LibLink: Norman Lamb and Julian Huppert: Defeating radicalisation and extremism, a battle we must win

On the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 bombings, Norman Lamb and Julian Huppert looked at what should and should not be done in order to tackle the radicalisation and extremism that leads to such awful attacks. They wrote for Politics Home and outlined first the measures we should not take, because they don’t work and are just wrong in principle:

But the 7/7 bombings also presented an existential threat to the sort of liberal society we want to live in – raising questions that many will have asked again in light of last week’s terrorist attack in Tunisia.

Do we address these threats by giving government the power to snoop indiscriminately on every citizen, and the vast resources needed to sift through all that information?

Do we target “at risk” communities and faith groups with increasing scrutiny, limit their freedom of speech, and intervene aggressively in an attempt to clamp down on potential extremism?

Internationally, is it right to believe can we combat terrorism by bombing some of the most volatile regions in the Middle East, particularly if it may be contrary to international law?

To each of these, as Liberal Democrats our answer must be – emphatically, no.  Firstly, it doesn’t work.  In 2005 the Security Services were already faced with too much information, on too many threats, to see the wood from the trees. Remember that if we tread roughshod over disenfranchised faith communities we will earn ourselves more enemies than friends.  And if we spend the next year bombing Syria all we will have to show for it are craters, innocent casualties, and a rising defence bill.

But what should be done?

Instead, we must engage properly with British muslim communities, listening to their concerns and empowering them to tackle disenfranchisement and radicalisation at its root. Critically, we have to understand much better what leads someone like Mohammad Khan to commit such dreadful acts of terror. How do we stop others following this dreadful path? We must support the fantastic youth groups that have been working for years to make sure young British muslims grow up feeling they belong in their community.

And we must recognise that our first and best line of defence against radicalisation is the strong voice for moderation within our muslim communities – a voice that we must amplify, not undermine.

You can read the whole article here.

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13 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 8th Jul '15 - 11:09am

    The USA has openly said that they “kill on meta-data” as reported by Andrew Neil on the Daily Politics.

  • I agree with most of this, but I think that part of the problem is linking what amounts to a fascistic minority to the concerns of a wider section of British society. Extremism is not something you can tackle with this sort of woolly tokenism because it quickly turns into excuses. The way to deal with extremists is to make it socially unacceptable, just like we do with racism, homophobia and fascism. The problem of extremism is small and needs to be contained not elevated in importance as if every Muslim is potentially an extremist. Just treat Islam as if it was any other religion rather than as a minefield.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Jul '15 - 12:49pm

    Norman Lamb and Julian Huppert

    Critically, we have to understand much better what leads someone like Mohammad Khan to commit such dreadful acts of terror. How do we stop others following this dreadful path?

    Develop a decent and inspiring form of Islam which is attractive to young people with a somewhat idealistic attitude.

    That’s not something the British state can or should do, of course. Obviously, it is something that must be done within Islam.


    our first and best line of defence against radicalisation is the strong voice for moderation within our muslim communities

    That is a poor choice of words. I know it is not meant that way, but a “moderate Muslim” could be interpreted as someone who practises their religion a bit, but isn’t deeply concerned or moved by it. Describing those who pick out and exaggerate violent and illiberal aspects of Islam and describing them as “radicals” or “extremists” is, in effect, saying that sort of thing is the core of Islam, what Islam is really about, what those who are most deeply inspired by that religion should be doing.

    Might we not say instead that someone who is a whole-hearted and deeply committed Muslim, and so not “moderate”, may be someone who prays a lot and does a lot of charity work, and so on, rather than someone who takes delight in beheading and stoning? Might we not say that those who seem to be inspired mainly by sadism are not at all “radical” or “extreme” Muslims, but instead people who have taken and exaggerated some fringe aspects and forgotten and ignored the more important aspects?

    Well, we might, but I don’t think it is up to us who are not Muslims to take the lead. Islam now needs the equivalent of the likes of who did much to push Christianity away from attitudes then which were similar to what we see in Islam now.

  • Helen Tedcastle 8th Jul '15 - 2:13pm

    I decided to read the whole article and I am glad I did.

    This caught my eye as problematic: ” Where people of all faiths are free to worship in private, and to speak out in public – however much we may disagree with them.” Hang on, faith communities take part in public acts of worship – who says they can only worship ‘in private’? What’s liberal about that? Don’t faith communities have freedom to worship as they wish in this country and that includes in the public realm – they do at the moment…

    ‘ Instead, we must engage properly with British muslim communities, listening to their concerns and empowering them to tackle disenfranchisement and radicalisation at its root.’ Here’s a radical idea – instead of ‘listening to the concerns of communities, how about using the people in the party who are from these communities and discuss with them how to engage? How about recruiting more members from these communities?

    It’s a bit patronising to claim that we’ll lend a listening ear, when I’m not sure we all understand what the issues are or even what the main differences are between moderate and peaceful Islam and extremist ideologies – or what leads to some young people’s vulnerability to radicalisation on the internet.

    And Julian Huppert – what is his expertise with regard to how the party deals with faith communities?

  • “We now know he travelled to a training camp in Pakistan.” And became fully aware of what was going on.

  • Tony Dawson 9th Jul '15 - 8:36am

    Am I alone in questioning this vilification of the word ‘radical’? ‘Radicalisation’ is what I spent a large part of my life trying to do with people who had problems to try to get them to take up their own cause together with others. This did NOT involve going out killing people.

  • Jayne Mansfield 9th Jul '15 - 10:35am

    @ Tony Dawson,
    I forgot to mention you, along with several others who I would have voted for at the last election, if that had been an option.

    I wholeheartedly agree with what you say.

    I find some of the stuff that is currently regarded as being ‘liberal thinking’ morally repugnant. A quick look at the Wikipedia page of Mohammed Khan shows him to be someone worthy of no excuses, or high minded language whatsoever. He was a mass murderer who knew what exactly what he was doing.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Jul '15 - 1:16pm

    Tony Dawson

    Am I alone in questioning this vilification of the word ‘radical’?

    If you look at my previous comment, you will see that I too questioned this usage of the terms “radical”, “moderate” and “extreme”.

  • Jim Williams 9th Jul '15 - 6:50pm

    In my other life – there is life beyond the Lib Dems! – I’m a conflict and radicalisation communications specialist. I lived in Pakistan for five years, and ran the Foreign Office’s flagship communications programmes directed at encouraging young people not to join the Pakistani Taliban. (I’m an outside contractor, not a civil servant: we won this work through competitive tender.)

    I agree that understanding people’s motivations is key: solutions lie in the realm of finding non-violent ways of giving these people the sense of community, belonging, fulfilment etc that they find in joining terrorist groups – much like with urban gangs.

    Easier said than done, though. The first thing to say is that the picture is enormously complicated. In terms of motivations, there’s the difference between 1) sympathising with a violent ideology, 2) materially supporting a violent group, 3) taking part in violence oneself. And of course, even within these categories, everyone’s particular motivations differ.

    Then there’s this idea that by working with ‘moderate’ Muslim community leaders and other influential voices, that we may be able to bring those flirting with terrorism back into the fold. All concerns with the word ‘moderate’ aside, for a second – not to disagree, but just to move on for now – it is the very moderation of most Islamic communities in Britain that drives some young Muslims and especially converts into the more radical preaching circles. To put it bluntly, for an angry young man, moderation is boring.

    So it becomes a question of who is the right messenger. If a tiny minority of British muslims feel alienated by the moderation of the religion of their parents and community leaders, then will working with those very same people change the attitudes of the disaffected? If you’ll excuse the religious metaphor, are we not just preaching to the converted?

  • Katerina Porter 10th Jul '15 - 9:56am

    On Syria and bombing – we created a no flight zone in Iraq for a long time, nothing to do with invading it, which protected the population and would now protect the population from the barrel bombs of the Syrian government.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Jul '15 - 5:25pm

    Jim Williams

    All concerns with the word ‘moderate’ aside, for a second – not to disagree, but just to move on for now – it is the very moderation of most Islamic communities in Britain that drives some young Muslims and especially converts into the more radical preaching circles. To put it bluntly, for an angry young man, moderation is boring.

    To me, the form of Islam described (wrongly I believe) as “radical” is incredibly boring. It seems to involve a clunky mechanical interpretation of those aspects of the scripture which can be interpreted as legal instructions, and no real spiritual feeling. Quite a big aspect of it seems to be about current politics, a sort of Trotskyite view of the world with a thin Muslim coating. Obviously, the violent and sadistic bits you can take from scripture are taken out and enhanced and made out to be what it’s all about, and there’s a certain sort of person that attracts.

    I have to say, if you look at Muslim scholarship and thoughts and views about religion from the past, with much variety and interesting spiritualism, and deep thought, it is so sad to see there seems to be little of that now. Simplistic literalists seem to have taken over completely, and groups who follow other interpretations of Islam seem entirely lacking in backbone when it comes to standing up against them.

    So that was my point, there needs to be a development of something new and exciting in Islam which very much emphasises its spiritual and poetic aspects, and not the clunky stuff that the “radicals” are about.

    There are many parallels here with what is happening and has happened in Christianity. Isis/Daesh has much in common with the Calvinist movement, and therefore what is needed to oppose it is the Muslim equivalent of the Counter Reformation. That is, this is a religious struggle and needs to be seen and thought in those terms.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Jul '15 - 10:26pm

    Religion is much abused around the world, used as a cover for self-interest and actions that the religion itself abhors.

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