Quilliam responds to David Cameron’s Canberra speech

Quilliam welcomes the UK Government taking action against Islamist-motivated terrorism but is concerned that new measures addressing the threat that the United Kingdom faces from British jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq, suggested by Prime Minister David Cameron in a speech last night, may not achieve the desired objectives.

While certain aspects of the Prime Minister’s plans are indicative of a more comprehensive policy towards the potential security issues presented by Western foreign terrorist fighters, we believe that certain features of the proposal are highly problematic.

Regarding specific points detailed in the speech, we suggest the following:

The Prime Minister revealed plans for the imposition of a bill that forbids Britons from returning to the UK for two years if they do not agree to come back under very specific terms. Although we agree with the conditions that are proposed on returnees, the barring of entry is questionable under international citizenship laws. Furthermore, if implemented, it presents only a short-term solution to what is a long-term problem. Legislation should encourage citizens to return and face due process rather than force them to stay in a crisis zone and further radicalize either themselves or others in the UK through their online activities.

Denying individuals access to travel based on “reasonable suspicion” that they are joining a terrorist organisation is an idea fraught with ambiguities. It is imperative that this does not become a policy reminiscent of stop and search, which resulted in cases of racial profiling. Reasonable suspicion must be intelligence-led and involve security services coordinating closely with the UK Border Agency and airlines.

Addressing the root causes behind radicalisation, mentioned by the Prime Minister, is a step in the right direction. Better challenging and impeding the spread of extremist narratives in schools, universities and prisons is central to creating a long-term solution to the problem.

That mandatory deradicalisation initiatives are mentioned as part of the new measures is commendable, and reflective of the need to counter all extremist ideologies, not just their violent manifestations. With any proposed legislation regarding returnees from Syria and Iraq, it is imperative that efforts are redoubled to correctly and robustly implement the Channel programme.

Quilliam’s Political Liaison Officer Jonathan Russell, said:

“It is important to recognize that the majority of the Prime Minister’s suggestions will only tackle the symptom of the problem and not its cause. We should not develop legislation that assumes individuals are guilty until proven innocent. Hence, we call upon the government to redouble its counter-extremism efforts and avoid placing too much emphasis on counter-terrorism legislation, which many will interpret as undemocratic.”

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Quilliam is the world’s first counter-extremism organisation, dedicated to promoting civic interventions in the fields of extremism, integration, citizenship, identity and disenfranchisement .

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