The sentencing of two Birmingham men to 12 years in prison yesterday for acting against the Assad regime in Syria, is clear evidence that the British government is aligned with Assad in the War on Terror. This is a significant change in its own policy from a year ago.

The sentencing of Mohammed Ahmed and Yusuf Sarwar has also shown that the British government has further broadened the definition of terrorism to include any Muslim acting in civil wars and political conflict.

This has serious implications for the justice system. The British judiciary and counter-terrorism legislation clearly purports the view that any use of force or conflict in which Muslims or the Muslim world is involved (whether or not the cause is just) constitutes violent extremism and terrorism. This means that engagement against tyrannical regimes such as Assad’s can be criminal, even if the intention is the bringing about of justice.

Now, unless the British State declares a war to be legitimate, for Muslim citizens of the UK any involvement in conflict, anywhere in the world, even in a humanitarian capacity, would be an act of terrorism.
Even what Muslims regard as legitimate jihad abroad – the fight, whether physical, or as aid workers, for justice and human rights – now constitutes “terrorism”.

But there is a dual system of law in practice. Non-Muslim Britons going to fight in Syria for private security companies, and non-Muslim suspects who have clearly demonstrated intent to commit acts of terror, are untouched by current terrorism legislation.
The message to Muslims, to those involved in Syria “terror” related cases, and to those who have pleaded guilty on the advice of their lawyers in the hope of a mitigated sentence, is: do not expect justice from the British legal system.

The sentences will in no way quell extremism; they will have the opposite effect. Young people now being imprisoned for long periods of time, who were not attracted to the ISIS ideology are more likely to find it appealing, and they are likely to come out of prison radicalised.

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)