Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat – British Parliamentary Undersecretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government, Sadiq Khan has revealed in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat that the cooperation between the Saudi and British security authorities has led to the latter presenting information about schemes and individuals who entered Saudi Arabia to carry out terrorist activities.
Undersecretary Sadiq Khan, who leads the department that was formed following the 2005 London explosion, and that was formed no more than two years ago, explains that his visit to Saudi Arabia is aimed at discussing a collection of military and trade issues, especially with regard to anti-terrorism.
The British undersecretary says: “The British officials in the field of rehabilitating those involved in extremist ideology are in continuous contact with their Saudi opposite numbers. The issue is not combating extremism, but the fundamental point is to prevent the youths from reaching the level of extremism in a preventative way.”
Sadiq Khan adds: “At the current stage, we are trying to utilize the Saudi experiment and expertise in this field. We are in continuous contact with the Saudi officials of the program in order to benefit from their experience to apply the ideas and methods of the program to those we are detaining, and to derive what we can implement in Britain.”
In his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in the hall of King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah before his departure from Saudi Arabia, the British parliamentary undersecretary of state at the Department for Communities and Local Government stressed that those involved in cases of racist assault against the Saudi students in the United Kingdom would face severe punishment as a result of their deeds. He considered that such behavior is limited, and did not exceed one or two cases.
The following is the text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] First of all, what is the nature of your visit?
[Khan] This is an official ministerial visit that comes within the framework of developing and strengthening the British-Saudi relations, which are originally solid, and are based on trade and military relations, and combating terrorism and extremism; the relations are also based on mutual respect between the two countries.
You already know that the population of the United Kingdom is 60 million, of whom there are 2 million Muslims, and we are the only western country that has an official pilgrimage mission. Moreover, the British Government is the only western government that includes a Muslim minister (speaking of himself), and he is the only British minister that can visit the holy shrines in Mecca and Medina.
During this visit I met Prince Khalid al-Faisal, Amir of Holy Mecca Region; Prince Abdulaziz Bin-Majid, Amir of Medina and president of the Islamic University in Medina, which I visited; I also visited Imam Muhammad Bin-Saud University in Riyadh, and I met the officials of the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are there specific aims for this ministerial visit, as you called it?
[Khan] The most important issue that was discussed during this visit is related to the dossier of combating terrorism and extremism. It is well known that the majority of the Muslim community, which as I said is estimated at 2 million people, are peaceful people who shoulder their duties. Those involved in terrorist activities are very few, but this reflects in a negative way on the situation of the community as a whole. As Saudi Arabia has extensive experience in combating extremism and misguided ideology, and the progress it achieved in this field during the recent period has become clear to us, I am here to benefit from this expertise, and to apply this expertise in the United Kingdom. Also one of the aims of the visit is to coordinate for the British pilgrimage mission, which is the only official mission from a non-Muslim country, and to provide sites for two missions – one medical and one from the British consulate – in Mina to look after the needs of the British pilgrims.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Earlier, British officials praised the Saudi “counseling” program, and expressed their wish to benefit from it. What stage have you reached in benefiting from the program?
[Khan] The British prime minister visited Saudi Arabia two months ago. During his time there he visited the center of the “counseling” program, and met the officials at the center. The British officials in the field of rehabilitating those involved in extremist ideology are in continuous contact with their Saudi opposite numbers. The issue is not combating extremism, but the fundamental point is to prevent the youths from reaching the level of extremism in a preventative way.
There is another point that clarifies the shape of Saudi-British cooperation in this field, namely combating extremism, in the sense of fighting this ideology. This cooperation has contributed to the arrest of some extremists, as during the pilgrimage seasons there are attempts by some extremists to carry out some terrorist operations at the holy shrines. As a result of the cooperation between the security authorities of the two countries, some of these operations have been thwarted, and some individuals have been arrested. More than 50 percent of the British Muslims are under 35 years of age, and hence we need this cooperation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Precisely, have you provided the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with intelligence information about terrorist operations that targeted the previous pilgrimage seasons?
[Khan] We are allies, friends, and partners. We work together against any person or side that tries to harm our interests, or to harm civilians and innocent people whether in Britain or in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Because of our strong friendship, we work together to prevent the youths, particularly the youngsters, from being influenced by extremist ideas. Some of the concepts we use currently help us to get closer to the youths and to embrace them before they get involved in hard-line ideas.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the British Government intend to send detainees to Saudi Arabia to join the program?
[Khan] With regard to this question, at the current stage, we are trying to utilize the Saudi experiment and expertise in this field. We are in continuous contact with the Saudi officials of the program in order to benefit from their experience to apply the ideas and methods of the program to those we are detaining, and to derive what we can implement in Britain. By the way, this issue was one of the fundamental aims of the past visit by the British prime minister to Saudi Arabia.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If we move to talking about the situation of the minorities in Britain, especially the Muslim minority, what are the efforts exerted by your department to improve their conditions?
[Khan] No Muslim in any non-Muslim country in the world is treated better or is in a better situation than the Muslim community in Britain. The Muslims have an important role within the British society, and they have rights guaranteed by the system.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are reports that the members of the Muslim community in Britain suffer from poverty, inequality, and some of the new policies legislated by the British Government after the 2005 explosions?
[Khan] In Britain, we have a law that prohibits employers from discriminating against their employees or workers for reasons related to religion or ethnic origin. The larger percentage of the Muslims have distinguished scientific degrees, also the government directly helps and supervises the Muslim schools in Britain, and offers them all the aid they need.
The British Government helps even the Muslims who have not achieved any progress in the academic field to advance and to fulfill their ambitions. This help is aimed at achieving the fairness guaranteed by the system in the United Kingdom for all. There is only one law that applies to everybody.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the circulating reports across the media organs say that the number of Muslim detainees in the British prisons because of cases related to terrorism is more the 10,000 detainees. Does not this number reflect the type of treatment?
[Khan] This number is not correct. The number of detainees in cases related to terrorism does not exceed 200. They have been tried, and 100 persons have admitted their guilt. As you mentioned in your previous question, the number of British Muslims is 2 million people. Perhaps the figure you mentioned is related to the number of detainees in penal and other cases; nevertheless, this figure is normal if we consider it as a percentage of the total number of the members of the Muslim community.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Recently, a number of Saudi students in Britain were exposed to assault for racist reasons. What are the efforts exerted by the British Government to combat the extremism of the other side?
[Khan] Every year more than 15,000 Saudi students come to Britain to study at the British universities. The number of Saudi tourists who come to Britain in summer is some 100,000 tourists every year. According to these statistics, one or two cases do not represent bad attitude; also in such cases, the culprits face severe punishment by the British courts. Here, I would like to point out that some police stations have departments that specialize in following up the condition of those exposed to such assault, and in helping them to adapt anew to the life in Britain.