"To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada."
This was the message of a defiant Prime Minister standing up for the fundamental value of mutual respect and tolerance of all faith communities. Less than 24 hours later a Mosque in Quebec was targeted, in what the Canadian authorities described as a terrorist attack where six individuals were senselessly killed.
Some will comment on linking the attack as a direct consequence to the tweet in an attempt to undermine efforts to stand up for values of tolerance and respect for all, whilst others will argue that it is the consequence of the rise in populist views spreading across Europe and the United States that pit communities against each other. Views that are the result of a resurgent nationalist and patriotic movement that appears to have undertones of xenophobia and racism.
For over a decade communities have discussed and debated policies aimed at challenging the rise of international terrorism, often citing the need to win hearts and minds of impressionable young people, in the main this debate has focused on Muslim communities. Whilst such approaches have been discussed at length, terror attacks have continued and are constantly evolving in nature and methodology. Now we see far-right nationalist movements experiencing a steady but worrying increase in momentum, using the anxiety of people to spread fear and hate by attributing the rise in terrorism to ineffective domestic and foreign policies, particularly towards immigration and Muslims.
For practitioners working on policies to challenge radicalisation and extremism, these are developments that come as no surprise, The media focus, and community debate, on policies such as Prevent in the UK has focused on terrorism from a global violent jihadist perspective, but front-line workers up and down the country have always worked on all forms of extremism and have been dealing with a rise in referrals from far-right extremism, in fact in many parts of the country such referrals far outweigh those of an Islamist nature. Prevent practitioners work on the premise that vulnerability to radicalisation from a global jihadist perspective or from an extreme far-right perspective is very similar and see the risks as two sides of the same coin. In Birmingham a local project has not only stopped young people from travelling to Syria or helped challenge extremist ideology but has also supported a former member of the armed forces who was targeted by far-right groups to help attack Mosques in the city.
It comes as no surprise to me that when speaking to many practitioners working on challenging extremism that they draw strength from shared values of mutual respect and tolerance for all, freedom of speech and democracy. They provide the basis and foundations to effective counter narratives. They are not values that have suddenly emerged but rather are values that have been shaped throughout history. The last century demonstrated how undercurrents of hatred fuelled by xenophobia and nationalism led to the persecution and death of millions whether they were Jews during the Holocaust or Muslims in Srebrenica. Chilling reminders of why values of mutual respect and tolerance of all faiths must be defended.
There is a generation of young people who have only ever lived under the cloud of the 'war on terror', we owe it to them to stand up for these values in shaping our policies, in our places of work, in our schools and in our everyday interactions. Now is not the time to question our values but to stand up for them confidently without fear or prejudice.