Under the title “Britons Argue Over Who’s to Blame For Extremism,” this morning’s Washington Post has an illuminating article about the radicalization of home grown young people and why they travel to Syria or Iraq to join ISIS.  Back on July 7, 2005 – known in Great Britain as 7/7 – militants bombed London’s Tube and buses with the loss of 52 lives. The government responded by developing a program called “ Prevent” involving educational and outreach efforts that included priests, rabbis, Imams, police and community volunteers designed to head off the radicalization of Britain’s youth. 

Since the inception of the program, there hasn’t been another 7/7 style terrorist attack in London or in England.  Is this a sign of the positive results of “Prevent?”  Who knows.   But when the Conservative Party's David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010, he did what most conservatives would do about “questionable social programs,” he transformed it. He transformed Prevent from a community social service program designed to stem radicalization and terrorism before it took root into a very different effort, claiming that the program had “no way to measure which initiatives were truly effective in countering extremism.”  

The Cameron Government transformed Prevent into a British Muslim surveillance program.  A new law passed just last week requires teachers, health workers and local government employees to inform law enforcement agencies if they suspect a young person is being radicalized.  This “get tough,” “brook no quarter,” “punishment is the best solution” is quite typical of the conservative response here in the United States, too, rather than the harder task of addressing the root causes of problematic and dangerous social crises.  

Recall, if you will, one of the most iconic images at the birth of ISIS, Briton Jihadi John (26 year old Muhammad al-Dhafiri ) wielding the executioner’s knife at the neck of  James Foley just a year ago.  He was raised in a northwest London middle class community.  Or recall the Brits who were found to be in leadership roles in the Somali terrorist group, al-Shabab.  In London, the Cameron revamped Prevent program has, not surprisingly, increased Muslim resentment and the program’s name itself is now a dirty word in the Muslim community. 

A former Prevent official, Selina Ullah, says of the new Prevent program, “The whole agenda feels much more loaded, much more suspicious.  We’re being watched all the time.  It feels like 1984.”

All three women who travelled from Manchester, England to Saudi Arabia and thence on to Turkey and Syria, Khadija, Sugra and Zohra, were born and raised in Britain.  Their husbands have pleaded with them to return.  Turns out that for over a year prior to their journey to the battlefields of Syria, police had been secretly encouraging the women to contact a brother who was already in Syria.  But the contact, according to the husband’s lawyer, only radicalized the women and Zohra Dawood, in a call back home, explained that she and her Muslim sisters had fled Britain because they believed they were under constant police surveillance. 

Current public discussions in Great Britain center around who’s to blame for the radicalization of these three women now that they and nine children are somewhere in the hell hole that is Syria today.  On the one hand, folks argue that it was the security police’s action that lead to their decision while others say it was Britain’s highly conservative Muslim community who, as David Cameron proclaimed, “quietly condone radical views.”   But as Bradford City Councillor Alyas Karmani said, “Everyone has to realize that they all failed these women.” 

What strikes me about the competing “strategies” illustrated in this article in attempting to deal with the radicalization of our youth, the Cameron approach pretty much parallels our own liberal/conservative divide right here in America about so many issues:  “Forget liberal hogwash about causes, just punish the wrongdoers.”  It’s why our prison population is the largest in the world.  Or if people are poor, “it’s their own fault and they must be lazy” according to Rush Limbaugh and the 12 (14? 30?) Republican Presidential Candidates.    Examples like this are legion.

But as I’ve pondered here before, when an individual, a group, a community feels disenfranchised, believes he, she or they are subjected to institutional discrimination, that no one is listening to them about their legitimate complaints, radicalization is not just an alternative path among others.  It can become a means and a path to liberation.  And as we celebrate the 239th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, one might consider that our home-grown Black Panthers understood this very well.  And they acted upon it.  Maybe just like Khadija, Sugra and Zohra. 

The full Washington Post article is here:

Brits Debate Cause of Radicalization

PS: Not to sound paranoid or anything so crazy, but as I was working on this piece with its references to ISIS, terrorists, Muslims, etc. my computer suddenly slowed down as if I was back working on my first computer, the old Texas Instruments TI-99.  So I guess NSA and Comcast are doing their jobs.  


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