Sunday, 28 August 2016

Preventing Extremism

The July Stockport meeting was addressed by Yousef Dar a Muslim ex-Police Inspector who spoke to us on the theme of preventing terrorism.  He began by talking about where the threat of terrorism in this country come from, including: Daesh (ISIS), the Real IRA, the far right, the left wing, and some single stranded entities.

He tried to minimise the threat from Muslim extremists by giving some figures comparing the relatively small number of people killed By Muslim extremists with the total number of murders and rapes, and also with the huge numbers of Muslims killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by western forces.  In 2014, 50% of all shootings in Europe took place in Northern Ireland.

Some of the issues relating to causes of terrorism include: foreign policy; isolation (e.g. ghettoization of Muslims and the small numbers of the Far Right); a ‘them and us’ mentality, ideology, and disenfranchisement. Terrorism is the highest level of criminality.  There is an issue over hate preachers but they are not all Muslims. There is no basis in fact that most terrorists are nurtured through the community until they kill. Many are not particularly well briefed in the Islamic religion they purport to believe in.

The government’s PREVENT strategy is costly with questionable outcomes. There was no consultation with Muslims. Because of some of the problems David Cameron put it back on the shelf. Dar believes solutions must be community based.  The extremist organisations in this country include: the EDL, Britain First, BNP, and Daesh. There have been four times recently when attacks have been very close. Weapons and Ricin have been recovered from the Far Right.

Dar believes there are racial issues at work. Muslims tend to be charged with terrorist offences whereas the equivalent whites are charged with criminal behaviour. Something like 0.032% of the population are terrorists and MI5 know who they are.  Dar himself will not wear an England shirt because he has been challenged in the past on his right to wear it, in spite of the fact he was born here, plays squash for his county and indulges in Fly Fishing.

He believes in the right to criticise, the right to challenge ideas and the right to demonstrate outside parliament. These are the good British values of Free Speech. If these avenues are closed the situation could blow up in our faces.

There are a number of Hate sights on the internet which are dangerous –witness Jo Cox’s murder.

We need mentors from the community to speak to some of these people and bring them back on board.

The Intelligence services are concerned about Islamists from Syria arriving with the refugees. There is also the possibility of people being radicalised in prison.

The perpetrators of 9/11 knew little about Islam and indulged in drugs, prostitution and crime (Not very Islamic). 90% of people joining Daesh in Syria were not radicalised by mosques but by Friends and family. The murderer of Lee Rigby was new to Islam and the words he shouted were out of the bible rather than the Koran. Dar did not understand why Jo Cox’s murder was not also considered a terrorist act.

Much work needs to be done in the community, and we need to build a society with British values.

After the break we started on the usual Q and A session but it was far from normal. Instead of the good natured sessions we have come to expect, there was a list of rather nasty comments about Islam with very few remarks addressing the subject of the evening. This is unacceptable in a Humanist group who are supposed to believe in freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion. We are supposed to tolerate other peoples’ sincerely held beliefs even though we don’t agree with them. Robust questioning is one thing, abuse is another. 

An official apology has been sent to the speaker on behalf of the group.

Helping Refugees on Lesvos

Rebecca Harman came to the Stockport June meeting to talk about helping refugees in Lesvos. She chatted to us informally while letting pictures of her time on Lesvos play on the screen.  She and a group of friends were moved by the picture of the dead toddler washed up on the beach that was widely reported in late 2015.  They started to collect clothes and equipment and to raise money.  They held a ceilidh and an art auction among other things.

Rebecca got the chance to actually go out to help when she found herself between jobs, with a supportive husband who could provide childcare.  She encountered understanding staff at the airport who found a way to not charge for excess luggage - despite the huge bags of goods she had.

There was a well-organised United Nations camp based in an old barracks.  It was run very strictly (and unsympathetically) by local police, and would only admit Syrians.  Surrounding the perimeter of the barracks was an informal camp for everyone else - sometimes called Afghan Hill.  This wasn't being organised and run by anyone!  This is where Rebecca was helping.

Boats arrived at night, and bedraggled people would arrive at the camp where the volunteers would do their best to provide food and clothing.  Much of the clothing was too big.  Those of us in the affluent West obviously measure our affluence by our waistline.  In general people would only stay a few days; they underwent some rudimentary processing and were then given permission to travel on when they would get the ferry.

Since she was there the situation has changed.  Migrants are now being shipped back to Turkey in a rather controversial EU/Turkey deal.  If we want to help now we need to look at camps in Turkey.  Her advice was that it is generally better to send money than goods as many things are much cheaper locally - for example nappies and socks.  It doesn't make sense to buy these in the UK and ship them out.  Sleeping bags is one of the main exceptions.

We had a long question and answer session and explored the range of motivations for people arriving in Europe, and whether the perceived open German border was acting as a pull-factor for people.