Friday, February 18, 2011

Britain Inadvertently Encouraging Home-Grown Radical Islam

by Soeren Kern

A growing number of Muslim parents in Britain are sending their "problem children" to madrassas [Islamic religious schools] in Kashmir; and these students are "at high risk of radicalization," according to American diplomatic cables that were obtained and recently released by the secret-spilling website, Wikileaks. The disclosure, one of several, reveals that the challenge posed to Britain by home-grown radical Islam is far greater than previously admitted by the British government..

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron says his country's long-standing policy of multiculturalism has failed, and is actually responsible for fostering Islamist extremism. Instead of discouraging the British Muslim community from behaving in ways that "run completely counter to our values," Cameron says that a two-pronged approach is needed to neutralize the threat of radical Islam in Europe: "I believe it is time to turn the page on the failed policies of the past. So first, instead of ignoring this extremist ideology, we -- as governments and as societies -- have got to confront it, in all its forms. And second, instead of encouraging people to live apart, we need a clear sense of shared national identity that is open to everyone."

Reaction to Cameron's speech has been mixed. Analysts across Europe have welcomed his public repudiation of multiculturalism as a long-overdue reality check. But Muslim groups that have been at the forefront of efforts to resist the integration of Muslim immigrants into mainstream British society are angry about the new approach.

According to a leaked diplomatic cable titled "Pakistan: UK Sees Kashmir Solution as Key to Long-Term Security Cooperation" (dated July 18, 2008 and classified as "Secret"), Laura Hickey, the British Foreign Office's Team Leader for Pakistan, told American diplomats at the US Embassy in London about "the growing trend" of British Muslims sending their children to Islamic schools in Kashmir on the India-Pakistan border, where they are at risk of being recruited by al-Qaeda.

In what the British government internally calls the "Kashmir Escalation Effect," the document explains that "while it appears the government of Pakistan has ceased to run militant training camps in Kashmir, the camps continue to operate… Terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, have begun using these camps as recruitment centers. After additional training … recruitees are then poised to commit terrorist activities."

The document reveals that Britain is concerned that "UK passport-holders will be recruited to commit terrorist operations in the UK… With the continued presence of militant training camps in Kashmir and over half a million UK passport-holders with ties to the region, HMG [Her Majesty's Government] is concerned that UK nationals will be recruited to conduct terrorist activities in the UK."

Another cable titled "Codel Smith Discusses Iraq and Counterterrorism" (dated May 1, 2008 and classified as "Secret"), reveals that senior counterterrorism officials at the MI6 (Britain's Secret Intelligence Service) are worried about a new wave of suicide bombings perpetrated by British-born radicals. The warning was sounded in a private briefing from a senior MI6 official to a visiting delegation of American Congressmen amid growing fears over the radicalization of young British Muslims.

The document says Britain faces a "uniquely challenging" threat from a generation of "internal" home-grown jihadists who are not on the intelligence services' "radar" and will threaten Britain for many years to come. The document goes on to state: "Moreover, the internal threat is growing more dangerous because some extremists are conducting non-lethal training without ever leaving the country. Should these extremists then decide to become suicide operatives, HMG intelligence resources, eavesdropping and surveillance would be hard pressed to find them on any 'radar screen.'"

A cable titled "Doing More with Less: UK Africa Regional Counterterrorism Conference" (dated December 12, 2009 and classified as "Confidential"), reveals that British Muslims are travelling to Somalia for "jihadi tourism" to train for terrorist attacks in Britain. The document states: "The UK government sees a growing likelihood of domestic threats emerging within the UK and U.S., to include home grown jihadists and radicalized British Somalis and Somali-Americans, particularly those who have travelled to Somalia or Pakistan for indoctrination and training."

The document continues: "Large numbers of UK passport holders live in Somaliland. For example, in the largest school in Hargeisa about 300 of the 1000 students hold UK passports. Also, a significant number of UK Somali youths are sent to Somaliland for 'straightening out' by their families. There is also believed to be a certain amount of so-called 'Jihadi tourism' to southern Somalia by UK citizens of Somali ethnicity. The threat from Somalia is compounded by the fact that within East Africa there is a lack of local government recognition of the terrorist threat."

A cable titled "Tensions Rise between Muslims and HMG" (dated August 14, 2006 and classified as "Confidential") says that Britain's program to counter Islamic extremism has failed to stop home-grown terrorists. The counter-terrorism strategy (known as CONTEST) was developed by the British government in 2003 and is aimed at reducing the terrorist threat in Britain by seeking to bring extremists into the mainstream.

The document relates that although the British government has invested "considerable time and resources" into reaching out to the Muslim community after the terrorist attacks in London on July 7, 2005, those efforts have not been productive.

The cable continues that many Muslim leaders in Britain deny there is even a problem, and when there is, they vindicate home-grown extremism by blaming it on British foreign policy. By way of example, the document describes the reaction of the British Muslim community after 24 of its members were arrested in August 2006 in connection with a plot to blow up as many as 10 airliners leaving Britain for the United States. The document states: "The Muslim community's reaction to the arrests of 24 of its own sons -- a knee-jerk reaction blaming [the government] -- shows that its leaders too have far to go."

The cables suggest that Britain's failure can be partly attributed to its decision to appease, rather than undermine, Muslim groups guilty of anti-Western agitation. For example, a cable titled "Senior Advisor Pandith and S/P Advisor Cohen's Visit to the UK" (dated October 25, 2007 and classified as "Confidential") relates Britain's efforts to combat extremism in the British Muslim community. The cable discusses a project to prepare a paper on "what language works best in public outreach … for example, the advantage of using the word 'mainstream' to define common values, as opposed to 'the West,' which can have negative connotations."

In the face of British inefficacy, the United States in 2007 launched its own anti-extremist campaign to reverse the radicalization of young Islamists in Britain. A cable titled "Proposals for Ambassador's CT Fund" (dated April 18, 2008 and classified "Confidential") says that Dell Dailey, the head of the US State Department's counterterrorism office, offered the US Embassy in London $50,000 to spend on anti-extremism efforts in Britain.

The fresh proposals for how to prevent British youths from becoming Jihadists included hiring an American academic, at a cost of $43,000, to study reformed British extremists who have "stepped back" from radical Islam. Another idea was to spend $39,000 to fly the "Allah Made Me Funny" comedy troupe to Britain to participate in the Ramadan Festival UK.

The cable states: "The message their performance would send -- of American Muslims, proud to be both 'American' and 'Muslim' -- is a powerful message that would open British Muslim eyes to American cultural and religious diversity as well as encourage reflection on the part of British Muslim community in a positive, self-defining direction… Our expected outcome would be to reach thousand[s] of British Muslims, including the disproportionately high youth population, with these positive messages."

The British government is now having second thoughts about its approach to combating home-grown Islamic extremism. After spending millions of pounds funding projects to stop Muslims from becoming radicalized, the British Home Office has initiated a top-to-bottom review of the country's counter-terrorism strategy. The British government plans to publish a revised strategy later this year.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Britain will ultimately succeed in reducing the threat posed by home-grown Islamic radicals.

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Soeren Kern

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