October 22, 2015
This week, David Cameron, the British prime minister, announced his long awaited counter-extremism strategy. It’s an important document, but has it tackled the problem?
Britons have been waiting for the outcome of Whitehall deliberations on extremism for some time. At one point, many thought it would be released in the last months of the Conservative-led coalition, which ended in May. Disagreements between the two parties in that coalition meant that consensus could not be found. Now Britain has a strategy that is wholly informed by the Conservatives.
A number of the proposals are likely to be met with severe opposition. The issue of revoking citizenship, for example, is a legal minefield, but the strategy indicates that the government will “consider … how we can more easily revoke citizenship from those who reject our values”.
Mass murderers who are sentenced to life imprisonment in the UK do not fear their citizenship being revoked, yet it remains unclear why extremists ought to be in a different category.
Citizenship is at the bedrock of the modern nation-state. If London is not careful, it runs the risk of establishing an effective system of two-tiered citizenship. There is simply no need for that.
When it comes to the approach of the government more generally, there are items to note with approval. It is appropriate, for example, that the government recognise that there are different types of extremism, and the strategy recognises far-right extremism, as well as the Islamist version of it.
It is also important that the motivations for radical extremists are recognised. Many people suffer from poverty in Britain’s non-Muslim white communities, but relatively few of them go to the far right. Many people in Britain’s Muslim communities suffer from alienation and object to British foreign policy, but even fewer drift into radical groups.
Ideology is seldom the only component of a person’s path to radicalisation – and when it comes to Islamist extremism, this is often forgotten. The extremism strategy doesn’t adequately address the complexity of radicalisation – and that is a failing it could have easily beenavoided.
Implementation is also going to be tricky. On the one hand, the UK government has decided to take the lead on tackling extremism, and on the other, it has allocated a meagre amount of money to do so – around £5 million (Dh28m).
There are significant problems in this regard. For the past decade, one of the main criticisms of government policy on extremism has been the lack of trust for the government that exists from within Muslim communities. That has not changed.
Government taking a lead doesn’t help in that regard. A better alternative would have been for the UK government to act as a convening force to encourage the private sector and civil society to move matters forward. A non-partisan body to administer funds from the private sector, even if government also made contributions, could have been created.
Finally, and this is a continuing issue – the description of extremism and so-called British values remains vague throughout the document. Britain urgently needs the establishment of a broad-based, non-partisan body to discuss what is truly “British” in 2015. Not in a negative fashion, but in a manner that is open, positive, and leaves no one behind in examining what Britain’s pluralistic society is all about.
Extremists seem to be rather clear about what they are all about – and it’s mostly about being in opposition to the mainstream. It’s not altogether clear that the government and the state have remotely as much certainty. A citizenship discussion will be, by necessity, rather open-ended – but it is a discussion that needs to take place above the chatter of petty partisan politics.
Extremism of various types isn’t something that the UK – or the world – can expect to disappear. In different ways, it has existed throughout human history. The only real question is how we engage with it as a problem – and in that regard there is far more strategic work to be done.
Dr HA Hellyer is an associate fellow in international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London, and the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC
On Twitter: @hahellyer
Source: The National
Photo Credit: World Economic Forum. CC.