West Yorkshire chief constable Norman Bettison’s comments in Generation Jihad on BBC2 are a matter of grave concern. Bettison used the term “would-be jihadis” to refer to sections of the Muslim community. This panders to the same anti-Muslim language that the far right draws on His assertion that he expects that “it will take a generation of treatment to prevent the infection spreading” is also deeply problematic. The viral analogy is offensive. It suggests that any Muslim who comes into contact with extremists is prone to being “infected” by terrorism. And it is racist, as it assumes that Muslims have no agency in resisting the lure of “jihadis” and instead external intervention is required to “treat” the community. Bettison knows that the vast majority of the Muslims reject extremism. Would the chief constable use the same kind of language to discuss repeated accusations of police brutality? Or would he deal with it on a case by case basis and use the metaphor of a “few bad apples”? Bettison would be advised to engage with the reality of our experience in this region.
The truth is that the police disproportionately stop and search black and Asian people.West Yorkshire police routinely gather DNA of innocent black and Asian people. Trust and confidence is at an all time low. His extreme comments send a chilling message to the Muslim community. They are going to be subject to continued surveillance, policing and intelligence operations for the next generation. His complaint that Muslims need “to work much more closely with the police to provide information and help identify would-be jihadis” assumes that the community is hiding known extremists. If there is evidence of this occurring, Bettison should make it public. He seriously risks making inter-racial tensions worse by implicating an entire community. The government’s Prevent programme is also engendering mutual fear and suspicion within the Muslim community. Many groups now have to work in a climate where they are suspected of acting as police informants. There is nothing wrong in expecting citizens to report criminal behaviour. However, the Prevent programme operates in a context where established reporters, photographers and artists have been arrested under the Anti-Terrorism Act.
In this climate, the comments from the chief constable are likely to increase the concern that people will find themselves reported to the police on the basis of gossip and innuendo. Communities will be asked to monitor themselves for possible “thought crimes”. This will not aid good citizens operating in a climate of respect and cooperation.Bettison risks creating a self-fulfilling prophecy where mutual suspicion leads to less open communication and a greater chance that suspicious activity will go unreported. The producers of Generation Jihad have in one fell swoop dismantled the Muslim communities’ efforts to rebuild West Yorkshire’s reputation as a vibrant multi-cultural, multi-racial and diverse area. They have portrayed this region as a haven for extremists and terrorists. The BBC has secured its sensational headlines, added the term “generation jihad” to the burgeoning lexicon of Islamophobia and left West Yorkshire’s black and white communities to pick up the pieces. We expect the press and media to indulge in sensationalism. But we do not expect the chief constable of West Yorkshire to tarnish a whole community in the name of the “war on terror”.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.