March 24, 2009

Contesting extremism - UK style

The British government today published its new strategy for counter terrorism, which is being referred to as Contest Two.

This is possibly the most eagerly awaited government report in the UK since Tony Blair's government made the case for the war in Iraq by "borrowing" big chunks of an Arab American's postgraduate research. Since the Guardian and the BBC reported last month that the Contest Two rethink would require Muslim groups working with government money to prove their commitment to democracy and "our shared values", quite a few have been worried that this would mean projects being shut down unless organisers denounce Islamic law, denounce HAMAS and Hizbullah and pledge their acceptance of homosexuality. (possibly in some sort of youtube video to be beamed five times a day towards the direction of Saudi Arabia)

In the end, the report wasn't quite that specific, which means it's not clear exactly how this will play out. The BBC reported the strategy would "challenge those who reject the rights to which we are committed, scorn the institutions and values of our parliamentary democracy, dismiss the rule of law and promote intolerance".

A senior Whitehall source told the BBC that Muslim leaders who urged separation would be isolated and publicly rejected, even if their comments fell within the law.

What does this mean? How would people be "challenged"? Debate? Would people be punished (in one way or another) for holding the "wrong views".

Londonstani thinks Sunny Hundal, a British blogger, writer and activist, pretty much sums it up when he says, "There is a danger that the communities department (who led in the drafting of the stratey) for the sake of political expediency, avoids working with groups that offer easy targets for tabloids."

The government has to work with groups that have credibility with the people they are trying to reach. At the same time British Muslims don't have much in the way of internal debate, which means that broaching issues that are contentious even within the wider community is tough and accepted ideas are difficult to breach, even in the most placid and non-political places and moments.

Hundal says; "What's needed is a clearer distinction between groups helping to prevent extremism and those who will help build social cohesion." And Londonstani agrees.

Also writing in the Guardian author Shamit Saggar implies that the kind of process that results in the outlook the government is implicitly saying it wants to see develop is organic and needs to happen away from the counterterrorism shadow in an environment in which "dissent is not regularly demonised".

Londonstani hasn't read the whole report yet, but is intersted to see what others think.