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The British prime minister has laid out an approach to terrorism based on emotion rather than evidence.
Last Modified: 10 Feb 2011 08:51
David Cameron, the British prime minister, has declared the failure of 'state multiculturalism' [GALLO/GETTY]

Saturday's speech by David Cameron, the British prime minister, has sent the usual gang of know-nothing ideological Tory neocons into paroxysms of glee. Charles Moore declared that "the days of dealing with Muslim extremists are over" and that the "true boldness" of Cameron's speech lies in the recognition that "non-violent extremism is the entry chamber for terrorism itself".

Others gladly followed, although the usual know-nothings seem uncertain what to celebrate more - Cameron's willingness to attack 'Islamic extremism' or to see this in the wider 'leitkultur' debate and thus as another nail in the coffin of multiculturalism (i.e. the ad nauseam death of multiculturalism debate).

Is British security about ideology (assimilation and/or integration dictated from above) or reality (evidence for counter-terrorism policies that work)?

In pursuing dictated assimilation over what works, the know-nothings are flexing their muscles, fundamentally suggesting that counter-terror policy over the past five years has been an abject failure.

While there have been successes and failures in the policy (as with all policies), only a naïve ideologue would deign to suggest it has failed in its entirety - and seek to link something as important as countering terrorism to something as intellectually shifting and complex as 'the death of multiculturalism'.

Moore is right, the speech is indeed bold. Rare are the times in modern politics when one internal political faction within a party, let alone a coalition, is allowed, indeed encouraged, to so visibly gloat about a victory around the cabinet table. This is even more the case with an issue as fundamentally important as the prevention of terrorism.

There is more than a whiff of the immaturity of public school here - where older boys are so keen to show their dominance over new upstarts in the party and the coalition, such as Baroness Warsi and Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, that they are willing to put ego before security. For the former, the humiliating lack of prime ministerial support for her recent speech on Islamophobia, combined with previous incidents such as being forbidden to attend the Global Peace and Unity event in London, and for the latter, where every plank of Liberal Democrat policy is being systematically negated, perverted and reversed, it does beg the question: What is the point of being in a government which ignores your logic and argumentation on such a significant issue?

Evidence versus ideology

Cameron's speech has definitively laid out an approach to terrorism based on emotion rather than evidence. In Cameron's world, concerns about assimilated identity are of greater ordinal importance than counter-terrorism strategies that directly contribute to stopping people being blown up on buses.

This is not because Cameron ignores the real and awful threat of terrorism, but because he has chosen to link terrorism with identity, assimilation and 'rootlessness' without considering the effect on the real-world practice of counter-terrorism.

Many of those programmes which he opaquely criticised, especially Home Office funded channel projects, have proven track records in preventing specific terrorist incidents from occurring. Some of these projects mean partnering with those who spectacularly fail the know-nothing assimilation test.

Many of these same projects are now having their funds cut by the government and are being forced to close. So, please do tell us prime minister, will the pursuit of ideological integration at the cost of funding these projects make us safer? There is evidence that they have prevented terrorism, but because they do not 'integrate' or 'assimilate' enough they should not be partners to stop terrorism. Exactly on what basis are these kinds of decisions being taken?

Let us put this very simply: According to Cameron's speech, partnerships between the government and communities which are actively and effectively preventing people from being killed in terrorist attacks are now less important than the pursuit of a know-nothing vision of integration.

What particularly irks practitioners and civil servants is the way that this ideologically rather than evidence based change in policy will be rubber stamped by the review of the Prevent strand of the government's counter-terrorism strategy.

Politicians and political advisors in Number 10 and the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism are proposing a strategy which directly and dangerously contradicts the experience and advice of those directly involved in community based counter-terrorism on the ground.

The Prevent review is highly likely to cement this change in policy and eviscerate both the good and the bad of community partnerships in the existing counter-terrorism strategy, not because Prevent and 'engaging with extremists' was inefficient or even ineffective, but because the Tory know-nothings wish to ram through policies that once and for all define 'friend from foe'.

These Tory know-nothings, like their American mid-19th century namesakes, represent a narrow view of British politics. Membership is limited - by class, by network, by education, by ideological orientation and mostly by cliquishness. Their nativist orientation defines what they view as unnatural foreign influences on modern Britain. And they seek to define membership in the British club - it is on their terms or no terms at all, and is more than vaguely reminiscent of Lord Tebbit's 'Cricket Test'.

Their strident and cultish ideological orientation places them in direct contradiction to the wider project proposed in Cameronism and those values of Liberalism and transparency which are meant to sit at the core of their coalition partners in the modern and progressive Liberal Democrat Party.

Now that Cameron has sided with the know-nothings, choosing to abjectly negate real world lessons about effective counter-terrorism in favour of desk bound 'ideas' and theories about how a know-nothing world should work - here is hoping that they are making the right decision, because the consequences of this kind of question are more than a few votes picked up in marginal Tory constituencies and speaking to middle England.

Jonathan Githens-Mazer is the co-director of the European Muslim Research Centre, the co-director of the Exeter Centre for Ethno-Political Studies and an associate professor in Ethno-Politics at the Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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