20 December 2014
I recently read the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill 2014-2015. It proposes a number of legal changes and additional powers for the law enforcement authorities.
The background to the Bill is that the UK faces the risk of terrorism from many sources (for example far right terrorists and dissident Irish Republicans to name just two) but the most serious concern is terrorism from extremist Muslims. While the Bill's language is of course neutral, some of the proposed measures (such as a power to seize passports when people are trying to leave the UK where a person is suspected of intending to leave the UK in connection with terrorism-related activity) are clearly aimed at the current situation where some British Muslims have gone to fight with so called "Islamic State" in Syria and Iraq.
As with all proposed legislation, the detailed provisions of the Bill need to be scrutinised carefully to ensure that they will work effectively, integrate with the rest of the law, and not impair our liberties more than necessary. However as I read the Bill, these aspects were not the ones that I found myself thinking about most. Instead I found myself thinking about how different people see the overall context differently. They see different "big pictures."
Accordingly I wrote a piece for the Conservative Home website, giving it the title "Mohammed Amin: Reflections prompted by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill". That title was chosen to emphasise that is was about wider issues than just the detailed provisions of the Bill. However the editor used his prerogative to change the title when publishing it on the website. I have reproduced the piece as published on Conservative Home below.
When writing the piece, I kept clear in my mind the distinction between the views and actions of the Government, and the views held by parts of British society and sometimes propagated by parts of the media which I discuss in my piece "Anti-Muslim prejudice: some causes and counter-strategies."
My statements in the piece are about the Government itself. I do not see the Government as being anti-Muslim, but I am aware that some Muslims do.
Mohammed Amin is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity.
I was impressed when I read the speech delivered by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, at the Royal United Services Institute last month. I regarded it as a balanced summary of the risks we face and tweeted accordingly.
In my view, there is a serious problem of British Muslims travelling to Syria and Iraq to fight for so called “Islamic State” (ISIS). While doing so there, they are likely to commit abominable crimes. Furthermore, we face the risk of them committing terrorism in the UK after return. As evidence that the risk is not just conjectural, Mehdi Nemmouche, the alleged perpetrator of the Jewish Museum of Belgium murder, is believed to have spent over a year in Syria and appears to be affiliated to ISIS.
When the Bill was published, I downloaded it promptly, but have only recently got round to reading it. Very briefly, without attempting to summarise the Bill, the provisions include:
Liberty (an organisation of which I have been a member for many years) produced a 34 page briefing for the second reading, pointing out the many concerns that they have with the details of the legislation. Such detailed critical scrutiny is entirely appropriate, and one of the reasons I support Liberty.
On social media, I saw many critical comments from British Muslims and next to nothing favourable apart from a cautious welcome (the right tone in my view) from the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam. I decided to audit my memory while writing this piece. Few Muslim organisations appear to have commented on the Bill, apart from the Islamic Human Rights Commission which was very critical. The Muslim Council of Britain appears not to have taken any public position. The “vox pop” comments in this AFP story are consistent with the negative reactions I recall from social media.
Reading the Bill led me to reflect on why my reaction to it is so different from those other Muslims whom I encounter complaining about it.
The fundamental issue is how one sees our country and our society. The simplest way to illustrate this is to write down some propositions that I regard to be obvious:
In my view, there are large numbers of successful well-integrated British Muslims who agree with the above propositions. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons they are rarely heard on social media or in the press. One practical factor is that they are busy getting on with their careers; when at PwC I had very limited time for writing pieces such as this one.
Unfortunately there are also many British Muslims who dissent from some, and in extreme cases, all, of the above propositions. Furthermore, by dint of loud repetition their narrative risks being accepted as true by many of those who have not yet formed a view of their own.
There are of course other issues where views are almost as polarised. For example, I support Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms to the benefits system because I see them as being primarily driven by the desire to help people by saving them from a life on benefits. However, many left-wing campaigners see the reforms as deliberate measures to further impoverish the poor to provide tax cuts for the rich.
You cannot persuade people of the truth of propositions such as those above by just saying them once. However. it does help to say them repeatedly, since eventually people start to hear them.
More fundamentally, you persuade people by doing things, and then telling them what you have done. Our Government actually has an excellent track record of demonstrating that it treats Muslims as equal citizens, including for example:
However, I believe we do not do enough to tell people, repeatedly, what we have done and this allows negative narratives of the type which concern me to proliferate.