Running up to the next election, Labour are going to lay a number of charges against us, some of which will attempt to paint our Party as being ‘soft’ on issues of safety and security. They have consistently tried to push this and at the forefront of their strategy will be the charge that our Party has no coherent strategy to tackle radicalisation and extremism.
Having had the opportunity to work on PREVENT programmes with various Government departments, I know the vast amounts of work that are being undertaken on this agenda and with new and innovative thinking playing a role in ensuring safety and security. Yet for me, there is always a fear that communities may be labelled and marginalised, although the Government’s language has become much more sensitive and more importantly, it is not that certain faith communities will be labelled, it is about the potential impacts on the civil liberties of Muslim and other Black and Minority Ethnic communities.
Things have moved on significantly since the initial Pathfinder PREVENT programmes were implemented in certain local authorities in 07/08. Local authorities are starting to clearly disseminate between PREVENT work and community cohesion, even though there are common strands. The language of PREVENT is more sensitive, yet preventing violent extremism is clearly stated as being part of the programme of work, even though projects may be labelled in softer ways. Also, many more Muslim civil society groups are applying for funding,, compared to the few that applied in the initial Pathfinder programmes. So, things are moving on and the PREVENT work is bedding down in communities.
One of the concerns that I have is that we do not get caught out by Labour’s charges and a detailed analysis of what is taking place on the ground needs to be disseminated to key stakeholders so that we can understand the complexity of the issues around violent extremism. The Government and security agencies have for example, developed threat assessment frameworks that are related to certain towns and cities in the UK, suffice as to say that even if suspected individuals who can and will carry our violent actions leave the city, it may still be regarded as being an area at risk. More importantly, as I mentioned at a conference recently, the horn of Africa and in particular, the continuing civil war in Somalia, may lead to real problems here in the UK.
A few weeks whilst doing a door to door surgery in my ward in Haringey, I came across a young Somali who was angry at the actions of Ethiopia within Somalia. He felt that the actions of Ethiopia within Somalia were disastrous (something that I agree with); he felt very angry at what was taking place and the inaction of our Government (he is entitled to feel that way and more importantly, to voice them), but then he moved onto something else. He stated that violent action was the only way to free Somalia and this is where I intervened and talked about other ways of voicing concerns and changing opinion. After listening to me for 10 seconds, he closed the door. I do not believe that young man would conduct any violent actions, yet, he clearly had thought about various options in his own mind and the only way forward for the ‘liberation’ of Somalia, was through violence.
Global conflicts are clearly impacting on us in the UK and there are political and social complexities that lead to people believing that violent action for social change is the only way forward. Yet, more than ever, we need to be aware of what is taking place and to develop our own pro-active thinking in this area. We need to be seen as the thoughtful David, taking on ‘Goliath’ political parties, rather than Achilles with a serious flaw that can be prone to attack.