June 28, 2014
A former senior government adviser on tackling radicalisation and extremism has defended the right of British Muslims to travel to Syria and fight. Farooq Siddiqui, a former regional manager for the government’s controversial Prevent strategy, said it was acceptable for Britons to “walk the walk” and travel to Syria to fight the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.
Siddiqui, defended the right of an individual to be called a martyr if he took up arms against Assad, and questioned whether those who fought against the Syrian president should face arrest upon return to the UK. However, intelligence officials consider jihadists battling Assad’s government forces in Syria to be a potential threat. They estimate that up to 300 fighters have already returned to the UK from Syria. Scotland Yard has warned that Britain will live with the terror legacy of the Syrian conflict for years to come.
The foreign secretary, William Hague, believes as many as 400 British citizens may be fighting in Syria, recently confirming that security measures are in place such as the option of withdrawing leave to remain, cancelling passports and arresting UK jihadists who have been fighting in Syria or for terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), which has seized control of swaths of northern Iraq.
Siddiqui, who ran Prevent in the south-west until 2012, pointed out that Britons were free to join the Israeli Defence Force and return to the UK without censure, while those taking up arms against what they viewed as a tyrannical dictator, Assad, faced arrest. He says he knew “nothing about” Isis at the time of the online conversation in February. He does not support the group, writing on Facebook, referencing the situation in Syria, he said: “If a man describes himself as wanting to help the oppressed and dies, in that case he is a martyr.”
Siddiqui told the Observer that he would be happy to endorse security measures on combatants if they applied to others returning from fighting abroad, not just Muslims. “As for people fighting in Syria, if they go with the intention to defend the civilian population from a dictator – a population we have abandoned – I accept their conviction until proven otherwise.”
TAGS: Public opinion and Islam in the media, and Issues in Politics and Immigration and Integration