The UK prime minister has launched a five-year plan to defeat “Islamist extremism”, saying it is time to counter an ideology that has attracted so many young people to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
In a wide-ranging speech on Monday, David Cameron also announced new powers designed to put those who radicalise young people “out of action”, together with plans to allow parents to cancel their children’s passports to prevent them from travelling abroad to join a radical group.
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The measures are meant to crush the infrastructure that has made it possible for as many as 700 young Britons to join armed groups abroad, he said.
Cameron spoke at a school in Birmingham, a centre of the Muslim community in Britain. He said it was time to counter the narrative that has attracted so many young people to the ISIL.
Britain must “de-glamorise” such groups by making the young aware of the stark reality of life under their control, he said.
‘Cannon fodder’ for ISIL
Cameron said: “You won’t be some valued member of a movement. You are cannon fodder for them. They will use you.
“If you are a boy, they will brainwash you, strap bombs to your body and blow you up. If you are a girl, they will enslave and abuse you. That is the sick and brutal reality of ISIL.
“There is a danger in some of our communities that you can go your whole life and have little to do with people from other faiths and backgrounds.
“So when groups like ISIL seek to rally our young people to their poisonous cause, it can offer them a sense of belonging that they can lack here at home.”
Some Muslim organisations reacted with dismay, sensitive to suggestions that they are somehow to blame for extremism.
There is a danger of suggesting there is a “magic solution that will make terrorism go away”, said Shuja Shafi, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain.
“We worry, however, that these latest suggestions will set new litmus tests which may brand us all as extremists, even though we uphold and celebrate the rule of law, democracy and rights for all.”
Yusuf Hassan, vice president of the Federation of Student Islamic societies (FOSIS) in the UK, told Al Jazeera the current strategy employed by the government aimed to “produce conformist young Muslims who are too afraid to express themselves”.
Cameron’s speech will only exacerbate alienation in the Muslim community, Hassan said.
“Pushing boundaries, being active in the political sphere, free thinking and free speech, all of these are at risk of being targeted if we accept the current counterextremism narrative,” he said.
Cameron also announced a study designed to find ways to increase opportunities for young people from ethnic minorities and increase their integration in society.
He said a strategy would be published later in the year as part of a five-year-plan to wage what he defined as the struggle of a generation.
Cameron acknowledged that young people are vulnerable to radicalisation in part because many, though born in Britain, have little attachment to the country.
“So when groups like ISIL seek to rally our young people to their poisonous cause, it can offer them a sense of belonging that they can lack here at home,” he said.
“We have, in our country, a very clear creed and we need to promote it much more confidently.
“Wherever we are from, whatever our background, whatever our religion, there are things we share together.”
“We are all British,” he said.