Yesterday the Prime Minister, David Cameron, was in Birmingham to give a speech detailing a five-year plan to combat extremism and terrorism by proposing to bring in tough measures via a new Extremist Bill.
Terrorism; it’s been touted as the ‘biggest issue facing our generation’ which knows no borders, is bloodthirsty, ruthless, violent and has become another social issue for our leaders (in the West) to declare war upon. Things like terrorism, and terrorist groups, have been around for centuries – it’s only because of 24-hour news channels and technology that we are made more aware of it – therefore, it would be naive to suggest that terrorism is a modern problem exclusive to those living in the West.
Cameron’s speech, itself, was interesting but I found it to be problematic because in some parts it simply did not make sense and was deeply patronising. The main part which I want to discuss is the link between terrorism/extremism and integration/social cohesion with a focus on the latter. I’ve always found that whenever we talk about these two topics, they are mistakenly lumped together. I’ve always believed that integration and extremism are two, very distinct concepts that are rarely discussed in a coherent and concise manner – which is crucial given what is happening in contemporary British society.
“Some argue it’s because of historic injustices and recent wars […] This argument […] I call the grievance justification must be challenged” ~ David Cameron
This clumsy re-packaging has social implications which we are already living in and starting to see the effects of. Many of us are of the belief that if you are not integrated into British society, you have a higher chance of becoming indoctrinated with extremist ideology and becoming a terrorist. It sounds a bit too simple, but at its very core, this is basically what that hasty connection has created.
What this misplaced link does not discuss or take into consideration is the process of integration itself. For decades, even before 9-11, the lens has exclusively been fixed upon ethnic minorities and their ability to integrate into Western societies. In a post 9-11 world, that lens has become increasingly harsh and as someone of ethnic descent, I have experienced first-hand how damaging that scrutiny has been upon my ethnic group and other ethnic communities.
The term, ‘British,’ is incredibly vague and what has become apparent is that the words ‘Caucasian’ and ‘Christian’ have been embedded into ideas of Britishness for centuries without being challenged. The presence of ethnic minorities has questioned this archaic definition and instead of society reflecting on what it means to be ‘British’ today, they have actively promoted homogenisation and confused it for integration.
The whole idea and process of integration has always been presented as a one-sided affair: ‘you must fit in with our society in order to live here.’ I find that this often results in people (of all backgrounds) mistaking integration for homogenisation. Integration is a two-way system which allows diversity, in all of its glory, to flourish from both incoming communities and the host community. Homogenisation is making different things more alike; this is something that we are starting to see more of and has manifested itself in varying degrees of bigotry, demonisation, discrimination and intolerance.
Terrorism: the ‘biggest issue facing our generation’
It is very rare to see the other side of what integration means for incoming communities – for many it often involves diluting or getting rid of aspects of their cultures which they hold dear. In some cases, there are cultural practices (forced marriage, acid attacks etc) which are truly outdated and need to be sent back to the past, which are thankfully being dealt with. But the main components often include knowledge of their ethnic language, in some cases religion, cultural and historic awareness of their roots, Anglicising names – the list can go on – but these are things which are hardly spoken about and create underlying tensions between incoming communities and the host community.
It’s not surprising to see why so many young people identify more with the glamours of ISIS (Daesh) than with the country of their birth which has bashed them about for not being ‘British enough’ or succumbing to ‘British’ values. If you consistently demonise, isolate and step on a particular community for long enough, you will inevitably get a backlash. It never ceases to amaze me whenever I hear exasperated cries of: “Oh why don’t they like us?” whenever an individual from a particular community reaches their limit and has an outburst. I am not saying that it is acceptable to join terrorist organisations and kill innocent people – what I am saying is that there is no smoke without fire and it is wrong to condemn an entire ethnic group, religion or race to a witch hunt based on the actions of what a misled minority chooses to do.