Theresa May and Boris Johnson are vying to talk toughest about jihadis. There is little substance behind the rhetoric

It is irresponsible to say the problem can be solved with a few quick strokes

Share

Reports that hundreds of British Muslims are fighting for the jihadists of Isis have sent a shiver down the nation’s spine. People want to know what the Government intends to do about these militarised fanatics, if they return to the UK. However, while it is understandable that politicians feel under pressure to talk tough, it is a pity their responses have been distinguished more by hysteria and opportunism than by anything more useful.

Boris Johnson has been especially egregious in this regard. With his eye fixed on his prospects of one day leading the Tory Party, the Mayor of London has issued a panicky sounding clarion call for the Western powers to “close down” the so-called Islamic State in the Middle East, and for the Government to stem the “tide of terror” in the UK by changing the law so that anyone travelling to “the war areas” without notifying the authorities is automatically presumed guilty of a terrorist act.

He is one of several senior politicians jostling to sound more muscular than anyone else on this issue. The Tory rebel David Davis wants to see Islamist fighters from the UK stripped of their citizenship. He has also castigated the more measured action plan of the Home Secretary, Theresa May, as “limp”, mainly because she pointed out that the Government could not strip Britain nationals of their passports, rendering them stateless, without breaking international law. Indeed, Ms May cannot get it right, because on the other side of the political divide, the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, is blaming both her and the Government in general for the apparent rise in religious extremism among British Muslims – because ministers scrapped Control Orders in 2011 and scaled back funding for the Prevent programme. This is designed to “deradicalise” young Muslims by re-educating them into a more nuanced version of the faith.

Ms Cooper may have a point about the funding for Prevent, and about the apparently ineffective nature of the measures that replaced Control Orders, the so-called TPIMs. If the Terrorism, Prevention and Investigation Measures are not working, we need a rethink. Beyond those two issues, the chorus of public figures demanding “action” also have a point in the sense that – as a society – we cannot sit with hands folded, complacently hoping that the most militant extremists in the UK will drift off to the Middle East and remain there.

We need to be more alert about their activities and agendas. But it is sheer irresponsibility on the part of politicians to claim that the danger these people pose can be dealt with by a succession of easy strokes, whether it is re-educating them, removing their passports, or by microscopically monitoring their movements around the globe. Britain is a world hub, millions of people come and go each year and it is almost impossible to know where all these people are travelling to or have returned from.

As for calls to prosecute people who have gone to war zones, irrespective of their motives for going there, or their actions while there, this is grandstanding of the worst kind – grotesque in principle, unworkable in practice.

Religious extremists are a menace to a democratic society. But combating their ideology will take time and require much patient, hard work. We should not jettison hard-won liberties, or adopt a mirror image of their own totalitarian mindset in the process.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Electronic Sub-System Design Verification engineer

Flexible working, annual bonus, pension & more.: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the oppor...

MBDA UK Ltd: Test Systems Architect

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? MBDA has e...

MBDA UK Ltd: Test Systems Design Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity?MBDA has en...

MBDA UK Ltd: PCB Technologies Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity?MBDA has en...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Queen at Derby day during the Epsom Derby Festival, 2013  

As an MP, I shouldn't have to swear allegiance to the Queen – I serve my constituents, not her

Richard Burgon
Fifa president Sepp Blatter  

Fifa presidential election: If I had a vote, I would back Sepp Blatter

Sean O'Grady
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor