Memorandum from the Board of Deputies of British Jews (PVE 03)

 

 

 

Summary

 

This submission is made by the relevant bodies of the Jewish community which have particular concerns about violent extremism and the Government's strategy to defeat it.

 

The understanding across Government of the contemporary factors that lead people to become terrorists is improving, but remains incomplete and patchy, in particular the understanding of Islamism's ideologies, long term strategies and the differences and similarities between those that advance this cause primarily through political means, and those that do so primarily through violence.

 

Local authorities seldom have sufficient expertise to determine who is extremist and who is not.

 

Evaluation processes are insufficiently robust to ascertain if Prevent schemes provide value for money.

 

There is insufficient clarity over the Prevent programme, and its purpose, and other closely related policy frameworks.

 

There should be a wider discussion around the notion of government engagement with those Islamists who promote a divisive message that disparages the liberal democratic values that underpin British society.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

1. This submission is made by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the representative body of the Jewish community in the UK, and the Community Security Trust, which provides defence and security services and advice to the Jewish community.

 

We have made joint submissions to several inquiries concerned with counter-terrorism and counter-terrorism legislation in the past.

 

2 The Jewish community has a particular concern over terrorism, in the UK and elsewhere. Our community is threatened as citizens in the same manner as other citizens, but we face an additional threat, as Jews. The threat comes from different directions: from Al Qaeda and the Global Jihad Movement; Iran and its surrogates, notably Hizbollah, and from extreme right activists.

 

3. Space does not permit us to explain the continuing threat to Jewish communities at greater length, but it is sufficient to note recent specific threats to Jews (and not Israel and its institutions in Israel or abroad) by: Ayman al Zawahiri on 24 March 2008 and again on 2 April 2008; by Sheikh Yousef al Qaradawi on 9 January 2009.

 

It could be argued that Al Qaeda now has little capacity to initiate, plan and fund terror attacks in the West, but the wider Global Jihad Movement, which articulates the same Salafi Jihadi ideology, has proven on many occasions that it has absorbed the ideology and has a continuing capacity to stage successful attacks against a range of targets.

 

Successful anti Jewish attacks resulting in loss of life have recently been made against Nariman House (Chabad Centre) in Mumbai in November 2008 by Al Qaeda associate Lashkar e Toiba and plots were discovered against a Jewish community centre near Madrid in March 2004 (as a sequel to the Atocha railway bombings), against Jewish institutions (as part of the wider plot against the Bluewater shopping centre and night clubs) by the Crevice conspirators, and against a Jewish community leader (as a consequence of his friendship with the Prime Minister). These plots underscore the serious and continuing terror threat to Jewish communities, including in the United Kingdom.

 

4. Counter terrorism and the Prevent strategy are not static initiatives. They need to evolve continuously as the government learns from its experiences in what is a 'high stakes' and novel environment. We acknowledge that the Government seeks to enhance its knowledge, and that it is willing to consult knowledgeable and responsible non governmental organisations.

 

 

We acknowledge that the revised approach is cross departmental, multi disciplinary and avoids the pitfalls of the previous 'silo' approach, where information was not shared willingly between departments and agencies.

 

5. The Government's pioneering and thoughtful approach was recently summarised as follows:

 

'the United Kingdom has established the most diversified and energetic official outreach program to Muslims, largely reflecting concern about home grown terrorism since the July 2005 London attacks British police have made a conscious decision to seek the co-operation of non-violent radicals even while political authorities have encouraged former radicals and Sufis to speak out against hardline political Islam.'

 

(Dennis C. Blair, Director of National Intelligence, Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community for the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 12 February 2009).

 

6. At the same time it must be recognised that both the US and our own government considers that a substantial current terrorist threat comes from radicalised British citizens of Pakistani or other origin who are able to enter the USA under the visa waiver programme and who may have no 'suspect profile' with either our, or their, security services.

 

Similarly both the USA and the UK security services recognise the potential threat from the large numbers of Somali and other African asylum seekers in the UK.

 

Both the US and British services have foiled terrorist plots by Somalis who have returned to Somalia, or Sudan, for terrorist training.

 

 

 

Analysis of the radicalisation process

 

7. Radical Islamist groups have common origins. The founders and followers of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaat e Islami sought both a return to the beliefs and practices of the early followers of the Prophet as they perceived them, and reacted against the development, and perceived failures, of the political movements in the post First World War era. In doing so they necessarily were attracted to and adopted core aspects of the totalitarian ideologies of the time; communism, fascism and Nazism. Their proposals were not democratic as it was and is understood in the West, but focussed on the concept of religious belief and practice as the only form of governance for a modern Muslim state (Sharia). While there have been modernising trends in Islamism's core beliefs, adherents still believe that Sharia is ultimately the only form of governance, although opinions differ within Islamism about how this can or should be applied.

 

8. The difference between followers of Islamist parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat e Islami, and Salafi Jihadists, is their attitude to violence. The former believe that they will prevail though long term political work, although there are many examples of followers of these two parties using violence in certain circumstances; the latter believe their aims can only be achieved through violent insurrection and violence against exterior forces, initially against those perceived to be occupying Muslim lands.

 

9. In the immediate aftermath of the London bombings, the Government sought to work through Muslim umbrella groups, such as the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain, which are led by radical Islamists. It appointed leading members of these and other Muslim groups to a set of working groups with the task of finding solutions themselves under the rubric of 'Preventing Extremism Together' (PET). Various working groups were established but disbanded after reporting amid some criticism by both sides. The Muslims who were involved with the groups charged the government with failing to do enough; the government responded that it was up to Muslims themselves to take forward their own recommendations.

 

10. Although not all the people appointed to the PET groups were Islamists, there appeared to be an effort to use non-violent Islamists to act as a bulwark against those who openly advocate violence. The failure of the PET working groups led the government to recognise what many external observers had pointed out; that it had been nave to use radical Islamists to undermine the terrorists' message, when their political narrative, expressed grievances and end game were too similar.

 

11. The government was therefore correct to switch the focus of Prevent towards Extremism. Violent Extremism is an outcome of the radicalisation process that leads people to become violent extremists and it is the earlier stage that needs to be addressed if the latter is to be defeated.

 

12. The government therefore adopted a new approach, which focussed resources of Prevent on strengthening the views of the moderate majority while isolating and undermining the minority of extremists. This necessarily involved dealing direct with local Muslim groups rather than approaching them via umbrella groups, which in fact represent Islamist ideologies.

 

Any future engagement with umbrella groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain must be contingent on them representing a greater range of views than those of the Islamists, and firmly rejecting violence in all circumstances, including in overseas conflicts; especially those that involve British forces in peacekeeping or other roles.

 

 

Those groups and individuals who, in certain circumstances, support and promote the idea and practice of violent jihad overseas, cannot be reliable partners in tackling the impact of violent jihad here in Britain. Individuals from the Muslim Council of Britain, North London Central Mosque and East London Mosque all signed the Istanbul Declaration, which contained within it implicit threats of violence against the Royal Navy or warships of UK allies, against Israel and against British Jews in the UK. There is no long-term value in building partnerships with those whose attitude towards violent jihad is contingent upon circumstance.

 

13. The government can only support a world outlook which the majority of British citizens can accept, rather than the narrow one offered by Islamist controlled or influenced bodies.

 

14. The government however has yet to deal robustly with the gateway organisations which promote extremist views and, which evidence indicates, often provide the route into terrorism. The majority of British born jihadist terrorists have followed this route. The government has also failed to provide a consistent message, and gateway groups which have been banned have merely waited twelve months and then reappeared under a different name.

 

15. The government should aim to address local Muslim grievances, rather than attempt to address global grievances. Many of these are beyond the Government's capacity to address, and are a form of escapism from the real, day-to-day problems of Muslim communities. It is not for a minority of British citizens to determine foreign policy, however strongly they may feel.

 

Foreign policy must be determined in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole.

 

16. The emphasis on grievances as a measure of community cohesion and a factor in government policy encourages different communities to compete for patronage by each emphasising their own grievances. This divides communities, sets them against one another and encourages polarisation around the more extreme positions within each community.

 

17. The United Kingdom continues to be criticised by our allies for failing to deal adequately with bodies that raise funds for foreign terrorist groups.

 

This is inconsistent with Government's professed strategies and our responsibilities under international agreements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Government's strategy for engagement

 

18. Local authorities to whom this has been devolved will be able to respond to this in a more knowledgeable fashion, but there is evidence that while they may know what is going on in their local areas, they may not have the expertise to determine the religio-political ideology of applicants for funding, and thereby assess whether they are capable of helping combat violent extremism, or assist in building community cohesion.

 

 

 

Communicating Prevent

 

19. The Prevent Strategy: A guide for Local Partners in England and Preeventing Violent Extremism: A Strategy for Delivery explain the government's latest strategy effectively. Taken together with previously published guidance, which seek to explain the government's purpose, such as The United Kingdom's Strategy for Countering International Terrorism (March 2009), Preventing Violent Extremism Learning and Development Exercise (October 2008) they provide an adequate explanation of the government's evolving strategy on counter radicalisation.

 

20. We have concerns that recent immigrant and asylum seeker communities may not be adequately targeted and addressed by the Prevent agenda.

 

21. We understand that RICU has been evaluating the Government's revised messaging and the effect that it is having on both those likely to be radicalised and those who seek to prevent it. We look forward to the publication of this evaluation.

 

 

 

Achieving the goals of Prevent

 

22. However what appears to be missing is an assessment of how effectively the strategies are being communicated to target audiences. We are unaware of any published evaluation of how effective the messaging has been at grassroots levels, although we understand that the OSCT is examining this with a view to providing regular assessments.

 

Regular polling and other mass assessment evaluations, which should be of both a quantitative and qualitative nature, might address this gap.

 

 

 

 

 

23. We are aware that government representatives have visited other countries to observe and evaluate their counter terrorism and de-radicalisation programmes. We are also aware of the considerable international exchange of information and cross fertilisation. This process must be maintained so that the Government has access to the latest and most effective advice from a variety of sources governmental and non governmental.

 

 

 

Evaluating Prevent

 

24. We are unaware of published evaluations and it may still be too early to properly evaluate the effectiveness of Prevent. It is to be assumed that local authorities, who are responsible for providing grants under the Pathfinder scheme, are undertaking local regular value for money assessments. However they may not have the necessary expertise to determine if local applicants are suitable recipients of funding, or whether they in fact promote radical, violent or divisive ideas alongside their other work.

 

Accordingly we believe that there should be a central government evaluation facility for both making grants and evaluating the effective use of the money.

 

25. This need not necessarily preclude imaginative initiatives aimed at young people and women's groups, which are intended to broadcast their messages in modern and appropriate fashion.

 

 

 

Prevent, Cohesion and Integration

 

26. There is insufficient differentiation between the de-radicalisation Prevent), cohesion and integration policy frameworks. Indeed we believe that there may well be confusion in the minds of many over what each entails.

 

The primary purpose of Prevent is to confront violent extremism. It does not necessarily follow that integration and a propensity for violent extremism are inversely proportional.

 

Many Muslims may not be integrated, and may promote ideas that are antithetical to community cohesion, but are non-violent and are repelled by Islamism and Salafi Jihadism. It is well to remember that the lead members of the 7/7 and Operation Crevice conspiracies came from well integrated backgrounds.

 

 

 

Neither is speaking English or wearing the veil the real issue. The issue is confronting an extremist and alien political ideology which promotes the supremacy of Islam over other faiths and democratic political systems, a core belief in antisemitism and the use of violence to achieve its ends.

 

There are examples of groups or individuals who promote a divisive message, for instance one that is highly disparaging of liberal democratic values, secular society or individual freedoms, but who have been used as partners in tackling violent extremism. A clear discussion needs to be had about whether this is an acceptable strategy, or whether in tackling the immediate problem of violent extremism, it is storing up more long-term problems of communal and social division.

 

 

September 2009