News and Comment

Addressing grievances through the Big Society

Wednesday 11 August 2010

With the Government likely to significantly reconstruct, if not entirely dismantle, the Preventing Violent Extremism Programme, it is important to consider what role the Big Society agenda can play in mitigating the risks of people becoming extreme or involved in violent extremism.

There are a range of risk factors associated with the process of radicalisation – the journey people take to become involved in extremist activity – that can be present in communities and provide the oxygen on which extremism thrives. One of these is the problem of grievances held by individuals, groups and sometimes whole communities who perceive that their values or way of life is under attack. Most extremist groups, whether the English Defense League representing far right extremism, or Al Qaeda representing violent extremism in Islam, exploit real or perceived grievances. These include grievances about immigration, housing allocation, foreign policy and the role of the police in undertaking stop and search.

So what can be done to enable people to address these grievances, challenge extremist exploitation and diffuse the tensions that this can generate? And in what way can the Big Society agenda contribute?

Recently, as part of the evaluation of the charity Creativity, Culture and Education’s (CCE) Prevent Programme, we assessed the impact of a range of projects, which give people time to explore and analyse grievances in a safe environment. Called Your Thoughts with Mine, CCE funded a number of community dialogues, which brought together of mix of local people to discuss a range of difficult and complex issues, including racism and extremism. The events were well received, and participants spoke of how they were able to explore complex issues from a range of perspectives.

Community dialogues like this can be a powerful way of building awareness, understanding and knowledge of critical social issues, help people understand the viewpoints of others, and provide powerful arguments to help people counter grievances. And the Big Society, as an engine for community engagement and empowerment, can maximize these types of opportunities in communities.

There is scope for the community groups that are to be created and supported under the Big Society to engage residents in dialogue on a range of complex and sensitive issues, such as the role of police, Islamaphobia or the impact of immigration. With the help of trained and experienced facilitators to provide a constructive platform for conversation, an increased use of community dialogues could not only help to reduce grievances as a risk factor for extremism, but also encourage more unified communities that are ready to respond to the demands of the Big Society itself.