Regulating cyberspace is not going to stop terrorism

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Theresa May said this morning, in an uncharacteristically strong and stable manner, that she was going to crack down on terrorism. That ‘Enough is enough.’ In a blanket statement, she told the world that she is going to ‘regulate cyberspace.’ She is going to monitor ‘the Internet’, a land of safe spaces for extremism.

I do not deny that the people who perpetuate terror on the streets use WhatsApp, tweet each other and like each other’s photographs on Facebook, but the problem of extremism is not rooted in these platforms. How can I tell that May’s plan to regulate the internet is a cheap, lazy answer to the problems our country faces?

Because, snuck into the paragraph regarding regulating the internet, Theresa May mentions her desire to restrict access to pornography. Sorry – what? What does pornography have to do with terrorism?

May’s idea is to increase surveillance, regulate the internet and monitor targeted individual’s actions more rigorously.  Add more people to the list. I am not against – strictly speaking – this method. With increased surveillance, yes, we might have been able to find out more about these men and their plan. If it can save lives, then I am not against May’s plan. The only thing is, I think it sort of misses the mark.

There is so much more going on here.

May’s plan for increased surveillance and regulation seems to me like soft-prevention, a sort of prevention that can only happen just before or just after an attack. Suggesting that she is going to essentially ‘spy’ on everyone in the country – do you think this helps the feeling of feeling disenfranchised? Do you think this will improve relations across cultures? Across ethnicity? Will breaking into these communities with perverse and accusatory surveillance prevent terrorism? Will it prevent radicalisation? It seems to me like that these laws are a dereliction of liberty, and seem to me just about as useful as bombing a suburb in Syria.

With every attack, I am reminded that these are forgotten, obviously deranged and disenfranchised members of society. They have been forgotten by their peers for being ‘bad’ Muslims. They drink, they smoke, they gamble. They have been forgotten by society because they are ‘the other.’ They are steered towards deranged thinking and manic violence by hate preachers. Preachers who target their flaws and manipulate their emotions. They are disenfranchised, because we do not know how to talk about race and religion in this country.

I am not defending their actions, or acknowledging them as anything other than evil, evil people. Even so, there needs to be a more intelligent discussion about what we can do to prevent these attackers, who are often young men, from becoming radicalised. We must promote tolerance in our religious communities. Both sides must work hard. There needs to be open discussions about race, religion and how we make sure that our two cultures can co-exist. Peacefully.

In all of this, it seems that May has honed in on completely the wrong facet of this debate. We have to remember that she was the one that authorised the severe funding cuts which removed police from our streets. The problems within our society – and within the Muslim community – cannot be solved by increased surveillance. We do not need more racism. We do not need anymore reason to fear the ‘other’, or for the ‘other’ to have more of a reason to think we fear them.

What we do need is increased funding in the police force – not cuts – so that officers can return to the communities. We need officers that try to understand how these neighbourhoods, towns and cities, that are home to hundreds of thousands of peace-abiding individuals, operate.

We need intelligent discussion on how to increase religious tolerance across the country. And this includes religious tolerance within Muslim communities. Funding must be put towards integration schemes and an increase in funding for education programmes that teach us about other cultures. We need integration, not segregation.

We need to think about how austerity could be causing a rise in extremism. We need to think whether the destruction of local communities through vapid business investments might be causing a rise in extremism. We need to think about society’s reaction to these events: we hear about the good will and kind gestures, but where is the focus on the horrible racist attacks and discrimination that so many people face on a regular basis? Where is the focus on the eerie statistics about radicalisation in prison? Please note the basic conclusion in this article: under funded, short staffed prisons are facing an increasing population of inmates, not a decreasing population.

Why aren’t we talking about these things?

Most of all, we need to tackle the problem at its root cause. ISIS and their medieval ideology was born under a hail of bombs and firestorms. ISIS and their medieval ideology runs on racist attacks, they hunger after increased surveillance, and they welcome more armed police on the streets. We do not need anymore violence. Violence causes violence, and it will go on like that for the rest of time if we do not make motions to stop it.

 

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