Quilliam Political Liaison Officer Jonathan Russell explains why David Cameron’s new terror measures are welcome, but British values are most important.
In this parliament, existing laws have been reasonably effective at dealing with those who have committed terrorism-related offences. We can prosecute, deport, extradite and place under surveillance, those whom we deem to have broken the law. The Prime Minister has now revealed that some of these laws are to be strengthened to deal with the “gaps in the armoury” in light of the current threat level, caused by the national security challenges that British jihadists of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq may pose to the UK should they return to our shores.
The legal changes do not significantly alter the balance between national security and civil liberties and we must avoid a sensationalist response that paints these measures as Orwellian, Stasi-like, or befitting of a totalitarian state. The main focus of the new laws revealed is disruption and intervention.
I welcome further powers to withhold the passports of British citizens who are expected to travel to fight with IS and the making statutory of the so-called “Channel Programme”, to engage and deradicalise Islamist extremists in Britain.
The Prime Minister was wise not to succumb to the demands of the UKIP leader and the London Mayor and contravene either international law or common law by rendering people stateless, regardless of how abhorrent their views may be. The reintroduction of locational constraints to make sure that Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (or TPIMs) no longer “wither on the vine” looks like a troubling U-turn, but nonetheless one recommended by the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation.
I believe that expanding the Channel Programme to include those held under these measures should counter criticism from Cerie Bullivant, a former terror suspect who has warned against a return to control orders, or similar, claiming that they left him “with severe depression and it pushed me into a corner where I felt my only option was to abscond and go on the run”. Regular engagement from an expansion of the Channel Programme will ensure that suspects do not face depression and will decrease their likelihood of absconding.
Our legal response to terrorism has been robust in the post-9/11 era and is, in fact, not the part of our armoury where the gaps most prominently exist. Given that Cameron identified, in both his 2011 Munich address and in his speech last Friday, that a “poisonous ideology” is the root cause of our generational struggle against Islamist extremism, we need to see longer term counter-extremism policy rather than short term security and counter-terrorism policy.
We must do more as a nation to counter the Islamist ideology and oppose the Manichean narratives that are underpinned by this ideology. Simultaneously, we must work positively to provide alternative counter-narratives that are instead reinforced by the universal values of human rights, tolerance, due process and equality before the law, all of which the Prime Minister is currently branding as “British values”.
This is the necessary civil society response to extremism, whether it is violent or non-violent. We must build community resilience so that we find a way of staying committed to these British values, even when we feel threatened. A middle ground is required between sensationalism and apologism, among policy-makers, in the media, and among our general public. In short, we must keep calm and carry on. Muslim communities are an important and vibrant element of our nation, and the civil society response to extremism must come hand-in-hand with them.
But, as tolerant as we must be of those who are different from us, we must develop civic intolerance towards those who contravene these universal values. As Dan Hodges wrote here, failure to get this right has led to a wall of silence in the face of systematic rape in Rotherham, alleged political corruption in Tower Hamlets, manipulation of the education system in Birmingham and the jihadist recruitment of more than 500 British citizens.
There is another gap in our counter-extremism armoury – the space between our law and our civil society – our institutions. There is little point placing 500 returning British jihadists in prison if they are likely to exploit the grievances of their fellow inmates, radicalise them, and recruit them to the Islamist or jihadist cause. This is why making the Channel Programme statutory is a progressive step that requires all those imprisoned for terrorism-related offences to engage ideologically with intervention providers so that they can be deradicalised, rehabilitated and reintegrated into British society.
Other British institutions such as schools, universities and places of worship also have a role to play in countering extremism and promoting British values. My biggest concern is not simply that jihadists have managed to recruit hundreds of willing British citizens, but that there is a ripe pool of non-violent extremists who share an ideology and world-view with jihadists, from which they can recruit. More work is required here, because failure to reverse this trend will prolong our generational struggle against extremism. We can stop people from falling into this pool with clear counter-extremism policies that are consistent across our institutions, but could do with more central co-ordination from a new counter-extremism tsar position to ensure this.
Ed Miliband’s intervention to call for an overhaul of the government’s “Prevent” strategy to defang extremists in this country, which he claims focuses too much on the role of the police and too little on families and communities, is an interesting one. While I agree that we need a broader approach to counter-extremism, I do not think more time spent navel-gazing is a necessary move. We must constantly tweak our existing strategy to deal with the evolving threat, must coordinate it from above, and help those at the grassroots level to share best practice so that it is delivered effectively and comprehensively in every domain.
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