Select Committee on Home Affairs Sixth Report

7 Tackling international terrorism, building cohesive communities

170. In this section we examine some of the issues which need to be addressed if we are to tackle terrorism and to build cohesive communities.

The Government's anti-terrorism strategy

171. It was suggested to us that previous British governments had not been able to combat terrorism without alienating the Irish community. For example, the freelance journalist Paul Donovan believed that the operation in the 1970s of Prevention of Terrorism Act had sent the Irish community back into itself, creating resentment toward the state and its various agencies. He believed that little if any evidence had ever been produced to suggest that the anti-terror law actually stopped or helped prevent terrorism and that much of the terrorism that was prevented came about as a result of routine policing which caught terrorists in the act. Similarly, the Muslim Council argued that one of the results of the police treating the Irish as a suspect community had been that the public were encouraged to do the same.[187]

172. Throughout the inquiry we heard much encouraging evidence that British Muslims have become increasingly engaged with local and national government since 9/11. Despite the concerns about the use of anti-terrorism powers, there is a widespread view that police-community consultation and relations have improved considerably since 9/11.

173. However, it does seem that more needs to be done to ensure that these discussions reach deep into Muslim communities. It is not clear, for example, that sufficient effort is being made to ensure that measures like control orders are being explained and discussed in the wider community. Although we believe that the Minister's comments on the use of counter-terrorist powers and the Muslim community (see paragraph 166) were widely misquoted and reported out of context, the impression left by the media will inevitably have been that Muslims would be targeted because of their faith. In such situations it is essential that swift and effective communication channels exist to counteract such mis-information.

174. The Government has now made a commitment to new anti-terrorism legislation and a review of existing powers. It is essential, in our view, that British Muslims are engaged fully in this review from the earliest possible moment. We believe that this should be made an explicit responsibility of the reviewer of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. In parallel, the Home Office should initiate its own consultations.

175. However, it is not clear that there is a coherent strategy, developed with the Muslim community for tackling extremism, still less that these issues have been addressed with other communities. We can contrast this, perhaps, with the broad consensus that exists amongst the police, political parties and local and national government in tackling a terrorist organisation like the Provisional IRA or a racist organisation like the BNP.


176. Interlocutors in both France and the Netherlands raised recruitment by extremist groups in prisons. Given the rise in numbers of Muslim prisoners since 1993 (see paragraph 71), we asked the Minister of State if a similar problem existed here. She said that "a small number" of prisoners might well be subject to such influences, whether from other prisoners or from imams working in prisons. Efforts were therefore being made to ensure that there were properly trained imams in the prison service, but she agreed that this was an area in which more work should be done.[188] If recruitment of prisoners to extremist groups is a problem in both France and the Netherlands, it is likely to be one here. The Government should examine the issue as a matter of priority.


177. There are undoubtedly extremists in every religion.[189] We reject any suggestion that Muslims are in some way more likely to turn to terrorism than followers of other religions. It is clear from the evidence presented to us that there are some individuals who advocate violence against others in the name of a number of faiths. Faith leaders must condemn, without equivocation, those of their co-religionists who advocate violence. It is perhaps important to note that there is a distinction to be made between the expression of what might be seen in a western European context as reactionary social views, but which falls within the bounds of free speech, and the advocacy of terrorism or other forms of violence. However, we are concerned that preachers from other countries, who have a reputation for extremist views, can during their visits to Britain harm community relations. We refer more generally to foreign-born imams who reside here in paragraphs 193 and 194.

178. We do not share the Minister's anxiety about discussing terrorism with the Muslim communities (see paragraph 125). In our inquiry and our informal conversations we found many people anxious to discuss the issue and, in particular, the complex factors which could lead a young British person down that road. Provided, therefore, that any discussions also embraced wider issues, we believe it would, though sometimes difficult, be a productive discussion process.

179. It follows from what we say that the new terrorism legislation cannot and must not simply be a set of police and judicial powers. It must be part of an explicit broader anti-terrorism strategy. In the context of international terrorism, it must explicitly and specifically set out how British Muslim leaders will be supported in assisting British Muslims in resisting extremist views.

180. It is clear that a number of issues need to be tackled. Among the first priorities are those organising and propagating extremist ideas sympathetic to terrorism. They must be identified and dealt with effectivelynot only by the authorities, but most importantly by the Muslim community itself.

181. Witnesses had a range of views about the reasons that lead a few young Britons to involvement in terrorism. Young Muslim women from Bolton with whom we had a short informal discussion appeared unanimous that a sense of rejection by British society led young people to turn to Islam: a few of them would move to extremism. Similar views were expressed to us in the Netherlands, and we were told of a range of initiatives in Amsterdam to integrate minority communities, and imams, including targeted courses in citizenship.

182. Other witnesses argued that the answer was to create more effective leadership in communities or to tackle the causes of deprivation.[190] Greater cross-cultural contact in education was also called for.[191] The Minister of State effectively admitted that she did not know:

"I could not honestly say that I have a convincing and complete explanation for what I think is a complex set of issues about the influences that people are exposed to during the course of their lives."[192]

183. Part of the Government's strategy must be a more open debate about why a small number of devout Muslims may be drawn into terrorism. Our inquiry could not reach definitive conclusions. However, our discussions in the UK, France and the Netherlands lead us to reject simplistic, mono-causal explanations like social exclusion. Whilst the economic disadvantage and social deprivation of Muslim communities is well documented, active terrorists are at least as likely to come from prosperous families or be personally well-educated and successful.

184. On the other hand, the social exclusion of Muslim communities, coupled to a continuing experience of racism, is likely to make it difficult for many young Muslims to feel fully part of wider British society. Many find it equally difficult to identify fully with the culture of their historic country of origin. In this situation it is not surprising to find that a devout Islam offers an important sense of identity. There are many aspects of this development which are very positive and the Government have repeatedly stressed that importance of faith communities in building a wider society.


185. In 2003, the Bangladeshi Youth League published a reflection on the issue of identity within the Bangladeshi community:

"Who am I? Many Bangladeshi youths are faced with this identity crisis. We are not fully accepted as being British even though we were born in Britain. Nor are we fully accepted as being Bangladeshi even though we have the same skin colour and can speak the same mother tongue language, which is Bengali.

"If the first generation were asked 'What is your nationality?' they would probably say with no hesitation that they are 100% Bangladeshi. If the same question were asked to the second generation there would probably be a sense of confusion running through their minds. When they finally answer the question there is a doubt in their answer. The second generation have not fully accepted the term British or Bangladeshi in their identity. […]

"It is evident that they have no fixed identity, their identity is constantly floating, being defined, modified and redefined in society. There is a culture clash emerging in the Bangladeshi communities. The traditional culture and behaviour of the first generation are only marginally changed in many aspects of their social life. In comparison the second generation are faced daily with the question of identity, if they don't make certain changes in their cultural identity, appearance and their traditional views they find it hard to fit into British society."[193]

186. There is much evidence that these uncertainties in Muslim communities about identity are widespread, particularly, but not only, among young people. For example, a Minority Rights Group International report notes a variety of attitudes among British Muslims and observes that for some young Muslims Britishness "is frequently described in terms of citizenship, rather than an emotional and cultural bond shared with the rest of the population".[194] Dr Khanum told us that many young Bangladeshi women identified themselves as Muslim: this had been a surprise to her as their parents identified themselves as Bangladeshi.[195]

187. Sticking together noted that while some young people in Luton did not identify with being British or English, they did feel they had a Luton identity.[196] A Best Value Performance Indicator survey of residents of Luton had shown that of those who described themselves as white 57.8% belonged to Luton, while for Black and minority ethnic (BME) communities the figure was 79.6%. When asked if they felt they belonged to England the figures were 85.4% of whites and 75.1% of BME respondents, and if they belonged to Britain 80.5% and 75.1% respectively.[197]

188. Not all young Muslims were concerned by uncertainties over their identity. Dr Khanum quoted some young people as saying:

""Why do you bother about identity? We have multiple identity and according to mood and circumstance we call ourselves Bangladeshi, British, Muslim or Lutonian or whatever."[198]

189. We were struck during our visit to France by the way in which the widely understood concept of the French citizen and their rights and duties was a starting point for discussion of these issues (although we were not able to assess how valuable this will prove to be). We did not detect similar certainty in the Netherlands. We are sure it does not exist in the United Kingdom. The Cantle report called for a clearer idea of what it means to be British: the first two of the 67 recommendations in the report were:

"The rightsand in particularthe responsibilities of citizenship need to be more clearly established [...] This should then be formalised into a form of statement of allegiance.

"However, this should follow an honest and open national debate, led by Government and heavily influenced by younger people. We believe that this should be initiated very quickly and lead directly to a programme of action."[199]

190. We asked the Minister of State whether there should be such a debate. She said:

"In terms of opportunities for everyone and mutual expectations, it is very much the agenda that we talk about across government, whether it is opportunity, security, rights and responsibilities, that sense of mutual inter-dependence. That is not necessarily just about Britishness; that is about the core values that are the glue that holds us together. [...] I think there is a need for a great debate about what those mutual inter-dependencies are, and the relationship between rights and responsibilities and opportunities in this country. I think there is a need to re-establish some norms of behaviour, what I would call the essential standards of decency, but I do not think there is necessarily a need for a great debate about Britishness.[200]

191. There is perhaps a danger, however, that if the alienation from the wider society is too great, a small number of people will be drawn to extremist interpretations of their faith. The development of a deeper faith amongst young British Muslims should be entirely compatible with a secure and comfortable British identity.

192. It is important to stress that this is not a debate for Muslims alone, nor, indeed, for other minority communities. Part of the problem is the racism and rejection which is experienced from some parts of the majority community in which unjustified fear, suspicion and simple lack of understanding play a large part. An inclusive British identity for the 21st century can only be created by the full participation of all parts of society.

193. Questions of identity may be inextricably linked with the reasons which may lead a small number of well-educated and apparently integrated young British people to turn to terrorism. No one should be forced to choose between being British and being Muslim and we do not believe the two are in any way incompatible. The relationship between rights and responsibilities and opportunities in this country cannot be separated from the concept of Britishness. These issues were raised by the Cantle Report in 2001. They have not lost their relevance today, and we endorse the Cantle Report's conclusion that a wider debate, in which young people must play a leading role, about a modern British identity should be developed.

Foreign ministers of religion

194. The issue of foreign-born imams, who might espouse extremist positions and who would be unlikely to have much understanding of the host countrythus increasing segregationwas raised with us more than once in France and the Netherlands. We have only anecdotal and media evidence to suggest that this is a significant problem in this country. The Minister told us about the progress of, and consultation on, regulations to ensure ministers of religion from abroad have a knowledge of English and of British life:

"There are two stages. We have brought in the first stage and now they [foreign ministers of religion] have to show they can use spoken English to Level 4 in the International English Language Testing system, which is described as a limited user. Over the next two years that will be raised to Level 6, so people will have to be more proficient in English when they first come in. We are just about to launch a second stage of consultation with faith communities on taking some further measures to try and ensure ministers of religion from abroad can play a full role in the community. That means non-spoken language, it includes things like civic knowledge, engagement in communities, pre-entry qualifications, and we want to explore with the faith communities what ought to be the range of skills and abilities that people who want to come into this country as ministers of religion should possess."[201]

We note that the Government has no plans to follow the Dutch example of providing funding to the Muslim community for education of local-born imams.[202]

195. We welcome the Government's efforts so far to ensure that foreign ministers of religion have the language skills and knowledge of this country to make a contribution to communities here. The success of these efforts should be kept under review and, if necessary, ideas from other countries should be studied.

187   Ev 32-24 and 66, HC 165-II Back

188   Q 506 Back

189   "Extremism" in a religious context can mean an exceptionally strict interpretation of rules or guidelines on physical appearance and behaviour, without any link to violence. In this report, however, we use it to mean an interpretation of a religion that allows or encourages violence against those who do not conform to that interpretation. Back

190   Q 442 Back

191   Q 443 Back

192   Q 462 Back

193   Bangladesh Youth League Annual report, 2002-2003, page 7, available on Back

194   Minority Rights Group International, Muslims in Britain, August 2002 Back

195   Q 452 Back

196   Sticking together, p 16 Back

197   Q 453 [Mr Singh] Back

198   Q 452 Back

199   Cantle report, p 46 Back

200   Q 520 Back

201   Q 502the second stage of consultation was launched on 3 March 2005. Back

202   Q 507 Back

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