Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Preventing violent extremism

This weekend a new far-right group, the English Defence League (EDL) scuffled on the streets of Birmingham, kicking off a promised summer of anti-Muslim riots. The police contained the excesses of the EDL, but not before some Muslim lads had entered the fray, ratchetting up community tensions even more.

Street riots are not acceptable in civilised democracies, and it seems obvious that violent extremism has to be tackled wherever it arises, or better still, before it takes to our streets.

An approach suggesting ways of tackling extremism wherever it occurs is long overdue. Here is one:

Review of Stronger Together: A new approach to preventing violent extremism
Publication Date: August 10th, 2009
Authored by: Anna Turley of *NGLN
Price: Free PDF Download

The Government’s flagship scheme on tackling extremism is alienating Muslim communities and should be scrapped according to a new report. The New Local Government Network (NLGN) think tank is calling for the £45million scheme to focus on tackling all extremism – including far-right extremists – rather than just focusing on Islamic extremism.

The Government set up the Prevent scheme in 2006 to help local councils to tackle violent extremism at a local level. Currently 94 local authorities receive funding from the scheme. NLGN’s independent report argues that whilst the scheme has helped in some areas, overall it risks alienating some local communities and particularly Muslim communities.

The report calls for the Government to allocate resources to tackle all extremist ideologies, arguing that the recent increase in far-right extremism is as much of as a challenge for local communities as Islamic extremism. In July this year Scotland Yard warned that far-right extremists are planning a “spectacular” terrorist attack in Britain to try to stoke racial tensions and that more resources need to be targeted to tackle this form of extremism.

It also calls for reform of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) to allow an expert on ‘home-grown’ terrorism to sit on the Committee. It suggests that the Communities and Local Government department should have a permanent seat on the JIC alongside the seven other government departments on the Committee and that experienced local authority Chief Executives should be consulted when assessing potential security risks.

Author of the report, Anna Turley argues that reform of Prevent is vital to rebuilding confidence within local communities:

While Islamist extremism remains a very serious threat to our security, this kind of extremism is not the only threat to the stability and security of our communities.

Prevent is too prescriptive from the centre, undermines broader community cohesion objectives and lacks sufficient integration with police and security services at local and national level. Concern has also been acknowledged over the agenda’s impact on relations with Muslim communities and whether it unfairly stigmatises an entire community.

While it is too early to assess the success of the Prevent agenda in terms of outcomes, the lack of support from within the Muslim community, as well as the changing threat of wider extremist voices mean that it is time to review whether the separation of the Preventing Violent Extremism approach from wider community cohesion approaches is still relevant.
"This is spot on", writes David T. at Harry's Place:

There is - as the report acknowledges - a real problem with Islamist extremism. The number of people murdered by jihadis in this country has been high. But for the actions of the police and security services, and families and neighbours turning would-be murderers in, the death toll would be much higher.

However, the narrow focus on Islamist extremism must be widened. It does have the effect of making Muslim people feel exposed and picked on. The only solution is to apply common standards in anti-extremism work, across the board.

In practice this would mean that groups which support the creation of a totalitarian state, or which promote discrimination against or hatred of other cultural or ethnic
groups, or which support terrorism directed against civilians should all be treated similarly. Don’t fund them. Don’t work with them. Actively seek to confront their vicious politics.

In other words, a sensible anti-extremism strategy would bracket together groups like Jamaat-e-Islami and Hizb ut Tahrir with Socialist Action, the Socialist Workers Party, Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty, and the British National Party.

*About NLGN

The New Local Government Network (NLGN) was founded in 1996 by a group of senior local government figures whose aim was to make local government more relevant and credible to local people.

A not-for-profit making, independent think tank, NLGN seeks to transform public services, revitalise local political leadership and empower local communities. NLGN is also the primary advocate of New Localism.

NLGN works closely with individual local authorities, national agencies, central government and the private sector to promote ideas about how our objectives can be achieved in practice. NLGN has also been a key proponent of directly elected mayors, something reflected in the ongoing work of our Mayoral Forum.

In 2001, NLGN established an Innovation Network, creating a space for ambitious local authorities to experiment with new ideas, share learning and influence public policy across all levels of government.

NLGN works with key agencies and opinion formers to shape and support the development of modern local government where it matters most - on the ground, in local communities.

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