Last week, the Muslim Council of Britain, which describes itself as an independent non-sectarian umbrella body of more than 500 affiliates, voiced an idea breathtaking in its simplicity and power.
The MCB said it would fight radicalization with a scheme that would focus on one message and one message alone. No violence.
That’s right. Read its lips. No violence.
The message will be that violence is totally unacceptable whatever your political, social and cultural views about Britain, the West, or more personal quibbles with say, the nasty old lady down the road.
This is a radical departure from what’s gone before. Till now, countering extremism strategies have employed a mix of persuasion that mixes cultural and social issues with a mildly theological argument that frowns upon violence. To discourage violence per se – all violence – has not been the sole focus of these strategies though it would have made sense to do so. For, what is countering extremism if not the discouragement of violence against non-Muslims and Muslims?
The MCB’s new idea would keep away from doctrinaire arguments about when aggression is justified. It would simply say ‘no’, a clearer, simpler message to ram home.
It’s not been spelt out how the MCB arrived at the idea. Why is clearer. It is driven to launch its own anti-radicalisation scheme out of despair at the UK government’s 13-year-old Prevent strategy. Prevent has gone through multiple iterations since it was instituted in response to the challenges of the world after 9/11. In the years since it was developed, praise has generally come from government ministers and functionaries involved in some way in the effort.
Britain’s Muslim communities have largely opposed Prevent, arguing that it has, at its heart, an ideological purity test. Criticism of western foreign policy, they complain, arouses suspicion and the government has only been willing to work with those who go with the flow.
In contrast, the MCB’s new scheme will work with any and everyone, including people who oppose some western policies on hot-button issues that matter to Muslims. The scheme will not seek to liberalise British Islam either but will, again, work with scholars the government might consider illiberal.
The focus will be solely on warning against violence. The Guardian quoted an unidentified source familiar with the MCB’s plans to say: “If we can get these voices more heard, they are anti-government and therefore more credible in saying do not turn to violence.”
As with everything though, there is the very real possibility that the MCB scheme may not do a great deal to change the propensity for disaffected youth to take the path of violence. We wouldn’t be able to measure it quickly any way, so reports of effectiveness or otherwise may become, like Prevent, a contested point.