Speaking in Parliament in the debate on proscription of terrorist organisations on Thursday 19 June 2014 Mike Gapes MP called on the government to "make it absolutely clear that this country is proud of the British Muslims who live here and contribute to our society.
Speaking in Parliament in the debate on proscription of terrorist organisations on Thursday 19 June 2014 Mike Gapes MP called on the government to "make it absolutely clear that this country is proud of the British Muslims who live here and contribute to our society. There ...is an important message that we need to send out to young people in our British Muslim community: you are welcome here, you are equal citizens, men and women, and we will not tolerate attacks and abuse."
He warned that "an al-Qaeda state in the middle of Iraq and into Syria, will be a threat not just in that region, to Lebanon and Jordan, and a potential threat to other Arab countries and to Yemen and the Gulf. It is in our own interest to make sure that that does not happen..."
He also warned that "If we want to increase the possibility of people being recruited to go off to Syria, we antagonise them, make them feel angry, make them feel like victims and create a narrative that people are easily able to misguidedly put across to them so that they feel they are somehow not part of this society. We have a challenge, not just in this country but elsewhere in Europe. We have to deal with the ideology as well as the practice of this type of extreme, terrorist organisation."
Mike Gapes had intervened twice on Home Office Minister James Brokenshire during his opening statement to the debate on extension of Terrorism Proscription Orders to five additional groups as follows :-
Mike Gapes: The explanatory memorandum states that one of the organisations on the proscribed list, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, has been involved in various forms of terrorist-related activities since 1968. Will the Minister explain why that organisation has not been on a proscribed list—this is a point against all Governments—since then? Why is it only now, when it seems to be fighting on behalf of the Assad regime, that we are listing it? It has been carrying out terrorist actions against Israel and elsewhere for a number of years, but it is only now, suddenly, that it appears on a list.
James Brokenshire: I was just about to come on to the specific aspects of each of the organisations, including the PFLP-GC. Home Secretaries of whichever Government will consider proscription based on a number of different factors, including the nature and scale of an organisation’s activity; the specific threat it poses to the UK; the specific threat it poses to British nationals overseas; the organisation’s presence in the UK; and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism. Organisations will be considered against those factors, and timing issues may determine whether an organisation should be proscribed at any given moment. I hope it will help the hon. Gentleman if I address each of the organisations in turn. Perhaps that will give him some assurance of the consideration that is being given and why action is appropriate at this time…….
……..Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command is a left-wing nationalist Palestinian militant organisation. It was formed in 1968. It is based in Syria, and it was involved in the Palestine insurgency during the 1970s and 1980s. It is separate from the similarly named Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. From its outset, the group has been a Syrian proxy. The PFLP-GC has been fighting in the Syrian war in support of Assad, including in the Yarmouk refugee camp in July 2013. The group has also issued statements in support of the Syrian Government, Hezbollah and Iran. It has been designated as a terrorist group by the US, Canada, Israel and European Union.
Mike Gapes: I understand from the explanatory memorandum that the organisation was involved in training Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which are already listed as proscribed organisations by our Government. Why has it taken so long for it to be listed as a terrorist organisation?
James Brokenshire: I have explained to the hon. Gentleman the factors that are taken into account. Indeed, a range of other measures under the Terrorism Acts can be taken against those involved in terrorist activities. The Government have to strike a careful balance in considering whether different organisations should be proscribed, taking into account the relevant factors that I have already explained to him.
Our determination is that it is now right to add the PFLP-GC, along with the others listed in the order, to the organisations proscribed in schedule 2 to the Terrorism Act 2000. Our judgment is that all five groups are concerned in terrorism and are active in or linked to the Syrian conflict, where their activities undermine the prospect of a peaceful settlement and fuel a conflict that is significantly increasing the terrorism threat to the UK. That is why we judge that proscription should take place. I hope that the House will support that in the debate.
Later in the debate Mike Gapes made his own speech as follows:-
Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op):I will be quite brief. I want to pick up on the Minister’s comment that this list of five organisations has been brought before the House today because they are involved in or related to what is happening in Syria. In an earlier intervention I queried why one of the organisations, namely the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which has been in existence for 45 years and has been involved in terrorist activities and terrorist training—maybe not every year, but throughout that period—has only now suddenly appeared on the list.
I support the proscription of those on the list, but there appears to have been a wake-up call. Perhaps we were not as strong about these issues in the past, as though it was somehow okay if the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command was engaged in terrorist activities against Israelis and it is only when countries or organisations are directly involved in terrorism against us or are a possible threat to us that we start listing them. We have to get away from that mindset. It is quite clear that there is a global connection. Many of these organisations—certainly the al-Qaeda-linked ones—have a global footprint and a global aspiration.
We also need to be aware that there is an ideological basis to this issue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, referred to the internet. We know that some people are radicalised not through mosques or madrassahs, but through the internet. In that context, we need to drain the swamp as well as hit the crocodiles over the head—I think that phrase has been used by others, but I happen to agree with that. Therefore, we should be involved not just in proscribing organisations, but in trying to stop the recruitment of individuals as members of those organisations.
We know—because there have been cases that have led to people being on trial, detained, prosecuted and convicted, with some extradited—that there is a conveyor belt in this country. A young person who feels strongly about threats to the Muslim ummah might, perhaps misguidedly, be taken under the wing of someone who trains them, recruits them and mentors them, so that they become someone who is prepared to go to Syria or Iraq or to engage in terrorist planning and activity in Europe.
Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend speaks with huge authority, not just as a former Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, but as a representative of multicultural Ilford. This is not just about passing an order; it is about making the case, which means engaging with young people at all times among their peer group. We cannot make people change; we have to engage with them to change. He knows that, does he not?
Mike Gapes:That is absolutely right. One of the things we also have to do is make it absolutely clear that this country is proud of the British Muslims who live here and contribute to our society. There has been an horrific murder in the last few days. I will not comment on it because I cannot go any further, but there is an important message that we need to send out to young people in our British Muslim community: you are welcome here, you are equal citizens, men and women, and we will not tolerate attacks and abuse.
When Ministers have discussions, it is important that they do not just have discussions with the internet companies. Perhaps they should also have discussions with some of our national newspapers about the tenor and the tone of the language used. If we want to increase the possibility of people being recruited to go off to Syria, we antagonise them, make them feel angry, make them feel like victims and create a narrative that people are easily able to misguidedly put across to them so that they feel they are somehow not part of this society. We have a challenge, not just in this country but elsewhere in Europe. We have to deal with the ideology as well as the practice of this type of extreme, terrorist organisation.
I shall make two other brief points. There is obviously a spill-over from Syria into Iraq. The manifest failure of the Maliki Government to be inclusive, and the exclusion of Sunni Arabs and also Kurds from the institutional power structures under Maliki, who is not just Prime Minister, but Minister of the Interior and Defence Minister, are contributing factors to the growth of the support for the ISIL organisation. I believe that we in the international community—certainly the United Kingdom and, I hope, the United States—will recognise the urgency of the need to give assistance to the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq and also to the Iraqi authorities, to try and stabilise the situation and then reverse the defeats that they have suffered in the past few days. However, just giving sophisticated weaponry to a Government who are clearly incapable of providing training and leadership of their armed forces—such that Black Hawk helicopters get captured, and much of the $200 billion of American equipment that has apparently gone into Iraq may now be in the hands of that very well financed terrorist organisation—is a matter of serious concern.
We can do our bit with these orders and we can do our bit, perhaps, to cut off the chain of people going from our country, but we all know that if, in the long term, there is an al-Qaeda state in the middle of Iraq and into Syria, it will be a threat not just in that region, but to Lebanon and Jordan, and a potential threat to other Arab countries and to Yemen and the Gulf. It is in our own interest to make sure that that does not happen and that that aim is defeated. I am therefore pleased to support the orders, but we must go much further.