<0>Souhail Abdullah, in this piece written for CAGE, highlights the analysis offered by MI5 in 2008 through findings made by their behavioural science unit, which states that there is no one route to violent extremism and that traditional law enforcement tactics could backfire if handled badly.
This advice has been effectively ignored, and Souhail draws parallels between this and the alternative narrative offered by CAGE on a potential cause of radicalisation of Mohammed Emwazi at the hands of the security agencies. 

(CC image courtesy of Steve Harris on Flickr)
The situation we face in Britain is much more complex than the common clichés presented by the tabloids and agenda-driven think tanks.

The issue of Shariah penalties was never an issue for debate since Muslims arrived in Britain in significant numbers in the 50s, and it has never been linked to terrorism until recent times. The link between the two is an association fallacy, as causal as the connection between the socialist creed against private ownership and a Labour Party youth member stealing from a wealthy businessman. This also applies to the theoretical rejection of democracy, along the lines of Plato’s The Republic: are Platonists also then “extremist”, set against British values, and should Plato be banned from our universities?

Before we get lost in this debate, it would be wise to listen to some experts who forewarned Britain about their current government policies against Islamic “extremism”. These experts are the same security agencies that the current government has hailed as brilliant and so one assumes above scrutiny.

MI5 warnings in 2008 echo CAGE

MI5’s research document from its behavioural science unit was based on hundreds of case studies, original research from MI5 and from academic research. It was released in August 2008 and it states:

“There is no single pathway to violent extremism” – it is not simply Islamism, belief in capital punishments, or Quranic penal punishments, Shariah, or even a notion of Muslim victimhood alone that leads one to this path.

It plays down the importance of radical extremist clerics and says it is outdated.
“A large number of those involved in terrorism do not practise their faith regularly…. Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households. Some are involved in drug-taking, drinking alcohol and visiting prostitutes.”
There is a much higher than average proportion of converts.
The majority are in their early to mid-20s when they become radicalised. A minority first become involved in violent extremism over the age of 30.
They are not more likely to be well-educated; their educational levels range from total lack of qualifications to degree level education. However, they are almost all involved in low-grade jobs.

Backing up CAGE’s claims about Emwazi, the report almost prophetically warns: “that traditional law enforcement tactics could backfire if handled badly”. The report states that MI5 are “concerned with those that use violence or actively support the use of violence, and not those who simply hold politically extreme views”. In a startling epiphany, it also says that “a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation”.

In terms of British foreign policy, in a 2011 report revealing Britain’s torture policy, MI6 expressed concern that knowledge of their policies of interrogation and of and “inflicting pain” upon alleged ‘terror’ suspects would lead to radicalisation in Britain.

“It is possible that in some circumstances such a revelation could result in further radicalisation, leading to an increase in the threat from terrorism.” the report stated.

It is perplexing that this advice seems not to be followed or even mentioned. Worse still the advice of self appointed ex extremists seems to shape government policy. In the deafening noise created by the desire to smash a small NGO that dared to seek answers to legitimate questions, David Cameron ordered an inquiry into the involvement of MI5 in the case of Adebalajo and whether he was subjected to harassment in Kenya where he claimed he was tortured. This must make Cameron an apologist for murder because he has raised the possibility as did CAGE that his tragic actions could have been triggered by a perception of persecution whether real or imagined.

Role of Imams and groups like CAGE is crucial

Imams and other community leaders have a role to play, but only if they are empowered or at least allowed to do so without fear of quote baiting, context manipulating newspaper “exposes”, puerile think tank reports and tremendously dangerous new laws based on these two sources, that have made every Imam we know raise his eyebrows up in fear that he may be the next target of the ill-defined ‘British values’ thought police.

On the topic of police, former Met chief superintendent, Dal Babu, relying on his own experience and knowledge has said that the approach in the form of PREVENT, is “toxic”. Nevertheless pressured by self serving think tanks it still holds sway in the corridors of power. Some think tanks even accused him of being “an apologist for terror” for simply questioning the success of the policy so poisonous is the climate and lack of space to debate. It is time to put to bed the fallacy of the ‘conveyor belt’ to terrorism theory, and approach this vital topic with nuance rather than ideology about integration, assimilation, immigration, religious reformation, or forcing upon others unpalatable beliefs.

We call for an open, honest debate about the subject, and state for the record that CAGE did not claim that terrorists’ sole cause of radicalisation was the treatment they received by the intelligence services. Rather it was one of the contributing factors in a path to extremism that was complex and subjective.

It’s time to stop shooting the messenger and look at the veracity and authenticity of our case files and records. Our members’ individual beliefs about Shariah law are irrelevant as long as they are not members or supportive of ISIS. Why do other NGOs not get smeared with the beliefs of those they seek to help .When Amnesty document mistreatment of leftists in Latin America, are their case workers asked if they are also revolutionary communists or is this treatment only reserved for those who happen to be non white and/or Muslim.

What should we do next? Cave in, and not record these cases? Then we as a nation would lose the insight needed to understand what drives people to extremism. And that is not good for anybody.

(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.)