Here’s a piece I wrote for JUST West Yorkshire’s newsletter last week (apologies for the delay in getting it posted on here. To read the original piece, click here – to read the newsletter, click here.
An Ideological Struggle Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’
The tenth anniversary of 7/7 rightly drew our attention to the sheer horror of the terror attacks, the carnage and chaos that resulted in 52 civilians being killed and more than 700 being injured. From memorial services attended by the British political hierarchy through to more people-led initiatives such as #WalkTogether, the day’s focus was on remembrance and commemoration.Aside from this, it is necessary to reflect on the legacy of 7/7, the profound changes it wrought and how this has impacted on the way we live our lives, as individuals and communities and also a nation.On one level, this can be seen in the relatively mundane, for example in the form of increased security checks at airports, more CCTV cameras in our towns and cities, and the reinforcing of public buildings. 7/7’s legacy has a much greater reach however, seen in how new counter-terror legislation has placed a duty on public sector workers to spot ‘tell-tale signs’ of extremism or how schools are required to promote a greater sense of ‘British values’.
The ‘tell-tale signs’ also illustrate the rather more insidious legacy of 7/7. Having been first posited a decade ago by the then Home Secretary, John Reid, he told Muslim parents that they needed to be more vigilant in looking out for the ‘tell-tale signs’ of extremism in their children. Oft repeated since, no politician has yet been able to produce a definitive list of what these might be. Unsurprisingly, neither does the new PREVENT guidance.
Such an approach is, of course, as naïve as it dangerous in that for some, the ‘tell-tale signs’ of extremism will be largely equitable with being ‘more Muslim’. Whether visual – in growing a beard or wearing the hijab for example – or vocal – being more religious or speaking out about British foreign policy or Palestine for instance – those who just look ‘Muslim’ may find themselves increasingly being perceived to be extremists.
This is borne out in the findings of a YouGov poll published this week which showed that more than half of Britons now regard Muslims as posing a threat to the UK. Worryingly, this is higher than it was in the immediate aftermath of the 7/7 attacks. In trying to explain this one must go back to the fact that the bombers were British born, popularly referred to as ‘home-grown’. Because of this, especially in the wake of the botched 21/7 attacks a fortnight later, the threat felt much closer and far more real. Prompting an initial backlash where British Muslims were treated with greater suspicion and mistrust, this has since been allowed to ferment not least through political discourses that have routinely reified the notion that extremism is inherent within Britain’s Muslim communities. So much so that accept without question the view that Muslims and Islam pose a direct threat to ‘our’ culture, ‘our’ values, ‘our’ institutions and ‘our’ way of life. ‘They’ are clearly against ‘us’.
To continue reading, click here.