The Enemy Within by Sayeeda Warsi

Can someone pass my terrorist spotting vision goggles? (part 2)

Sayeeda Warsi, author of The Enemy Within, shares a tale of Muslim Britain in a week-long serialisation. In Part 2 she asks: what makes a terrorist?

To have a cause is British; to feel inspired to make the lives of others in faraway places better is British, to have the freedom to dissent is British. To do so with indiscriminate and unlawful violence against fellow Brits is terrorism.

To fight for justice is Islamic; to protect the persecuted is Islamic; to demand freedom and dignity for fellow Muslims is Islamic. To do so with indiscriminate and unlawful violence against fellow Brits is terrorism.

Terrorism is a threat to my nation and my faith, and it must be defeated.

Over the last century Europe has seen terrorists who are motivated by nationalism, communism, sectarianism, racism, fascism and religion.

But pick up almost any right-wing paper in the UK today and the picture painted about terrorism is that it’s a Muslim issue, that the Muslims are uniquely violent, that the threat we face is new and unusual, and that it is an inherent part of the faith of Islam.

Author Sayeeda Warsi

In the West the lone wolf attacker is the main face of terrorism, accounting for 70 per cent of all terrorist deaths since 2006. Eighty per cent of these lone wolf attacks were not primarily driven by terrorism and violence in the name of Islam but attributed to a mix of right-wing extremists, nationalists, supremacists and other anti-government elements. In other words, we in the West are neither the main target of terrorism nor its main victims. And terrorism in the name of Islam is not the main cause of deaths from terrorism in the West: we are more likely to be killed at the hands of a terrorist with a far-right, nationalist or supremacist ideology.

To defeat terrorism we must first define terrorism. We must learn the lessons of what worked and what did not when we faced these challenges in the past and be deeply aware of the nature and extent of the threat we face today.

Terrorism comes in many forms, and terrorists come from many communities, races and faiths, but to understand better the journey of British Muslims we must understand what makes a tiny minority of them terrorists.
 

How do you spot a terrorist?

How do you spot a terrorist? How do you pick out a violent jihadi? How do we identify an insurgent? Is there a ‘look’, a style or manner we can easily identify with terrorist sorts? And, yes, let’s address the big elephant in the room: do they follow a particular faith, Islam? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could have a terrorist version of night-vision goggles, where the darkness would part and reveal the terrorist to us. Because if we could spot them we could then stop them.

Our domestic intelligence service, MI5, set out terrorist telltale signs in a document in 2008 which included, amongst other factors such as a history of criminality, experience of marginalization and racism, low-grade employment despite having a degree and religious naivety. Another assessment, developed by Elaine Pressman, includes twenty- eight factors, including sexual orientation, marriage, age, past criminality, contact with violent extremists and extremist websites, to name a few. Simply put, the picture is not black and white.


To fight for justice is Islamic; to protect the persecuted is Islamic; to demand freedom and dignity for fellow Muslims is Islamic. To do so with indiscriminate and unlawful violence against fellow Brits is terrorism.

One strand of CONTEST is Prevent, with the stated aim ‘to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism’. It was supposed to be the helpful ‘upstream’ intervention and yet it’s managed to perturb the most people. It was committed to tackling terrorism by tackling the causes of terrorism. And yet now, a decade on, it is considered by a whole coalition of academics, lawyers, politicians, police officers and others to be not just ineffective but indeed counterproductive. Described as a policy ‘to be remembered as a textbook example of how to alienate absolutely everybody’, a policy designed to spot terrorists and stop terrorism has become a policy which has put on ice genuine policy work to understand the varied and complex causes of terrorism.

Since 7/7 in the UK, as had happened after 9/11 in the US, discussions around the ‘root causes’ of terrorism became too difficult an area for policy-makers. We moved to the how of terrorism without sufficiently understanding the why.
 

It's ideology, stupid

I accept that a terrorist attack like 7/7 played out in the glare of a twenty-four-hour international media circus triggered a political need to find a quick and easy answer to what makes a terrorist. But it is at times when our nation faces the greatest threat that we need our politicians to raise their game. The right answer was a considered and measured response, but the easy answer was a quick answer: we reached for ideology, the ideology of Islamism. Islamism became a quick, catch-all term, a reason that could encompass and explain radicalization in all its formats and manifestations, a term that would inform our thinking on how to spot a potential terrorist, a term that is now used in counter-terrorism policy-making across the world.

And yet despite all the academic studies, research and evidence , including testimonies of returning jihadis and ex-extremists, we still insist, ‘It’s ideology, stupid’ and continue making policy based on a premise that is simply flawed. If it blatantly isn’t ‘all ideology, stupid’, it’s stupid of us to keep saying it is.

If the analysis of the problem is neither comprehensive nor accurate, the solution will inevitably fail. This is dangerous territory, because the longer we fail to understand or acknowledge the root causes of terrorism, the longer we will simply deal with the symptoms, not the disease. The longer we fail to do the painstaking work of understanding what makes a terrorist, the longer we leave ourselves vulnerable to terrorism. And unfortunately the Coalition government of which I was a part from 2010 to 2015 made things a whole lot worse.
 

Read Part 1: Who are the British muslims?

Read Part 2: Can someone pass my terrorist spotting vision goggles?

Read Part 3: The pathway to the Paranoid State

Read Part 4: Are Muslims the 'enemy within'? 

More about the author

The Enemy Within

Sayeeda Warsi

'Hard headed, well informed and intellectually coherent ... it turns conventional wisdom on its head. It deserves to promote a public debate on this subject which has been needed for more than 20 years' Peter Oborne

Britain has often found groups within its borders whom it does not trust, whom it feels have a belief, culture, practice or agenda which runs contrary to those of the majority. From Catholics to Jews, miners to trade unionists , Marxists to liberals and even homosexuals, all have at times been viewed, described and treated as 'the enemy within'. Muslims are the latest in a long line of 'others' to be given this label.

How did this state of affairs come to pass? What are the lessons and challenges for the future - and how will the tale of Muslim Britain develop? Sayeeda Warsi draws on her own unique position in British life, as the child of Pakistani immigrants, an outsider, who became an insider, the UK's first Muslim Cabinet minister, to explore questions of cultural difference, terrorism, surveillance, social justice, religious freedom, integration and the meaning of 'British values'.

Uncompromising and outspoken, filled with arguments, real-life experience, necessary truths and possible ways forward for Muslims, politicians and the rest of us, this is a timely and urgent book.

'This thoughtful and passionate book offers hope amid the gloom' David Anderson QC, Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation

'A vital book at a critical time' Helena Kennedy QC

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