UK Prime Minister David Cameron has unveiled a plan to tackle the "poison" of Islamist extremism on British soil and abroad — something he describes as "the struggle of our generation."
Speaking to an audience at a school in Birmingham on Monday, Cameron outlined his five-year counter-terrorism strategy that includes a wide range of new measures from allowing parents to cancel their children's passports if they believe they are going abroad for extremist causes, censoring TV channels that "broadcast hate preachers and extremist content," and forcing internet companies to disclose potential terrorists who are online.
Cameron's conservative government recently announced plans to step up its military intervention in Syria to combat the so-called Islamic State and earlier this year revamped controversial counter-terrorism laws that boost surveillance.
"I know too how much you hate the extremists who are seeking to divide our communities and how you loathe that damage they do," Cameron said. "I want to explain what I believe we need to do as a country to defeat this extremism, and help to strengthen our multi-racial, multi-faith democracy."
Other measures to do that — that will be outlined in more detail when the government publishes the full strategy in the fall — include addressing the "failures of integration," that have pushed hundreds of British citizens into the battle fields with Islamist militia groups. According to the Guardian, at least 700 people from the UK have traveled to Syria, half of whom have returned and now "pose a significant terrorism threat."
He had a strong warning for young Britons looking to fight with Islamic State militants: "If you are a boy, they will brainwash you, strap bombs to your body and blow you up. If you are a girl, they will enslave and abuse you. That is the sick and brutal reality of ISIL."
Cameron also proposed to address economic factors, including reviewing aspects of government housing in the country "to avoid segregated social housing estates."
"We have to confront a tragic truth that there are people born and raised in this country who don't really identify with Britain and who feel little or no attachment to other people here," Cameron said. He announced that the government's Troubled Families Unit will carry out a review of ways to integrate these communities to "bring Britain together as one nation."
Throughout the talk, Cameron was careful to stress that he didn't want the strategy to be perceived as demonizing all Muslims. "I know what a profound contribution Muslims from all backgrounds and denominations are making in every sphere of our society, proud to be both British and Muslim, without conflict or contradiction," he said.
But, he went on to say that denying a connection between Islam and extremism would "disempower the critical reforming voices…the voices that want to challenge the scriptural basis which extremists claim to be acting on."
"[I]t's only the extremists who divide people into good Muslims and bad Muslims, by forcing their warped doctrine onto fellow Muslims and telling them that it is the only way to believe," he added. "We need to turn the tables."
The speech was met with mixed reviews by Muslim groups in the country, many of which have, for years, voiced concern that they are unfairly targeted by the government's counterterrorism and surveillance tactics.
Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told the BBC that some of the prime minister's ideas were sound, such as his desire to "de-glamourize" IS propaganda.
"We worry, however, that these latest suggestions will set new litmus tests which may brand us all as extremists, even though we uphold and celebrate the rule of law, democracy and rights for us all," he said.
Cameron said the strategy will also touch on other forms of "barbaric violence" such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation. "Too often we have lacked the confidence to enforce our values, for fear of causing offence. The failure in the past to confront the horrors of forced marriage I view as a case in point," he said. "It sickens me to think that there were nearly 4,000 cases of FGM reported in our country last year alone."
He called for more prosecutions and efforts to root these practices out of the UK.
"No more turning a blind eye on the false basis of cultural sensitivities," he said. "Why does this matter so much?"
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