Comment: We need to stop defining Muslims only by their religion

Treating religion as a primary identifier unwittingly reinforces Islamist aims to promote religious identity above all others

 

Part of our failure to prevent radicalisation stems from the lack of political or civic engagement among our target audience, those vulnerable to radicalisation and those showing signs of sympathy or support for extremism.

Effective primary prevention must include increasing engagement with communities and more accessible education about democracy, the rule of law, human rights and civic responsibility.

By teaching young people about alternatives to extremism, or more assertively about British values, democracy, the rule of law and human rights, we can build their resilience and improve integration. Our school system has begun to do this.

If we promote ‘positive’ liberty to equip citizens to enjoy their freedom and combine this with the established ‘negative’ freedom from discrimination, we achieve active citizenship, a natural grassroots antidote to extremism. This is valuable for all young people, not just those in the target audience mentioned above – see it as a vaccination rather than a medicine.

The negative perception of preventative counter-extremism work is a real problem. Incomparable to any other policy area, the perception of counter-extremism work among the target audience seems crucial to its effectiveness.

This is because, correctly, it is not a security issue, but rather a community cohesion and a counter-messaging issue – a battle for hearts and minds – that requires grassroots engagement instead of top-down impositions.

This is even more important when perception of counter-extremism is itself listed as a grievance, manipulated in the radicalisation process. When our target audience, those vulnerable to radicalisation, is often more influenced by those sympathetic to or supportive of extremism, than it is by those doing counter-extremism, failure to address this perception deficit could neuter a strategy before it gets off the ground.

In recent years, the Preventing Prevent lobby has deemed it prudent to aggrandise counter-extremism work as a grievance among the target audience, worsening its perception through spreading of conspiracy theory, myopically questioning its academic credibility and ad hominem attacks against practitioners.

This group provides neither constructive nor progressive alternative solutions to the problems they set out. I daresay that some opponents of Prevent see it as a threat to their continued extremism, some are fundamentally opposed to the human rights norms it seeks to preserve, and some have themselves been manipulated by others.

To more effectively challenge extremist narratives, the government has recognised that community engagement is essential to build a strong civil society coalition. Increased duties for frontline workers, better communication of government policy, a focus on other kinds of extremism like anti-Muslim hatred, and the empowerment of new voices are all great ways to do this. So too, this coalition can start to challenge the negative perception of counter-extremism.

However, we must avoid the primary political engagement with a disenfranchised audience being clumsily centred around a policy area that is perceived as controversial. Instead, let’s engage with Muslim communities like any other part of our society that are traditionally disenfranchised.

Engaging Muslims communities solely through a security lens will neither improve community cohesion nor will it improve the perception of counter-extremism, in turn reducing its effectiveness.

So too, let’s not view Muslims solely through the lens of their religious identity and understand that they may also be butchers, bakers or candlestick-makers. Moreover, treating religion as a primary identifier unwittingly reinforces Islamist aims to promote religious identity above all others and will mean that grievances can be manipulated into an extremist narrative much easier, rather than progressively addressed through a liberal, democratic lens.

As for the broader strategic response, we should push for liberalism not just as an antidote to extremism itself but rather a necessary lens for this policy area. This means a consistently-applied human rights threshold, more checks and balances, policy improvements based on a robust evidence base, greater transparency, further desecuritisation, an internationalist outlook that sees global solutions to global problems.

At the same time we need decentralisation so that the policy is delivered by those as close to the target audience as possible. If we get this approach right, then we will be able to address the perception deficit without tackling it head on.

Lastly, let us understand that counter-extremism, if a battle for hearts and minds, is all about messaging. The counter-extremism strategy will empower society to challenge extremist propaganda, even if it is non-violent, when it promotes an ideology that is antithetical to human rights and normalises a narrative based on conspiracy theory and grievance culture that prevents integration.

Part of this is being confident that a newly liberalised counter-extremism strategy is part of the solution not part of the problem, and communicating this effectively so that civil society is empowered to deliver it.

Jonathan Russell is political liaison officer at Quilliam

50 Responses to “Comment: We need to stop defining Muslims only by their religion”

  1. Roy

    The religion is the defining factor and the problem. Everything else flows from it !!!

  2. jj

    Of course there are perfectly lovely Muslims, just like there are perfectly lovely Christians and Hindus. And I agree that we shouldn’t be defined by our religion. But the fact is, Islam is being taught in the same way it is in the middle east, it is becoming increasingly conservative, not moderate at all. Many Muslims, not all, take the Qur’an word for word, it is literally the word of Allah and that is the law above all else. This perpetuates fascist thinking in the Islamic community, and has resulted in harmful manipulation of many young people. Ive said it before, Islam needs a reformation, and become part of the 21st century once and for all.

  3. gary day

    Agree with Roy. It’s Muslims who identify themselves by their religion. Why else do many dress they way they do?

  4. vfilipch

    It is not possible to win against one ideology by using another ideology (no matter how good it is). This can be done only via economics. If those young people you mentioned have good jobs and mortgages to pay, they wouldn’t be easily influenced by extremism. So serious investments into projects that would build a strong middle class in Muslim countries is a way to win over Islam.

  5. Uthmān

    This is my view on the word ‘extremism’: //www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1slf5q3

  6. steroflex

    Not just here, but all over the world, Muslims seem to be very defensive about their religion. They don’t seem very anxious to discuss their faith with us Christians.
    Islam is going through a reformation at the moment. Muslim is killing Muslim. Muslim is deliberately setting to to hurt Muslim. In the great years – Baghdad, Istanbul – Islam was tolerant, cultured, easy going, rich.
    Jews and Christians were used as ministers, soldiers, slaves, wives. Not so at the moment at all.
    We here are suffering the sloshing about of the Muslim world in its civil war.
    And what a challenge for young men who have little or opportunity for a social life, for adrenaline excitement (no football much, cricket on the way out), for being seriously naughty.

  7. steroflex

    But…
    Are you perchance religious? God first.
    Do you know that many of the people who went to Isis had everything?
    In no way is this an economic problem. It is throwing down the gauntlet to courageous and decent and honourable young braves!
    Think “Homage to Catalonia”.

  8. Namaa Faisal AL Mahdi

    Islam is a way of life, it is more than just a religion, it is a passport to the nation of Mohammed, Muslims have to be defined by their religion, the right response should have been that non Muslims should respect that and respect Muslims right to belong to their religious group

  9. steroflex

    Can you though?
    The Prophet had the Noble Koran revealed to him by the Angel Gabriel. It may be created specially for the Prophet, or it may be the Eternal Word of Allah/God.
    How do you adapt that to modern, liberal thought?

  10. steroflex

    Problem:
    Modern life in UK demands that everyone mucks in together. Muslims cannot – as you say – do this. Never have, never will. So we are beginning to face a ghetto mentality which is terribly dangerous.

  11. vfilipch

    Just at history. For example, Germany was defeated in WWI but winners didn’t care to restore their economy, hence fascism. But after WWII Germany’s economy was rebuilt, hence democracy. Same for Japan. South Korea. Now look at the USSR, cold war brought its economy down, so it fell apart, and since no real economic reform followed, now we have Putin’s fascism there. West helped former Soviet Baltic republics and former socialists countries in western Europe to build economy and we have there democracies. You don’t fight mosquitos by killing them or trying to convince them to stop biting, we kill them by draining swamps.

  12. jj

    It works both ways, those that shout that apostates should be slaughtered do not have my respect. Pew research suggests a considerable minority of Muslims believe apostates ought to be killed, as well as gay people and those who commit adultery, I have no respect for those that think in such a way, and ultimately support the dirty fascism of ISIS

  13. jj

    whatever the word may be, it doesn’t particularly make much difference, it doesn’t change the fact that Islam has monumental internal problems with very backward thinking and some pretty vile beliefs that are taken to heart.

  14. Namaa Faisal AL Mahdi

    No it doesn’t, everyone in the UK has clear boundaries and can choose to belong to whichever group they choose to belong to and whichever groups they want to belong to, equal but different is the key term, Rotary Clubs, Political Parties and other Social Groups; this privilege is often denied to those seen as different and poor- when Islam was a Tourist thing bringing in large sums of cash from the rich Gulf States it was welcome with both arms, when it became a working class British Thing, all of the Sudden it is creating problems of integration ……

  15. Namaa Faisal AL Mahdi

    Not many Muslims do that, ISIS is fascist and has mainly killed other Muslims; fascism however is not restricted to Muslims, it can arise among any group of people and it has done over History

  16. Alex McLeish

    “One day, millions of men will leave the Southern Hemisphere to go to the Northern Hemisphere. And they will not go there as friends. Because they will go there to conquer it. And they will conquer it with their sons. The wombs of our women will give us victory.” — Houari Boumédienne, President of Algeria, in a 1974 speech to the UN.

  17. Mike Stallard

    Can you please name me just one person who is a terrorist who is driven by poverty?
    Bin Laden, for example, comes from the richest family in the Middle East. al Baghdadi was a very highly educated Imam. al Zawahiri was “upper middle class”.
    I think this is an appeal to save Islam and the Muslim way of life.

  18. Ringstone

    All good stuff, but if the muslim community “we” want to engage with is more connected to family and clan back in Pakistan than the khaffirs in the estate round the corner, and to be honest has no interest in engaging, what then? That is where we are, with self ghettoised communities living unassimilated in parallel isolation both socially and economically, in language and culture; a voluntary apartheid – the downsides of which are then used as a grievance.
    As host society we seem unwilling or unable to challenge this state of affairs for fear of the ultimate whitch word, racist. The fact remains that what cannot be coopted must be controlled, likely a much uglier process than Prevent.

  19. Eoireitum

    I don’t see Maajid as a Muslim. I might define him by his ethnicity (broad brush useless shorthand term that it is), his dress sense, his organisation, his role or simply by his name or what he does. Even by what he is “against” (sometimes a more telling approach). The problem is indeed labels. Stop defining yourself by a religion and maybe others will.
    The trouble is that this is clearly a “hard ask”!
    Active citizenship isn’t a panacea either and it’s naive not to conclude that the final message and the belief system on which the desert cult seems so anxious to define itself is anathema to many progressive or enlightenment principles which for me at least – influence my politics.

  20. Mike Stallard

    I think I am giving the wrong impression here. I am a practising Catholic. This week, my (Muslim) daughter in law and her son (my grandson) came to stay and we spent the time learning the Arabic Alphabet together. I am in no way anti Muslim – just not one!
    Can we agree that Muslims do rather tend to clump? That they are, in effect, an exclusive group? That they do have a way of life which is not at all the same as the traditional British one? I say this as someone who has studied the British Empire.
    If that is so – and in Singapore is actually isn’t because the government makes damned sure it doesn’t happen anywhere we really do run the risk of urban ghettoes and this is happening in my own home town of Peterborough and where I worked in the 1990s in Bradford.

  21. vfilipch

    Bin laden would be not able to do anything if nobody was willing to join him.

  22. XH558

    Exactly. The semiotics matter. Perhaps they should not, but they do. If a person, Haredi, Hare Krishna, Muslim or otherwise, presents themselves dressed, bearded or adorned in such a way as to indicate that the symbolism of their religion is worth more than integration with the majority culture in which they live, then we are likely to categorise and treat them accordingly. Their choice.

  23. Patrick7Gormley

    The religious believers usually claim that all they do whether religious or secular must be done in a spirit of devotion to the faith. For the Muslim or Catholic, cleaning the windows is a religious act though it does not look religious. Work is believed to be sacred. If believers teach such things we make them angry and hostile if we say we must not treat them as defined totally or primarily by their faith.

  24. Jordana406

    Jonathan Russell is just a closet Nazi white supremacist and apologist for the terrorist so called state of Israel.

  25. Patrick Nelson

    I suspect that unfortunately a great many people are quite happy for Muslims or other religious people to be angry and would be even more happy for them all to just die or disappear.

    There is a mentality that – if they could eradicate the Muslims they would, and soon after that the ultra orthodox Jews. I suspect that Catholics would be third in that list.

    The problem with the self proclaimed champions of liberalism – is that they are thoroughly illiberal themselves.

  26. Patrick Nelson

    “One day, millions of men will leave the Southern Hemisphere to go to the Northern Hemisphere. And they will not go there as friends. Because they will go there to conquer it. And they will conquer it with their sons. The wombs of our women will give us victory.” — Houari Boumédienne, President of Algeria, in a 1974 speech to the UN.

    Houari Boumediene was a state socialist ruler of a secular dominated a francophone country.

    Houari Boumediene actually suppressed the religious Muslims of Algeria.

    Are you trying to fraudulently pass this statement off as coming from a religious Muslim or are you just revealing your ignorance of the subject?

  27. Patrick Nelson

    Do you find it offensive for people to dress differently?

  28. Patrick Nelson

    “As host society we seem unwilling or unable to challenge this state of
    affairs for fear of the ultimate witch word, racist. The fact remains
    that what cannot be coopted must be controlled, likely a much uglier
    process than Prevent.”

    You sound like a ******* Nazi.

    Britain is a free country and people can live however they please so long as they do not break the law. People like you are a threat to all our freedom.

  29. Patrick Nelson

    They joined him not because of poverty, nor so much because of religion as it was because of politics.

    Long before there were Muslim terrorists flying jets into building there were very secular socialist Arab terrorists committing acts of terrorism over the Palestine issue etc, but noone blamed socialism for it.

  30. Patrick Nelson

    “Not just here, but all over the world, Muslims seem to be very defensive
    about their religion.”

    Are you surprised when so many people hate them and think that they are barbarian maniacs?

  31. Patrick Nelson

    “I don’t see Maajid as a Muslim.”

    Only silly people see Maajid Nawaz as a Muslim. The Quilliam Foundation is an enthusiastic anti-Islam organization under the guise of an anti-extremism organization.

  32. Patrick Nelson

    “That they do have a way of life which is not at all the same as the traditional British one?”

    You mean no stealing, no backbiting, no sex outside of marriage, strong families, monotheist worship, men growing beards, dressing modestly etc?

    I think you will find that in many ways religious Muslims are closer to the the traditional British way of life than modern British people are and that even teetotalism has a strong precedent in British tradition.

  33. Mike Stallard

    And a very great number of them are simply that. And all we get from the rest seems to be silence which can easily be taken to mean appreciation. What the Muslims need urgently is a really good PR man. I suggest Peter Mandelson or Mr Campbell.

  34. Mike Stallard

    Well now…
    Ever been to Morocco? Buckets of stealing there – and in Spain too, I remember. No sex outside marriage is a good one: ever been to Singapore and seen the night life (even during the day)? Strong families: No, with polygamy, every single family is a broken home with quarrelling women, fatherless children, favourites and, quite often, a desperate Daddy figure. Men growing beards: yup, Muslims are good at that. Dressing modestly – until they get on the plane.
    It is, far too often the religion of pretence that Jesus lambasted so very rudely and decisively. Lots of religious pride; very little respect for other people.
    Now, having said all that, I have been often surprised by real, genuine, humble piety, generosity, simplicity and, yes, divine love.

  35. Patrick Nelson

    “Strong families: No, with polygamy, every single family is a broken home with quarrelling women, fatherless children, favourites and, quite
    often, a desperate Daddy figure”

    You do seem to live in a comic book world. How many percent of Muslim men do you think are polygamous Mike Stallard?

    Furthermore I have known polygamous people and they were just normal without all the agro that you are implying.

    Do you think the prevalence of long term kept mistresses amongst the wealthier British men is better?

  36. Patrick Nelson

    “ever been to Singapore and seen the night life (even during the day)?”

    Singapore was once a Muslim country, but it has long since been taken over by the Chinese so that is not a good example to use. however you will find nightlife in most Muslim countries – it doesn’t mean that those clubs and bars are frequented by religious Muslims.

  37. Patrick Nelson

    “Dressing modestly – until they get on the plane.”

    Yes if you are an irreligious Gulf Arab freed from the restrictions of home – which is a tiny tiny fraction of Muslims as a whole.

  38. Patrick Nelson

    “It is, far too often the religion of pretence that Jesus lambasted so very rudely and decisively. Lots of religious pride; very little respect for other people.”

    If you are referring the the Pharisees then yes there are plenty of Muslims who are like Pharisees, but they are not the ones who are following the religion properly – ostentation/riyal – is a sin in Islam, good Muslims have humility.

    Any religiously educated Muslim could tel you that Prophet Muhammad warned that pride/arrogance kepds people out of Paradise.

    As for a lack of respect for other people, you seem to be doing quite well on that score yourself. Prophet Muhammad once said that he had come especially to teach good manners, good Muslims have good manners – and they don’t look down on people.

  39. Patrick Nelson

    “And a very great number of them are simply that.”

    …but not a great percentage.

  40. Mike Stallard

    a. Two wrongs do not make a right.
    b. The separation of the sexes – as happened to us until the end of World War Two produces monsters (Read the Communist Manifesto or Les Miserables!).
    c. Young Muslim men (one in my own family) very often feel that they need more than one wife and sometimes they do not bother to explain this before marrying their first wife. Others, (in my own family) deprived of any form of social interaction, become totally promiscuous.
    d. It is firmly laid down in the Koran how men and women ought to interact and polygamy is right there in the middle.
    e. Traditional polygamy in West Africa, reinforced by Islam, has disastrous effects – I taught their children there.

  41. Mike Stallard

    “terrorist so called state of Israel”
    By what authority do you think this?

  42. Patrick Nelson

    David Spameron you have reached and all time high and now you are my hero.

  43. Patrick Nelson

    “c. Young Muslim men (one in my own family) very often feel that they
    need more than one wife and sometimes they do not bother to explain this
    before marrying their first wife.”

    Very, very few Muslims are polygamous. Stop pretending that it is common.

    “Others, (in my own family) deprived
    of any form of social interaction, become totally promiscuous.”

    How many Muslims are in your family exactly? It started off with a daughter in law and now is growing and growing?

    Promiscuity is quite normal amongst young people in Britain, religious Muslim youths along with religious born again type Christians are probably the least promiscuous.

  44. Patrick Nelson

    “Traditional polygamy in West Africa, reinforced by Islam, has disastrous effects – I taught their children there.”

    Polygamy is common amongst people of all religions in Africa. I would love to hear in what ways you observed and experienced the effects of the “disastrous” effects of Muslim polygamy.

  45. Patrick Nelson

    “d. It is firmly laid down in the Koran how men and women ought to interact and polygamy is right there in the middle.”

    No it isn’t there is no instruction to undertake polygamy in the Qur’an and it is not counted as a good deed in Islam (as it is amongst some Mormons).

    The Qur’an actually limited the already existing reality of polygamy in Arabia and gave wives rights that they had not had in pre-Islamic Arabia.

  46. Patrick Nelson

    “The separation of the sexes – as happened to us until the end of World War Two produces monsters (Read the Communist Manifesto or Les Miserables!)”

    The separation of the sexes has always been more notional than real and personally overall I would not consider the British people of today superior to the British people of 1900 or before.

    Today we may have some strong points in which we can feel better than our predecessors, but in a whole host of ways we are inferior to them.

  47. Mike Stallard

    African Muslims?
    Remember, please that extended families – especially in Muslim lands, can be very large indeed.
    I do not like promiscuity. It is wrong. Marriage depends on stability and permanence for the children.
    I have enjoyed debating with you. Thank you.

  48. Maurice Ital

    All Muslims need to be removed from Europe, and the borders strictly enforced.

    Europe needs to return to the demographics of 50 years ago.

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