More visible leadership is needed to tackle extremism

Posted On: 
11th October 2019

The Commission for Countering Extremism’s recent report is a much-needed contribution to the conversation around extremism but lays bare gaps in the Government’s approach, writes Guinevere Poncia.

Theresa May responded to terror attacks by establishing the Commission for Countering Extremism, headed up by Sara Khan (pictured).
Credit: 
PA Images

2017 looms large in public memory as one of the worst years for terror attacks on British soil. Then Prime Minster Theresa May responded by establishing the Commission for Countering Extremism, headed up by Sara Khan.

The Commission’s landmark report, published this week, attempts to paint a picture of extremism’s myriad manifestations in modern Britain.

From the cultural suppression of minorities, to inappropriate materials surfacing in schools, the report’s impressive scale serves to emphasise both the challenges and complexities of tackling extremism, and potential shortcomings in the Government’s current approach.

Hateful Extremism and the Experience of Victims 

In the Commission’s view, there has been little political action to tackle hateful extremism, compared to the work that has been done to counter terrorism and violent extremism.

The assessment of the 2015 Counter Extremism Strategy is uncompromising. Labelled as “insufficient and too broad”, the report calls for a major overhaul of government strategy and advocates a human-rights approach which considers recommendations from civil society and the experiences of victims. Khan notes that a lack of attention has been paid to the effect of extremist harassment on victims, and their willingness to speak out.

The report’s distinction between terrorism, violent extremism and hateful extremism is an important one, and attempts to grapple with policy makers difficulty to formulate a clear definition of extremism.  Hateful extremism denotes behaviours that that incite and amplify hate or make the moral case for violence. These beliefs may draw on hateful or supremacist belief systems that actively direct hostile behaviour to groups perceived as a threat.

One of numerous examples in the report is of far-right activists, who exploit concerns about the safety of women and children as a way of targeting Muslims and other ethnic minorities. In Sunderland, the Commission found the ‘Justice for Women and Children campaign’, speciously claiming that Asian men, Muslims and refugees were responsible for 90% of the rapes in the area, heightening community tensions.

Lacklustre Progress

Earlier this year, the then-Home Secretary, Sajid Javid committed to the creation of a new strategy after the Counter Extremism and Safeguarding Bill, announced in 2016, failed to emerge. In that speech, he admitted that “it’s time to take stock and to talk openly about the threat, and to admit it’s got worse”.

Writing in the Sun, former Met Assistant Commissioner and Chief of Counter Terrorism Policing Sir Mark Rowley agreed, stating that “since the 7/7 attacks there has been intermittent political intent to address this; but progress has been lacklustre”.  After characterising the national machinery for tackling extremism and radicalisation as “weak”, he endorsed the Commission’s headline recommendation to establish a national body focussed exclusively on the spread of hatred led by the Home Secretary.  This body would be modelled on the Serious Crime Taskforce, with the aim of responding to terrorist incidents and helping to shape the new strategy.

Improving Public Discourse

Perhaps the most important message from the report is the…..To view the rest of the article and a comprehensive look ahead at upcoming related events, click here.