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Monday, 2 May 2011

Preventing Violent Extremism in the UK: The Next Steps

From differing views on multiculturalism to who government should engage with, there is tension inside the coalition government on how to combat terrorism.

In 2007, the Blair government invested over £140 million into a controversial Preventing Violent Extremism policy to stop people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorist activity. Dubbed Prevent for short, the strategy was launched as a community-led initiative to engage with members of the community to stop them from being influenced into violent extremism. This was supposed to be achieved through partnerships and engagement with Muslim communities. However, the strategy has come under severe scrutiny from human rights organisations, government officials, local authorities, community leaders and politicians as one to be counterproductive and alienating Muslim communities through its focus on Muslims, integration and Islam.

Following the 2011 general election, the coalition government highlighted its commitment to Prevent but ordered an immediate review into the strategy. The review is now four months late because inside government, there is tension on how to revamp this strategy.

David Cameron’s Vision

In his speech at the Munich Security Conference, the PM blamed multiculturalism and a lack of integration by Muslim communities to be the problem for violent extremism and offered identity, integration and cohesion to be integral components of preventing violent extremism in the U.K. He outlined that the previous Prevent strategy’s policy had allocated large sums of money to Muslim groups to address their grievances and this was counterproductive. He also criticised the tactic of working with non-violent extremists, indicating that his government had no intention of engaging with any organisation or group that did not promote integration, human rights and democracy.

Nick Clegg’s Vision

Nick Clegg on the other hand, gave his counterargument in a speech, insisting that multiculturalism was the solution to an ‘‘open, confident, society.’’ He expressed his concern over alienating those groups who did not promote democracy and integration, indicating that engaging with non-violent extremists was integral to preventing all types of extremism. He made reference to the Global Peace and Unity Conference, in which Liberal Democrats took part and David Cameron ordered a boycott claiming some of the speakers at the conference were promoting Islamist extremism.

‘‘You get in and win,’’ the deputy PM insisted. ‘‘The overwhelming majority of the people attending this conference are active, engaged and law-abiding citizens. We don't win people to liberal ideals by giving ourselves a leave of absence from the argument.’’

Looking at Reality

While both Cameron and Clegg are divided on who to engage with and how best to tackle violent extremism, Clegg’s vision offers a more realistic approach. Anyone familiar with the subject would know that establishing partnerships with non-violent extremists is an integral component of preventing violent extremism, whether it is in the form of gathering intelligence or an intervention method to prevent an individual from going down a violent extremism path.

The concept of Prevent is a preventative approach and this involves implementing measures to stop individuals from turning to violent extremism. The previous Prevent strategy has been successful to the extent that it has been able to establish strong partnerships between Muslim communities and local institutions, specifically with the police. This is further supported in a study commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which highlighted that Muslim communities showed a “a higher level of trust and confidence in the police than the general population’’ as a result of the work done by Prevent.

There have also been numerous projects and programmes that have been successful in taking a stand against violent extremism through Prevent funding. Initiatives like the STREET Project associated with Brixton Mosque in South London may not have the same ideologies that Cameron wishes, but they have been at the forefront of denouncing Islamist extremism and have been major players in preventing extremism long before 7/7. Cutting funding for initiatives like these could have devastating consequences within Muslim communities and the strong successful partnerships already established under the previous Prevent programme could collapse leaving a gap in the recruitment process for radical groups.

While the debate continues within the coalition, it is hoped that the deputy prime minister’s vision will form the basis for the new Prevent strategy, rather than Cameron’s vision, which will no doubt turn out to be a step backwards in combating violent extremism.

First published by Suite101:

Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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