News and Comment

Using lessons from extremism for the Big Society

Monday 23 August 2010

Unfortunately, extremists and those who hate are often good at organising people to engage in collective action. In some ways, extremists are mastering aspects of the Big Society agenda for the wrong goals. They use social media, common causes and collective action to divide societies.

Take extreme organisations such as Islam4UK and the English Defence League (EDL) – they are often very good at bringing people together to address what they deem to be ‘social problems’, such as immigration and democratic participation. For example, the EDL has been effective at using social meeting to get hundreds of people involved in ‘street protests’, with damaging consequences.

Organisations that seek to counter extremism, and find positive alternatives for those who are vulnerable to extremism, such as the Active Change Foundation (who OPM have worked with on several projects), often argue that what they do is turn the methods of extremists on their head by promoting collective action and social bonding for positive rather than destructive goals.

Extremists famously take their members out for outward bound activities to create a bonding environment, as do charities that work with vulnerable people, but in this case to stop people engaging in extremism. Similarly, our work supporting the Young Muslim’s Advisory Group has highlighted the value of building social media infrastructure that allow groups to communicate internally and develop a stronger sense of shared purpose. It’s a case of ‘using their own methods against them’.

Those working on things that fall within the Big Society agenda, which focuses on developing a new generation of active citizens and community organisers, need think about how they can use positive alternatives to those used by extremists, such as outward bounds activities, social media and collective social protest.

OPM is working with Catch 22 to produce a paper that explores examples of good practice in community organising in which we will explore these concepts further.