ConnectJustice welcomes the government’s renewed focus on actively countering violent extremism, and its acknowledgement that communities need to be engaged in the development of both policy and practice.
However, we find the extension from violent extremism to non-violent extremism problematic on two key points:
1. How will beliefs or actions be defined and identified as non-violent extremism, and by whom? Does this amount to thought crime? For example, if somebody criticises a ‘British value’ such as democracy, would this be an indicator for a de-radicalisation programme? Is non-violent extremism now illegal, and if not, how will it be actively addressed without impinging on freedom of speech?
2. Through what mechanisms will so-called non-violent extremists be reported, tackled and potentially criminalised?
We note that the government has launched a community engagement forum at No. 10. It is essential that the government is engaging outside in communities across the country, and particularly involving those groups and individuals who may be critical of government strategy but are equally passionate about protecting British society.
We strongly believe that trust and confidence has to be at the heart of countering extremism and involving communities. Prevent and de-radicalisation programmes such as Channel have been operational for the last 10 years but as yet there is no publicly available evidence of their efficacy – i.e. does it work? It is important that if the State is assuming more powers such as EDOs and closure orders, then it operates with transparency to avoid being viewed suspiciously by communities and causing further grievance.
We believe that you cannot build a broad coalition against violent extremism if you do not engage with critical voices, including people who have legitimate concerns with government strategy.