Confronting Extremism Together: The Home Secretary’s Speech

19th July 2019

The Home Secretary’s speech, Confronting Extremism Together constitutes a welcome broadside against extremism of all varieties. It recognises the multiple contemporary challenges to the fundamental precepts which define not only the United Kingdom, but pluralist liberal democracies generally. It also presents a series of high level principles and broad policy proposals which ought to guide the approach of any government that is truly committed to both the advancement and defence of those precepts.  

Successive government ministers, under various administrations, have made similar speeches. Ultimately, what counts is action. Our experience at Quilliam is that extremists are single minded and energetic in the pursuit of their aims. They are not easily deterred. It follows, therefore, that concerted and effective action, not simply by the State, but by all parts of our society is required if the wreckers are to be defeated. 

Sajid Javid recognises the recent sea change in our political climate. He noted that, since the UK’s Counter Extremism Strategy was launched, there has been a general acknowledgement of the threat presented not only by Islamist groups, but also by the Far Right and the Far Left. It is proper that the Home Secretary is committed to addressing extremism within all political and religious traditions. It is therefore of fundamental importance that the measures which are taken in response to these threats are deployed in a focused and even-handed manner. When it comes to hard cases – the decision to revoke Shabina Begum’s citizenship, but not that of “Jihadi” Jack Letts – maintaining that approach is even more important. 

The principle of equal handedness at its best evidenced by the Government’s exclusion policy, which has resulted in:

“refusing to let the worst extremists into the country to spread their vile views – I’ve personally excluded 8 since I have become Home Secretary – from a far-right white supremacist, to a US black nationalist, and extremist hate preachers from a number of faiths”

That approach cuts both ways. The Home Secretary perceptively observed that:

“Our shared values are not about forcing everyone to drink tea, eat fish and chips, and watch the cricket – although I hope they watched it the weekend. But cultural sensitivities must not stop us calling out extremism. To back away from a problem because of someone’s ethnicity is not liberal, it is weak.”

He had in mind the Parkfield School protests against the teaching of the existence of lesbian, gay and transgendered people, in relation to which his message was clear:

“The right to protest and oppose government policy is one we hold dear, but where that spills over into intimidation of pupils and teachers, it is unacceptable.”

Those of us in the front line of the battle for the preservation of our liberal social democracy are bitterly familiar with the sort of unpleasant attacks to which the Home Secretary referred. Anti-FGM campaigners such as, Nimko Ali, or our colleagues at Quilliam, including Maajid Nawaz and Sheikh Dr Usama Hasan, have been slurred as Islamophobic, or “sell outs”. The dynamic is similar to that faced by Jews within the Labour Party who challenge the antisemitism that they experience, and are labelled “Israeli agents” for their trouble.

It was also refreshing to hear the Home Secretary call out by name some of the worst groups in Britain: “from Islamist organisations like Hizb u-Tahrir and IHRC, to far right groups like Britain First and Generation Identity”. He also noted that “[o]ne of the most prominent organisations that rejects our shared values is called CAGE”, and undertook to remove from this group the ability which it currently enjoys to “sponsor migrant workers”, who come from abroad to study.

Sajid Javid should also be congratulated for his observations on MEND:

“Supposedly mainstream groups can be guilty of that too – groups like MEND. They aren’t always as intolerant of intolerance as they may claim to be.” 

We understand that MEND is, from time to time, included as members of Prevent advisory groups. This practice should stop. 

Sajid Javid’s speech could have been made by any Liberal Democrat, or Labour minister, prior to that party’s current turn towards crank politics. It should be seen as an olive branch and an opportunity for cross-party cooperation. The task we face is urgent. We must all act together to escape the grip of populism and extremism. 

But the Home Secretary must now follow up his encouraging words with actions if he is truly make a difference. If he does so, he will do our country a great service, and will cement his legacy as Home Secretary.