Monday, 6 June 2011

Government to target "un-British" values in new counter-extremism strategy

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Following a review of the Preventing Violent Extremism strategy, which was put in place by the Labour government in 2007, reports suggest that the government will this week unveil an updated strategy that will see it take a firmer approach to tackling the threat from Islamic extremism.

According to yesterday's Observer, David Cameron has won a cabinet battle over the approach that should be taken towards groups espousing fundamentalist but non-violent viewpoints, and the new Prevent strategy will see funding denied to Muslim organisations that do not "reflect British mainstream values". Reportedly Nick Clegg had argued, along with the Conservative chair Baroness Warsi and the attorney general Dominic Grieve, that engagement with such groups was necessary in order to counteract violent forms of extremism. It's a position Cameron is known to oppose – in the February speech in Munich in which he stated that "state multiculturalism" had "failed", he described such an approach as "nonsense", saying:
"Would you allow far-right groups a share of public funds if they promise to help you lure young white men away from fascist terrorism? Of course not."
It also appears likely that the new strategy will involve a firmer approach towards the toleration of extremist groups in universities. In an interview in today's Telegraph, the Home Secretary, Theresa May says that universities need to “send very clear messages" regarding the extremism on campus:
“I think for too long there’s been complacency around universities. I don’t think they have been sufficiently willing to recognise what can be happening on their campuses and the radicalisation that can take place. I think there is more that universities can do.” 
It will be interesting to see what's in the new strategy, particularly how it goes about defining "key British values". The Telegraph piece suggests that extremist groups will be categorised as those that do "not subscribe to human rights, equality before the law, democracy and full participation in society” – if those are the British values the strategy will set out, then they are unlikely to be controversial, but any attempt to delve further into the issue of what constitutes "Britishness" would be more contentious.

While it seems likely that the new strategy will please those who favour taking a more hardline approach, it will be equally important that it is well received within Muslim communities. As I discovered when I researched this subject in 2009, Labour's Prevent strategy alienated many Muslims, who felt that it stigmatised them as a threat to be contained without focusing on the root problems of poverty and education affecting their communities. In taking a more "hardline approach", will the Coalition's strategy neglect these issues too?
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