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Government lost in quagmire of radical counter-extremism reports

19th Mar 2021

Counter-extremism has proved to be one of the most challenging and complex areas of policy for successive governments. The Prevent strategy has continually failed to clarify not only the primary objective but where it sits within the country’s counter-terrorism sphere. The collapse of the 2015 Counter-Extremism Bill was largely due to an inability to construct a legally workable definition.

Not to be dismayed, a renewed attempt to reboot a strategy is being made by the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) set up by the Home Office under Government advisor Sara Khan. In its latest report last month, it argued that existing legislation does not adequately deal with what has been broadened to ‘hateful extremism.’ She is supported by the former national lead for Counter-Terrorism Policing, Sir Mark Rowley, who says it is a ‘more focused lens’ to provide a fresh opportunity.

CCE has previously published what it called a ‘landmark’ report in October 2019, entitled ‘Challenging Hateful Extremism’, based upon visits to more than 20 towns and cities across the UK, holding 16 roundtables and commissioning 19 academic papers. Alongside terrorism and violent extremism, it said it identified a ‘distinct activity of extremism, which we describe as hateful extremism’. The findings indicated that it “consists of a framework of behaviours, beliefs, and harms”.

Since the 2011 revised Prevent strategy, the Government has defined extremism as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” For counter-extremism, the latest CCE concludes that both the definition and strategy were unfocused, unnecessarily broad, and outdated. “Not enough was being done to counter hateful extremist ideologies and behaviours in a targeted way,” it argued, saying it was why it was putting forward a set of recommendations to be taken forward.

Even in July last year, CCE had further reported ‘how hateful extremists have been exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic’ and expressed concerns about the long-term socio-economic impact of the deadly virus in providing a climate conducive to hateful extremism. Its latest attempt calls for the commissioning of a legal and operational framework ‘to robustly counter the hateful extremism threat’ and to ‘expand current offences relating to stirring up of hatred and strengthen current resources and capability of law enforcement agencies.’

On legislation, it even recommends ‘creating a new variation of the stirring up of hatred offences that requires simply proving the intent to stir up racial hatred with respect to the use of words or behaviour or the display, publication or distribution of material.’

It is not to suggest there is no immense problem with the growth of extremism in the UK with the rise of right-wing Islamophobic groups and Neo-Nazis that need proscribing. But instead of inventing new laws, what is, desperately required is a complete overhaul of all counter-terrorism and extremism legislations, much of which is not just misguided, but counterproductive. The Government has long ago, lost its way.

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