Boris Johnson’s radicalisation myth-making

Boris JohnsonLondon mayor Boris Johnson’s suggestion this week that children of Islamic extremists be taken into care to prevent their being radicalised illustrates perfectly our collective failure to understand the problem of terrorism.

After 9/11, so-called terrorism experts funded by governments and neoconservative think-tanks invented the concept of radicalisation to try to explain the violence being directed at the US and the UK. Their argument was that the root cause of that violence lay in an ideology – what Johnson, following the usual metaphor, calls “that awful virus: the contagion of radical Islamic extremism”.

Millions of dollars and pounds have since been spent trying to prove that some version of Islamic belief leads young people to commit acts of murder against their fellow citizens. In my new book, The Muslims Are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror, I call this argument “the myth of radicalisation”.

In fact, the evidence to support this analysis is surprisingly weak. Having a belief in “extremist” Islam, however defined, does not correlate with involvement in terrorism. There are many good reasons for objecting to reactionary interpretations of religion but the idea that religious ideology mechanically causes terrorism is not one of them.

What the official narrative leaves out is the role of our government’s foreign policy in fostering political contexts within which terrorism becomes more likely. Religion may provide the semantic register within which some terrorists articulate their propaganda; but it is politics that is the underlying cause.

The number of people convicted of terrorism-related crimes in Britain more than doubled between 2003, when the Iraq war began, and 2006, before halving again by 2009. The perpetrators had not changed their interpretation of religion during this time – what changed was their exposure to news of the carnage in Iraq, with its death toll in the hundreds of thousands.

In the US, the myth of radicalisation has led to drone strikes on those thought to be circulating the “virus” of extremism, such as US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed in Yemen in 2011. Three weeks later, his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was also killed, along with his teenage cousin and at least five other civilians. Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, then a senior adviser to Obama’s reelection campaign, was asked by journalists about the killing of Abdulrahman and replied that he should have had “a far more responsible father”. Like Johnson, Gibbs was arguing that the children of extremists are likely to become extremists themselves. Yet all the evidence suggests the exact opposite. The truth is that those involved in actual terrorist violence usually do so in spite of their parents’ influence, not because of it.

While the US government has chosen extra-judicial killing to save us from the imagined threat of the children of extremists, the UK government has developed a more subtle but almost as indecent approach. Since the 7/7 terrorist attacks, an elaborate system of surveillance has been created that draws social workers, teachers and youth workers into spying on Muslim children for supposed signs of radicalisation. One police officer involved in the program told me that children as young as 4 could be radicalising and that nursery school teachers should therefore report children who draw pictures of bombs in their notebooks. As of 2010, 290 children under 16 had been reported to the police in this manner and their lives investigated by police counter-terrorist units. Since then, the programme has been significantly stepped up.

As the existence of such programmes makes clear, Johnson’s lament that we are “nervous of passing judgment on other cultures” in this area is empty rhetoric. What’s more it tricks us into thinking Muslim culture is somehow responsible for the practice of terrorism. Placing Muslim children in the care of the state can then be spun as an act of rescue from a less civilised culture rather than seen as what it is: the destruction of families. The logic of Johnson’s proposal is in essence reminiscent of the practice of “saving” Native Australian children by separating them from their parents and creating what came to be known as the “stolen generations”: tens of thousands of children who were needlessly placed in institutions in a bid to culturally assimilate them to “white Australia”.

That London’s mayor can make such a proposal with all the banality of his various other comic schemes shows how badly distorted our thinking about radicalisation has become.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post website.

One thought on “Boris Johnson’s radicalisation myth-making

  1. Faith and Extremism

    When a native Brit goes to Middle East, he is called a voluntary fighter. When a Muslim goes there he is called a terrorist. Double standard by the British society. Also lot of British Jews went to Israel to fight but on their return no action was taken against them.

    The three Jihadi Muslim girls and the Jihadi John were in a wrong place at a wrong time in a non-Muslim school with non-Muslim teachers during their developmental periods. They suffer from identity crises. They are unable to enjoy the beauty of their literature and poetry. They were not radicalised at a non-Muslim school, says principal. But the school with non-Muslim teachers are responsible to create identity crises. Muslim children must be in state funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school. Why should we be surprised? They have gone through a rotten education system where there is no consequences for anything and they have grown up in a rather pathetic, wet nation with a liberal criminal justice system which actually seems to view law upholding people with pure contempt. Jihadi John has been identified, tried and convicted by the media. Surely this would prejudice any criminal case against him. In my opinion, he was also radicalised by MI5. To stop radicalisation of teens we need to find out the cause. We will get no where if all we do is just condemn but to actually stop this we need to find the cause and stop immediately, that includes All the way from extremist imams to extremist family members AND the pressure and the factor some of the security forces have upon teens.

    Terror is the biggest business today at home and abroad. Everyone is a beneficiary. The government gets more clout and more powers over the lives of its hapless subjects through new terror laws and activation of old ones in an atmosphere where no one dares to question the motives of the politicians over the vital issue of “security”. Security forces get immunity for illegal acts and crimes for which they win medals, rewards, promotions and huge funds with no accountability attached.

    Newspapers and TV channels improve their circulation and ratings sensationalising real and imaginary terror stories with total impunity as no one would dare question their rightful concern for our safety and security.

    7/7 bombers have been radicalised in the context of racist schools rather than in Pakistan. Imams and Masajid are not the brainwashers of Muslim youths. It is state schools who have been mis-educating and de-educating Muslim children for the last 60 years. The media for the last 15 years have targeted Muslims as a threat to British life. Many of 9/11 and 7/7 attackers were not from the poor, down trodden, under-educated and alienated sectors of society but were well-educated, middle to upper class and from stable family backgrounds. Muslim youths suspected of carrying out blast across India, have not been educated in Madrassas but western qualified and had respectable jobs.

    The word Jihad means to struggle for some purpose. The fighting against the enemies is called “Qital”, and not Jihad. I have been engaged in Jihad for the last 35 years in the field of education for the Muslim children. Under Cover Masajid programme on Channel 4, the preachers were not promoting segregation or violence against non-Muslims. They were helping and teaching Muslim youths to develop Islamic Identity. The preaching was quoted out of context and the British media portrayed them as the enemies of the state. Imams and Masajid are providing valuable service to the Muslim community and none of them is a hub of hateful preaching and bigotry. In the west Muslims are treated as political poison. They are increasingly the target of a “shoot first and ask question latter” policy. Thousands of British Muslims are being searched in streets and hundreds of them are behind the bar without any trial. British teachers are being asked to monitor pupils behaviour, if they suspect teenagers are being drawn into violent extremism. Naturally, Muslim students would be victim of this policy rather tIn France Muslim girls are not allowed to cover their heads. This is called liberalism. During the time of Taliban in Afghanistan, women were forced to cover themselves and this is called extremism by the west. In Britain, Muslim women are allowed to cover themselves but there is an immense social, emotional and economic pressure, forcing them not to cover. West is the Mongols of our time. The new Mongols are far worse than the first one. This new Mongols are trying to destroy Islamic identity of the Muslim youths. A large number of them have changed their names and there is no shortage of ex-Muslims in the west. Ex-Muslim council receives state funding.

    No one has any problem when: Jews keep beards and wear their traditional caps Christian priests and nuns wear their religious outfits Buddhist monks wear orange robes Sikhs keep beards and wear turbans Indian aunties wear Sarees (cross streets and hang out in Wal-Mart) Yeah but if any Muslim male keeps beard or if any Muslim girl wears hijab then everyone has problem. It’s Freedom when you go naked but it’s extremism when you wear hijab – just plain hypocrisy! Looking at the case of France, a major secular nation, I believe it is also not allowing women freedom by not letting her to wear her choice of clothing as it supposedly “clashes with French secular values”.

    Stop treating foreigners like garbage and they will stop ruining your precious country. Why did you let them in in the first place if you didn’t want them here? They left everything in their countries because of your promises. Are you so anxious to please that you can’t say “no”? I would love to see you go to a foreign land where you don’t have any friends, you don’t even know anyone and you don’t speak the language, and start from scratch.

    The British establishment is wrong in thinking that Imams are to blame for extremism. Imams are not solution to the problem for extremism. Extremism is nothing to do with Imams. Extremism is not created from abroad, it is coming from within. Britain fails to help Muslim communities feel part of British society. Race trouble is being predicted by the Daily Express, because of an ethnic boom in UK major cities. Muslim communities need imams for the solutions of their needs and demands in their own native languages. Muslim parents would like to see their children well versed in Standard English and to go for higher studies and research to serve humanity. The fact is that majority of Muslim children leave schools with low grades because monolingual teachers are not capable to teach Standard English to bilingual Muslim children. A Muslim is a citizen of this tiny global village. He/she does not want to become notoriously monolingual Brit.

    In Islam there is no commandment to kill people by making such allegations against them. The cartoonists had exercised their freedom of expression, and freedom of expression is totally allowed in Islam. Even during the Prophet’s time there were several instances of ridicule, however the Prophet and his Companions neither punished such persons nor asked anyone to do so. On every occasion of this kind, the Prophet’s Companions always tried to positively disseminate the message of Islam. They never tried to punish these people. The killing of those people who had published the cartoons is a gravely un-Islamic act in the name of Islam. What did killing Saddam Husain do. What did killing Osama Bin laden do? NOTHING!!!. There is a long long line of replacements. I don’t know the answers. He was asked by MI5 to join them…so you know he is working for them. None of 7/7 bombers and British Muslim youths who are in Syria and Iraq are the product of Muslim schools. They are the product of British schooling which is the home of institutional racism with chicken racist native teachers. It is absurd to believe that Muslim schools, Imams and Masajid teach Muslim children anti-Semitic, homophobic and anti-western views. It is dangerously deceptive and misleading to address text books and discuss them out of their historical, cultural and linguistic context.

    Bilingual Muslims children have a right, as much as any other faith group, to be taught their culture, languages and faith alongside a mainstream curriculum. More faith schools will be opened under sweeping reforms of the education system in England. There is a dire need for the growth of state funded Muslim schools to meet the growing needs and demands of the Muslim parents and children. Now the time has come that parents and community should take over the running of their local schools. Parent-run schools will give the diversity, the choice and the competition that the wealthy have in the private sector.

    There are hundreds of state primary and secondary schools where Muslim pupils are in majority. In my opinion all such schools may be opted out to become Muslim Academies. This mean the Muslim children will get a decent education. Muslim schools turned out balanced citizens, more tolerant of others and less likely to succumb to criminality or extremism. Muslim schools give young people confidence in who they are and an understanding of Islam’s teaching of tolerance and respect which prepares them for a positive and fulfilling role in society.

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