A CAMPAIGN to quash conspiracy theories suggesting that the West, in league with Israel, is seeking to undermine Islam is needed as part of a strategy to tackle Islamist extremism in Britain, the Prime Minister said in a speech on Monday.
On the same day, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a lecture in Liverpool, described Islamic State (IS or ISIL) as a perverted terror group that had to be faced and contained.
Mr Cameron told an audience in Birmingham: “You don’t have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish. Ideas also based on conspiracy that Jews exercise malevolent power, or that Western powers, in concert with Israel, are deliberately humiliating Muslims, because they aim to destroy Islam. This argument, the grievance justification, must be challenged.”
The UK also needed to “de-glamorise” the extremist ideology and conspiracy theories used by groups such as IS, Mr Cameron said. “This is a group that throws people off buildings, that burns them alive. . . This isn’t a pioneering movement, it is a vicious, brutal, and fundamentally abhorrent existence.”
Mr Cameron also delivered a message “to any young person thinking of going out there. 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.”
He spoke, too, of a need to counter extremist ideology by “standing up and promoting our shared British values; taking on extremism in all its forms, both violent and non-violent; empowering those moderate and reforming voices who speak for the vast majority of Muslims that want to reclaim their religion; and addressing the identity crisis that some young people feel by bringing our communities together and extending opportunity for all.”
Criticism of Mr Cameron came from the convener of the Church of Scotland’s church and society council, the Revd Sally Foster-Fulton. She was, she said, disheartened by his description of extremism as a “problem” that needed “solutions”. She went on: “This is not some technical procedure that the right legislation and government funding can fix in five years.”
Instead of expanding military operations and tightening surveillance measures, she said: “We should encourage our country and each other to embody the values that reach past cultures and borders: those values that are glue that holds all human beings together.”
She wondered whether calls from cabinet ministers for the Iraq air strikes to be extended to Syria, as well as the refusal to accept Syrian refugees, exemplified “the vision of a society that welcomes, includes, and promotes human flourishing”.
Archbishop Welby, in a lecture on religiously motivated violence, touched on some of the issues raised by Mr Cameron. He said that followers of IS, to suit their purpose, distorted the way in which the majority of Muslims interpreted Islamic ideology, appealing to the “tradition of a religious society to justify their violence.
“They root themselves in an interpretation of the traditions of early Islam, reviving traditions that have been dormant for hundreds of years, whilst at the same time ignoring and violating 700 years of Muslim scholarship and jurisprudence that at one point was the most sophisticated system in the world.”
Any supposed innovation conflicting with their world-view and tradition “is a denial of its initial perfection; any deviation is apostasy. And the punishment for apostasy is death.”
The Archbishop described IS as a “perverted terrorist group” that had to be “faced and contained, in the sort of quasi-police action that the United Nations has authorised. Their appalling attacks on so many of all faiths and none are a lethal danger to the human values on which civilised life depends.”
In the mean time, hundreds of Syrians who have been forced by IS to flee their homes could have a brighter future, thanks to a scheme carried out by the Barnabas Fund with the financial backing of British Jewish businessmen and philanthropists, including Lord Weidenfeld, Lord Rothschild, Martin Green, and Sir Charles Hoare. So far, they have raised £250,000.
Earlier this month, the first batch of 42 vulnerable Syrian families arrived by air in Poland, having fled from IS-controlled territory in Syria, aided by the Barnabas Fund. In a statement, the Fund said that, “under conditions of great secrecy, the families have been moved in the past few days to Beirut, and onwards to Warsaw.”
The Polish government has provided visas for the 157 individuals involved in the first step of the Barnabas Fund’s Operation Safe Havens. A further 200 Syrian families are due to travel to Poland in this way in the coming months.
The international director of the Barnabas Fund, Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, said that it was with “a heavy heart that we evacuate Christians from ancient homelands where they have lived continuously for 2000 years. But the plight of these communities is dire, and we need to do our utmost to save their lives.”
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Lord Weidenfeld said he had been baffled by the lack of support from supposedly “Christian countries” for the Christians of Syria.
As a consequence, he had contacted “some very high-minded friends — Jews and Christians”, and had put together a rescue system in which the Jew is “the paymaster” and “the Christians do all the work”, both on the ground in Syria and Iraq, and in negotiations with host nations.
The ultimate aim is to rescue up to 2000 families (roughly 10,000 people), and relocate them to Canada, Australia, Latin America, the United States, and Europe — in particular, Poland.
In an effort to encourage more countries to accept Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq, the Barnabas Fund this week launched a global petition, of which Archbishop Welby was one of the first signatories. The petition calls on governments to “recognise that Christians are especially targeted and in need of safe refuge”.
Explaining his involvement in the scheme to help vulnerable Christians, Lord Weidenfeld said he felt that he owed a personal debt of gratitude to the Christian faith.
When he first arrived in Britain, he was taken in by a family of Plymouth Brethren followers, and lived close to Parliament Hill, north London. “They were not wealthy, but they were nice, and they treated me like their child.”
Question of the week: Will the Prime Minister’s new initiative win over those tempted by extremism?