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Quilliam’s Political Liaison Office Jonathan Russell comments on the need to tackle the long term causes of Islamist extremism.

It’s emerged today that the police are stretched by the number of terrorism-related offenders that they have to currently deal with.

So, what’s the solution? It’s to double the number of police, increase their powers of surveillance, remove their oversight, improve their efficiency, and add to the statute book, right?

While we’re at it, we can also introduce extremism ASBOs to prosecute those who may consider terrorism in the future, banning orders to prevent extremist preachers from speaking, and ask social media sites to make a bank of extremist content (like they have done with child sexual abuse imagery), so that they can remove online extremism for good. This would solve the extremism problem, right?


It feels good to use the law to tighten things up when there’s a threat that we don’t fully understand and an important election coming up. But David Cameron must understand the need to tackle the long-term causes of extremism, rather than its immediate symptoms. To do this, he needs to turn his rhetoric into actions, and start investing in projects that tackle the entire Islamist ideological spectrum.

For this he requires a civil society approach, not a law-based one, as much of that spectrum is something of which we should be legally tolerant but civically intolerant. Cameron has made a sword for his own back in this by giving much of the portfolio to the Home Office, who have made great steps in improving our police force but views counter-extremism exclusively as a security issue.

The Police do excellent work, but one reason that they’re currently over-worked is because they are responsible for an ever-widening portfolio, much of which shouldn’t even be viewed through this security lens. Working with families to counter extremism is a sensible strategy to win hearts, and referring ideologically vulnerable people to Channel – part of the Government’s Prevent strategy, which aims to “protect people at risk from radicalisation” – can certainly win minds.

But are the police the best people to implement these strategies if they already have troubled relationships with communities? Developing a civil society-based approach to counter-extremism solves these problems.

Countering extremism online is a similar policy area. The Home Office can brag all they like about how much content the government has removed but, as a recent Quilliam report showed, we know extremist content is likely to reappear in another format, and should stop short of removing content that does not break the law.

Making a bank of extremist content online just so that it can be removed is not only impossible, but is a form of policing political dissent, and another example of using the law to counter extremism. What we really need is for civil society campaigns to provide positive counters to jihadist narratives, make Islamist extremism unfashionable, and raise awareness of the dangers are better ways to tackle this social ill than filtering and censoring.

If we have learnt anything since 9/11, it is that we cannot police our way out of the extremist problem. If we tackle the causes of extremism as a society, the police won’t have to combat the symptoms, and we won’t need to add draconian measures to boost their capabilities.

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