BY SHIRAZ MAHER
It’s not often that we get to report positive news when focusing on Islamism, but I think there are grounds for some cautious optimism today. The Security Service has lowered the threat level to ‘substantial’ – the lowest it’s been since the 7/7 terrorist attacks.Of course, I’m reluctant to read too much into this rather crude classification system. I’ve never supported the idea of having a public ‘threat level’ system because its practicalities are largely meaningless to our daily lives. And, as we all know, for terrorists to succeed all it takes is for just a handful to slip through the net.
But, I am optimistic because of what I sense taking place within the Muslim community.
Shortly after the failed attempt to bomb Glasgow airport in 2007 the mood among British Muslims was palpably different. For the first time I saw ordinary people wanting to take a stand against the terrorists in our community.
New groups emerged – such as the Sufi Muslim Council and British Muslims for Secular Democracy – to challenge traditional gatekeepers like the extremist Muslim Council of Britain. Their impact has been somewhat limited, but the significance of their mere presence should not be underestimated.
Prior to the emergence of these groups (and brave individuals) there was simply no counter-narrative to the message of separation and confrontation that Islamists preached. For young Muslims Islamism was simply the only game in town.
After 2007 people could at least encounter devout Muslims who told them there was no contradiction between being British and Muslim or that Islamic values are not incompatible with those of Britain. They were told, probably for the first time, that all terrorism is wrong: not just in London or New York, but also in Tel Aviv and Baghdad and Kabul. They were told to be proud of our armed forces.
Just how far did that message go? It’s always hard to assess the exact influence of ideas but I was encouraged by the news that Isa Ibrhaim, a convert from Bristol convicted of terrorist offences last week, had first been brought to the attention of the police by worshippers at the Bristol Muslim Cultural Society.
He had boasted about wanting to by a ‘martyr’ and was found with suspicious cuts to his hands and feet, prompting the imam to tip-off the police. It’s the first time we’ve had this kind of community led intelligence result in a conviction. Detective Superintendent Nigel Rock from Avon and Somerset police noted:
This was a landmark case due to the very fact that the initial information came direct from a member of the Muslim community to police.
The fact that they had that trust and confidence in the police to feel able to make that call is hugely significant and is the result of years of mutual education and engagement, which we continue to build on every day.
We will never know what the consequences would have been had the community not had the courage to contact police, but what we do know is that Ibrahim had all the components for a credible explosive device, he had increased the destructive power of that device the night before his arrest by obtaining shrapnel to add to it. He had made a suicide vest and built the means of detonation. Finally he had identified a busy shopping centre in Bristol as his target.
This indigenous fight back by Muslims is long overdue – but at least it has started now. My worry is that we’re only at the start of what will be prove to be a long and difficult path. We should be pleased by these recent events within the British Muslim community, but this is no time for triumphalism.