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Repeating failure? The Government's latest plan to tackle radicalisation

parliament 150 x150 Friday 29 May 2015

British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Sadek Hamid discusses the implications of the Counter Extremism Bill announced in this week's Queen's Speech, and asks, does it offer anything new?

Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced his intention to push through a new Counter Extremism Bill to be announced in the Queen's Speech. We were told that the new laws would target a “poisonous extremist ideology”, because the UK has been a “passively tolerant society” for too long. These latest moves should be seen in the context of a long line of counter-terrorism strategies that  took shape after the July 7th attacks in London ten years ago.

Unfortunately, despite numerous pieces of legislation and tens of millions of pounds public money, the threat of violent extremism does not appear to have diminished - and has arguably increased.

The new Extremism Bill announced in the Queen's Speech is intended to “promote social cohesion and protect people by tackling extremism.” Within this package, the Home Secretary is to be given a new power to issue Banning Orders to target extremist groups; Extremism Disruption Orders will give law enforcement agencies the ability to stop individuals engaging in extremist behaviour. Closure Orders will give the police and local authorities the power to close down premises used to support extremism. The media regulator, Ofcom will be able to implement tough measures to act against satellite channels that broadcast extremist content and Employment Checks will enable employers to identify whether individuals have extremist tendencies and bar them from working with children. 

These measures are a continuation of the government’s Counter Terrorism and Security Act, introduced in March this year which has obliged public sector employees such as university lecturers, teachers and even nurseries to monitor and report people who display signs of “extremism.” The measures are problematic for various reasons ranging from infringing the right to free speech, circulating an opaque definition of ‘extremism,’ an implicit focus on a single minority community, to the highly impractical nature of implementing these policies. The Prime Minister has said “we have been a passively tolerant society for too long,” but at the same time suggests that this new legislation will mean that it will lead to ‘actively promoting certain values [including] freedom of speech.”

There has been widespread opposition to these policies even from within his own Cabinet. Business Secretary Sajid Javid has objected to expanding Ofcom’s powers to take pre-emptive action against those broadcasting programmes with ‘extremist content.’ This resistance follows on from comments made by former Minister, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who has warned that these steps risk creating a “Cold War” with British Muslim communities. She warned that despite the government claiming it would tackle “all forms of extremism,” it was being perceived as targeting Muslim communities alone.

Other critics have compared it to an Orwellian nightmare that threatens the possibility of committing “thought crimes”, by those holding certain types of beliefs instead of actually breaking the law - a situation where dissent is restricted, regulated and can lead to arrest or imprisonment.  Civil liberty groups have also pointed to the challenges of trying to fund such polices that will require more resources and will face legal challenges on human rights grounds.

The government seems intent on continuing to focus on symptoms rather than the causes of violent radicalisation. While extremist ideologies need to be challenged, our governments polices appear to be perpetuate sources of grievance that vindicate their narratives.  Until we recognise that individuals can be radicalised in various ways that are not only ideological.  

Criminalising thought and restricting speech will not address the root causes of terrorism; it is more uncomfortable for governments to acknowledge that their policies may play a role in radicalising some young British Muslims. Supporting certain authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and invading others, rendition, excessively harsh policing tactics, pre-charge detentions and unnecessary surveillance only serve to alienate and generate further resentment and push some to seek refuge in religious utopianism. That certainly does not prevent radicalisation.

Dr Sadek Hamid - full profile

Theology, Philosophy and Religious Studies at Liverpool Hope

Research Excellence Framework at Liverpool Hope University

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