More than two thirds of convicted UK-based Islamist terrorists are British nationals, almost half are from London, nearly one third have attended university and a similar proportion were in full-time employment at the time of their involvement in terrorism. Furthermore, three quarters of terror plots in the UK have involved individual members who had trained in Pakistan and almost one third had links to a proscribed organisation, mostly al-Muhajiroun and al-Qaeda.
These are among the findings of a new report launched today by the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC), a small think tank whose director is the controversial Douglas Murray. Their researchers have been working for two years to produce a list of 127 individuals who were convicted of Islamism-related terrorist offences between 1999 and 2009 in the UK. The result is Islamist Terrorism: The British Connections.
This report includes little that is ground-breaking or new, but it is very helpful for how it confirms the uncomfortable facts we already knew about terrorism in the UK.
Firstly, the fact that so many of those convicted for terrorist offences in the UK are British nationals shows that airport security, overseas military action and other outward-facing, security measures are not enough to keep us safe if we do not also fight the ideology, Islamism, which inspired these terrorists.
At the same time, the fact that six out of eight terror plots have some connection to Pakistan is a timely reminder that our security here is contingent, whether we like it or not, on improving the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Secondly, the fact that nearly one third have attended university and a similar proportion were in full-time employment at the time of their involvement in terrorism puts the lie to the lazy assumption that terrorism is simply a result of economic deprivation and lack of opportunities.
These young British men (and they were young men – their average age was 27 and only five of the individuals listed were women) had the same opportunities as other British men, but they still adopted Islamism and became embroiled in terrorism.
Thirdly, it is worth noting that 15 per cent of those convicted were linked to al-Muhajiroun, the recently banned group that threatened to march in Wootton Bassett and, under a new front name (‘Muslims Against Crusades’), recently abused returning soldiers in Barking.
Al-Muhajiroun is a tiny group who have often been dismissed as unrepresentative loud mouths. At most, their membership is just 40-50 individuals, so they absolutely are not ‘representative’ of the UK’s 1.5 million Muslims, but this does not mean they pose no danger. The CSC’s researchers are right to remind us of that fact.
However, whilst it is very useful of the CSC to have collected these worrying statistics, we must now beware of far right groups’ inevitable attempts to misuse this research to further their own agendas. The BNP and others just want to divide society by increasing and manipulating fears about Muslims and Islam in general, they are not concerned with identifying the Islamist ideology.
Politicians, journalists and bloggers alike have a duty to explain to the British public the way in which Islamism separates these 127 individuals off from the majority of the UK’s 1.5 million Muslims, most of whom follow mainstream, South Asian and Sufi influenced approaches to Islam, not Islamism.
That is to say, unlike most Muslims, Islamists believe that Islam is a divine political ideology and that all Muslims around the world (the ummah) are a political bloc akin to the idea of the international proletariat. This bloc, Islamists believe, requires unification within an expansionist state that would have a single interpretation of shari’ah enforced as its law.
All Islamists broadly agree on these tenets of their ideology, but they disagree widely on the tactics used to achieve their goals. The 127 individuals listed in the CSC’s report are militant Islamists, who are prepared to use violence – they are at the most violent end of a spectrum that also includes some groups that would use military coups and others that would work within the existing political system as a way to create their Islamist state.
The challenge for the government is to make sure that its strategy for preventing terrorism is tightly focused on challenging Islamism, and not distracted by lazy assumptions that all Muslims are a threat, that terrorism is only a foreign policy issue or that, where British citizens become radicalised, it is simply because of their deprived economic situation or other grievances.
These are all things that were known before, but they are facts that we sometimes need reminding of.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.