Quilliam Reacts to Theresa May’s Speech on Countering Extremism 

Quilliam broadly welcomes Conservative Party manifesto commitments for a more robust counter-extremism strategy, as outlined by Theresa May in her speech at conference today. In particular we welcome the following:

  • The admission that the government’s reaction must go beyond a legal response and include civil society efforts to challenge Islamist ideology
  • The Home Office taking responsibility for a strategy to co-ordinate counter-extremism across government departments, as well as developing a central hub of knowledge and expertise
  • The importance of addressing the full extremist spectrum, rather than just violent strands, which is also something Quilliam has long argued for
  • More robust vetting procedures which can help counter entryism and prevent the Islamist infiltration of institutions such as schools and charities, and ensure that extremists are not funded by taxpayers’ money.

However, we urge the Conservative Party to take forward greater manifesto commitments to tackle online extremism in a responsible, proportionate and effective way. It is clear that while extremists have taken their messages online, efforts to counter extremism are yet to catch up. Using communications data in prosecutions is a way that the law can be used to counter terrorism, but civil society measures to counter extremism must also be supported online.

Furthermore, an over-reliance on online censorship must be opposed, as outlined in our recent report Jihad Trending.  Instead we need to promote positive counter-speech, improve digital literacy, and boost critical consumption skills among our young people to ensure that fewer people are vulnerable to extremism. Extremism disruption orders also need to find the balance between protecting national security and upholding civil liberties. Quilliam remains committed to promoting this balance whilst furthering civic intolerance of extremist ideas.

Quilliam Political Liaison Officer Jonathan Russell says, Theresa May has traditionally been strong on building a legal framework to tackle terrorism. We welcome manifesto commitments to develop a strategy that goes beyond terrorism and aims to ‘confront, challenge and undermine extremism of all kinds’ and the co-ordination of this cross-departmental strategy from the Home Office. Involving the whole of UK civil society, including Muslim groups who support British values, in this strategy is absolutely the right way to go about this vital work. However, the free speech of extremists must only be curtailed at the point when it violates existing laws.”