A world system

Do you know what the system of this world is? Tajudeen bin Tijani writes that the Quran claims to ha

Those of us who are curious enough to find a "winning formula" for success in this world engage ourselves in all sorts of activities such as observation, investigation, evaluation and so on. This in turn leads to selecting from the options made available as a result of these activities attempted. It is definitely worth mentioning that these activities lead us to choose what "winning formula" we put into practice. We keep on trying and tweaking whatever options we select until it proves to be deemed as a "winning formula" to us.

Guess what, the Quran claims to inform us on the system of this world, for we are informed as per the Quran that God is the initiator of this world and designed a system therein.

So let us examine some of the claims of this system:

  • The Absolute Authority is in full control of the system, also known as the best provider, protector and supporter.
  • The Absolute Authority endorses divine law whereby no human can make illegal such laws.
  • Law and guidance is delivered to the human inhabitants of this world via messengers chosen by the absolute authority.
  • The messengers’ role is to deliver this message, and choose to follow it for their own individual good.
  • The essence of the message is the same- One Absolute Authority to revere (i.e. God, The Almighty, The Creator, The Most High etc.), other than this is detrimental to the human.
  • Humans are allowed ‘freedom of choice’ to willingly believe or disbelieve in God, however, with this freedom comes the responsibility.
  • This world is temporary, and death is inevitable for humans, however, there is a hereafter of eternity in heaven or hell.
  • No nation or community is destroyed without prior warnings.
  • Tribulation directly incurred should trigger a change in the human condition to ponder and do better, and more importantly turn to God.
  • Humans are rewarded for being obedient, steadfast, persevering, patient, calm, honest, humble, truthful, equitable, charitable etc.
  • Humans with the abovementioned traits maintained are always in the minority.
  • Humans are given a lifetime opportunity to do better and develop their essence.

Do we think these claims stand up to some scrutiny? Well, I think it does, and please ponder on the following:

  • We are informed to trace back homage to the only one whom homage is truly due.
  • We are informed to follow the source of inspiration, and not the inspired to go no wrong.
  • We are informed to play our individual part, however, it is not our responsibility to try to save the world.
  • We are informed to submit to the absolute authority and His divine law in order to be in harmony with the system of this world.

Regardless of this straightforward and clear account, many of those who call themselves Muslims and should know better about God and His system as per the Quran are second guessing and even worse attributing lies, or rejecting and disregarding His system. Can we blame anyone but ourselves, if we use up this opportunity to develop as humans to second guess whom God will or will not punish, whose prayers will be answered, how long is long as per the dress code or beard of others and so on?

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.