News and Comment

Tackling extremism: it’s now time to deliver

Tuesday 4 October 2011

I was delighted to be given the opportunity to chair and speak at a national event earlier this month organised by Public Policy Exchange on The New Prevent Strategy: Strengthening the Framework to Fight Home-Grown Extremism in the UK. The controversy surrounding the Prevent strategy and the concept of extremism itself always makes me a little anxious prior to speaking at these events, but the level of debate, constructive challenge of different views, and willingness to debate difficult subjects, was impressive throughout. I shouldn’t have worried.

The conference focused on two main themes: how you practically address the phenomenon of radicalisation – the dangerous path (or pathways) that lead people towards a willingness to engage in indiscriminate violence; and, the role of local prevent partners in building robust, and evidence-based, strategies to tackle the radicalisation process and protect people from violent extremists. Speakers ranged from varied organisations including The STREET (an organisation founded and based in Lambeth that works with young gang members and those engaged in violent extremism), the Quilliam Foundation (a think tank working on radicalisation issues) and the Police. They spoke at length about the techniques and approaches they deploy to assist those vulnerable to violent extremism.

Different organisations, common themes

While the philosophies and approaches of each organisation differ greatly, three common themes emerged from their arguments. The first was the notion that to reach those vulnerable to extremism you need to move past established community leaders, and work with and empower community activists and youth workers who understand where to find, and how to engage, with vulnerable people. The second theme examined the role of mothers and how they are an important voice in tackling extremism, and are often willing to help identify people they are worried about. Finally, organisations agreed that there needs to be a combination of softer interventions, such as theatre, workshops and safe-facilitated conversations that help people understand and challenge extremism where it arises, and harder, deeper interventions to help those who are already involved in extremism, and need to be helped by a range of agencies to re-engage in community life.

Needs of local partners to deliver Prevent

The conference then examined the role local partners and what they need to deliver the new Prevent Strategy. These needs included clarity about how un-funded local authorities continue to tackle extremism in a climate of public services cuts, the need to improve the quality of data available so that we better target interventions and evaluate impact, and the need to help local authorities understand who and what providers they can commission to undertake counter-extremist activities.

Again, there was a lot of discussion about the need to utilise and cultivate community-based organisations who understand the views and challenges facing young people in delivering the strategy. Simply going to the local Mosque or community leaders will not be enough to reach vulnerable people. A representative from Newham Council talked about their work in schools, and the lengths they had gone to win the support of local teachers and youth workers to buy into their approach and felt they were having some success.

Need to challenge not ignore

Finally, one consistent view that emerged is that while we might find the views of extremists unpalatable and even frightening, we should not leave them unchallenged. We should ‘empower the activists’ to challenge extremism on-line, at university union debates, and on the streets where young people mix. Leaving them alone to propagate their distorted views is one of the most dangerous things we can do.

The slides from the presentation are below. The New Prevent Strategy_OPM