One major reason for opting for Brexit has been the perceived loss of control of UK borders, allowing people to cross from the continent to the UK. Recent events in Europe have strengthened the view that some migrants may be more likely to be a risk to the general population. Hence the efforts being made to detect and restrain such individuals.
It is an open secret that those with a link, any link, with Muslim countries make one a subject for special scrutiny. This is in spite of the fact that the vast majority of Muslims are law-abiding citizens.
What is often ignored is that most of those involved in terror events in Europe were not migrants but home-grown, disgruntled young men who have become disenchanted with the social conditions they find themselves in. This may be seen as a complete failure of the authorities to foster a multicultural environment that is meant to promote a sense of cohesion and acceptance.
What is particularly worrying is the effort being made in the UK to detect potential jihadists, using methods that go against any procedure normally accepted in an open society. One such effort is the introduction of a system, referred to as ‘Prevent’, which expects that all individuals involved in any way with young people, such as teachers, doctors, civil servants and even friends and parents, should report any person who shows any signs or inclination towards deviance from the accepted norm.
These are the sort of indications that are supposed to detect those at risk:
- Identity crisis: not fitting in local society;
- Personal crisis: low self-esteem, identity problems, changes of friends;
- Unmet aspirations: perceptions of injustice;
- Criminality: imprisonment, criminal acts;
- Others: migration, local tensions, alienation from UK values, experiencing racism.
The major problem with such an approach is that it becomes a duty to report (‘refer’) to the police if one becomes aware that a person exhibits any of the characteristics mentioned above. Those who are most likely to have such a duty include teachers, social workers and health workers.
Those who are thus referred will be sent to a ‘voluntary’ course for a process of ‘de-radicalisation’. Thousands of young people, including children aged 10 or younger, have been referred for this process.
This smacks of a police State which recruits all members of society to dub in any person who looks different or who doesn’t fit within society. Such Stasi-like tactics should not be part of a caring, multicultural society. They are bound to increase discord within society.
According to an Institute of Race Relations report, the result of this measure has been to increase Islamophobia and extremism – “up to one-third of children believe Muslims are taking over England”. Right Watch UK reported that Muslim children are now afraid of expressing their views for fear of being referred for counselling.
Such drastic measures are bound to be counter-productive. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has stated that “counter-terrorism laws and policies are increasingly alienating Muslims, especially young people and students”. A former Cabinet minister has warned that “the UK is on its way to becoming a paranoid State”.
One also has to consider the effect such drastic measures may have on the vast majority of people from the Middle East who are law-abiding but who have to countenance such negative propaganda on a day-to-day basis. In this respect, the views of Hisham Matar (The Return, 2017, winner of a Pulitzer Prize) are very relevant. He said: “I don’t think people realise how hard things are for Arabs now. And how hard they have been for a long time… the despair and anger, the self-loathing it has inspired… And I don’t think it’s easy to understand the effects that watching one’s own people butcher and be butchered by our own has on our societies.”
Political leaders throughout the world, and not just in Europe, seem to be turning against Muslim migration. Stricter criteria are being applied for citizenship applications. In Australia it is now expected that applicants for citizenship should have a very high level of the English language as well as being required to be ‘patriots’. In the US, the President is not bothered with any nuance in defining acceptability, having proposed a blanket ban on migration for many Muslim countries.
It is inconceivable how multiculturalism could thrive in a climate that reduces the self-respect of its citizens. It is to be hoped that Malta does not follow on this path. Such actions diminish immigrants and diminish us.
[First published on 7 January 2018 on timesofmalta.com website]