supporters of "The Toon" is interesting: "although I have see none other than the Yob behavior after a Newcastle United victory." Are you suggesting that all Newcastle supporters are "yobs"? I presume not. Are you suggesting that the police should then ignore the undesirable behaviour of - dare I say - "a tiny minority of Newcastle supporters"? Again, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I presume not. That's why since the 1980s the police have added to their usual presence at football matches by using cameras, undercover police and infiltrating violent groups to try and put a stop to the problem of violence. Are they targeting all Toon supporters in their efforts to root out the few troublemakers who openly identify themselves as Newcastle supporters? There was a time when football hooligans were dismissed as "not real football supporters". Apart from from being disingenuous, self-deluding, and illogical, that attitude from the football community simply didn't work.
If I may paraphrase: "Although I share the same football team, there are plenty of Newcastle supporters of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds that I don't identify with for the same reasons you probably don't identify with some people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds but are of the same football team. The Newcastle supporters I know have no contact, no special knowledge and no access to extremists." That is true, so what then can I do as a Newcastle supporter to help root the violent elements among us? I can, at the very least, welcome efforts to address the problem with open arms, rather than block them by claiming that all Newcastle supporters are being persecuted, or claiming that official efforts are racist against the Geordies, or being more outraged that they are doing nothing about Sunderland supporters than I am at the violence committed by fellow Newcastle supporters, or saying that only police who are Newcastle supporters should be allowed into St. James' Park or Newcastle supporters' homes to deal with Newcastle supporters, or hinting that any efforts to address the problem will only lead to, and even justify, more violence... at the very least.

ms.truewrite said...

First of all, Sabria, I appreciate your exposure of the Channel Project on the blogosphere. I had not heard about this prior to reading your entry, and there are certainly many concerning issues with the project. There was a good balance in your perspective between the necessity of preventive action and the possibility of chaos. Ideologically your arguments made sense to me, I wanted to see some actual products of the Channel Project, so I did a bit of research. There is a great story in the Times (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3593697.ece) about a young man in Britain who was affected by a participant in the project. The 16-year-old’s mother was concerned about his verbally expressed desire to kill Americans, so she contacted youth worker Toaha Qureshi (who is a part of the Channel Project). Qureshi simply talked with the young man and gave him the opportunity to pursue a job and to engage with other teenagers of different races and backgrounds.
This story shows a different project to me than the one that leads to a chaotic, backstabbing society. There were a few things in place that made for a successful situation: First, there was a parent who took responsibility for her child; Second, there were resources available for that parent in need of help; Third, the resources available took a kind, non-confrontational approach.
You say early in the entry that authorities “were apparently only interested in curbing the West’s greatest fear: Radical Islam.” I think the West is afraid of Radical Islam, and even Islam in general for many reasons. Most westerners do not understand the teachings of Islam or the culture that they thrive in. Terrorism causes great fear in the hearts of Westerners because it is a type of warfare, which seems, to many westerners, to be grounded in hate for themselves, with no sort of moral appeal or mercy. Not all terrorists are Muslims, and not all Muslims are terrorists. However, there is no doubt that in a few circles of Islam, there is a concerning ideology of hatred and harm for the West. Considering the growing Muslim population in Britain and the increasing institution of Sharia law, I would expect British authorities to be practically concerned.
For this reason, I agree with you that the program, while having potential danger, has a good purpose and should be fitted with solid guidelines and standards to safeguard from profiling and McCarthyism.