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Has the UK finally woken up to the threat of Islamist extremism?

Malik Faisal Akram from the UK travelled all the way to Texas, the US to storm a synagogue and take hostages (Photo: IANS)

In a recent review of its counter-terrorism policy, the UK government has identified Islamist terrorism as “the primary terrorist threat to the UK”. Till now the British government had focused its attention on combating right-wing extremism.

The UK government initiated a review in its counter-terrorism policy “Prevent” in January 2021. The policy, meant to counter terror and prevent radicalisation, was first launched soon after the US was attacked on September 11 by global terror organisation Al-Qaeda.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman has accepted the review in its entirety. The government said: “Prevent will now ensure it focuses on the key threat of Islamist terrorism. As part of this more proportionate approach, we will also remain vigilant on emerging threats, including on the extreme right”.

Before becoming the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak had underlined the “significant terror threat” that Islamic terrorism poses to the UK. Now his views have been buttressed by an independent review of the country’s existing counter-terrorism policy.

The review says that clerics in Pakistan are radicalising British Muslims through the idea of blasphemy and by supporting calls for violence in Kashmir. It has also flagged the issue of radicalisation among a small group of Sikhs over the Khalistan issue.

The UK has experienced a blow hot and cold relationship with its 3.9 million Muslims of its total population of 67 million. Often, the democratic and liberal country has cowed down in the face of fears that it might be pronounced racist or, worse, Islamophobic if it takes up cases related to Islamic radicalisation.

Emphasis on being ‘politically correct’ has in fact held back the country from protecting thousands of British teenage girls from being sexually abused by men of Pakistani origin. The paedophiles, also called “grooming gangs” raped and beat thousands of British girls over decades in dozens of cities across the country but managed to escape justice because of their ethnicity. However, with resentment seething in British society, a recent documentary has opened up the debate about stopping the crime which continues to this day.

In 2022, the ultra-sensitive British system decided to remove the name of terrorist Usman Khan and information about his Pakistani heritage from an official report. Khan, a British national, had stabbed to death two Cambridge University students and injured another three people in the London Bridge attacks in October 2019. The reason given for hiding his identity was that it could demonise the Muslim community and inflame the British far right.

Violent incidents of Islamic terror that have singed multiple parts of the world have cast their shadow on the UK–right from the London Underground bombings that killed 52 people to the suicide bombings at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester that killed 22 including children. The UK has seen lone wolf attacks to suicide bombings and random violence by radicals.

Radical Islam is now impacting other communities in the UK. Last year, communal violence in Leicester shook the island nation, and caught the attention of the world, when mobs of Muslim youth started an orgy of violence lasting weeks against the Hindu community and its symbols. Fuelled by hate, social media handles called for violence against Hindus as Muslims mobs roamed streets attacking homes and cars with Hindu symbols in September 2022.

The violent anti-minority policies and hate that has been embedded institutionally against minorities in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was transported to Leicester as known terror sympathisers rushed to the city from London to fan violence and mobilise attacks on the Hindus during their festivals. They also gaslighted the British media by painting a narrative of victimhood which was soon debunked by the Leicester police and rigorous independent investigations by well-known organisations.

Around the time that Muslim mobs were wreaking havoc in Leicester, Mohammed Rahman was arrested in central London for stabbing two police officers including a woman constable during the high-profile security arrangements for the Queen’s funeral. This incident took place during the days when the police was stretched as heads of state and government were visiting the British capital to pay homage to the queen.

The UK has seen many other high-profile stabbings including the killing of Sir David Amess, Member of Parliament, by Islamic State member Ali Harbi Ali. Ali later told the police that he had planned to kill other MPs including a cabinet minister.

Sectarian friction between the Sunni and Shias, so pronounced in Pakistan and some of its neighbouring countries, reared its head across the UK in 2022 when crowds of Sunni youth gathered outside cinema halls to prevent the screening of the movie – The Lady of Heaven.

Faced with security issues, movie halls in the UK decided to withdraw the movie out of concern for staff and customer safety. The movie, which narrates the story of Lady Fatimah, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad, was criticised as being blasphemous and British Muslim groups warned that screening it could lead to violence.

The UK, like many other countries in Europe, has promoted multiculturalism and the acceptance of migrants from war-torn and conflicted countries for building a healthy society. However, lately many countries like Sweden, Germany, Greece and France feel that assimilation into the society and acceptance of local culture has not happened with many communities. Some countries who find social tensions and violence on the rise have blamed it on alien values and, in some cases, migration.

The Prevent review has been met with strong opposition  by Muslim organisations. The Guardian reports that, “more than 450 Islamic organisations, including 350 mosques and imams, boycotted the government’s review of the anti-radicalisation programme”. On the other hand British charities have criticised the review saying that focusing on Islamism could alienate Muslim communities.

The review, conducted by William Shawcross – former director of international think tank, the Henry Jackson Society, is emphatic that the threat to the UK from “Islamist terror” seems to have been overlooked.

Also read: Punjab is safe because India pours huge money for security, Pakistan will make it a playground for terrorism, drugs: Lord Rami Ranger