British Prime Minister David Cameron’s new anti-extremism strategy has been condemned by Muslims as demonising their communities and set to fail. The Counter-Extremism Strategy has been promised by Mr Cameron’s government for months, designed primarily to counter the ideology promoted by Islamic State militants, al Qaeda and other Islamists which the authorities say can lead young Britons onto a path of violence.
Mr Cameron foreshadowed details of the proposals today on his Facebook page, saying the new curbs were directed at those who “spread hate”.
“Subversive, well-organised and sophisticated in their methods, Islamist extremists don’t just threaten our security, they jeopardise all that we’ve built together – our successful multi-racial, multi-faith democracy,” Cameron wrote.
“So we have to confront them wherever we find them.”
Specific proposals within the counter-extremism strategy are:
- A full review of public institutions such as schools, further and higher education colleges, local authorities, the NHS and the civil service to ensure they are protected from “entryism” – or infiltration – by extremists
- An official investigation into the application of Sharia law in the UK
- Extremism disruption orders to stop individuals engaging in extremist behaviour
- Closure orders for law enforcement and local authorities to close down premises used to support extremism
- Tougher powers for broadcasting regulator Ofcom so action can be taken against radio and television channels showing extremist content
- Demands that internet service providers do more to remove extremist material and identify those responsible for it
- Anyone with a conviction or civil order for extremist activity will also be automatically barred from working with children and vulnerable people
The new law would also give parents worried that their 16 and 17-year-old children might travel to join Islamic State the power to apply to have their passports removed, while anyone with a conviction for terrorist offences or extremist activity would be banned from working with children.
The plans are designed to target all hate groups, including far-right organisations, but they were met with immediate opposition from Islamic groups who variously described it as “war on Muslims” or containing “McCarthyist” undertones.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the country’s largest umbrella Islamic organisation, said that while terrorism was a real threat, the government’s strategy was based on poor analysis and risked alienating those whose support it needed.
“Whether it is in mosques, education or charities, the strategy will reinforce perceptions that all aspects of Muslim life must undergo a ‘compliance’ test to prove our loyalty to this country,” said Shuja Shafi, the MCB’s Secretary General.
He also queried the general assumption that mosques must be targeted.
“Do such mosques really exist and by whose definition are they deemed to be extremist? We cannot help also detect the McCarthyist undertones in the proposal to create blacklists and exclude and ban people deemed to be extremist.
“If we are to have such lists at all, they should be determined through a transparent process and subject to judicial oversight to prevent any discrimination and political interference based on pressure from foreign governments.”
Mr Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said the announcement was a “missed opportunity to really engage the Muslim community”.
Mr Cameron stood by the plan, saying it would work because it was “comprehensive” .
“It’s no good leaving this simply to the police or the intelligence services. It’s no good simply talking about violent extremism. We need to confront all extremism,” he said.
Fiyaz Mughal, director of the interfaith Faith Matters organisation, told the BBC there was merit in the prime minister’s proposals, and much that could “help in the battle against those who promote extremism”.
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