In October the results of the Extremism Commission’s review of the Extremism Strategy were published. The “Challenging Hateful Extremism” report is critical of the Government’s approach to countering extremism thus far principally due to the expansive way in which “Extremism” is framed and makes the case for a new “Hateful Extremism” definition.
I covered my response to this report in my most recent vlog. Adding another definition into this space will add further complexity to an already over-crowded pitch of policy provision which started with the 2015 roll-out of the Extremism Strategy. While the Commission is correct to point out the flaws in the way “Extremism” is currently framed, their solution has been to come up with another definition that is just as ill-conceived in my view.
A significant weakness of the report is no doubt due to the tightly controlled mandate of the Extremism Commission. The report states; “While the Commission has no remit on counter terrorism policies, including Prevent, or integration issues, we are mindful of the overlap between terrorism, extremism and cohesion”. And so, this report has taken the same approach as so many others that have come before, a blinkered view on a policy in isolation and divorced from the wider policy landscape. This is how gaps and overlaps emerge. And policymakers are not learning from the mistakes of the past.
I approach these issues from the perspective of a practitioner, someone who must navigate the national policy landscape and make it understandable and ultimately useful for local delivery. The current thinking on countering extremism is neither. The perspectives of those managing risk, threat and vulnerability within multi-agency partnerships are often overlooked, and yet these are the very people working at the coalface of service delivery. This was the basis of the research that I present in my recent book which explores how the Prevent Strategy has been used to respond to right wing extremism.
Is there for instance a clear sense as to what the policy response is for groups that fall beneath the threshold for proscription (under the Counter Terrorism Act 2000) and yet have a clear impact upon community tensions and public order? Consider from a Radical Right perspective, movements such as the English Defence League, The Infidels, Britain First; who owns the policy response here? How has the work of the Extremism Commission added value to the way in which statutory and non-statutory partners can work together to counter groups that negatively impact upon community cohesion and create a permissive environment for narratives that underpin right wing terrorism?
Interestingly, the report sets out the case for its new definition and proposed next steps based upon datasets that sit within other policy areas. The Hate Crime statistics sit within the Hate Crime Action Plan and Channel data sits within the Prevent Strategy. As a result, the proposed definition of “Hateful Extremism” merges much of the thinking from these policies. In making the case for a renewed approach to “Hateful Extremism” it surely doesn’t make sense to base this upon workstreams within existing policies without drawing them into the review. Further to this, the report goes on to state; “we have not yet heard a strong case for more powers to directly counter extremism. But we have heard, and we believe that existing powers need to be applied better and more consistently”. I couldn’t agree more that we need to look at how existing powers can be used more effectively, but is it really the position of the Extremism Commission that they want a policy area that doesn’t have any teeth? How will this be delivered? The risk here is that this becomes a purely academic exercise where people end up bickering over definitions for the next few years rather than delivering anything of value.
It would be very interesting to carry out a review of how the Extremism Strategy has hit the tarmac thus far. Let’s consider those Local Authority areas who have enjoyed the benefit of a funded Prevent Coordinator, a local community integration officer and a “Community Coordinator”, a post that derives its funding from the Extremism Strategy. How have they worked together on these issues? How do they differentiate between their roles? How do they de-conflict the workstreams? This would give us some particularly useful insights in determining the utility of a counter extremism policy.
But why wasn’t this a significant part of the review? My sense from speaking to practitioners is that so far, the Community Coordinators have struggled to establish a tangible portfolio of work that does not duplicate the efforts of local integration officers and/or the Prevent team. But this doesn’t fit the narrative being presented by the Extremism Commission, who have suggested this report should now be placed on a statutory footing. Unfortunately, this feels like a repeat of the many previous instances of empire-building in this space.
We need to review this policy landscape holistically from the premise that they each are intended to respond to escalating levels of risk and encompass state and non-state activities that address the whole spectrum of factors ranging from tensions arising from poorly integrated communities through to counter terrorism interventions. We don’t need to lob another definition into the mix. Yet again it seems that the way we build integrated communities remains the poor cousin in this area of policy provision.
It’d be fun if you’re interested in how the policies in this area respond to not only the Radical Right but all forms of extremism to carry out the following exercise; First read the Integrated Communities Action Plan, next read the Hate Crime Action Plan, followed by the Prevent Strategy (within the Contest review 2018). Finally, read the Extremism Strategy with the accompanying “Challenging Hateful Extremism” report. Then consider my question; Within the context of our policies for Integration, Hate Crime and the Prevention of terrorism, do we need a “Hateful” Extremism policy at all?