3 March 2011

 

Quilliam, Britain’s first counter-extremism think tank, has welcomed Nick Clegg’s speech today in Luton in which the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister clearly pledged both the Liberal Democrats and the Coalition government in general to tackling and challenging extremism and violence, wherever it occurs in British society.

Quilliam particular welcomes Nick Clegg’s recognition that:

1. Extremist political ideologies justified through religion should be distinguished from the religion itself:

The Prime Minister was right to make a sharp distinction between religious belief and political ideology.

2. Terrorism is not just the result of socio-economic grievances or anger at western foreign policies but that it is also the product of more complex factors such as ideology:

“A turn to violent extremism cannot be explained simply in economic terms. There are much deeper and more complex forces at work” and his recognition that the causes of terrorism are “a lethal cocktail containing a disaffected individual, an enabling community and a legitimizing ideology”

3. Extremism should be tackled across the board, wherever it occurs:

“Bigots are bigots, whatever the colour of their skin. Criminals are criminals, whatever their political beliefs. Terrorists are terrorists, whatever their religion. This means that those of us who want to live in a liberal society must confront hateful views and practices regardless of who expresses them.”

4. Extremist groups often “have a symbiotic relationship with each other, maintained by the media: extremist Muslim groups giving birth to extremist white hate groups, and vice versa.”

5. Ideologies and ideas behind extremism must be tackled and challenged and liberalism should be actively defended:

The […] battleground against violent extremism is at the level of ideas, values and ideology. The dangerous ideas that underpin violent extremism must never be allowed to go unchallenged. That is why I thought the PM’s argument in favour of ‘muscular liberalism’ was absolutely right. Liberalism is not a passive, inert approach to politics. It requires engagement, assertion.

6. Government funds should not go to groups that promote any form of violence, whether in the UK or elsewhere. Clegg also committed himself to ‘focusing our attention on groups that support our essential liberal values’:

“We should ensure that public funds do not support any organisations promoting violence. We must engage with religious organisations in a smart way focusing our attention on those that support our essential liberal values. We will also challenge extremism across the board, ending the previous Government’s exclusive and unhelpful focus on Islam. It does not matter if you are a far-right extremist, someone who perverts a religious faith, or someone who uses violence in support of other ideological ends – we will challenge you, take you on and defeat you.”

Maajid Nawaz, Quilliam’s director, said:

‘Nick Clegg’s speech is an important recognition of how extremist groups on all sides, whether Islamist or far-right, are threatening the success of Britain’s multicultural society. Although it remains vague in parts, the speech is clear blueprint for how we can build a happier, freer and more equitable Britain. This speech builds on David Cameron’s recent speech in Munich and is an important step towards building a national consensus on this important issue.

‘By stating clearly that extremism should be challenged and tackled wherever it occurs, this speech is a vital step towards treating all British citizens equally and towards overturning the long standing biases which have led to British citizens being treated differently on account of their racial or religious background.

‘The challenge for both Nick Clegg and David Cameron is to ensure that this message is heard right across government and that these fine words are now translated into real action on the ground.’

‘At the same time, although some would seek to portray this speech as a shift in emphasis from Cameron’s Munich speech, we believe that this speech reveals a large degree of common ground between the two leaders. However, there is a clear need for further discussion of many of these issues. The exact nature of ‘smart engagement’ with extremists still needs to be defined, as do ‘shared values’. We also hope that in the future Nick Clegg will also be more explicit on why non-violent extremism is a problem in and of itself for society, regardless of whether it leads directly to terrorism or not.’