Tackling US Terrorism - Lessons From the British Experience

Tackling terrorism can only be effective if all communities and official agencies work together in collaborative partnership. Only then will we be able to ensure that no community is left feeling isolated or vulnerable.
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The growing threat from resident terrorists was starkly highlighted by the revelation that the five suspects recently arrested in Pakistan for planning attacks on US soil, were all American citizens. Tragically, this is not an isolated incident. Most recently, there has been the trial of David Headley in Chicago; the military recruitment center shootings in Little Rock, Arkansas; and the tragic incident at Fort Hood, Texas, where US Major Hasan killed 13 colleagues and injured 32 others.

There is no doubt that globalization has had a major impact on terrorism. Prior to 2001, US military personnel were the main target. However, September 11th, and to a lesser extent the July 2005 bombings in London, have defined the new faces of global terrorism, which operate in local, tight-knit cells, are working to long term goals based on a common cause, and are prepared to engage in indiscriminate multiple and simultaneous attacks. As Peter Clarke, the former Head of the Counter-Terrorism in the UK, said, "The threat from terrorism is real. It is here, it is deadly and it is enduring".

There is insufficient current empirical research to determine exactly why some young Muslim men resort to extremist violence. However, through our contacts with a broad cross-section of Muslim communities in the UK and internationally, I have identified several key issues that can be categorized into 6 'D's.

Disadvantage: While British Muslims generally experience high levels of disadvantage, the link between social deprivation and extremist violence is not simply cause and effect. British Muslims drawn into terrorism are actually often either well-educated (targeted in colleges and universities), or under-achievers, (targeted by extremist preachers or radicalized whilst in prison).

Discrimination: Since the watershed of 9/11, many different forms of "Islamophobia" or anti-Muslim expressions have been emerging, and the terms "Islam" and "Muslim" have become almost synonymous with terrorism.

Disconnection: Parts of the Muslim community are still developing an understanding of how to reconcile their faith and Islamic identity with living in a secular multi-cultural society, with some feeling that they cannot be both British and Muslim.

Discontent: Linked intrinsically to all of this, is the growing anger amongst young Muslims: anger over anti-terrorist arrests and searches; and anger about the perceived "double standards" in British foreign policy.

Denial: Certain elements of Muslim communities are in various stages of denial, whether about the events of the 7th July, Muslim extremism or the responsibilities of the Muslim community and leadership at large.

Division: The principle target group for stop and search and passenger profiling has tended to be people of South Asian origin. Unfortunately, the impact of this approach has been to create a division between Muslims and other people of South Asian origin.

These 6 'D's create a dynamic that orientates Muslim communities towards flight, fight or separation, instead of towards integration.

Flight: In the immediate aftermath of July 2005, two-thirds of Muslims considered leaving the UK. However, at the present time, "flight" is only realistically available to professionals or people with sufficient wealth to be able to emigrate.

Fight: The concept of "fight" has manifested itself in three critical areas: the outbreak of violent disorder; the emergence of Muslim criminal gangs; and, more recently, in the form of terrorism.

Separation: In the USA and Canada, Muslims are generally well represented in the professional classes, providing a positive sense of belonging. The majority of British Muslims, however, remain isolated in deprived inner-city boroughs.

Integration: While the majority of young Muslim men are able to define a British Muslim identity for themselves, a significant minority feel that foreign conflicts in the Muslim world are of greater concern than domestic issues.

As such, we need to work together to achieve "smart integration," preserving people's identity in matters of religion and culture, while simultaneously encouraging contributions to the nation's prosperity.

While the true number of disaffected young Muslim men is not known, there are a number of indicators. Firstly, a small number of young Muslims are known to have participated in terrorism, or to have joined militant organizations. Secondly, a number of extremist groups are known to actively recruit in the UK and USA. Thirdly, increasing numbers of young Muslim men are being detained on suspicion of extremist activity around the world (e.g. Yemen, Egypt and Pakistan).

As a consequence, Muslim communities need to face the unpalatable fact that their religion has been "hijacked" by a small and unrepresentative extremist faction. Additionally, these acts have developed in a political, religious and social context that we cannot ignore.

Muslims must, therefore, ask themselves some difficult questions, such as:

•What is happening in our communities? •What can we do about it as a community, particularly in terms of long-term strategy and in co-operating with law enforcement? •What help do we need from our host communities?

We are standing at a critical crossroad. The key fact remains that everyone wants to feel safe, irrespective of which community or ideology they belong to. To achieve this, communities must work together and we need to concentrate on: "Building the confidence and trust of communities."

As a consequence, we have started to develop a plan that includes developing a strong crime prevention agenda, improving our understanding of the dynamics of disaffection and tackling the underlying causes. In addition, there will be a focus on creating a new identity for Muslims, building community capability, connecting grass roots to institutions and supporting action within communities. Finally, there is a need to explore how to provide community leadership, engage in multi-faith dialogue and develop positive role models.

Tackling terrorism can only be effective if all communities and official agencies work together in collaborative partnership. Only then will we be able to build and sustain community cohesion and ensure that no community is left feeling isolated or vulnerable.

This article has been written with Tarique Ghaffur, CEO of CSD Global and former Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police, London

Here is a longer, more detailed version of this article.

Tarique Ghaffur retired from the Metropolitan Police in November 2008 after 34 years' service, reaching the rank of Assistant Commissioner. He is currently in the process of setting up the Community Safety Foundation, a charity designed to promote shared responsibility for safety/security amongst vulnerable communities. In addition, he is the Chairman of Community Safety Development (CSD) Global Ltd, a London-based, internationally focused company offering innovative solutions around master security design and consultation, global investigation, asset protection and security training and development.

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