Fight global terror locally says UK MEP

Transcript of New Europe Article Diaspora communities 'a defence against extremism'

Leading British MEP Sajjid Karim, who represents the north-west of the UK, has spoken to New Europe about how the fight against violent extremism must be fought and won by changing tactics and policies.

When asked about the extent of radicalisation in diaspora communities, Karim replied that he had seen a rise in extremism and “unhealthy nationalism”, although he stressed that “some nationalism is healthy, right across the globe”.

The External Action Service has co-organised a conference called ‘Combatting Violent Extremism’, concentrating on Pakistan and, as the chairman of the European Parliament’s Pakistan Group, the UK deputy sees his role as bringing in the parliamentary angle.

“I’m very encouraged that it is tackling the issue, one we have to start to grasp. At the EU level we’re simply not giving it the concentration that we need to. Secondly, in relation to Pakistan, I’m glad to see that we’re seeing this sort of development in policy at an EU level on how are we going to interact with Islam, because our relation with Pakistan should be really important to us for a number of reasons, but unfortunately we just haven’t had the right policies in place to engage with them.”

He explained why there had been a policy gap: “This has been partly our fault, but also partly the fault of the Pakistanis, because the EU doesn’t really come up on their foreign affairs radar. It comes up as trade issues and that’s as far as it goes. That’s got to change.

“We’re looking at extremism both in Pakistan and the diaspora, but that is a tiny number of people. What we should be doing is strengthening the hand of those who believe in the liberal, tolerant, democratic way of life and society. Those who want to create that sort of Pakistan. We should be strengthening their hand.”

However, the Conservative MEP has some concerns about the current approach. “What I’m not overly keen about is the use of the term ‘combatting violent extremism’. Because while it does what it says on the tin, what else it does is highlight attention to the negatives and the problems we’ve got, rather than putting a light on what the solutions should be.”

Speaking of his experience in the UK, he says that “a lot of work was done under the CVE banner, but it wasn’t very effective. The reason for that is the complete turn off for people who want to engage with it, simply because of what it’s called. If you had an organisation like that and, say you wanted to link in with school kids, it’s hardly something that they can put on a CV. My argument is that it is a mistake to work under that banner.”

But he does suggest an alternative approach: “What we should be doing is the exact opposite. Concentrating on the solutions and they lie in the arts, culture, religious organisations, in community groups and through working through them we can combat violent extremism without having to call it that What I want to do is to concentrate on the end result, and let’s concentrate on the positives.”

He continued: “In the UK, in my constituency, I have a number of organisations that do just that, but do not want to be under the banner of combatting violent extremism or anti-terrorism. This means that they do not qualify for government or EU funding or support and that’s wrong because they’re having to work with just their own resources.”

Karim is scornful of some organisations that have set themselves up as countering extremism, saying that he is dubious about the sincerity of some activists’ transformation from radical to moderate, saying that many had a change of heart at a time when effective counter terror methods had weakened many jihadist groups. “There are organisations that do get funding, but represent nobody because they’re willing to fly that flag and get the funding, but they produce no effect whatsoever.”

The British government also comes in for criticism as Karim feels that insufficient attention was given to extremists and the British Asians who went to Pakistan and Afghanistan for radicalisation and training. A few came back and prepared terrorist acts.

Ultimately, Karim feels that the fight can be won, as living with values shared in Europe provides more hope of a better life than the radicals.

He also insists that we shouldn’t look at the issue as a religious affair, arguing that “these people aren’t Muslims, they’re criminals” and using the rule of law and working with local groups, on terms that they believe will be effective, is the way to not only decrease the influence of radicals but also bring diverse communities together.