Our weakness makes the Islamists stronger – Melanie Phillips

 

Extremism is penetrating ever further in our national life as the authorities refuse to face reality

published in the Times 23/8/16

As the Islamist demagogue Anjem Choudary awaits sentencing for inviting support for Islamic State, the government is facing a crisis of its own making over the radicalisation of Muslim prisoners.

Choudary, who is said to have radicalised thousands of British Muslims over the years, is reportedly to be segregated from other prisoners when he is sent to jail next month.

The review by Ian Acheson of Islamist extremism in prisons, whose summary was published yesterday while the rest remains classified, suggests that a small number of the most dangerous Islamist prisoners be segregated to prevent them from accelerating still further the growing problem of inmate radicalisation.

Neither Choudary’s conviction nor Acheson’s report does more than scratch the surface of this long-standing and dangerous problem. Acheson confirmed fears that British jails have become universities of jihad. Islamists were threatening prison staff and other inmates, aggressively promoting conversion to Islam and pressuring staff to leave the prayer room during periods of unsupervised collective worship.

Prison staff didn’t confront such extremism for fear of being labelled racist. The new justice secretary, Liz Truss, promised yesterday to crack down on this extremism behind bars.

 

The signs, however, are not promising. Five books inciting jihad remained in prison circulation a full seven months after Acheson’s inspection team alerted the Ministry of Justice to them last November. Moreover, government and security circles are still failing to analyse the problem correctly.

Some say Choudary escaped justice for so long by operating on just the right side of the law. Others insist he was allowed to continue to spread his poison because the powers-that-be didn’t accept there was a link between his ravings and the radicalisation of young British Muslims.

I discovered for myself precisely that denial of the obvious among the establishment more than ten years ago when researching my book Londonistan, which warned that Britain was sleepwalking into Islamisation. Now at least the government has come to acknowledge a continuum of extremism that can lead young Muslims into terrorism.

The problem, however, is that it is still unable or unwilling accurately to define Islamist extremism. Its counter-extremism strategy defines it as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values”, a definition so vague it could draw into its net many who aren’t even Muslims.

The reason for this lack of precision is the government’s extreme reluctance to accept that the threat is uniquely centred upon Islamic religious fanaticism.

Its 2013 Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism defined Islamist extremism as an ideology based on a “distorted” interpretation of Islam, which betrayed its “peaceful principles” and “should not be confused with traditional religious practice”.

Acheson follows suit by stating that “Islamism — a politicised, expansionist version of Islam — is more ideology than faith, and is driven by intolerance and anti-western sentiment”. This all fails to grasp that Islam is both faith and political ideology, and that expansionist jihad is based on the most traditional, purist interpretation of the religion. Certainly, millions of Muslims not only reject this interpretation but are themselves its victims. It is, however, as authentically grounded in Islam as the Inquisition was in Christianity.

This fundamental mistake also leads Acheson to gloss over the fact that the Deobandi sect, to which some 70 per cent of prison imams belong, is hardline fundamentalist and gave rise to the Taliban.

Young Muslims don’t need to know anything about Islam to become radicalised

While some Deobandi are pluralists, mainstream Deobandi thinking in Britain denounces integration, demonises Christians and Jews and supports terrorism abroad. Yet the head of the National Offender Management Service, Michael Spurr, has said the Deobandi prison imams promote tolerance of different faiths. Acheson’s summary manages merely the limp wrist-slap that they display “a weak understanding and effective approach to Islamist extremism”.

Deobandis control 45 per cent of Britain’s mosques and nearly all the UK-based training of Islamic scholars. It may be that the penetration of Deobandi thinking among Britain’s Muslims is now so extensive it is simply unthinkable for any government report to acknowledge that it is indeed a form of Islamist extremism.

The steady penetration of such extremism in Britain is an abject history of one administration after another putting its head in the sand. The reason the government is constantly shocked that so many young Muslims are being radicalised is that it still can’t or won’t acknowledge the reality of Islam itself.

Unlike Christianity, it is not merely a set of spiritual beliefs but creates a strong sense of peoplehood. Since Islam represents divine perfection, it also follows that any thwarting of its religious expansionism means that many Muslims believe their whole community to be under attack.

Which is why young Muslims don’t need to know anything about Islam to become radicalised. All that’s needed is to incite them to a false but utterly incendiary belief that their people have to be defended against a cruel and evil enemy. Britain and the West refuse to acknowledge this reality. Instead they attack those who identify it as Islamophobic in order to silence them. Those who thus refuse even to name the enemy they face will surely be defeated by it.