Safe words: A smart and subtle counter-extremism strategy


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The Independent Online

The portents did not look good for David Cameron. His party’s previous attempts to tackle extremism had been angry in tone and light on solutions. In other words, the end result was counter-productive: Muslim communities felt alienated, and precious little – in terms of making Britain safer – was achieved. The Prime Minister has made a start on reversing these failures.

For any extremism strategy to have a hope of success, engagement – proper, personal and long-term – with the Muslim population is a sine qua non. Certainly, as the Ramadhan Foundation complained before the speech, there has been far too little of this from the Conservative Party thus far. There are profound problems, too, with the party’s blithe assumption that religious conservatism leads to violence (better to drive a wedge between the radically faithful and the radically violent). Yet the creation of a “community engagement forum”, for Muslims to have better access to the Prime Minister, bodes well, so long as the Department for Communities and Local Government does the legwork of encouraging its use, as well as making “bigger picture” inroads into the disaffection that grips some “ghettoised” areas.

Providing a governmental megaphone for groups with direct knowledge of Isis – such as Iraqi Kurds – is similarly sensible. Naturally, Muslim voices not directly associated with Westminster will be most effective in countering the organisation’s pull.

For all the bluster of “imposing British values”, most of Mr Cameron’s proposals constitute smart and relatively small-scale interventions. There was no sudden grab on online freedoms, as followed the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France. Particularly astute is the decision to cede control of blocking would-be jihadists’ travel arrangements to their parents – who will now be able to cancel the passports of any children under 16. The more entrusted Muslim communities feel to manage their own affairs – with the Government to hand, rather than breathing down their necks – the better.

Too often, discussion of extremism gets bogged down in questions of its definition, with an implicit corollary that nothing much can be done about it.

These measures – aimed at turning down the volume on violent Islamists, and turning it up on moderate voices – can hardly be accused of crude authoritarianism. They must, however, be followed by concerted, humble work to build bridges between the state and its most embattled minority.