Previous Section Index Home Page

25 Jun 2008 : Column 76WH—continued

I turn now from the present big picture, to the big picture in the future. If violent extremism is to be prevented, finding agreement about its causes will surely
25 Jun 2008 : Column 77WH
help, as the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) indicated. Different people give different explanations. To some, the cause is poverty and discrimination. To others, it is foreign policy. To others still, it is generational tensions between older people who came to Britain, often from the Indian subcontinent, and their younger, British-born children and grandchildren. To others still, it is the separatist ideology of al-Qaeda and other movements, which distorts the Islamic concept of jihad and seeks the establishment of a worldwide caliphate. I believe that all those factors play a part and it would be wrong to exclude any of them. Some people of course go further and argue that Islam itself is the cause of terror and extremism, and an obstacle to integration and cohesion. My view is precisely the opposite. There is not too much mainstream Islam in Britain today: rather, in relation to the problems that we are exploring, there is often too little. I believe that building further support for mainstream Islam within our Muslim communities is a key part of defeating terror and extremism and advancing integration and cohesion. I shall explain why.

As my Muslim friends and contacts point out—and I should, on a cautionary note, say that I am of course not a Muslim myself, so I speak with some hesitation on such matters—a key institution in preventing extremism and building moderation is the mosque. However, in many mosques the language of worship and of the Friday khutbah hails from the subcontinent or elsewhere abroad. Often, younger people and women have little place in the institutional life of the mosque. Children, meanwhile, are taught to recite the Koran, but not necessarily to understand its meaning and explore wider Islamic teaching, history, spirituality and culture.

There are of course many exceptions. I am thinking of the Karima al-Marwaziyya Foundation in my constituency, in which young people participate actively, and which is linked to Wycombe Islamic mission; but my friends and contacts ask, if some young people have dropped out of the mosque, perhaps because it does not meet all their needs, are not they especially vulnerable to al-Qaeda and others who distort the sacred texts of Islam for their own fanatical purposes? They go on to say that al-Qaeda’s attention is concentrated at least as much on Muslims as on non-Muslims, and that one of its strategic aims is to groom young Muslims for extremism and terrorism, and thereby to undermine mainstream Muslim leadership in Britain and elsewhere.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Is not one of the fundamental problems that, for whatever reason, lots of Muslims just do not feel British? There are other communities in this country—for example, a well-established Sikh community in Kettering—who feel extremely British, with no hatred at all towards the British state. Yet the extremism in some Muslim communities extends to hatred of the British state, even though many of those Muslims have been here for many years. Why is that?

Mr. Goodman: I would probably have to have written a doctoral thesis to give my hon. Friend a full answer; but I referred earlier to the many factors that account for that lack of identification with Britishness. Building support for and identification with Britishness generally is something for public institutions such as schools, and
25 Jun 2008 : Column 78WH
is a matter of, for example, what the Government do about national holidays. I do not have time to explore that aspect of the issue this morning. I want to return to the function of the mosque in building resilience against violent extremism; perhaps at some future date my hon. Friend and I and others will get the chance to debate the issue that he has raised.

I do not of course have the time to explore all the contributory factors to extremism and the obstacles to integration and cohesion that I cited a few moments ago. I do, however, want to float a few ideas, largely in relation to helping further to build the capacity of Islamic religious institutions, precisely in order to forestall the extremist drive to win the hearts and minds of the next generation of Muslims and the ownership of Islam itself. The Government’s main means of assisting the Islamic religious institutions remains the Preventing Violent Extremism scheme. We have to recognise that it is extremely problematic to target taxpayers’ money at one religious community. Some non-Muslims, and in my experience particularly some black church groups, say for that reason that the scheme is unfair. At the same time, some Muslims, particularly many young Muslims, say that the branding of the scheme is offensive. Why, they argue, are they uniquely singled out? Furthermore, there is no evidence as yet that the programme as a whole is preventing violent extremism, despite the admirable schemes to which I referred in my introductory remarks.

In our view, Ministers should allow local councils more discretion in the use of the fund for other community cohesion purposes. Since the targeting of taxpayers’ money at one religious group is always problematic, should not Ministers be looking more closely at utilising the energy, flair and dynamism of the private, independent and voluntary sectors? After all, there must be, on the one hand, many rich, charitably inclined, mainstream Muslim potential donors; and there are certainly, on the other hand, many mosques seeking to improve their capacity. It is surely not beyond the wit of Government to link one to the other. Can Ministers further encourage their contacts to donate to suitable charities or foundations, which would in turn grant funds to, say, a mosque seeking to pay a well qualified, English-speaking Imam the kind of salary that would not only attract him to the job but keep him in it; or to an education project that brings pupils from different schools and religions together; or to a madrassah curriculum for children that seeks, as some now do, to demonstrate an Islamic basis for our common way of life?

Moving on, extremists are clearly adept at constructing a grand narrative of conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims by the manipulation of Islamic texts, and at running bookshops on site or online with books, tapes, DVDs, films and lectures that hammer out simple and repetitious propaganda messages of confrontation, hatred and anger. Is there more that Ministers can do to encourage mainstream Islamic publishers to offer clear, simple and Islam-based material, in plain English, that rebuts extremist claims and that advances the case for shared values and our common democracy? Can they also encourage, in relation to the grand narrative itself, the many mainstream Islamic scholars in our universities and elsewhere to help construct a counter-narrative of modern British Islam that would marry Islamic teaching and western democracy and give shape and force to that
25 Jun 2008 : Column 79WH
more simple material? I believe that some scholars are in fact already helping to construct that counter-narrative in their everyday scholarly work. However, there must be more that Ministers can do give such a project impetus. I have previously floated the idea of a privately funded institute of British Islam. I am interested to see that the Government’s strategy document refers on page 4 to

which seems to be a thought along much the same lines.

The terror threat is clearly serious, the scope of counter-terror is clearly vast, and I do not have time to explore all the issues involved, such as the “prestige gap” arising from the relative economic underdevelopment of many Muslim majority countries. In conclusion, however, there is perhaps more reason—I say that, again, with some hesitation—to be optimistic about the long-term prospects in Britain than there was in the wake of 7/7. I do not propose to make judgments about all the issues arising from the Ramadan controversy, the defection of Maajid Nawaz from Hizb ut-Tahrir, Ed Husain’s “The Islamist”, and the emergence of such relatively new groups as Muslims for Secular Democracy, the City Circle and the Quilliam Foundation. However, those developments are all unquestionable indications that contemporary debate within British Islam is lively, and that the overwhelming majority of British people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, are united against terror and extremism. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Mrs. Janet Dean (in the Chair): I advise Members that we have until 10.30 for Back-Bench speeches.

10 am

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): It has been a pleasure to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) give us a lesson on the Prevent arm of the Contest strategy. It is always a challenge for someone such as me to pick through all the many groups that the Muslim community either takes some learning from or is in dispute with, so I will look back at Hansard and use his speech as a reference.

I shall not prolong my speech; I simply want to raise some of my concerns about the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy and some of the issues that have presented themselves to me over the last three years as I have made contact and visited certain locations involved in it. It is right to remind the Chamber that the Contest strategy consists of Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare. We have heard my hon. Friend speak eloquently about the elements of Prevent.

To follow on from that, I have some concerns about the Prevent strategy and how we are funding some initiatives from the centre. In counter-terrorism, it is easy to focus on areas where we are vulnerable to attack rather than the areas of growth of the terrorists. For example, large amounts of the money earmarked for the expansion of the counter-terrorism branch functions of Prevent go to Manchester rather than to Lancashire, where my constituency is. Anyone who looks at the mapping of the Muslim communities in the north-west will see that that is the wrong way round. I recognise that Manchester has a bigger population, but prevention may need to occur a long way off from the point or place of attack, as was all too obvious on 7/7.

25 Jun 2008 : Column 80WH

We need to show a strong lead in the universities. I was horrified about 18 months ago when university lecturers refused to participate in the Government’s much-needed and welcome call to map and keep an eye on students and the activities of some radical groups on campus. It is incredibly important that they play a role. It is not politics—Marxist, old-fashioned 1960s anti-state politics. It is important, and it is the role of a good teacher or lecturer to have concern for their class. That is all that the Government were asking them to participate in. I hope that they reconsider.

I want to focus more on the Pursue strand, highlighting some of the challenges. I have no real problem with the Government’s efforts in that area. I think that the regional hubs have been a success. It is not a new model, of course; it goes back to the tasking and co-ordinating groups in Northern Ireland. The hubs have helped to eliminate the traditional budgetary arguments and fighting over territory, and have ensured that tasks are carried out with priority, no matter who is effectively in the lead. That is a success, and I hope that it grows and gets the results that we should all expect from it.

One of the real challenges for the special branch departments in each police force—I think that they have been renamed counter-terrorism branches—is the huge amount of intelligence that they now have to map on communities. Before 2001, there was effectively no mapping of those communities and individuals or ranking of individuals by how much of a threat they were or were likely to be, or perhaps by whether they would play a role in radicalisation.

When I first took over an intelligence cell in Northern Ireland, we had 20 years of intelligence stacked up in computers and files. Some of it, I must say as an aside, was incredibly dodgy, probably because it was based on internment, but nevertheless the communities were well mapped and it was easy to move in, take over the role and hand over.

Bob Spink: The hon. Gentleman mentions 2001. Will he acknowledge that the Government have been successful in their policy in that since 2001 they have disrupted 12 major terrorist plots? They are achieving at least some success in their activities.

Mr. Wallace: I have not come to criticise the Government; I am trying to highlight the challenges that they face. What is important is that the process does not result in fragmented forces.

Each force and each special branch or counter-terrorism office will do some things differently, and it is important that we are quick off the mark in spreading best practice throughout those offices and among police officers to ensure that we do not end up, as we often do with IT systems, with every branch and police force having its own technology, people losing the thread and people slipping through the net. That point is important and not to be underestimated, because it is how we can allow for a long legacy in counter-terrorism. If we rush or ignore it—I know of some police forces that are not giving it the priority that they should—we will reap the whirlwind.

There is still work to be done on the interface between the security services and our police officers. More and more, our police officers and forces are becoming the executive extension of the security services. When the
25 Jun 2008 : Column 81WH
security services want something done—searches, arrests or surveillance—they go to their local branch and use the police.

We may be moving piece by piece towards having an FBI, and I make no secret of the fact that I sometimes think that that might be a better model, but we should keep an eye on that interface and never forget that the security services are not an executive body but an intelligence analysis body. We must ensure consistency.

The Government should always be on the lookout for new offences. I find it amazing that people are known of in this country whose job is to recruit young men to go and fight abroad in Islamic jihads around the globe. What came out in the inquiry after 7/7 was the fact that some people were discarded not because they were not terrorist threats, but because they were not recruiting in relation to Britain. I remember that one individual had been involved in recruiting people to go and train in camps. Surely that should be an offence in this country. We should be considering ways to cut off the activities of such individuals.

I still have concerns about some of the other strands, such as Protect. I am not sure that we have done enough in our infrastructure—for example, radios in the London underground and detection of the use of chemicals in certain vulnerable zones. Four or five years ago, the United States had already bought detection for the New York subway—off the shelf, from a British company—and had funded a lot of work on detecting suicide bombers. We are not there yet, and we should be at the forefront, given our experiences. We must keep an eye on that. It perhaps needs better examination by one of the Select Committees involved.

It is easy to forget lessons learned. There is a saying in the armed forces that generals delight in writing books about lessons learned. Of course, writing books about lessons unlearned would be physically impossible, as there is so much material and history. Time and again, Ministers say, “This is not the IRA. This is al-Qaeda. It’s a new terrorism,” almost as though that sometimes excuses the lessons that we have learned, but there are plenty of similarities.

The two are not the same. I do not pretend that their aims are the same or that some of the individuals are the same, but vulnerabilities in counter-terrorism or counter-insurgency are fixed principles that do not change through history. People are vulnerable, whether they are religious fanatics or not. They might be loners, need money or be jealous. Those are all things—the same things—that attract people to being recruited as informers and they do not change. When the state gets its balance wrong and takes shortcuts on terrorism, as with the 42 days, it can damage the resources that have been so good in the past.

We should not forget that the IRA used to have more anger than capability. It was good at being angry in the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s; it was not very good at terrorism. The first time IRA members fired an RPG-7, they fired it from inside a Mini, managing to kill themselves and miss the target. They could not make explosives. Then they stopped, went to university and developed their engineering skills. They changed anger into skills and the IRA became a very effective terrorist organisation.

25 Jun 2008 : Column 82WH

At the moment, some members of the radical Islamic groups out there make better angry mullahs than fighters, but it will not be long before they change, learn from other terrorist organisations and return to our streets with equipment that works, rather than does not work. We must not forget the lessons we have learned, nor think that, because those people are new terrorists, they do not have the same vulnerabilities. All terrorists survive in their communities. If the community does not want them—if it disagrees, wants to expose them and wants them out—and if the Government are prepared to recognise legitimate grievances, if there are any, and to take the right steps, perhaps towards making people feel more British or more involved, we can begin the proper process of counter-terrorism.

There are, however, no shortcuts in counter-terrorism. Another counter-terrorism Bill is passing through Parliament—I was on the Committee—but the Government appear to be playing into the hands of the tabloid media by suggesting that such shortcuts can be found and that terrorism can always be stopped. In reality, however, we must be more resilient, because we will not always prevent the plots and people will not always survive—terrorist attacks will kill people. Despite the best efforts of our security services and the police force, some terrorists will slip through the net. We will just have to live with that.

That is what the people of Northern Ireland did for 25 years. We must not ratchet up the tabloid-type media hype that says, “Let’s dive in there and lock everyone up; let’s have internment and 42 days; let’s take away people’s rights and alienate more people, rather than solve some of the problems.” As MPs and community leaders, we have a duty to send out the message that we must recognise the fact that this is a long-term problem that cannot be solved overnight by Downing street summits.

The report “Preventing Extremism Together”—I think that the “Together” has been dropped as people argue over which Department should take the lead—took three months to produce its initiatives. We cannot do that; we cannot have gimmicks; we must invest for the long term. The Government have done predominantly the right thing with Pursue and are getting there with Prevent, but let us not undo all that work with shortcuts in counter-terrorism.

10.12 am

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): By a happy process of self-selection, the three elements of any successful counter-terrorism strategy have been encapsulated by the first three speakers—the deep-thinking intellectual, the counter-terrorist soldier and the counter-subversion propagandist.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): Who’s who?

Next Section Index Home Page