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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

After 10/8: getting to the root of 'homegrown terrorism'

Since 7/7 and more recently 10/8 – when more than 20 Muslims were arrested by police in England on suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack on aeroplanes – there has been much debate about what makes some British-born Muslims turn radical. The New Labour government has met with Muslim groups to talk about how to ‘win back’ Muslim youth, while the New Republic magazine in the US has argued that Britain, not Iraq or Iran, poses the biggest threat to American security. This view of Britain as a hotbed of radical Muslims misses what is really going on here: what we are faced with is not old-style political or even religious radicalisation, but rather the fragmentation and alienation fostered by today’s politics of identity....

There has certainly been much criticism of multiculturalism in recent months. Even the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, challenged the concept and announced Britain was in danger of ‘sleepwalking into segregation’. However, the process of segregation is more easily blamed on the alien values of extremist Muslims, rather than the culture of wider society. For instance, there has been strong criticism of the government’s unwitting support of extremist Islamist groups (see BBC Panorama’s exposé in 2005 of the extremist views of the Muslim Council of Britain), which ends up nurturing the most stridently religious elements in the community. However, these critics have then suggested that the government find more ‘moderate’ Muslims instead. It is rarely considered that the problem is not with the kind of Muslim groups the authorities are courting, but with the idea that foregrounding cultural identity is any way to connect to citizens at all. The solution is not to find ‘nicer’ Muslims with more palatable views, but to challenge the notion that Muslim people can only be engaged with on the basis of their identity. The unwillingness to do this reflects the disavowal of the possibility of developing a meaningful political culture that can allow people to transcend their private, cultural differences....

There is a small minority of terrorists who present a serious concern and require a security strategy. However, it is also necessary to grasp the social and cultural factors that fuel their worldview. This can be explained in relation to political developments in the West, arising out of identity politics, and which have spread globally. At the same time, for most Muslims, the turn to religiosity does not necessarily result in violence or even alienation from the mainstream. Many are grappling with the contradictory demands of identity politics while living normal, everyday lives. Unfortunately, the straitjacket of diversity policies risks intensifying these problems rather than enabling people to resolve them. [Link]

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