The events of recent days have hardened support for UK airstrikes on Islamic State terrorists in Iraq, a poll by YouGov for The Times has revealed. The news comes amid accusations of government apathy on the growing threat from Islamic extremism, as members of parliament clamour for the House of Commons to be reconvened.
The poll, which was conducted before the brutal beheading of journalist James Foley was widely publicised, showed that 43 percent of respondents support UK airstrikes, up from 39 percent the week before. Fifty-seven percent of Britons back American airstrikes in the region, a figure which has also increased slightly from previous polls. Support for both measures was strongest amongst Conservative voters.
Support for arming Iraqi and Kurdish fighters is also on the increase, with 36 percent supporting versus 41 percent disagreeing with the measure. Last week the figures were 28 percent in favour and 44 percent against.
Yesterday, Prime Minister David Cameron headed to Cornwall to resume his summer holiday. He had been in London to chair security meetings related to the beheading of Foley by an Islamic State fighter who spoke with a London accent. There are understood to be around 500 British jihadists fighting with ISIS, and a further 250 who have returned from the region to Britain.
Maajid Nawaz, who chairs the anti-extremism Quilliam Foundation said “We’re woefully unprepared for when our terrorists return home”. Speaking to CNN he highlighted the government deficiencies in tackling Muslim extremism, saying: “So many years after the 7/7 bombing attacks… we are yet to have a unified centrally coordinated countering extremism strategy that works within communities to prevent young people from joining these extremist groups.
“Muslims should be at the forefront of this so there is no backlash against the communities, but also we need to be working online to start promoting counter-narratives because ISIS are so effective through their social media campaigns in attracting these people and we have absolutely no voice online challenging their ideology head on.”
Nawaz blamed multiculturalism for isolating Muslim youths from mainstream society, and creating a vacuum that had been exploited by extremist groups who sought to fill it with a message of “a foreign policy grievance narrative”, in which the youths are encouraged to view at themselves and Muslim communities worldwide as victims to be defended.
Last December the UK government published a report titled Tackling Extremism in the UK, in the wake of the Lee Rigby murder. The report admitted that “We [the government] have been too reticent about challenging extreme Islamist ideologies in the past, in part because of a misplaced concern that attacking Islamist extremism equates to an attack on Islam itself”.
Measures proposed included considering “the case for new types of order to ban groups which seek to undermine democracy or use hate speech”; to consider whether there was a case for new antisocial behaviour orders targeting those who seek to radicalise others; to “work with internet companies to restrict access to terrorist material online”; and to prevent radicalisation and promote integration.
The report also looked at the spread of extremism in educational institutions, stating “We have a responsibility to protect children from extremist views in schools.”
However, so far no concrete measures have emerged from the proposals. A Whitehall source told The Times that work was “ongoing across government”.
Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary came under fire from Hazel Blears, the former Communities Secretary for cutting the budget for ‘Prevent’, a counter-extremism strategy set up by the Labour government, by £17 million.
Tackling Extremism in the UK proposes that delivery of the ‘Prevent’ program should be made a legal requirement in areas in which extremism is a particular issue. It also suggests that another program, ‘Channel’, which supports those at risk from radicalisation, is also made a legal requirement.
Speaking for the department, Local Government minister Kris Hopkins said that ministers had rejected ‘Prevent’ because it “created resentment, undermined community cohesion and wasted taxpayers’ money”.