Muslim groups have been named in a report which calls them ‘divisive and extremist’. But why as someone who would class himself as a ‘moderate Muslim’ do I find this whole exercise worrying? And it is really fair to group these five organisations together when they are clearly so different?

Are we now saying that anyone who criticises the government is likely to be labelled as an extremist?

CAGE, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain (HT), the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACUK), and Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) were all named in a Tony Blair Institute for Global Change report entitled ‘Narratives of Division: The spectrum of Islamist Views Worldwide’

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change says it ‘works to promote co-existence and counter extremism by tackling the ideology behind extremist violence, not just the violence itself.’

A forward signed by former Prime Minister Tony Blair reads, “These narratives come from activist groups that claim that Muslims cannot fully be part of our society, and they risk making British Muslims feel that their identity is incompatible with modern Britain.

“Countering and recognising this is an essential part of fighting extremism because—let us be clear—there is nothing incompatible between being British and being Muslim.

“But too many people, Muslims and non-Muslims, actively push messages that suggest otherwise. This report demonstrates that political leaders must devote more focus and resources to challenging these corrosive narratives.”

What does the report say?

The report uses the banned Al-Muhajiroun as a benchmark and compares the actions of the named organisations.

It falls short of stating that the work of the groups are encouraging violent extremism.

The groups are judged on the following points and are listed here:

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Victimisation (Anti-Muslim, communities, dehumanisation, discrimination, hate, hate crime, hatred, Islamophobia, minority, onslaught, other, persecution, prejudice, racism, stigmatisation, suspect, target and vilification)

‘Good’ Muslim vs. ‘Bad’ Muslim (Betray, credibility, grass-roots, house Muslim, independent, Islam, loyalty, moderate, mouthpiece, Prevent-funded, puppet, Sara Khan, sectarian, support, takfir, traitor, uncle Tom and Yes-woman)

Islam vs. the West (Alien assimilation, British, British values, citizen, colonisation, compatability, conflict, identity imperialism, integration, multiculturalism, Muslims, non-Muslims, oppressor, war on terror and West)

Delegitimising the government (Apartheid, arbitrary, boycott, civil liberties, control, counter-extremism, dissent, draconian, engagement, legitimacy, Napoleon, Ofsted, Orwellian, police state, Prevent, Stasi, surveillance and thought police)

The centrality of Islam in politics (Alternative, Brotherhood, caliphate, capitalism, guidance, Islamic state, Islamism, Khilafah, Muslim, secularism, sharia, societal needs, system, ummah, unify, vote and world order)

Justification of violence (Apologists, armies, blowback, British foreign policy, crimes, defend, glorification, grievances, lands, military intervention, Muslim, radicalisation, retaliation, sow terror and terrorism)

It judges each of the groups alongside the ideals of the banned group Al-Muhajiroun.

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What does it conclude

The report concludes, “Analysis of five groups accused by UK authorities of holding divisive or extreme views yielded a troubling portrait of a particular type of radical activism taking place in Britain.

“Four of the five groups were relatively open and unapologetic in sharing a worldview that portrays Muslims, both in the UK and around the world, largely as victims who are in a constant struggle against Western oppression.

“One group, MEND, was less engaged in advancing these kinds of narratives in its recent public content, but it has a history of making some divisive statements.

“All the groups shared some degree of narrative overlap with the proscribed extremist organisation al-Muhajiroun, although this varied significantly across the groups and the themes on which they converged. Only one group, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, came close to sharing al-Muhajiroun’s stance on violence.”

It adds, “The messaging of most of these groups is worrying because it conveys a deep and almost insurmountable divide between Muslims and non-Muslims in the UK, while also dividing Muslims into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ camps.

“It paints the government as an opponent of Muslim communities rather than a democratic institution that all citizens, including Muslims, should engage with and challenge when necessary.

"The combined impact of such narratives seems likely to have an alienating effect on the communities in question, contributing to feelings of separation and division from other parts of society. One need only look at political and social upheaval in the West today to see the consequences of societies becoming increasingly divided along identity lines."

The report goes as far as to say online portal that supports these groups are themselves ‘dubious’ namely 5Pillars and Islam21c

It continues, “Together they have more than half a million followers on Facebook and Twitter, which is an impressive figure for activist groups of this kind.

“Several of the groups are active in organising events across the UK, some of which draw significant crowds. In addition, these groups are visible on prominent online media platforms that target British Muslim audiences, such as 5Pillars and Islam21c (which have more than half a million Facebook followers combined).

“These two sites have featured more than 500 articles highlighting the views and activities of these five groups over the past five years, almost exclusively in a positive fashion.

“Furthermore, some of the key narratives of these groups—such as pointing to Western foreign policy as the primary cause of, or even justification for, radicalisation and referring to government policies on extremism as being indicative of a security state— are increasingly prominent in the broader political discourse.

“While those concepts are not exclusive to these groups, their growing prevalence demonstrates that these groups and their ideological allies are having an impact on the public debate.”

Finally the report admits, “The distinction between views that are deeply divisive and ones that are clearly extremist is important, yet it is also necessary to recognise how divisive views can provide the ideological basis on which extreme ideas are built.

“There is no inevitable conveyor belt from divisive activism to nonviolent and then violent extremism, but there is undoubtedly a relationship between these concepts. This highlights the need to proactively challenge ideas that sow mistrust and tension between communities.”

Why this report should worry us all

Anyone reading this list of points will find it uncomfortable. And here is why.

When did highlighting victimisation become an inherent feature of extremism? To highlight injustice towards Muslims is something that many Islamic groups have been doing and their actions should be commended.

What the report suggests is that these groups are using the ‘victim-mentality’ to further their own ideological struggles.

Here is a good example. The report lists this post by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC),  

“Britain is still a racist country and the level of fear amongst ethnic minorities of being attacked or harassed are reflective of the harsh realities they face in their everyday lives. Muslims are the victims of hate crimes that are fuelled by the demonisation that we hear from politicians and the media. Islamophobia drips down from the politicians and media, and Muslims bear the consequences on the streets and in the workplaces of the UK.”

Now, okay it could have been worded a little better but I’m sorry to say but I would agree with the above.  Yet, this is one of many posts dotted throughout the report.

Would it be acceptable to make any such accusation to victims?

What I also found worrying was how criticisms of counter-extremism groups and regulations in some way puts you in this bracket.

May I point out that the many mainstream studies and reports are not favourable to these very laws.

Should one be permitted to criticise the government without the fear of being labelled an extremist?

Now, both pieces are listed here in the report as the largest areas of grievance allotted to the five groups.

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Here is a good example of this:

With regards to Prevent among other things the report states, “At times its language on these issues implies the government is unfairly targeting Muslims or that there is a “climate of anti-Muslim paranoia”

It states this on the back of a Tweet by MEND which says, “This is what happens when you make Prevent a Statutory Duty in a climate of anti-Muslim Paranoia.” This is a link in a story in the Times – headlined – ‘Alert over Muslim Boy’s Water Pistol’.

How has this evidence found itself into this report? Should we not highlight failures? Or inconsitencies.

The only thing the groups are guilty of is taking a tunnel-vision appraoch to such inconsistencies and not highlighting the positive attributes of policy.

I found it concerning that this report uses the ‘Good’ Muslim vs. ‘Bad’ Muslim as a benchmark.

The sad truth is the very same notion and judgement could be attributed to organisations that are funded by the government.

Why don’t I list government funded organisations who themselves only liaise with those that share their own visions of what a Muslim should and should not be like?

Why do I not list social media commentators who use anti-Muslim rhetoric to stir up racial hated? Or blatantly fabricate facts in the hope of landing a spot on radio or column inches in a mainstream paper.

What I find equally worrying therefore that the very same standards imposed on these groups is not attributed to other organisations.

There are a number of examples in the report where criticisms of foreign policy are among those ‘worrying attributes’.

In one such section the report states, “MPACUK takes a broadly anti-American view and accused the United States of being a state sponsor of terrorism.”

And then goes on to list where MPACUK have stated this - suggesting in one Tweet ‘top-state sponsors of terrorism according to the UN definition of terrorism, US, Israel, Saudi”

Why would we find this statement so worrying? We are all well aware of state-sponsored terrorist activities harking back to the middle-ages. Should such a statement really be so alarming?

What if this statement was written by a non-Muslim? And uttered by a non-Muslim historian?

The age of extremes

The problem we have with counter-extremism policy and attempts to stifle grassroots opinions is that you only legitimise their voices.

I should not in 2019 have to call myself a ‘moderate Muslim’ in the hope that my words are not taken out of context.

This ‘us and them’ attitude to counter-extremism is not working. And this report is in many ways a result of this fascination with telling Muslims what can and what cannot be said.

I will agree that groups such as Hizb-Ut-Tahrir do not represent the vast spectrum of Muslim opinion in this country. I will be the first to say I do not agree with their notions of Khilafah among other things. I do not bother of the reaction this might entail.

I will also not agree with some of the views espoused elsewhere.

But the fact is British Muslims do not like to be patronised. They have grievances and you cannot simply ignore them and in this case link them in some haphazard way to 'levels of extremism'.

Either tell us what that extremism is in black or white terms or work with a wide-spectrum of organisations.

The aim of this report was not to add to the debate on counter-extremism policy. The aim was to create awareness of what is permitted to be said in a free society and to ensure we Muslims know our place.

Dangerously the report concludes, “All the groups shared some degree of narrative overlap with the proscribed extremist organisation al-Muhajiroun, although this varied significantly across the groups and the themes on which they converged.”

You could say the same for most British Muslims if you were to pick and choose selective comments and opinions.

Now, there is something to ponder.