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Reaction to the Counter Extremism Strategy

Reaction to the Counter Extremism Strategy

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday October 20 2015

There is considerable coverage across the press today about the Government’s new Counter Extremism Strategy which was published yesterday.

Vikram Dodd and Alan Travis in the Guardian report the views of Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police and the police service’s lead on Prevent. Sir Peter who last year warned that the Government’s approach to counter-extremism risked a “drift towards a police state” in which officers were turned into “thought police”, told the Guardian that the current proposals “draws the police in[to] areas the public will be uncomfortable with if they feel that it erodes free speech or religious freedom or the right to protest.”

He added, “There is a concern that efforts to control extremist narratives will limit free speech and backfire if we don’t get the balance right. The efforts to control extremism and limit protest by those caught by too wide a definition may undermine the very rights and British values you seek to protect.”

Sir Peter’s views resonate with the warnings sounded by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, who referred to “the “chilling effect” that may result from characterising activity as extreme”.

The Independent Reviewer also raised the question of the Government’s lack of consultation on the proposed measures stating, “The Prime Minister’s Task Force in December 2013 conducted no public consultation; and there has been no Green or White Paper on either the definition of the extremist activity that it is proposed to suppress, or the details of the proposed new Banning Orders and Extremist Disruption Orders.”

Sir Peter reiterates the problem of lack of consultation saying he hopes such a process would “iron out” difficulties with the implementation of the strategy.

The Guardian article quotes another senior officer, who asked not to be named, who said the Government’s approach, from Blair’s 2006 speech on the “duty to integrate” to the present, risked “damaging an effort of over a decade” by the police in “[T]rying to drive a wedge between violent extremists and mainstream Muslims.”

He said the strategy undermined all that had been achieved in the last 10 years adding, ““I’m not sure [this has] been thought through at all.”

Scottish paper, The National, reports that the Scottish Government has voiced concerns over Westminster’s failure to consult the body over the strategy before announcing it.

The SNP’s Justice and Home Affairs spokeswoman at Westminster, Joanna Cherry QC MP, told the paper: “We need to tackle extremism at its root cause and far more work needs to be done to engage at all levels and especially with the communities most affected by radicalisation.

“Any action from the UK Government will only ever be just one strand of what needs to be a very strong web of strategy used to counter the damaging ideology behind groups such as Daesh and therefore it is vital that everyone works together to eradicate extremism. It is disappointing that the UK Government has failed to conduct any meaningful consultation with the Scottish Government over these plans.”

It is not the first time the Westminster Government has neglected the impact of its counter-extremism measures in Scotland. Earlier this year, its failure to conduct a full impact assessment of the implementation of the newly enacted statutory duty on Prevent by Scottish authorities was uncovered by Buzzfeed from an internal memo drafted by the Home Office’s chief economist, Sam Brand.

Bradford’s Telegraph and Argus reports the views of local MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah, who said the Government appeared to have “consulted the “usual suspects” who were promoting the same failed strategy which had not involved anyone in Bradford.”

Alyas Karmani, of JUST West Yorkshire, told the local paper: “The enhanced powers given to the police to stop internet firms from disseminating extremist material will only serve to further fuel the suspicion among Muslims that they are being treated as a suspect community.”

“The proposals related to Muslim staff working in the public sector being vetted as ‘non-extremists’ by panels and not their non-Muslim co-workers and colleagues is deeply disturbing.”

In the Guardian’s Comment is Free, Joshua Rozenberg critiques the lack of detail in the counter-extremism strategy over the proposed “banning orders” and “extremism disruption orders” noting that all we have been assured of is the “strong safeguards” which will govern their use.

Rozenberg queries the Government’s circular logic, at once talking about ‘British values’ on “the rule of law” and “free speech” while simultaneously curbing the very exercise thereof.

He writes, “After all, what do we mean by extremism? According to the government, it’s the “vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.

“But a fundamental aspect of the rule of law is freedom of expression. Expressing ideas that “offend, shock or disturb … any sector of the population”, as the human rights court put it nearly 40 years ago in the Handyside case, is not in “opposition to our fundamental values”: it is an essential part of them.”

Noting the perils inherent in the proposed “extremism community trigger”, Rozenberg observes: “Presumably the police will have to interview the street preacher or blogger suspected of extremism by the neighbours. And that means officers turning up at people’s homes or places of work and questioning them. The potential for mischief is enormous. Of course, there must be limits to free speech. But the police and local authorities are not best placed to judge them.”

Elsewhere in The Guardian, Dr Matthew Goodwin, who for the last four years has served on the cross government anti-Muslim hatred working group, announces his resignation from the position stating:

“During a generally unpleasant four years, the basic message appeared to be that the government was simply not that interested in anti-Muslim hatred. In fact, to my knowledge, and despite increased concern over extremism and disillusionment among British Muslims, the government has still not undertaken any research into what causes Islamophobia and what might be done about it. How does the government hope to foster trust and support among communities if it does not appear to take their grievances seriously?”

His point about the Government’s response to tackling Islamophobia is certainly relevant given the sop to Muslims in an otherwise broadly McCarthyite strategy on recording Islamophobia as a separate category of hate crime. It is notable that in the four years since the cross government anti-Muslim hatred working group this measure was not implemented and yet it finds its way into a strategy focused on countering extremism.

Goodwin fires another salvo aimed at the Government’s consultation process. Despite the establishment of a “Community Engagement Forum” by the Prime Minister last week, Goodwin remarks on the lack of expert advice solicited by Government departments. He notes, “Nor to my knowledge did the government engage with any researchers who specialise in radicalisation. Instead, the taskforce consulted widely with the Quilliam Foundation, a think tank that, some say, lacks credibility with many ordinary Muslims, pushes theories of radicalisation that are typically not supported within the academic community, and undertakes research that is seldom subject to rigorous peer review. The think tank once claimed to have convinced the former leader of the English Defence League to work on countering extremism. Last week he was revealed to have joined anti-Islam protests in the Netherlands, calling on people to march against Muslims. This is not a model of best practice.”

Indeed not. But as the wide ranging criticisms of the counter-extremism strategy shows, the Government itself is not much good at adopting “best practice”.


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