Musa Naqvi in Manchester
Since its publication on December 4, Prime Minister’s Radicalisation and Extremism Task Force: ‘Tackling extremism in the UK’ has come under criticism for an undue focus on the Muslim community.
However, on Deputy Prime Minister (DPM), Nick Clegg, told The Muslim News on February 7 that the Government “had not passed new draconian anti-terrorism powers.”
Clegg spoke of a “proportionate and measured approach” on tackling extremism, arguing that post-Woolwich “despite some people wishing, we didn’t immediately reach for new legal powers.”
The Leader of the Liberal Democrats was attending the British Muslim Heritage Centre in Manchester to meet the Muslim community, as part of election campaign.
Responding to criticism from the community at not being consulted during the preparation of the extremism report, Clegg said, “There was wide consultation and those that may not like certain provisions” should voice their concerns.
The Task Force report had identified “Al-Qa’ida’s distorted interpretation of Islam” and the “Islamist ideology” as the primary source of terrorist threat to the UK. The report focused on closing the gaps within existing legislation, by ‘considering a case for new civil powers’ to target behaviours used by “extremists” to radicalise others, amongst others, as well as granting new powers to the Charity Commission.
DPM further said that “any predictions and assertions [about the legislation] are not factually true”, explaining that the “report doesn’t introduce an extremism Asbo (anti-social behaviour order) – the case hasn’t been made!” and it was important for the Government “not to overreact” after Woolwich.
“The Task Force [was] not saying we will introduce a whole raft of draconian legislation – we are precisely not doing that,” he said.
In reply to other questions about the banning of the niqab and Lib Dem candidate Majid Nawaz’s tweets about the ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon [with image of Prophet Muhammad], Clegg said: “We must treasure and cherish the principles of liberty and responsibility – in a free society we should have the right to say what we want, in the same way wear what we want.
Clegg rejected suggestions to withdraw Nawaz as Lib Dem candidate: “Freedom to speak your mind should not be discarded, but tempered with moderation and respect, Issues of faith matter to us all, Majid Nawaz has apologised, there is huge heartfelt concern, and that it was essential to be respectful of difference of opinion.”
At an interfaith event held by Clegg to celebrate their work earlier this month, he said, “I will never forget, in the wake of the terrible incidents on streets of Woolwich last year, there was a real sense of fear, a febrile atmosphere on the streets of London, a real feeling that it might lead to copycat acts, knock-on violence, or bring tension between our communities.
“I will never forget the important role you all played. It was a really powerful signal of calm, of tolerance and of reason, at exactly a time when all those qualities were under strain.”