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God forbid

  • Published at 06:13 pm October 19th, 2015
God forbid

The current Bangladeshi government has long presented itself as the last stand against Islamism, bravely fighting to keep the tide of extremism from engulfing the country. On its watch, a British national has supposedly been the chief perpetrator of targeted killings of bloggers in Bangladesh.

The freedoms of speech and expression continue to be restricted by legal and illegal means, usually violent, as justice evades the victims. British political rhetoric about radicalisation is increasing, mirroring Bangladesh, but, like Bangladesh, fails to offer concrete and viable solutions.

An MI5 report on the subject ends by stating that the only way to combat extremism is by trying to assimilate vulnerable groups into society. Initiatives such as helping young people find jobs, integrating several generations of immigrant populations into the local culture, and effectively reintegrating former prisoners into society have proven to work in theory, and in practice.

A reasonable and measured approach, as voices pushed to the margins in Bangladesh have expressed without being heard. Neither the Home Office nor MI5 refer to specific religions or motivations in their reports. However, both the words “radicalisation” and “extremism” are only used to label people who identify as Muslim or who have Muslim-sounding names when it comes to actual policy implementation.

In the hours after the murder of drummer Lee Rigby, the British government set out its stall. Theresa May, the home secretary at present and at the time, and Boris Johnson, the then mayor of London and present cabinet member, were amongst the high profile voices gleefully toeing the party line of being unable to say anything for certain -- it was in the immediate aftermath, after all, and the investigation was in its infancy -- but did not hesitate to invoke the dreaded t-word.

A most deplorable crime, no doubt, but a spade was, and still is, called a pitchfork. The two are touted as future leaders of the Conservatives, as future prime ministers. They and their government disrespected the memory of one of its loyal servants to play a dangerous political game, and the feral terrorism narrative, painted all over the media in the age of round-the-clock news, became a mainstay of the public consciousness. The tent pitched on terrorism has become a fortress.

The current Prime Minister David Cameron, and one of the heiresses presumptive, May, constructed their Conservative Party addresses around radicalisation. The latter’s incendiary speech pointed out perceived and factually incorrect problems with immigration, including stating that radicalisation increases with greater immigration -- an assertion thoroughly repudiated by studies and reports. Although the former’s was less controversial, he cited radicalisation as a danger that justified difficult decisions, implying oppressive measures.

It suggests that the Preventing Violent Extremism strategy (Prevent) and use of the Impero software at home and the drone strikes abroad are only the beginning. Domestic spying programs and extra-judicial killings are not at all unlawful, especially when those in positions of power have itchy trigger fingers. Greater engagement with communities within the UK is a reasonable approach that can yield results, but fear-mongering is less work and more populist.

That it stigmatises and alienates the very section of the population which, by the government’s own admission, is prone to radicalisation is a happy coincidence -- the higher the number of extremists, the more bigotry is acceptable, and unreasonable, unlawful, oppressive policies are embraced. If it works in the backwaters of a former colony, it is good enough for the Queen’s country. Monsters must be slain. All hail the brave hero that does the slaying.

As if the hubris of believing ideologies rooted in faith could be controlled was not foolish enough, leaders all over the world delude themselves into thinking they have a moral right to rule, and therefore are entitled to using any means necessary to do so. Their end justifies their means, but is of little or no benefit to the masses. Having let the genie out of the bottle, governments now demand it grant a fourth wish, domestically and globally.

When the genie disobeys, as is its wont, it and its progenies are labelled as monsters. Governments need monsters whom they need to appear to fight, the oldest sleight-of-hand in the politics handbook that draws attention away from government misdeeds and failings.

If these monsters look and smell like human beings, the citizens need to exercise their inherent empathy in the face of daunting adversity to transform fake monsters into their real form. That is the starting point for constructive dialogue, positive resolution and genuine progress. Everything else is an elaborate and poorly-constructed magic trick, emphatically cruel.