Yesterday, the Conservative government published their new counter-extremism strategy, which outlines the measures that will be taken to target those who 'spread hate'. Presented to Parliament by the Home Secretary Theresa May, she vowed to 'systematically confront and challenge extremist ideology'.
The strategy has received mixed reviews in its 24 hour life span. The Muslim Council of Britain released a statement criticizing the report, expressing the view that some measures could 'perpetuate further alienation of the Muslim community'. In contrast the director of Faith Matters, Fiyaz Mughal, stated that the strategy offers much that 'could help in the battle against those who promote extremism'.
The 39-page report lays out a number of counter-extremism measures, some new, while others are extensions of older procedures still active. The real troubling issue however, comes not from the measures proposed by the report, but the complete lack of detail it offers regarding the internet and community integration. Two vital areas when it comes to understanding and countering radicalisation and extremism. Furthermore, lack of details raises some important questions, such as how are these measures going to be implemented and why are they only just being implemented now?
One of the outlined measures is the mandatory de-radicalisation classes for any individual being released from prison after serving a sentence for a terror offence. The measurement itself here is not the issue, the concept that a person should be de-radicalised and rehabilitated is a no brainer. However, the implementation of said measure is a different story. The UK's de-radicalisation programme, Channel, has come under recent criticism itself. The programme is arguably limited and the number of referrals has risen dramatically recently. In the summer of 2015 there were 796 referrals, which were more than the entire 2012-2013 period combined.
Channel's effectiveness has recently come under scrutiny, as a teenager from Blackburn, who was on the programme, was found guilty of encouraging a terrorist attack at an Anzac Day parade in Australia. Hopefully further funding will be provided to the programme in order to take on the extra responsibilities. If not, it risks individuals falling through the cracks.
Radical preachers are now banned from posting extremist material online, and the government are pushing internet service providers to do more to remove extremist content and identify those responsible. Again, much like the previous measure the concept is good, but enforcement is the issue. With such an open space and the popularity of social media, taking extremist content down and seeing it return twice fold is all too common. The internet is a hotbed for radicalisation and extremism; the government have attempted to address the issue with some measures in this new strategy. However, tackling such a complex issue with methods that lack any real detail or punch makes an already difficult task near impossible.
Not all the measures seen in yesterday's strategy are being met with negative opinions. Anyone with a conviction for an extremist activity will now be barred from working with children. This is a welcome addition, which restricts the possibility of an extremist attempting to radicalise any younger generations.
The strategy also introduced a new Cohesive Communities Programme; this initiative is defiantly a step in the right direction. The lack of an identity and failed integration is a major push factor for individuals to join or be radicalised by extremist groups. Tackling the issue should be one of the primary goals for governments. Understanding why individuals fail to identify with British values and bringing communities together will help cut off a vital recruitment pool for extremist groups.
Closure orders will also be introduced for law enforcement and local authorities; this will allow them to close down any premises that support extremism. This will hopefully see the places that allow hate speech to thrive, be closed down quicker after they have been identified. The order could have been used, for example, to close down Finsbury Park Mosque during Abu Hamza's hate preaching. The only issue is one of PR; the image of police or the government closing down a religious building like a mosque, is not exactly winning hearts and minds.
Overall, the mixed response to this counter-extremism strategy is quite justified. Certain measures that the government plan on introducing correctly focus on areas that are believed to be vital in countering extremism. Community programmes focus on the integration issue and the root cause of extremism. Yet, the major issues for this strategy are its lack of concrete detail and the actual implementation/enforcement of these new measures. Trying to control the internet and the material that's uploaded is unbelievable difficult, if not near impossible. There is also an underlying risk of further isolating the Muslim community by making them feel like they are constantly being tested.
As long as there are threats, both domestic and abroad, there must be strategies in place to prevent and counter them. This strategy may not be perfect but it is definitely a step in the right direction. Let's hope it can be built upon and become the effective counter-extremism tool the UK needs.