Sunday, April 16, 2006

Wise British Moves to Tackle Domestic Radicalism

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
What distinguishes the experienced former empires from the new immature ones is wisdom. The wise do not act on instinct. They thoroughly investigate before they make a finding, then fully analyze before they formulate a judgment. They do hit and miss, like the rest of us, but they self-correct when they find out.

The British always strike me as wise. They have known through their long colonial history how to make the best of what they had. Of the many lessons they learnt and taught is don't jump to conclusion, don't burn bridges you may need to use, and don't sour your words less you have to eat them.

After 9-11, they made a strategic decision to ally themselves with the Americans in what came to be known as the War on Terror. They tried to moderate lots of decisions but at the end they dutifully followed in US steps, and did what they felt they had to do.

Still, their actions were always calculated to maximize benefit and minimize loss. Their profits from Iraqi contracts are high; while their domestic troubles in the areas they rule are low. They tried understanding, respect and self-discipline. Relatively speaking, they made many successes in their management of post war Iraq.

Domestically, they were wise in their relations with Arab and Muslim communities. Even after the metro bombings of 7-7, their reactions were reasonably moderate. Arab and Muslim phobia was kept at minimum. Their relations with local Islamic communities were of cooperation not confrontation. From the Royal family to the Prime Minister to concerned government officials and most media editors there were a good level of understanding and appreciation of the situation.

I just came from an organized visit to London. The Foreign Office took us, three Saudi journalists and writers, to meet with a number of officials in governmental and non-governmental organizations dealing with interfaith relations. They explained to us how they try to make sense of the participation in the metro attacks of second generation, educated and clean-record young Muslim citizens.

Instead of relying on paranoid police tactics, they went to Muslim leaders and asked for assistance. A number of councils were created to study the phenomenon. They thoroughly and patiently studied the political, social, economic and religious dimensions. The study is not over yet, almost a year after the attack, but many recommendations are already implemented. Social, educational, racial and religious discrimination that produced unemployed, unqualified and unhappy generation are now being tackled.

According to Tony Heal of the Faith Communities Unit in the Interior Ministry, many corrective steps are taken to insure better schooling, fairer treatment, and higher representation in government including the police and other security agencies.

Further wise steps include screening local and foreign imams. All had to get approval from recognized Muslim councils. Foreign and visiting imams must speak fluent English to get visas. The Council monitors mosques for immoderate teaching and radical views. They encourage the public to collaborate with the government and the Council in fighting radicalism and terrorism by avoiding and reporting suspicious activities.

All the people I met, and they were many, agreed that there are valid reasons for the problem. No one claims that terrorism is an illegal import. The relation between Al-Qaeda and the attackers is minimized, while the focus is mostly on the provoking policies like the war on Iraq and the perceived crusade against Islam and Muslims. They asked us and many others for advice and encouraged us to criticize, analyze and recommend. In searching for accurate answers you have to act humble, respectful, keen and sincere. Our hosts certainly did.

Those are wise and positive steps. Communicating, even with your enemies, is the only way to find out the whys and hows of their actions. Nobody sacrifices his life to punish the people he hates just for fun. Regardless of the validity of their anger, your enemies must have a reason. Finding out the correct answers is the first step towards understanding and resolution.

Such steps do tend to be tedious and last longer. They won’t satisfy public anger or make a leader instantly popular, but … they are the right thing to do.
I salute those who are working hard and smart on this problem. I hope the rest of us do the "same thing", the "same way."

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