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'Young Muslims And Extremism'

The Leaked Report: Censored By The Media

The Report That Should Be At The Heart Of The Public Debate

Part 1: Analysis: Foreign Policy The Root Of Terrorism


On to Part 2: Policy Recommendations




On 10 July 2005, the Sunday Times carried an important front-page story on a leaked British Government study 'Young Muslims and Extremism' (see our Media Review for more details). The key element of this story (buried in the middle of the article) was the finding that it is British foreign policy that has been responsible for the growth of 'extremism' - the willingness of young Muslims to participate in anti-Western terrorism.


This joint Home Office/Foreign Office report can be downloaded from the Sunday Times website in full, in four parts. What follows are the conclusions of the report.


Notice that when discussing the factors that cause 'extremism' among young Muslims, foreign policy is listed first. Second is 'Islamophobia'.






By extremism, we mean advocating or supporting views such as support for terrorist attacks against British or western targets, including the 9/11 attacks, or for British Muslims fighting against British and allied forces abroad, arguing that it is not possible to be Muslim and British, calling on Muslims to reject engagement with British society and politics, and advocating the creation of an Islamic state in Britain.




At this stage all we can say is that there are a variety of issues that impact upon British Muslims, including young Muslims, and may increase the likelihood of their moving towards extremism . The factors discussed below are based partly on survey evidence but partly on the subjective impressions of Home Office and FCO officials and Muslim advisers, taking account of their contacts with Muslim leaders, clerics and academics and monitoring of publications.


Foreign policy issues

It seems that a particularly strong cause of disillusionment amongst Muslims including young Muslims is a perceived `double standard' in the foreign policy of western governments (and often those of Muslim governments), in particular Britain and the US. This is particularly significant in terms of the concept of the "Ummah", i.e. that Believers are one "nation". This seems to have gained a significant prominence in how some Muslims view HMG's [Her Majesty's Government's, ie British Government] policies towards Muslim countries.


Perceived Western bias in Israel's favour over the Israel/Palestinian conflict is a key long term grievance of the international Muslim community which probably influences British Muslims.


This perception seems to have become more acute post 9/11 . The perception is that passive `oppression', as demonstrated in British foreign policy, eg non-action on Kashmir and Chechnya, has given way to `active oppression' - the war on terror, and in Iraq and Afghanistan are all seen by a section of British Muslims as having been acts against Islam.


This disillusionment may contribute to a sense of helplessness with regard to the situation of Muslims in the world, with a lack of any tangible `pressure valves', in order to vent frustrations, anger or dissent.


Hence this may lead to a desire for a simple `Islamic' solution to the perceived oppression/problems faced by the `Ummah'- Palestine, Iraq, Chechnya, Kashmir and Afghanistan.


A case in point is the March 2004 ICM poll of Muslim opinion asked "Jenny Tonge, a Liberal Democrat MP said she condemned all forms of terrorism, but if she had to live in the same situation as a Palestinian she might consider becoming a suicide bomber herself. Do you agree or disagree with her?" 47% agreed with the statement, whilst 43% disagreed.



Domestic issues




Perceived Islamophobia (particularly post-9/11) in society and the media may cause some British Muslims including young Muslims to feel isolated and alienated and in a few cases to reject democratic and multi-cultural values.


The Cantle report identified polarisation between Pakistani/Bangladeshi and white communities as a factor in the 2001 disturbances. The young people involved in these disturbances included educated professionals as well as under privileged people.


Lack of understanding of Islam - insensitive use of language and perceptions of Islam and an ill-informed assumption that Islam's teachings are inherently extremist. Media coverage of extremist fringe groups increases this.


Muslims' perception of bias in the way counter-terrorism powers are used to stop, detain and arrest people, both at ports and in-country.


Social issues



Muslims are more likely than other faith groups to have no qualifications (over two fifths have none) and to be unemployed and economically inactive, and are over-represented in deprived areas. However, this is largely associated with the disadvantage of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, whereas the experience of Indian and Arab Muslims is much less disadvantaged .


Lack of participation and representation - There is still low Muslim representation in mainstream institutions of influence, especially for women - eg in public appointments, volunteering and mainstream politics (although the Home Office Citizenship Survey 2001 suggests that low Muslim participation rates largely reflect non-faith factors such as education, economic empowerment, age and gender).

Issues of identity

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, and with modern social challenges. There is a developing critique by some within the Muslim community, both abroad and here, that traditional Islamic jurisprudence is not equipped to fulfil the needs of Muslims living in the West and needs to be developed and updated. There are tentative moves towards developing Islamic jurisprudence for Muslims living in Europe and the Western World.


A lack of any real `pressure valves', in order to vent frustrations/anger/dissent.


There are particular issues for young Muslim women who face some of the most complex clashes of culture. We need to think hard about the positive impact they can have with the right support.


Organisational issues

Some young Muslims are disillusioned with mainstream Muslim organisations that are perceived as pedestrian, ineffective and in many cases, as `sell-outs' to HMG.


The government must make a more concerted effort to persuade the Muslim community that it is trusted and respected . That requires a change of language. Public challenges to Muslims to decide where their loyalties lie are counterproductive.



This page last updated 17 July 2005






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