Ishmahil Blagrove talks about the latest Rice N Peas documentary, Age of Extremes, looking at the process of radicalization and why he feels the British establishment have exagerated the threat from so-called Islamic extremists.

There have been a number of documentaries produced about Islamic extremism – why did you decide to make this one and what is different about it?

I made this documentary because I felt that the programmes broadcast by the mainstream media had not adequately or honestly addressed the issue of the root causes of what is called Islamic extremism. Since the inception of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, I felt British Broadcasters had made no real attempt to investigate or educate their viewers about the phenomenon, instead they have sought to reinforce the same stereotypes that were peddled to the public by the New Labour Government. In my opinion, what is different about this documentary is that we question the scale of the perceived threat and to what extent the British establishment sought to manipulate public opinion.

If there is no real threat from extremists – how do you explain the bombings in London on 7/7 and the attempted bombings of 21st July?

I didn’t say there is no threat. The questions we should be asking is to what extent there is a threat and why is there a threat? The suspected lead bomber of the 7/7 plot Mohammad Siddique Khan made a video whereby he explains it himself, he said: “Your governments perpetuate atrocities against my people and your support of them makes you responsible. Until we feel security, you'll be our target. Until you stop the bombing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we'll not stop.” You can’t get it any clearer than that. It goes without saying that many Muslims would be angry about Western interference in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan etc… Western arrogance is such that it totally dismisses and disregards the emotions and sentiments of those it perceives as other. So instead of looking at British foreign policy as a possible motivating factor in the radicalization of young Muslims, they focus on Islam and together with the mainstream media they collude to sell the notion that Islam is the root cause of extremism. The public are indoctrinated with a warped perspective of the so-called threat from Islamic extremists. In Britain the IRA had a campaign of terror that lasted 30 years, during which time, politicians and members of the royal family were assassinated, bombs were planted in pubs up and down the country, bombings in Hyde Park, Docklands, the Conservative Party conference in Brighton, the BBC, mortar attacks against 10 Downing Street and the MI6 building on Vauxhall Bridge, there are just too many attacks to mention. Furthermore, the terrorism of the IRA was professionally orchestrated and with access to military grade weapons and explosives, these were not young, disorganized, disaffected youth, surfing the internet for instructions on how to make fertilizer bombs. It is this perspective that is missing from the analysis of the threat when we discuss so-called Islamic extremism. 

What do you hope to achieve with this film?

I’m not sure if it was made to stand as a document that captures an alternative narrative to what we have been conditioned to believe about Islam since 9/11, or if it has immediate aims of shifting the focus of blame away from Islam and refocusing our attentions on Western foreign policy. If it achieved both those aims, I would be happy. Although, since the testimony of Baroness Manningham-Buller to the Iraq War Inquiry, it has now become widely acknowledged that British foreign policy was a key factor in the radicalization of British Muslims.

If the documentary could help to build community cohesion and bridges of understanding then that would be nice – but I am under no illusions and recognize that this film will most likely never be broadcast nationally. 

What is the process of radicalization - how does one become radicalised?

That is a very difficult question to answer as people gravitate towards certain ideas for a variety of reasons. We do know from research that extremist ideas are more readily appropriated by those who feel marginalized, disenfranchised, disempowered and those having conflicts about their identity. Recent converts and those who were non-practicing and recently returned to the faith are also more vulnerable and susceptible to manipulation, as a proselytizer may exploit feelings of guilt and encourage an individual to seek penance through one means or another. The key factors to remember are marginalization and conflicts of identity. Also, when groups or individuals feel that their beliefs or culture are under attack, they will instinctively appropriate a more combative and radical stance and appearance in order to defend their beliefs.

In the 1970’s when young black youth felt marginalized and were undergoing conflicts of identity due to racism, many gravitated towards Rastafarianism and the unkempt Afro as symbols of radicalization and a rejection of the Western system. Today, in the eyes of many establishment figures, the hijab and niqab are merely representations of yesterdays afro and dreadlocks, they see them as an affront and challenge to the British way of life, culture and identity. They therefore use the powers of the state and media to demonise and alienate those who do not conform and this too can lead to a further entrenchment of beliefs and the radicalization of the youth, who see themselves as the vanguard in the struggle. 

Do you anticipate more terrorist attacks by extremists in Britain?

That really depends upon the actions of the British government abroad. A lot has changed since George Bush left office and New Labour lost the elections. The sense of there being a McCarthyite witch hunt has dramatically abated and I think many Muslims would agree that tensions have lifted somewhat. In Britian we are undergoing a revisionist period of history. At the Iraq War Inquiry, the former head of MI5, Baroness Manningham-Buller identified a link between British foreign policy and extremism in Britain, a Whitehall report revised its appraisal of Muslim groups that it had formerly deemed dangerous, the new coalition government are attempting to reverse some of the more draconian laws introduced under New Labour and Tony Blair is now a pariah and hounded from pillar to post wherever he goes – a lot has changed. The damage has been done and it will take many years to rebuild the trust that has been lost, but we are clearly in a better position to move forward now than at any other time since 9/11.

In order to forecast future attacks in Britain we need to focus on what is happening in the rest of the world and Britain’s role in it. One of the ways to avert or minimize the threat from terrorism or extremism, is to identify and address the causes of radicalization and that would be as I said earlier, to look at unemployment, marginalization, conflicts of identity and the foreign policy of our government.