UK’s ‘weak’ counter-extremism strategy set for overhaul

UK’s ‘weak’ counter-extremism strategy set for overhaul
UK’s ‘weak’ counter-extremism strategy set for overhaul

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The UK is set to shake-up its counter-extremism strategy after a key adviser criticised the current system as “weak, disjointed and behind the curve” in dealing with the threat from terrorist radicalisation.

A counter-extremist unit set up in 2015 within the Home Office is in line to be scrapped although the ministry said no decision had been taken, according to the Financial Times.

The mooted changes appear to reflect the views of Sara Khan, the country’s independent counter-extremism adviser. She has called for a shift in strategy to focus on “hateful extremism” that falls short of terrorism but creates divisions in society and provides for some a moral justification for violence.

The changes could see a new programme focusing on such hateful extremism but still incorporating the old unit, an insider told the newspaper.

The Extremism Analysis Unit was established in 2015 under the premiership of David Cameron to support government and public bodies to “deal with extremists appropriately”.

It was set up partly in response to concerns that Islamist extremists had tried to take control of schools in Britain’s second biggest city, Birmingham. It cherry-picked some of the best staff working in Whitehall but has done little over the last few years to justify its existence, according to insiders.

Mr Cameron’s broader strategy sought to stop extremists infiltrating public institutions by paying for groups to work in communities where people were at risk of radicalisation.

The Counter Extremism Group, a London-based think tank, said in a report in July that too many projects had focused on promoting integration than challenge the ideology of extremists.

It said by trying to engage with all sides, the government had been advised on its strategy by individuals linked to extremism.

“None of this work is easy but feel-good integration projects are ‘easy’ to take on compared with some of the really tough work to focus attention on an individual key radicaliser who has a malign influence on societies,” said director Robin Simcox.

Ms Khan published a report last year that described the current response to extremism as “inadequate” and “unfocused” and called for an overhaul of the system.

“Counter-extremism has not been a priority for the government,” said a spokesman for the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank. “It’s not before time that the government gives it the renewed focus that it deserves.”

It was not immediately clear how significant the changes would be, with the government’s flagship programme Prevent still also due for an overhaul.

Prevent is one-part of a four-pronged counter-terrorism strategy and is designed to stop people being drawn into terrorism.

In January 2019, the government announced a review of the programme after some Muslim leaders claimed they were being unfairly targeted, although no one has yet been appointed to lead that inquiry.

The lawyer initially chosen, Lord Carlile, was dropped from Prevent following a legal challenge over his previous strong support for the scheme.

The Home Office told the FT that discussions about the changes were at an early stage and no decisions had been made.

“We keep our counter-extremism strategy under constant review to ensure it is best placed to tackle the evolving threat,” it said.

Updated: October 12, 2020 03:50 PM

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