The Wahhabist and Deobandi sects of Islam are particularly puritanical. The have important followings in Pakistan. However, Pakistan is a country of emigration and many people leave for Britain in hopes of finding more economic opportunity.   There are about 750,000 people of Pakistani descent in Britain, out of a total Muslim population of 1.8 million. However, that doesn’t mean that they want to become “British” or that they find opportunity. There are two themes here worth exploring a little.[1]

First, the lack of opportunity. Many of the immigrants settle in the decayed industrial towns of the Midlands where there is little opportunity. As a result, while the general unemployment rate in Britain is a low 5.5 percent, the unemployment rate among young male Muslims is a very high 22 percent. Second, there is the refusal of assimilation.   A recent survey found that 37 percent of young Muslims would rather live under a strict Muslim legal system. Many Muslim immigrants retain their traditional beliefs about gender roles. Many Muslims disdain the cultural and moral liberalism that characterizes British life.

These factors have contributed to a very uncomfortable situation. On the one hand, some immigrants have turned to the extremely puritanical forms of Islam from a combination of alienation and hope to save themselves from poverty, drugs, and crime. In a few cases, this turn toward religious radicalism has led to political radicalism. In July 2005 four Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 Londoners; in 2006 British authorities foiled a plot by 23 British Muslims to bring down twelve airliners over the Atlantic Ocean. On the other hand, Britons have grown leery of Muslims. Anyone on the Tube reeking of perfume and muttering to himself, with his wallet shoved into his sock, might be a suicide bomber. (Or another “victim of Thatcherism.”)

After the July 2005 bombings, Prime Minister Tony Blair launched a program called “Prevent.”[2] The goal is to encourage people to identify potential jihadis in their community and then to intervene with voluntary anti-radicalization programs. Then, in 2015, four girls from Bethnal Green (see: Jack the Ripper) did a bunk and ended up in the ISIS Caliphate. If “encouraging” didn’t produce satisfactory results, the government would “require” schools, hospitals, social service agencies, and local government authorities to report extremist behavior. The government issued a list of 22 “contributing factors” that might make Donald Trump look over his shoulder.[3] School computers track student searches, with little alarms going off if someone Googles “How to make a suicide vest out of materials in your Dad’s garden shed.”

These efforts arouse all sorts of civil rights concerns. What is “extremist behavior”? Especially in a young person? What sort of person is willing to “nark on” someone they know?   Who is willing to empower the neighborhood gossip? (See: “Brooklyn” for one example.) Isn’t this just profiling poor, conservative Muslims? Will stigmatization by an alien community just increase radicalization? Muslim communities have not supported “Prevent.”

On the other hand, in truth, how many people destined for Oxbridge or Silicon Valley are going to be attracted by ISIS? Then, school teachers, as opposed to London lawyers, aren’t necessarily concerned. They’ve been dealing with issues like the forced marriage of Muslim female students. Others have been threatened. “You are on my beheading list,” reported one. Naturally, some of them favor a “counter-narrative” to the ISIS recruiting media. I would.

[1] “Britain’s restive Muslims,” The Week, 4 May 2007, p. 17.

[2] Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, “British Effort to Identify Potential Radicals Spurs Profiling Debate,” NYT, 10 February 2016.

[3] However, they appear to have been boosted from drug abuse awareness leaflets.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s