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Stronger UK Civil Society Will Thwart Extremism, Home Secretary Says

UK Home Secretary Theresa May delivered a speech against extremism in which she explained in greater detail the counter-extremism strategy launched by the government in October. This strategy aims to tackle the spectrum of extremism, violent and non-violent, ideological and non-ideological, Islamist and neo-Nazi – hate and fear in all their forms.

The overriding messages from May’s speech were that British values can overcome extremism in all its forms, and that those who work to undermine those values will face zero tolerance.

“In a pluralistic society like ours, there are responsibilities as well as rights,” May said. “You don’t only get the freedom to live how you choose to live. You have to respect other people’s rights to do so too. And you have to respect not just this fundamental principle but the institutions and laws that make it possible.”

“But," she said, "there is increasing evidence that a small but significant number of people living in Britain – almost all of whom are British citizens – reject our values. We have seen the Trojan Horse plot to take over state schools in Birmingham. Widespread allegations of corruption, cronyism, extremism, homophobia and anti-Semitism in London’s Tower Hamlets. Hate speakers invited to speak at British colleges and universities. Segregation by gender allowed at universities and even endorsed by Universities UK. Charities and the generosity of the giving public abused by extremists. Examples of Shari’a law being used to discriminate against women. Thousands of ‘honor’ crimes committed every year. And hundreds of British citizens who have travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq.”

May pointed out that recorded hate crime has risen every year since records were first collected in 2008. According to the Community Security Trust, the number of anti-Semitic attacks in Britain has more than doubled in the last year and, at 1,168, it now stands as the highest on record. According to Tell MAMA, a charity that records anti-Muslim attacks in Britain, there are hundreds of incidents every year, including arson attacks on mosques and threats against worshippers.

“It’s clear from these examples that extremism can take many forms," May said. "It can be ideological, or it can be driven by social and cultural norms that are contrary to British values and quite simply unacceptable. We have been clear all along that the government’s counter-extremism strategy must seek to defeat extremism in all its forms, but it’s obvious from the evidence that the most serious and widespread form of extremism we need to confront is Islamist extremism.”

“Islamist extremistsbelieve in a clash of civilizations. They promote a fundamental incompatibility between Islamic and Western values, an inevitable divide between ‘them and us,’" May said, noting, "They demand a caliphate, or a new Islamic state, governed by a harsh interpretation of Shari’a law. They utterly reject British and Western values, including democracy, the rule of law and equality between citizens, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, religion or sexuality. They believe that it’s impossible to be a good Muslim and a good British citizen. And they dismiss anybody who disagrees with them – including other Muslims – as ‘kafirs,’ or non-believers.”

“We must always take care to distinguish between Islam – a major world religion followed peacefully by the overwhelming majority of one billion Muslims worldwide – and Islamist extremism," she said. "Islam is entirely compatible with British values and our national way of life, while Islamist extremism is not – and we must be uncompromising in our response to it.”

“I know there are some people who disagree with me," May continued. "They say what I describe as Islamist extremism is simply social conservatism. But if anybody else discriminated against women, denounced people on the basis of their religious beliefs, rejected the democratic process, attacked people on the basis of their sexuality, or gave a nod and a wink in favor of violence and terrorism, we wouldn’t hesitate to challenge them, or – if the law was broken – call for their prosecution and punishment.”

May asked to imagine what Britain would have been like if its political leaders had taken a defeatist approach to racism.

“As Britain began to become a more multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious country, political leaders took concerted action to prevent racial discrimination and make racist attitudes socially unacceptable,” she said. “Legislation was passed prohibiting discriminatory behavior and punishing racially-aggravated crime. Organizations were established to monitor racism and report on progress. Civil society campaigns – including action in sport, the arts and media – helped to build social norms that conveyed the message that racism is never acceptable. We need to take the same kind of approach to extremism, and that is what our counter-extremism strategy will do.”

The government’s new Extremism Analysis Unit is up and running and helping to inform not just this strategy, but government decision making on matters such as visa applications.

As the unit grows and develops, it will inform more and more of what the British government and the wider public sector does. In particular, the Extremism Analysis Unit will help to develop a new engagement policy, which will spell out clearly for the first time with which individuals and organizations the government and public sector should engage and should not engage.

“This,” May said,“will make sure nobody unwittingly lends legitimacy or credibility to extremists or extremist organizations, and it will make very clear that government should engage with people directly and through their elected representatives – not just through often self-appointed and unrepresentative community leaders.”

May added that the Extremism Analysis Unit will also inform the development of a counter-entryism strategy. “We know from examples such as the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham that extremists use entryist tactics to infiltrate legitimate organizations to promote their own agendas," she said. But, "The counter-entryism strategy will ensure that government, the public sector and civil society as a whole is more resilient against this danger.”

The government is also acting on evidence of women being “divorced” under Shari’a law and left in penury, wives who are forced to return to abusive relationships because Shari’a councils say a husband has a right to “chastise," and Shari’a councils giving the testimony of a woman only half the weight of the testimony of a man. It will therefore commission an independent figure to complete an investigation into the application of Shari’a law in England and Wales.

Recent headlines regarding schoolchildren becoming victims of extremism have highlighted a potential blind spot in the UK’s fight against radicalization.

May said that the government will toughen up the requirements to make sure that identities of all governors are known to their school and the wider community. Furthermore, she continued, “we will clarify the rules to make it clear that governors should only serve on more than two governing bodies in genuinely exceptional circumstances. And we will establish a national database of school governors, held centrally by the Department for Education. Outside the state sector, we will initiate a review of supplementary schools – which at present are unregulated and not inspected – to protect children from extremists.”

“And," she said, "we will take similar action in other institutions and sectors. We will review and reform the governance and inspection arrangements for further education colleges. We will make sure that major state employers such as the NHS have robust procedures in place to identify extremism and deal with it. We will publish a clear framework which will set out the circumstances in which central government should intervene when councils fail to respond to extremism or have been infiltrated by extremists.”

May said the government will also "commission Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to conduct an all-force inspection of the police response to ‘honour’ crimes, female genital mutilation and forced marriage. We will require police forces to record anti-Muslim crimes as well as anti-Semitic crimes. And we will create new extremism officer positions in prisons to deal with extremist prisoners and prison gangs.”

May said the government will also ensure that the immigration system is as strong as it can be when it comes to preventing foreign extremists doing damage in Britain.

“We will therefore conduct a full review of citizenship law to make sure successful applicants for citizenship respect British values," she said. "We will expect people coming to Britain on time-limited visas to sign a declaration saying they will respect British values while they are here. We will create new powers to refuse or remove licenses to sponsor visa applications from people or institutions that promote extremist views or knowingly and without challenge host extremist speakers. We will refuse asylum to extremists who pose a threat to national security. And we will – through the immigration rules – require all foreign religious workers in pastoral roles to speak English.”

The UK government plans to create a place-based, multi-agency, single-pot funding model called the Helping Isolated Communities Program which will include training and skills projects, help for women to get into work, mentoring schemes, interfaith projects, getting school pupils mixing with children from other backgrounds and intensive English language training.

“We will deny extremists the opportunity to spread their messages of hate by introducing banning orders for extremist groups that fall short of existing terrorist proscription thresholds,” May said, adding that, “We will introduce extremism disruption orders, which are civil powers to be used against individual extremists who incite hatred. And we will introduce closure orders, for premises that are owned or occupied by extremists or are used to host extremist meetings or speakers. When we decide whether to impose a banning order on an organization based in this country, we will take into account the conduct of any organizations to which they are affiliated overseas.”

May said, “We will seize the opportunities provided by the Internet to promote British values [and] will support civil society organizations who want to fight back against extremism online. We will work with our international allies and seek a partnership with social media companies and communication service providers to deal with extremist content online.”

She also said that, “We will bring in new powers for whistleblowers and a new extremism community trigger. This will allow members of the public to demand action if the police fail to investigate hate crime or other extremism-related offences, and it will allow them to demand a response from the relevant inspectorates if they have concerns about extremist behavior in a particular institution.”

May concluded by emphasizing the partnership model and warning enemies of British values. “In developing the strategy I have described today, we are saying we want to form a new partnership – a partnership consisting of every single person and organization in our country that wants to defeat the extremists.”

“This partnership will empower those who want to celebrate our values and defeat ignorance," she stated, noting that, "This partnership will be a living testimony to show all that we can achieve together. How we are united – bound together by our values, a bond that will always prove stronger than any of the false and dangerous narratives dreamed up by our enemies.”

“But to those people who do not want to join this new partnership, to those who choose consciously to reject our values and the basic principles of our society, the message is equally clear," May made clear. "The game is up. We will no longer tolerate your behavior. We will expose your hateful beliefs for what they are. Where you seek to spread hate, we will disrupt you. Where you break the law, we will prosecute you. Where you seek to divide us, we will stand united. And together, we will defeat you.”

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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