The Individualisation of Radical Islam in Britain


The Individualisation of Radical Islam in Britain


An alleged Islamist plot, dubbed ‘Trojan Horse,’ which seeks to bring hardline practices into Birmingham’s schools, has stoked fears that Islamic fundamentalists in Britain are cultivating a new generation of radicals. Prime Minister David Cameron has responded by calling for schools to promote ‘British values’ such as freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, and upholding the rule of law.

The plot has fuelled Islamophobia, with Myriam Francois-Cerrah alleging that the discourse on British values “smacks of neo-imperialism and casts British Muslims as subordinate to white, secular liberal Britons.” The episode has ignited a cultural battle against the spread of Islamic fundamentalism in the UK. To negate the spread of fundamentalism however, it is more important to understand the reshaping of Islam in Britain, and how this change has led some young British Muslims to wage jihad in Syria and Iraq.

Muslims in Britain

Muslims having been arriving on Britain’s shores for decades. The majority were subjects of the British Raj where the political economy was based on communalism, with Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, in open conflict. When British rule ended in the subcontinent, Muslims began to migrate en masse to Britain, where the segregated experience of the Muslim community under the Raj was duplicated in Britain. The creation of a multicultural polity allowed Britain to appear tolerant by showering Muslims with rights while segregating them from, rather than absorbing them into, the rest of British society. Multiculturalism in Britain is thus responsible for the creation of a semi-secluded Muslim community.

The media have led us to believe that the ‘values’ of this British-Muslim religion-based culture are non-compatible with Western society. There is a confusion however between Islam as a religion and ‘Muslim culture.’ A religion is usually embedded in one or more cultures, but cannot be reduced to a single culture; this is why Islamic fundamentalists seek to define a ‘pure’ religion untouched by culture. The role of Islam in shaping contemporary societies has been overemphasised. The westernisation (or globalisation) of Islam is happening. The perceived opposition between British and Islamic values is biased because British values are perceived as being consensual among all Britons bar the Muslim community. David Cameron has failed to realise that Britain holds no monopoly over these values, as they are values that all human beings aspire to - including British Muslims.


We must now consider Islam a Western religion due to the second and third generation Muslim population which has taken root in the West. The fading of borders between Islam and the West is not just a consequence of immigration, it is linked with a more general phenomenon: deterritorialisation. Islam is less and less ascribed to a specific territory. The deterritorialisation of Islam has lead to a quest for definition by the individual on what it means to be a Muslim living as a minority in Britain.

British Islamic preacher Anjem Choudary. dan h/flickr

Their quest may mean liberalism, but it can also lead to a suicidal rejection of British society in the form of Islamic fundamentalism. In both cases, the liberal and fundamentalist view are based on the individual, not the collective. ‘Re-Islamisation’ never occurs through the social pressure of the family or community, but as the result of an individual quest that often leads to an encounter with a radical preacher at a local mosque, or through websites propagating militant Islamist ideology.

The fluidity of the Islamic religion and the absence of a hierarchy of authority within it has made Islam very easy to manipulate by fundamentalists. They target individual British Muslims rather than communities for the simple reason that they have no political or social project, only the implementation of sharia. Islamic fundamentalism has a strong appeal among disenfranchised second-generation Muslims as it addresses individuals who have doubts about their faith and identity. It offers a way for believers to break from the bonds of families and religious institutions, and encourages a personal return to the ‘true’ tenets of Islam.

For hundreds of British Muslims, their individual journey has taken them to Syria and Iraq as combatants of the jihad. There are now fears of a blowback of the Syrian and Iraqi civil war with fighters returning to Britain even more radicalised. Britain experienced a similar phenomenon after the Soviet War in Afghanistan, when London became a centre of radicalisation due to the number of ‘Afghan veterans’ who settled there.

Countering radical Islam

To combat the radical narrative, Britain must realise that the battle isn’t with religion, but with the ideas that are driving people to extremism. The war of ideas is a delicate phenomenon as many who get involved in extremism do so out of a desire to “do right,” whilst others struggle to distinguish between credible and non-credible sources of religious scholarship. To navigate Muslims away from the path of fundamentalism, the Muslim community must break the monopoly that older foreign born imams hold over UK mosques, as the rising generation gap has disconnected and alienated many young British mosque-goers. A change of guard is needed, with young liberal imams given the opportunity to gain popularity and influence, not just within mosques, but also on the internet. With a stronger presence and a louder voice, these new liberal leaders will act as a visible source of information for disaffected British Muslims.

The radical narrative will not simply disappear however, which makes it necessary to address the socio-cultural issues that are making people receptive to radical ideas when presented to them. In this sense, Britain must amend the sources of mistrust in the Muslim community based on concerns about British foreign policy, domestic counterterrorism policies, and the anti-Islamic rhetoric of the media. David Cameron’s policy on ‘British values’ will ultimately fail to curb radicalisation as it simply casts undue suspicion on the Muslim community. By building relationships with, rather than demonizing the Muslim community, many young British Muslims will begin to reinvent their faith within the British context rather than a fundamentalist context.


Sick to death of hearing about Islam. Education should be completely secular - the young should be taught about all religions. Faith schools should be banned. Failure to get to grips with this will result in bloodshed in the coming decades. Hate this country = leave this country. Simple.


You were doing so well then 'under Ofsted's guidance', you perhaps don't realise that Ofsted is Ofsted had recommended that Muslim schools be allowed to teach sexes separately. That music lessons could be the singing of the Koran and that Inspectors should "knock" on the doors of female staff and give them time to cover their hair/face before entering. I honestly say that Ofsted know exactly what rating will be given to a school before they even arrive. The morale within these privately run academies is dire. Nothing good is, or will come from privatising our education system. I can honestly say that Ofsted know exactly what rating will be given to a school before they even arrive. The morale within these privately run academies is dire. Nothing good is, or will come from privatising our education system. A few months ago about several schools in Birmingham, so take anything they say with a very large pinch of salt.

Michael Gove's disastrous tenure as Secretary of State for Education has united the vast majority of Academics, Educationalists, Head Teachers and Teachers against him like never before in the UK. 'At its May 2013 conference, Gove was criticised by the National Association of Head Teachers, whose members condemned the climate of bullying, fear and intimidation they claimed he had created during his time as Education Secretary. The conference passed a vote of no confidence in his policies.Votes of no confidence were also passed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers at conference in March 2013, the National Union of Teachers at its conference in April 2013 (unanimously), and the NASUWT.'

Ofsted should be an advisory body - full of experts who are able to support and guide schools into a better service for our young people. Instead, figures are massaged, teachers bullied, children get a raw deal and all because there are 'standards' to be reached or else the brown stuff hits the fan. The standards seem to me to be all wrong; my children's first school had a motto 'learning with love and loving to learn'. From what I have seen in primary schools throughout my 20 years (I have just thrown in the towel) is a continual drive to get children to higher standards quicker than ever which tends to overlook the fact that they are children and need time to explore and assimilate their learning. Child-centred learning should be top of the agenda with Ofsted helping to achieve the goals. We get what we pay for and currently we have a system which berates rather than supports.

If 8 out of 10 schools are getting good or outstanding why is that not a headline? That would be positive & when the next Pisa comes out & shows no improvement the government would be made to look stupid because the 8 out of 10 schools are good or outstanding is buxxxhit just like much of what Ofsted say. Ofsted are a political tool used to show progress to the electorate & win votes. Their comments, inspections & judgements are utterly, utterly worthless. Wilshaw was just on radio 4 and he seemed to reject the proposal that parents have any responsibility for their children's attitude to learning and behaviour, preferring to point out that Head teachers 'have tremendous powers to set the culture'. This wilful blindness is what has hindered the progress of too many students in mainstream state schools for too long.

One of the most remarkable things about this whole through-the-looking-glass "debate" is that the media still treat OFSTED as anything other than a bad joke. OFSTED are corrupt, incompetent, self-serving and redundant parasites. There are plenty of cases which demonstrate that an OFSTED "judgement" has slightly less value than wet toilet paper, and Michael Wilshaw is an oafish buffoon so lacking in intelligence that he finds it absolutely impossible to imagine that there might be any other way of teaching than the one he used himself thirty years ago.   Twenty leading educationalists and Muslim leaders have questioned Ofsted's impartiality in the Birmingham 'Trojan Horse' affair, education consultant Robin Richardson reflects on the factors behind its controversial recent inspections.

The Trojan Horse story in Birmingham is one in which carelessness, incompetence, coincidence, opportunism, self-interest and sheer wickedness all play significant parts. The dominant narrative began to be public when the security correspondent at the Sunday Times provided on 2 March 2014 some quotations from a document which he claimed had been written by a Muslim in Birmingham for sending to a Muslim in Bradford. It was obvious from the quotations to any reasonable person with time and inclination to think about it that the document was a forgery, a false flag operation. It was not, alas, obvious to journalists in the mainstream media, including to its shame the Guardian.

Anti-Muslim hostility advances the electoral prospects of certain political parties and individual politicians, and in consequence narratives about the Trojan Horse affair were affected by campaigning for local and European elections on 22 May 2014, and for the general election in UK in 2015. For example, there are politicians who stress as part of their party's appeal to voters that Britain is a Christian country and that Muslims should accept this and they link this claim to the Trojan Horse affair.

And then there are the ambitions of individual politicians. The current secretary of state for education, for example, stands to gain a great deal or to lose a great deal, depending on how the Trojan Horse affair plays out. He could become leader of his party, or alternatively could end up in the political wilderness.

Further, there are tensions and disagreements about the role, independence and future of Ofsted, and in relation to the expectations which different interest groups have of Ofsted. These tensions exist within the coalition government, and between the Department for Education and Ofsted, and within Ofsted itself. In common with secretary of state for education, Ofsted stands to gain a great deal or to lose a great deal, depending on how the Trojan Horse affair plays out.

Muslim parents and communities rightly want the education received by Muslim children and young people to be improved. In recent years there have been major improvements nationally in the achievement of Pakistani heritage and Bangladeshi heritage pupils, and nationally there is no longer a gap between the achievement of these pupils and the average for all pupils.

The Trojan Horse affair must not be allowed to hinder improvements that are urgently needed in educational provision, and in the representation of Muslims in educational policy-making and decision-making.  A Birmingham school at the centre of the Trojan Horse investigation spent £50,000 on a taxpayer-funded trip to Saudi Arabia for students and staff. The school had described the Saudi Arabia tours as ''modern foreign languages trips'' with the ''double benefit'' of allowing students to perform Umrah, a religious pilgrimage.
Last May 40 students and eight staff travelled to Mecca and Medina. The ten-day visit involved stays at luxury five-star hotels.

The 2013 trip to Saudi Arabia had initially won praise from Ofsted in a report last year. Talking about pupil feedback, the report stated: "For pupils who spoke to the inspectors, last year's trip had clearly been a life-changing experience.''

But in the new damning Ofsted report, released on Monday, inspectors raised concerns. "Governors have used the academy's budget to subsidise a trip to Saudi Arabia for only Muslim staff and pupils,'' it said
London School of Islamics Trust    

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