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David Cameron Goes on Offensive Against Anti-Semitism

In counter-extremism address, the British Prime Minister flags anti-Jewish conspiracies as enabler of radicalization

Yair Rosenberg
July 22, 2015
Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
British Prime Minister David Cameron Birmingham, England, July 20, 2015. Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
British Prime Minister David Cameron Birmingham, England, July 20, 2015. Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images

On Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a long-awaited address on combating what he called “Islamist extremism” in Britain. The issue has surged to forefront of the public consciousness, in light of news that hundreds—and possibly thousands—of British citizens have traveled abroad to join ISIS, including the infamous “Jihadi John” who has featured in the terror group’s execution videos.

Cameron’s 36-minute speech covered a lot of ground, outlining the prime minister’s theory of how radicalization takes hold, and laying out steps necessary to prevent it. Cameron took great pains to distinguish radical Islamists from mainstream British Muslims, and forcefully denounced bigotry directed towards the latter, but did not shy away from acknowledging a connection between Islamic extremism and Islam itself.

“What we are fighting, in Islamist extremism, is an ideology,” Cameron opened. “At its furthest end it seeks to destroy nation-states to invent its own barbaric realm. And it often backs violence to achieve this aim—mostly violence against fellow Muslims—who don’t subscribe to its sick worldview.”

The British leader then forthrightly confronted something other European elites have often avoided: the role anti-Semitic ideas play in enabling Islamic extremism. “You don’t have to support violence to subscribe to certain intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish,” he noted. “Ideas which are hostile to basic liberal values such as democracy, freedom and sexual equality. Ideas which actively promote discrimination, sectarianism and segregation. Ideas—like those of the despicable far right—which privilege one identity to the detriment of the rights and freedoms of others.”

“And ideas also based on conspiracy: that Jews exercise malevolent power; or that Western powers, in concert with Israel, are deliberately humiliating Muslims, because they aim to destroy Islam. In this warped worldview, such conclusions are reached–that 9/11 was actually inspired by Mossad to provoke the invasion of Afghanistan; that British security services knew about 7/7, but didn’t do anything about it because they wanted to provoke an anti-Muslim backlash.”

Later in his speech, Cameron elaborated on how anti-Jewish notions fuel extremism. “You don’t have to believe in barbaric violence to be drawn to the ideology,” he said. “No one becomes a terrorist from a standing start. It starts with a process of radicalization. When you look in detail at the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offenses, it is clear that many of them were first influenced by what some would call non-violent extremists. It may begin with hearing about the so-called Jewish conspiracy and then develop into hostility to the West and fundamental liberal values, before finally becoming a cultish attachment to death. Put another way, the extremist worldview is the gateway, and violence is the ultimate destination.”

And given that anti-Semitic ideas are part of the problem, Cameron continued, rooting them out must be part of the solution. “As we counter this ideology, a key part of our strategy must be to tackle both parts of the creed–the non-violent and violent,” he said. “This means confronting groups and organizations that may not advocate violence but which do promote other parts of the extremist narrative. We’ve got to show that if you say ‘Yes, I condemn terror, but the Kuffar are inferior,’ or ‘Violence in London isn’t justified, but suicide bombs in Israel are a different matter,’ then you too are part of the problem. Unwittingly or not, and in a lot of cases it’s not unwittingly, you are providing succor to those who want to commit, or get others to commit to, violence.”

Watch Cameron’s full speech below:

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.