The UK government’s recently appointed commissioner for counter-extremism Sara Khan has been touring the country talking to community activists about the reality of extremism on the ground. What she has discovered is sobering and deeply concerning.
There is a sense of growing polarisation. Extremists of different stripes are setting the agenda through an adroit and nimble use of social media channels to reach their targets. Most worrying is that young people are being exposed to extremism propaganda without counter-narratives being available. They are imbibing Islamist hate preachers online or white supremacist content and this is shaping their identity.
Sara has just written about her discussions with community groups for an article in The Independent. She is calling for the emergence of a “counter-extremism” movement to take on both violent Islamism and the extreme Right.
I want to look at the tactics employed by extremists and what we can do to better support those standing up to them. I want to investigate the scale of extremism, and the harm it causes. I want to look at how we can have a less polarised and more consistent debate, because that’s the only way we will allow everyone to speak out against extremism and stop those tearing apart our communities.
In 2016, I co-authored The Battle for British Islam with Sara looking at how non-violent Islamist groups create an ideological climate in which radicalisers can operate more effectively. That’s not to say that there is a “conveyor belt” from non-violent to violent Islamism but that certain key concepts Daesh and Al Qaeda need their vulnerable targets to embrace are often legitimised by non-violent groups first.
They are not linked to the terrorists but they validate arguments, for example, that Muslims cannot live in any state other than a theocratic caliphate. These groups also foster a sense that it’s impossible for Muslims to exist, let alone thrive, in secular societies.
They piggy back human rights and anti-racist discourse and in this they’re assisted by some of what Lenin might have termed “useful idiots” on the political Left and among well meaning liberals. So on campuses we’ve had the bizarre spectacle of feminist and LGBT groups supporting Islamist groups against secular or mainstream Muslims – who are more likely to support feminist and LGBT rights.
This happens because Lefts and liberals buy into the Islamist argument that they represent “normative” Islam and that non-Islamist Muslims are sell-outs to the (kuffar) establishment. Such is the lunacy of modern day identity politics.
Sara is looking for relevant input to her research into extremism in the UK if any groups wish to share their experience and insights.