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25 Jun 2008 : Column 82WH—continued

Dr. Lewis: Wait for it! My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) is the deep-thinking intellectual, my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) is the counter-terrorist soldier and I have the much humbler and more disreputable role of counter-subversion propagandist. However, I am happy to follow on from the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre, who
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said that there are plenty of similarities between the current threat and former threats—that is the main theme that I shall develop.

Listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe—I am tempted to call him my hon. and learned Friend, even though he is not a barrister—I had a welcome sense of déj├ vu when he spoke about the background to and the depth of concern in the Muslim community about the radicalisation process. I had that sense of déj├ vu because I was reminded of probably the most intelligent academic I have ever met—a lady called Dr. Fran├žoise Thom, who is a senior lecturer at the Sorbonne. In the days of the Soviet Union, she was a very prominent Sovietologist, and it was a real pleasure to listen to her talking about Marxism and debating communism with Marxists and communists, because she knew far more about the doctrines than the militants who professed to follow them. The same might well apply to my hon. Friend.

I put this proposal to the House: the battleground with which we are concerned is the community, the technique used by our enemies is ju-jitsu and the currency of the conflict is ideology. I want to say a word or two about each of those strands. First, the message that the battleground is the community came through loud and clear in the first two speeches. In this conflict, we have the same situation as we had in previous conflicts with militants—namely, in a given community where an attempt is being made to stir up subversion or even insurgency, there is a militant minority and a moderate majority. If we ever reach the point of thinking that we do not have a moderate majority in the Muslim community in this country, we have already lost the battle.

I am sometimes rather worried by some of the messages that we get from people who are well qualified to talk about the issues because they have lived them. In particular, I recall a meeting in the House at which a very brave lady called Ayaan Hirsi Ali addressed MPs who were interested in the subject of her experiences with Islam. Of course, after all that she has suffered—she was persecuted and received death threats in the Netherlands, where she spent much of her life, although she now leads an existence that she well deserves in the relative safety of the United States—it is not surprising that she takes a very jaundiced view of the religion into which she was born.

Nevertheless, I was seriously worried by Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s main message, which seemed to be that the logical consequence of being a Muslim is to be a fundamentalist extremist. I do not accept that any more than I accept that the logical consequence of being Jewish or a Christian is to be a violent extremist. Yet we need only roll back time a few hundred years to see “Christians” burning heretics at the stake, usually because of some relatively obscure doctrinal difference of interpretation of the religion of the day. I believe that there are continuities here, which we ignore at our peril. The main continuity is that this is a classic case of fanatics and militants trying to hijack moderate majorities.

I ask those who are old enough to cast their mind back and remember what they read about the Third Reich and what some of us, at any rate, experienced during the cold war. Essentially, there is a continuity: Nazism was about the superiority of one race, Marxism and communism were about the superiority of one class, and what is called Islamism—I shall address that
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terminology in a moment—is about the superiority of one religion. Essentially, however, they have one thing in common, which is that the fanatic at the top of those respective movements possessed the one holy grail and the one true doctrine, and that anybody who stands against that, or even criticises it, deserves to be exterminated without mercy.

That continuity has traditionally been met by mobilising the silent majority—an overworked, but nevertheless accurate term—against the militant minority to isolate those people from the majority and so that they can be spat out and neutralised.

I said that the technique—the second strand—is ju-jitsu. The militant minority use that technique to try to polarise as much of the majority on its side as possible, so that when the minority does outrageous things, it does so not only to hurt the wider non-Muslim community, but to try to make that community hate the Muslim community. We fall into that very trap when we overreact to militant outrages by taking it out on the moderate majority and the people in the Muslim community who have nothing to do with those outrages.

How many members are there of the Muslim community in the United Kingdom today? At the very least, there are 1.6 million—that is the figure that I often hear, and it may well be larger—yet the number who have been engaged in outrages, either carried out or all those that have been frustrated, on which we congratulate the police and the security services, is 0.000001 of 1 per cent. of the community. If that statistic does not suggest that engaging in outrages is in part a desperate attempt to try to make us overreact against the moderate majority, thus making those people feel more resentful and therefore more vulnerable to recruitment, I do not know what does.

The third strand—the currency—is ideology. Indeed, the battleground on which the day must be won has to be a counter-ideological offensive, which is where the work of the counter-propagandist comes in. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe referred to some of the organisations that are beginning to speak out, at last, in favour of moderate interpretations of the Muslim faith, showing that those people who seek to promote what is called violent extremism are distorting that faith.

There is nothing so valuable in an ideological struggle as people from the target community speaking out against and denouncing, from their direct knowledge of the issues at stake, the misinterpretations by the militants. Who was more effective against communism than the disillusioned Marxists who broke with it and realised its fundamental evil? I pay tribute to those people who were involved in militant so-called Islamic or Islamist groups but who have turned against them.

One aspect of fighting that battle is that we have to be very careful and, indeed, selective about the language that we use to describe it. I sometimes give as an example the attempt that has been made to distinguish between Islamic and Islamist ideology. It is a worthy attempt to try to draw a distinction and say, “When we are talking about Islamism or Islamist extremism, we are not really getting at you, the moderate majority of Islamic Muslim people.” Frankly, that is to make a distinction without a difference. Instead, I ask people to think of the following imaginary parallel.

Let us turn the clock back to when there was an upsurge of terrorism in Palestine directed against the
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British Army by organisations such as the Stern gang. If the Government of the day had made a great effort to denounce what they called “Jewish terrorism”, referring to those attacks on British servicemen in Palestine, which was still under mandate, members of the Jewish community in Britain would have felt somewhat defensive, even though they almost overwhelmingly did not support the attacks on UK servicemen.

Would it have made much difference if the Government of the day had said, “Okay, we’ll take care of this by calling it not Jewish extremism or Jewish militancy or Jewish violence, but Jewist violence.”? It would not have been terribly reassuring to the Jewish community in Britain in those days or in that context. Similarly, it is not terribly reassuring to the moderate Muslim community in Britain today to be told that the issue is all about Islamism or Islamist extremism.

I have suggested that we should put our mouth, as it were, where our belief is. Our belief is that such extremism is a distortion and a misinterpretation of the Muslim faith, and indeed, if it is, we ought to say so in the way that we describe it. I believe that the correct way to describe what is going on is un-Islamic extremism. I have suggested that in the past, and I have been quite gratified to see some of the reactions on the internet from various Muslim organisations. They can see that to call something un-Islamic, if that something is being done in an attempt to hijack the Muslim religion, is not in any way insulting to the moderate majority.

We are concerned about preventing an appeal from an extreme interpretation, or misinterpretation, of a great religion from going out to individuals who can be recruited, and who do not need to be recruited in anything other than small numbers, to carry out violent atrocities in this country in the hope of polarising the non-Muslim and Muslim communities.

One feature of the people who are recruited is that often they have terrifically low self-esteem and have made a mess of their lives. They are then targeted and given a purpose, a role to follow and a belief that, having been the dregs of society, the outcasts, the criminals or the drug takers, they can suddenly become holy warriors and experience a form of redemption by carrying out some act in the name of something larger than themselves. Totalitarians have played off the vulnerabilities of people with low self-esteem for generations. They did it as Nazis, they did it as communists and now they are doing it as un-Islamic extremists.

One role of the counter-propaganda campaign that we need to promote is setting out positive role models for Muslims in our society. We should be proud of the role that Muslims play in our society and make it absolutely clear that when moderate Muslims wish to stand up against militants, they will have the support of the entire spectrum of British society in that all-important struggle.

10.28 am

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Westminster Hall debates are often the antidote to the venom of Prime Minister’s questions, and today’s debate has been very successful. It has given Members an opportunity to set out their expertise and to bring to the
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debate their professional background. It is an all-party, consensual matter, so it is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), and I congratulate him on securing the debate.

I was interested in the reference that the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) made to ju-jitsu. When I was living in Hackney about 20 years ago, I thought that I should take it up as a sport, but I very soon came to the conclusion that the person who was at greatest risk was me. I was more likely to get a broken arm or nose inflicted during training than to learn how to protect myself, and perhaps that is a lesson for those who seek to adopt such an approach.

To get to the meat of the matter, the Government’s clear view, which we support, is that the principal current terrorist threat is from radicalised individuals who use a distorted and unrepresentative version of the un-Islamic—I mean of the Islamic faith. I made a Freudian slip there, but as was said, the threat is very un-Islamic and we should perhaps treat it that way, rather than describe it in another.

We also concur with the Government’s view that the current threat from terrorism is serious and sustained. That is the reason why the monitor in Westminster Hall today shows that we are at a “severe” level in terms of the risk in Parliament. However, we need to look at whether the Government’s Contest programme, which other hon. Members have referred to, is up to the task of addressing this issue. I must say that as I was reading my notes on the train this morning I thought that one aspect of tackling this issue that had perhaps not been covered was being a little more careful with secret documents on trains.

I would like to look at the four aspects of the Government’s programme, focusing principally on the Prevent aspect, which is about tackling the radicalisation of individuals, both in the UK and elsewhere. It would perhaps have been appropriate for there to have been a little nod—only a little one—towards the role that foreign policy can play in preventing terrorism and radicalisation. However, foreign policy is not referred to in the “Preventing Violent Extremism: A Strategy for Delivery” document; it may be that there are references to it in other Foreign and Commonwealth Office documents.

The Prevent strategy is also about tackling disadvantage and supporting reform; deterring those who facilitate terrorism by changing the environment and engaging in the battle of ideas, which hon. Members have referred to on a number of occasions so far; and providing the resources to ensure that this strategy can be delivered.

It is worth highlighting that the “'Preventing Violent Extremism: A Strategy for Delivery” document advocates a support and prevention agenda, which is very much the “carrot” side of policy. However, the majority of the time that we spend in the House on this matter is much more about the “stick” side of policy—the 28 days versus 42 days argument, for example. So this debate is very welcome in focusing more on the “carrot” side, rather than on the very high-profile “stick” approach that we have seen in relation to the argument about 28 or 42 days.

The Prevent strategy also refers to societal or social exclusion and routes into radicalisation, but it talks almost exclusively about Muslim communities as separate,
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insular entities. Can the Minister confirm that that is not the case and that Islamophobia plays a part in radicalisation? If so, should the Prevent strategy not also address the views and beliefs of the wider community and their understanding of Islam?

I do not want to disrespect the very good community projects that are taking place, and clearly a lot of positive work is being done. Regrettably, however, that work does not seem to feed through into the national media in raising awareness of what is happening. That is not entirely the Government’s fault; the media need to pick up on those issues, because it seems that they have not wanted to focus on them particularly. That is regrettable. Page 9 of the Government’s document highlights the fact that

We need to get those good news messages out into the media, so that people understand what is being done in a very positive way through these different community projects.

On prevention, the Government are rightly focusing on prison imams and how they can address radicalisation within the prison population. However, I hope that the Minister can say something about what is being done to identify individuals going into prison who may already be radical, and whether there is a way of addressing radicalisation through that route rather than trying, possibly after the event, to halt radicalisation through prison imams, as far as they can do so.

I will briefly move on to the Pursue strategy, which is about gathering intelligence and, of course, bringing terrorists to justice through prosecution—an issue that we discussed at great length during our deliberations on the Counter-Terrorism Bill. Some very positive measures will come through from that Bill regarding intercept evidence and post-charge questioning, which should assist in the process of bringing terrorists to justice.

There is a role for the seizing and freezing of assets, but we would all acknowledge that the amount of funding needed for home-grown terrorism is neither here nor there. The freezing of assets is not of great importance if we are talking about the purchase of large quantities of very cheap products, such as fertilisers, and the fact is that very little is needed to support that sort of network within the UK.

The Protect strand is about reducing the vulnerability of the UK and UK interests overseas to a terrorist attack, and specifically strengthening border security. I am sure that the Minister is aware of Lord Carlile’s report, particularly what it has to say about general aviation, and the Association of Chief Police Officers’ proposal for a border force. I understand that the latter issue will be addressed in the Green Paper on police reform, which I assume will come out this week; it is coming out in June, so if it is not available this week it will be early next week. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that when he responds.

I also ask the Minister to respond to what Lord Carlile had to say about general aviation. The Government have said in the Department for Transport response that they are looking at the potential threat from light aircraft, and that EU discussions are also under way. Can the Minister update us on the time scale for that EU review, so that we can see whether it will address
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this issue within an appropriate time frame? If he cannot update us now, perhaps he could do so in writing later.

I also hope that the Minister can give us some sort of reaction, if only his personal response, to the proposal from ACPO for a single border police force. I know that that issue will be covered in the Green Paper, but it would be interesting to hear whether he favours that idea and, if so, where he thinks the 3,000 staff for that force would come from and how it would ensure proper co-ordination with other forces and with the UK Border Agency.

In the Protect strand, protecting key utilities is one of the central roles. I hope that the Minister can say something about any discussions that have taken place with the utility companies since the most recent incident on 27 May, when two power stations went down and it seemed that the rest of the grid could have gone down with them. If mechanical problems can cause the grid nearly to fail in peacetime, there is clearly a need for the Government to look carefully at what might happen if there were a terrorist threat.

Finally, the Prepare strand shows that the Government are working hard on preparing for the consequences of a terrorist attack, ensuring that we train appropriately and know how to respond.

The Government, the police and the secret services are fighting a daily battle to stop those who would kill and maim our citizens. The different strands—Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare—are central to that battle. We support this programme but we hope that, as a critical friend, we can be in a position to improve it, and I hope that the Minister will accept my comments in that vein.

10.38 am

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): I am particularly pleased that this debate has been held. First, we have had the opportunity to listen to a magisterial analysis from my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman). The debate highlighted the fact that the Conservative party has an interest and a real professional understanding of this complex issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) gave us a contribution that drew upon his professional experience and reminded us that there are no quick fixes; in this area, the work must be patient, careful and for the long term. The other distinctive contribution, which was based on a great deal of knowledge, came from my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who reminded us of the ways in which the terrorist threat must be analysed and dealt with. He also spoke eloquently about the nature of Islam.

I reiterate the request that if some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe cannot be answered by the Minister today, given that time is short, they be answered in writing. I would like to dwell on some of the things in my hon. Friend’s speech that strike me as important.

First, do we now actually have a lead Department for counter-terrorism? Secondly, how will we as a country measure the success of the Prevent strategy? The Government are extremely keen to measure things across whole swathes of public policy, sometimes with complicated indicators and measurement standards. How will we measure the success of their Prevent strand?

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