Date: 27/07/2021
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Britain must investigate its Islamist ‘dawa’ networks

Ayaan Hirsi Ali writing in the Australian edition of The Spectator

A few months ago, William Shawcross was asked by the government to lead an independent review into its anti-terrorism strategy, Prevent, and to ‘consider the UK’s strategy for protecting people vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism’. Ever since his appointment was announced, Shawcross has been attacked by an array of activists who want to minimise any scrutiny of Islamist organisations. 

The opposition has been so intense that it has led some to believe that the UK Muslim ‘community’ is outraged by the independent review. There is a significant difference, however, between Muslims and Islamists. Shawcross is an exceptionally talented man whom I know well. His career of service is a distinguished one. For six years he ran the Charity Commission with strength and skill. . . He has a reputation for fairness and fearlessness; he is an excellent choice.

But if I could give him one piece of advice, it would be this. The scope of his review should be expanded to look at the individual networks of Islamist groups which are technically separate but in practice hunt as a pack. Their approach forms the basis of what is known in Islamic culture as ‘dawa’. The campaign against Shawcross is in fact a good illustration of the Islamist dawa programme, which is why it badly needs his scrutiny. 

Formally, dawa refers to a ‘call’ to Islam. But in reality, Islamist groups use a wide range of mechanisms to advance their goal of imposing Islamic law (shariah) on society. In western countries, dawa aims both to instil extremist views among existing Muslims and, to a lesser extent, to convert non-Muslims to a fierce version of political Islam.

Some adherents to dawa reject democracy, while others see it as a useful mechanism, provided either Islamists win (as they did after the Arab spring in Egypt) or that electoral options are restricted to Islamist choices determined well in advance (as in Iran). Other Islamists who pursue dawa are politically ‘quietist’, focused on Islamising all of society and its institutions before tackling the political domain. 

A number of Islamist groups countenance violence as a tactic. But whether or not violence is used, the endpoint favoured by Islamists is at odds with British society and its governing institutions. If Boris Johnson’s government avoids tackling the ideological infrastructure of Islamism, the UK will be forced not only to deal with spasmodic eruptions of violence, but with a fracturing of society.

If Britain is to do the same, it needs to look at its own homegrown dawa networks. Groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood should be investigated, but so should Jama’at-e-Islami, Hizb ut-Tahrir and similar organisations. Some are registered as ‘charities’, though the destination of some funds is questionable. Shawcross has experience of dealing with these groups, having looked into many of them while running the Charity Commission. This may explain some of the ire of his critics.

Other dawa groups are registered as mosques and Islamic centres, but if these are Islamist in orientation they should be investigated too. Then there are the schools that impart an Islamist ideology as well as the informal groups that gather online and in person.

The people targeted by dawa programmes tend to be young, impressionable Muslim men and women. They are often from immigrant communities, including those with low incomes and little education. Prisoners, as well as young children and teenagers, are also targeted. By far the largest category of people approached are those born into Islam, but non-Muslims are also targeted.

Britain ought to waste no time in investigating the infrastructure of dawa as it exists in the UK. To miss the chance for such an assessment now will come back to haunt the UK in years to come.

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