Opinion: The Horn of Africa and Radicalisation

In the run up to the next election, Labour are going to lay a number of charges against the Liberal Democrats, some of which will attempt to paint our Party as being ‘soft’ on issues of safety and security. Labour has consistently tried to push this, and at the forefront of their strategy will be the charge that the Lib Dems have no coherent strategy to tackle radicalisation and extremism.

Over the last the years, the Government’s PREVENT strategy has been based on five key strands. These have included: challenging the violent extremist ideology; disrupting those who promote violent extremism; supporting individuals who are being targeted and recruited to the cause of violent extremism; increasing the resilience of communities; and addressing the grievances that ideologues are exploiting.

Having had the opportunity to work on PREVENT programmes with various government departments, I know the vast amount of work that is being undertaken on this agenda, with new and innovative thinking playing a role in ensuring safety and security. Yet for me, there is always a fear that communities may be labelled and marginalised, although the Government’s language has become much more sensitive recently. The more important fear is not that certain faith communities will be labelled, it is about the potential impacts on the civil liberties of Muslim and other Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities.

Things have moved on significantly since the initial Pathfinder PREVENT programmes were implemented in certain local authorities in 2007/08. Local authorities are starting clearly to differentiate between PREVENT work and community cohesion, though there are common strands. The language of PREVENT is more sensitive, yet preventing violent extremism is clearly stated as being part of the programme of work, even though projects may be labelled in softer ways. Also, many more Muslim civil society groups are applying for funding compared to the few that applied in the initial Pathfinder programmes. So, things are moving on, and the PREVENT work is bedding down in communities.

I am concerned that we do not get caught out by Labour’s charges, and think a detailed analysis of what is taking place on the ground needs to be disseminated to key stakeholders so that we can understand the complexity of the issues around violent extremism. The Government and security agencies have, for example, developed threat assessment frameworks that are related to certain towns and cities in the UK; suffice to say that, even if suspected individuals who can and will carry our violent actions leave the city, it may still be regarded as being an area at risk.

More importantly, the horn of Africa and in particular, the continuing civil war in Somalia, may lead to real problems here in the UK.

A few weeks whilst doing a door to door surgery in my ward in Haringey, I came across a young Somali who was angry at the actions of Ethiopia within Somalia. He felt that the actions of Ethiopia within Somalia were disastrous (something that I agree with); he felt very angry at what was taking place and the inaction of our Government (he is entitled to feel that way and more importantly, to voice them).

But then he moved onto something else. He stated that violent action was the only way to free Somalia – and this is where I intervened, and talked about other ways of voicing concerns and changing opinion. After listening to me for 10 seconds, he closed the door. I do not believe that young man would conduct any violent actions; yet he clearly had thought about various options in his own mind, and the only way forward for the ‘liberation’ of Somalia was through violence.

Global conflicts are clearly impacting on us in the UK, and there are political and social complexities that lead to people believing that violent action for social change is the only way forward. Yet, more now than ever before, we need to be aware of what is taking place and to develop our own pro-active thinking in this area. We need to be seen as the thoughtful David, taking on Goliath political parties; rather than Achilles, with a serious flaw that can be prone to attack.

* Fiyaz Mughal is a Liberal Democrat councillor in Haringey, member of the party’s Federal Policy Executive Committee, and Advisor to the Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Interfaith and Preventing Radicalism and Extremism.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.
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2 Comments

  • David Heigham 15th Nov '08 - 7:50pm

    Solid stuff. Hopeless conflict anywhere in the world can be expected to lead to trouble here and in other rich countries. It is not only our ships that are at risk from pirates in Somalia.

    But our case is for agreed international action in failed states, not for Uk unilateral action.

  • Good article, Fiyaz.

    I have long thought, however that we ought to be highlighting the success of Somalis running their own lives democratically – as is happening to a great extent in Somaliland.

    Like many developing nations, the country is far from perfectly run but compared with surrounding countries it is democratic and peaceful – and yet crippled by not being internationally recognised.

    We should be pushing for the UK and other nations to recognise the Somalilanders and help them develop because they are a real Horn of Africa success story.

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