Government needs to speak with single voice on Islamic extremism after Woolwich murder

June 4, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-world

David CameronUnited Kingdom, May 31, 2013: I was the minister of St Andrew’s in Plaistow, Newham, in February 1995 when a Nigerian Christian student, Ayotunde Obanubi, was brutally murdered at the gates of Newham Community College in East Ham, London.

A group of around 15 Muslim students, armed with knives, machetes and hammers, attacked him, shouting “Allahu Akhbar” (“Allah is great”). They had accused Ayotunde of “insulting” Islam, claiming that he had been disrespectful of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month.

This was the first known instance of radical Muslims killing someone in Britain in the name of Islam.The motivation for the murder was suppressed by the authorities because of its potential risk to community relations. At that time, the government did not take seriously the rise of Islamic terrorism and radicalism.

That was a fatal mistake for which we have since been paying the price.
Charges against one of the suspects in the killing of Ayotunde, Kazi Nurur Rahman, were dropped because the police did not have enough evidence against him. He went on to be jailed, in 2006, for trying to buy missiles to shoot down airliners in the wake of the 7/7 attacks. Ayotunde’s murder was a precursor to what took place on the streets of Woolwich last Wednesday (22 May), when two Nigerian converts from Christianity to Islam slaughtered serving British soldier Drummer Lee Rigby, claiming religious justification. The government, opposition and media, along with many Muslim leaders, are right to condemn the killing. But are they right, as Prime Minister David Cameron has claimed, that “there is nothing in Islam that justified this dreadful act”, and as the Muslim Council of Britain stated, that it has “no basis in Islam”?Or are they just duplicitous or ignorant?Mr Cameron’s statement cuts to the heart of why his government has failed to get to grips with Islamic violence both at home and abroad. Firstly, it exposes a failure to understand, or perhaps accept, the ideological basis within Islam for acts of violence. Secondly, it exposes inconsistency in government policy, notably between the Home Office and the Foreign Office but also internally within those departments.


The view that there is no ideological basis within Islam for violence has led to a number of disastrous misjudgements by Cameron’s government. This week, Foreign Secretary William Hague pushed the EU to lift its arms embargo on Syria, paving the way for European weapons to reach the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.

Despite assurances from the British and French governments that weapons could be directed to the more moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA), the battle on the ground is increasingly being fought by al-Qaeda-linked Islamists, notably the al-Nusra Front, and it is very difficult to distinguish between them and the FSA.  The same blindness affected policy towards Libya. NATO’s intervention led to the funding and training of extremists, who have since gone to Mali and elsewhere, causing mayhem.

The failure to understand or perhaps accept the ideology that underpins the rebel movements in Syria and Libya has resulted in British support for an Islamist agenda, and the tragic blowback has now been seen on the streets of London.

Moreover, hundreds of British Muslims are travelling to Syria to take part in the war against President Assad. There are concerns that, once the conflict is over, they will return to Britain trained, battle-hardened and ready to continue the jihad here. The British government should consider introducing an anti-mercenary law, banning anyone from fighting overseas.

Britain pushed the EU to lift its arms embargo on SyriaBoth the British and US governments have also failed accurately to assess the ideological agenda of Boko Haram in Nigeria, despite the fact that the militant Islamist group has made it plain on numerous occasions.
Their religious credentials are impeccable. They are rooted in Islam; they espouse a radical, political ideology, calling for an Islamic state. They want to expel, kill, butcher and maim Christians and others.

In March, more than 400 Christians were incinerated in a suicide bomb attack at a bus station in Kano. On 12 and 13 May, Zangan village was attacked for the second time this year. Muslim Fulani gunmen rampaged through the village, shooting Christian residents and shouting “Alluhu Akhbar” (“Allah is great”); 13, including one child, were killed, taking the death toll from Zangan to around 28 this year.

What is the British response? The High Commissioner has argued that Boko Haram is not a terrorist organisation. This has also been the US response. Britain and America are arguing that Boko Haram, which is killing Christians and security service personnel while shouting “Allahu Akhbar”, are not religious extremists to be dealt with but rather a disaffected and disadvantaged group that is motivated by socio-economic grievances.


While the left hand of Mr Cameron’s government is apparently denying the ideology of violence within Islam, the right hand is thumping down hard on it – at least in relation to home affairs.

In response to the Woolwich murder, the Prime Minister announced that he is creating TERFOR, Tackling Extremism and Radicalisation Task Force, to address the spread of “poison” by Islamic hate preachers who incite violence.

He has previously taken a tough line on groups promoting Islamist extremism. When Mr Cameron came to power, he gave a speech, in February 2011, in which he recognised that the counter-extremist “Prevent” policy had failed.

He said:

Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism.

On that occasion Mr Cameron boldly addressed the difficult subject of multiculturalism and the need to take a new approach: tackling ideology was to become pivotal, together with targeting institutions and individuals.

Home Secretary Theresa May subsequently took up the theme, saying that the government will strongly crack down on ideology.This all demonstrates recognition that there is an interpretation of Islam that justifies and glorifies violence.The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the security services have done an outstanding job in addressing the ideological issues relating to security. They are under-resourced, but they have prosecuted extremists with some success.

Over the past few days, many moderate Muslim leaders have called on the government to support them and their more peaceful interpretation of Islam and repudiate the violent interpretation of Islam.

And it appears, in his creation of TERFOR, that the Prime Minister is behind this. So how can he oppose an ideological position when it leads to the killing of a British solider on the streets of London but support it in foreign policy?

Here we see a contradiction between the agenda of the Home Office and that of the Foreign Office. The Home Office is rightly concerned with the security of the realm, so must come down heavily on Islamist extremists. Meanwhile, the Foreign Office is supporting them in Syria and Libya and failing to identify and take action against them in Nigeria.

Foreign Office policy is internally inconsistent in this regard also. While it is helping Islamist rebels in the Syrian and Libyan uprisings, a different approach is taken with Pakistan and Afghanistan. If a British Muslim goes there, they are monitored, arrested, brought back to the UK and regarded as a potential terrorist.Is this duplicity? Ignorance? The right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing?

Mr Cameron and his government needs to get its act together and speak with a single voice if it is going to address the growing extremism within Islam, which is to be found in Britain, in separate and parallel Muslim communities.

Some years ago I wrote an article for The Spectator warning about the violence that is coming to our streets. It was condemned in many newspapers, and pressure was subsequently applied to bar me from writing for one particular newspaper. But now my prediction has become reality.

It is not sufficient for the Muslim community to say that the Woolwich murder is nothing to do with Islam. It most certainly is to do with one interpretation of Islam. The government must now take heed of the many superb Muslim leaders calling for this problem to be addressed in the mosques, Quranic schools and literature.

The Ulema (Muslim scholars) and leaders must now stand up and cut themselves adrift from violent interpretations of Islam. Muhammad at Mecca is to be emulated, not Muhammad at Medina. It is not sufficient for them to attempt to reinterpret Medina, as some are doing, saying that Muhammad espoused love and brotherhood there. He was also involved in war and conflict against pagans, Jews and later Christians.
It is possible for even the most ardent radicals to change their views. In an article in this week’s Sunday Times, Maajid Nawaz, chairman of counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, referred to the killing of the Nigerian Christian student Ayotunde Obanubi in 1995. At that time, Nawaz was the president of the student union at Newham College and, a week before the murder, had invited the leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir to speak at the campus. He wrote, “I was a committed extreme Islamist.”

But Nawaz has since renounced that ideology and is now one of the country’s leading voices warning against the threat of Islamic extremism and driving efforts to change the ideology of violence. He wrote that “a grassroots counter-narrative” is required “that can unpick the ‘West-ophobic’ victimhood narrative of Islamism and promote democratic engagement as an alternative for angry young people”.

The horrific murder of Drummer Lee Rigby must be a wake-up call for our entire society to recognise and address Islamist ideology, so that we do not see such violence recurring and escalating on our streets.

– dr patrick sookhdeo

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