Welcome to the View from the U.K., perspectives on the state of extremism, radicalisation, and counterterrorism in a country challenged by the threat of ISIS recruiting and home-grown violence.
In December, the United Kingdom published long-awaited findings from its internal review of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology and activities. Prime Minister David Cameron had commissioned this review in early 2014 to better understand the origins and ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and to determine the role—potentially beneficial or harmful—it plays within the Muslim community of the U.K. and the world at large.
The main findings of the review and Mr. Cameron’s speech that accompanied its publication, clearly demonstrate how aspects of the Brotherhood’s origins, history, ideology, and current activities “run counter to British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, equality and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”
The Brotherhood’s secretive ‘cell’ structure, induction, and education program for new members, and inconsistent denouncement of extremist and violent behavior were key areas of concern for the British government. In particular, the views of Sayyid Qutb—a leading Muslim Brotherhood ideologue from the mid-20th century who promoted a particularly violent Islamic fundamentalist vision for the world—have never been institutionally denounced and are still unequivocally endorsed by many senior Brotherhood members.
Moreover, Brotherhood-affiliated organizations, adhering to their clandestine modus operandi, successfully engaged in dialogue with the British government. These Brotherhood-linked groups had convinced government officials that they were the legitimate interlocutors representing Muslim communities in the U.K. However, these organizations never adequately or truly represented the U.K.’s diverse Muslim community, which encompasses many different ethnicities, ancestral nationalities, cultures, and sects.
Following the internal review, Mr. Cameron outlined five key steps that the U.K. government would support to combat the Brotherhood and its influence:
- Refuse visas to Brotherhood members and associates who have made extremist comments;
- Ensure charities with links to the Brotherhood are not misused to support or finance the group;
- Strengthen ties with international partners to ensure that allegations of illicit funding or misuse of charitable giving are investigated and responded to sufficiently;
- Enforce the EU asset freeze on Hamas (which has received substantial ideological and financial support from the Brotherhood); and
- Consistently review the Brotherhood’s teachings and activities to ensure they remain within the law domestically and improve scrutiny of their activities internationally to better understand their network, goals, and undertakings.
These measures demonstrate the British government’s commitment to tackle extremist, illegal, and at times violent behavior by the Brotherhood. Unfortunately, it does not address the larger ideological battle that the Brotherhood is waging within the Muslim community and against Western societies. Since its inception, the Brotherhood has focused on creating an ideology of ‘the other.’ It divides an observant Muslim community (as prescribed by the Brotherhood) from secular and Western society due to the West’s alleged “role at the root of all contemporary problems of Arab and Muslim societies.”
Having grown up in the West, the Brotherhood’s recruiters utilize online tools like social media, in addition to in-person meetings, to exploit young people’s sense of alienation from mainstream society, thereby encouraging further separation. The disillusioned are then susceptible to arguments to join radical groups and even commit acts of terrorism, in the belief that they are protecting their community from an overbearing Western society.
Similarly, the Brotherhood monopolizes the ‘Islamophobia’ narrative. Instead of seeking to engage local communities and the nation as a whole to address the fear of Islam the Brotherhood and its affiliates use this tension to drive support for their own narrow ideology.
If the U.K. is to deal with these broader issues, Prime Minister Cameron must look beyond his internal review and seek alternative voices within the British Muslim community. This approach would promote productive engagement and positive discourse between the government and its diverse constituents. It is thus imperative that central and local governments not inadvertently give extremist groups like the Brotherhood public platforms to disseminate their radical ideologies.