After horrific terrorist attacks, many of us rightly ask ‘how can we feel safe again?’ And that’s a complex conversation that we desperately need to have.
Below are several key factors, on both national and international fronts, that Britain needs to consider in order to protect civilians effectively in the future.
1) Foreign policy
One major factor that puts British civilians at risk is our government’s behaviour abroad. So perhaps most importantly, we need to seriously reconsider our foreign policies. For example:
- Stop bombing other countries. That’s a gift for extremists. The killing of thousands of civilians – intentional or not – simply adds fuel to the fire. Hate groups like Daesh (Isis/Isil) want that to happen, and they’re the only ones who benefit. The 2003 invasion of Iraq – and the destruction that followed – gave the forerunners of Daesh fertile ground to grow, and paved the way for the high levels of terrorism we see today. We can’t undo the damage, but we can remember who did it in the first place – politicians like Tony Blair and Theresa May. And we can stop it from happening again.
- Stop arming and propping up repressive regimes abroad. The more our elites profit from the Saudi-led war in Yemen, the more al-Qaeda grows there. The more our elites fight against international condemnation of Israeli apartheid, the more people in the Middle East believe we don’t care about human rights. And the more our elites put arms deals before democracy in Turkey, the more its increasingly authoritarian regime undermines the fight against Daesh.
- Stop covert support for unsavoury rebel groups abroad. Support for democracy, free speech, and human rights is nothing to be ashamed of. And there should be no exception for countries we buy oil from or sell arms to. We can and should support these principles openly, and in accordance with international law. Like, for example, by giving official recognition to the communities in northern Syria which have been defending themselves from Daesh while simultaneously building a secular, multi-ethnic, and feminist experiment in direct democracy.
- Recognise Britain’s destructive colonial legacy – especially in the Middle East. Recognise that many former colonies continue to suffer the consequences. And monitor more closely the behaviour of UK companies abroad to prevent exploitation.
In short, we should lead by example. We should respect international laws. We should withdraw support from human rights abusers. And we should change Britain’s current reputation once and for all by consistently putting our principles before lucrative business deals for the rich and powerful.
2) Take action over Saudi Arabia
Another major factor that puts British civilians at risk is the Conservative Party’s strong relationship with Saudi Arabia. Not only does this continued decades-long relationship demonstrate a policy of putting business before human rights. It also gives Riyadh the green light to keep using billions of its petrodollars to spread its extreme state ideology of Wahhabism around the world.
Many Muslim leaders and scholars have long stressed that what happens in Saudi Arabia (a country of 29 million people – not all of whom are happy with Wahhabism) is simply not true for the world’s Muslim community as a whole (which has around 1.6 billion adherents). But as The New Statesman writes, “the narrowness of the Wahhabi vision is a fertile soil in which extremism can flourish”. And it is no coincidence that both al-Qaeda and Daesh follow this ideology (one senior Qatari official has even claimed the latter began as “a Saudi project“). So we need to be aware of the Saudis pushing Wahhabism around the world.
In 2007, The Guardian called Saudi funding of Wahhabi mosques in the UK an immense “propaganda effort” – the type that other religious groups would never be allowed to undertake in authoritarian Saudi Arabia. The article highlighted UK Muslims’ concerns about “foreign funding for extremist doctrines”. But because Riyadh could ban them from Saudi Arabia (a “formidable sanction” for Muslims, for whom making a pilgrimage to Mecca is a religious duty), speaking explicitly about ‘Saudi Arabia’ or ‘Wahhabism’ was very difficult.
Wahhabi mosques form a tiny minority of mosques in Britain. But thanks to Saudi funding, the number of these institutions reportedly increased from 68 in 2007 to around 110 in 2015.
There is a strong argument for banning Saudi funding of British mosques. And there’s also a strong argument for radically changing Britain’s relationship with Riyadh. But at the very least, we all need to talk much more openly about the dangers of Saudi Arabia pushing its extremist state doctrine around the world.
3) Domestic changes
The 22 May bombing happened for many reasons. But in the end, the British perpetrator of the attack was radicalised. And that process was likely made much easier by the fact that he was reportedly a “very typical disaffected” youth who “wasn’t succeeding in most of the things he was doing” and who “seemed to have no future”.
To prevent the radicalisation of other young Brits, there are a number of things we can do:
- Reduce marginalisation and increase integration in our communities. Ensure that vulnerable people receive the support they need; and that all citizens have dignified employment or effective help when they are not in employment. Foster stronger community ties and create more interfaith forums. Make sure schools have the funding that they need but are not currently getting; and improve religious education to ensure greater interfaith understanding and debate.
- Give local police forces and emergency services the resources they need but are not currently getting. Make sure officers are engaged, trusted, and respected figures in the local community. Learn from the mistakes of the ‘Prevent’ programme.
- Reduce the share of the news outlets controlled by wealthy media moguls. And ensure greater penalties for outlets which foster hatred and division by scapegoating minority communities.
- Support and amplify the voices of Muslim leaders and scholars who are committed to explaining why Daesh and other such groups are un-Islamic. Help them to expose extremist ideologies to the sunlight.
Most importantly, we can get rid of a government that has consistently made the wrong calls on both domestic and foreign policy.
On 8 June, we have a chance to vote for a man who believes in funding public services properly, who has consistently made the right foreign policy calls, and who believes in bringing people together rather than driving them apart. We must take that chance.
– Vote on 8 June!
– Discuss the key policy issues with family members, colleagues and neighbours. And organise! Join (and participate in the activities of) a union, an activist group, and/or a political party.
– Also read more Canary articles on the 2017 general election.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons