In a 1983 all-star pirate comedy, Yellowbeard, basically an expensively sewn grab bag of sight gags, one-liners, and pratfalls, there is one scene in which most of the principal characters, in search of Yellowbeard’s treasure, form a kind of conga line on a beach, crawling on their hands and knees, following cryptically written directions on a piece of paper that may lead them to the buried chest. As a yawner, it was a low point in a sequence of low points. We were not amused.
I was reminded of that scene while reading another low point of political enquiry, the British Home Affairs Committee report, The Roots of Violent Radicalisation. In search of the reasons why British-born Muslims and immigrant Muslims turn to terrorism, this lengthy report asks many questions but answers none, tip-toeing as it does around the central ideological content of Islam that is at radical (and violent) variance with Western values, and could be characterized as a conga line of magnifying class-equipped twits examining every little grain of sand and pebble and tide-swept debris in search of those answers. The committee was chaired by a Muslim, Member for Leicester, Keith Vaz, a scandal-soaked politician who, among his many other offenses, in 1989 lead thousands of Muslims in a demonstration to demand the banning of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.
The Home Affairs Committee report differs little from what passes for Congressional studies of the same subject (except for the Peter King hearings), which have for over a decade bent over backwards to identify the roots of Islamic jihad but not mention or incriminate Muslims or Islam itself.
Here are some randomly selected excerpts from the report that treat “violent extremist” Muslims as victims or put-upon, passive, and helpless Islamic receptors of “extremism”:
The empirical evidence base on what factors make an individual more vulnerable to Al Qa’ida-influenced violent extremism is weak. Even less is known about why certain individuals resort to violence, when other individuals from the same community, with similar experiences, do not become involved in violent activity.
We suspect that violent radicalisation is declining within the Muslim community. There may be growing support for nonviolent extremism, fed by feelings of alienation, and while this may not lead to a specific terrorist threat or be a staging post for violent extremism, it is nevertheless a major challenge for society in general and for the police in particular.
One of the few clear conclusions we were able to draw about the drivers of radicalisation is that a sense of grievance is key to the process. Addressing perceptions of Islamophobia, and demonstrating that the British state is not antithetical to Islam, should constitute a main focus of the part of the Prevent Strategy which is designed to counter the ideology feeding violent radicalisation.
The Government notes in the Prevent Strategy that individuals “who distrust Parliament” are at particular risk of violent radicalisation. This appeared to be borne out in our inquiry, both in terms of Islamist and extreme far-right- radicalisation.
However, the Committee report concludes, not so startlingly and in conformance with calls in the U.S. to adopt the same policy:
The Committee concludes that the internet is one of the most significant vehicles for promoting violent radicalism – more so than prisons, universities or places of worship, although direct, personal contact with radicals is in many cases also a significant factor. Witnesses told the Committee that the internet played a part in most, if not all, cases of violent radicalisation.
Although there are statutory powers under the Terrorism Act 2006 for law enforcement agencies to order unlawful material to be removed from the internet, the Committee recommends that internet service providers themselves should be more active in monitoring the material they host, with appropriate guidance, advice and support from the Government. The Government should work with internet providers to develop a code of practice for the removal of material which promotes violent extremism.
Let us put some well-deserved words in the Committee’s collective mouth.
Where do those “radicals” come from? From the realm of “disaffection”? From the nursery of “alienation”? From the islands of “grievance”? We really can’t reach any definite conclusions, because, after all, Islam is a “religion of peace” and to say otherwise will only compound feelings of alienation and contribute to the grievance racket, err, that is to say, such a careless and hurtful assertion would solicit more complaints from the aggrieved. If there is any disaffection or alienation out there, it’s all the fault of British society and its Western values.
And we mustn’t place much importance on prisons, mosques, and universities as incubators of “radicalism” – we’ve done our best not to look, or pay attention to the percentage of prisoners who are Muslim or who convert to Islam, or to record the hateful rantings of Muslim clerics in places of worship, or the clotting of Muslim students on university campuses and their participation in “Islam will Dominate Britain” rallies.
Rather, we should focus our attention on the Internet.
Of this we are certain: the Internet, after all, is an efficient facilitator of communication among terrorists and would-be terrorists and other “extremists,” including those who oppose the Islamisation of Britain. The government must monitor Internet traffic and sites more effectively than it does at the present, and persuade providers and ISP owners to do a better job of self-policing. We are particularly interested in sites that promote or invite “hate speech” and other modes of illegal expression. We would like to see these vanish from the Internet just to save us all a spot of bother.
Of course, any legislation introduced in the House that would adopt our recommendations would invite opposition from those concerned about freedom of speech and the like, but we are confident that these objections can be circumvented without hurting anyone’s feelings. It has been done before.
At the moment, however, budgetary constraints prohibit Her Majesty’s government from emulating the American Department of Homeland Security and monitoring every bit of Internet usage and red-flagging every suspicious word and image. Muslims are a minority in Britain (at the moment), and we mustn’t leave them feeling left out of the political process (we discount the number of Muslims in the Commons and those who have been elevated to the Peerage, they’re a minority, too, and we don’t feel that the Muslim community are satisfied with such “tokenism”).
The Home Affairs Committee regret not having been able to reach any definitive conclusions, except on the role of the Internet. We will convene again soon and brandish our new, improved magnifying glasses to better and more thoroughly examine how the Internet contributes to extremism and radicalisation, and discuss how best to solve these sticky wickets.
We have one standing rule, however, which will go far in our fair and disinterested deliberations: No one will be allowed to quote Winston Churchill on the nature of Islam and the character of Muslims. Some members of the Committee find his statements violently offensive. Particularly Mr. Vaz.