The terrorists who carried out the 7 July 2005 London bombings, who killed Drummer Lee Rigby, who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and who rampaged through Paris in November 2015, had something essential in common, apart from being Muslims. All of them believed that what they were doing met with God’s approval. That is clear from the London bombers’ suicide videos. It is also obvious from a moment’s reflection, since people who believe in God don’t do things which they expect will cause them to be condemned to Hell.
Some terrorists die in action. However, others survive and can be interrogated after arrest, and the views of many would-be terrorists emerge during their trials. There is a relatively consistent set of beliefs which mark them out as religious extremists. Other parts of their religious beliefs are shared by most Muslims, including myself. For example, most Muslims believe that they should not gamble or drink alcohol because God does not want us to. But, in most other ways, terrorists have very different views to the overwhelming majority of Muslims. It is useful to think of three broad categories of Muslims:
- Mainstream Muslims (the overwhelming majority). I avoid the commonly used adjective ‘moderate’ since it wrongly implies that such people are somehow ‘less Muslim’ than the categories below. I consider that, for people in this category, their religious beliefs normally enhance their lives and also make them better citizens.
- Non-violent extremists. The world view of some in this category can be very similar to that of the terrorists below. However, they are not engaged in terrorism and currently have no plans to be engaged. At the margins it can be hard to distinguish some in this category from some in the previous category who are simply religiously very conservative.
- Potential or active terrorists. Their activities are criminal. Very few fall into this category, but those few are very dangerous. Our law enforcement authorities need every assistance in identifying and arresting them.
Some non-violent extremists will change their intentions and go on to become terrorists, posing a risk to others. Tragically they will also be wasting their own lives. Those who simply remain as non-violent extremists still contribute to an environment which facilitates other impressionable young people acquiring the beliefs, both religious and political, that terrorists hold.
Quite apart from the implications for terrorism, holding extremist views is self-limiting, and not conducive to living a happy and successful life in Britain. If you believe non-Muslim friends are prohibited, that most other Muslims are deficient in their religious practice, that careers do not matter, that our society is wholly corrupt, then you will not be able to successfully integrate into British society.
Non-violent extremists may also violate the rights of others. Our society recognises that children have rights, which can be enforced by the state even against the wishes of their parents. For example, the right to medical treatment even if the parent wishes to deny it. The state protects children from physical abuse by their parents and can permanently remove children from abusive parents. Many, including myself, consider that indoctrinating your child with extremist views is a form of child abuse meriting state intervention. While proof can be difficult, we should not shy away from the principle that children have the right to be brought up without being indoctrinated.
School pupils below the age of 18 have the clear right not to be indoctrinated. This means that non-violent extremists have no place as school teachers or governors.. Accordingly, I welcomed the recently introduced ‘Prevent’ duty – which requires schools to assess the risk of pupils being drawn into radicalisation and extremism.
Tackling non-violent extremism
We should not criminalise the holding of extremist views. Our country has a proud history of not attempting to police thoughts. We should avoid the McCarthyite approach of seeking to pre-emptively identify people who hold extreme views. Quite apart from the human rights aspects, little would actually be achieved by producing a beliefs checklist to be signed before being hired as a teacher.
However, teachers who behave inappropriately should be sanctioned under a proper disciplinary procedure with an appeals system. This has happened in Birmingham, following the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal, with teachers being removed from the teaching register for their improper conduct at those schools.
The Department for Education now requires Academies to promote British values such as democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. This is welcome. Schools could also do much more to teach all pupils, including Muslims, how to think constructively about the role of religion in modern life, and how one can live as a religious person in Britain.
The Government was originally minded to ban extremist speakers from universities. But under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, universities are now required to have “particular regard to the duty to ensure freedom of speech.” Universities can only ban extremists if it is not possible to mitigate the risk that they might draw people into terrorism.
Government needs to do more to help universities to identify extremist speakers that could draw people into terrorism. I have previously proposed setting up a Government register of hate preachers - with appropriate safeguards - to enable universities and other institutions to know who they should worry about. The Government should also publish detailed case histories of convicted terrorists, setting out how they were radicalised, and explaining in detailed the extreme views they hold. This would also help to counter those who contend that there is no such thing as radicalisation, and that terrorists are solely motivated by their political views about British foreign policy.
Mohammed Amin is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum and a Patron of Curriculum for Cohesion. He is writing in a personal capacity.