UK PM David Cameron: ‘The root cause of the threat we face is the extremist [Islamic] ideology itself’

Yesterday, The Henry Jackson Society (HJS) welcomed Prime Minister David Cameron’s bold speech outlining the government’s five-year plan for tackling extremism. Principles central to the Prime Minister’s vision closely resemble the ideas and policy recommendations consistently put forward in HJS work, while many of the manifestations of extremism referred to by Mr Cameron have been long-standing issues of concern for the staff of the Centre for the Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism (CRT). Key areas of influence include:

Identifying Islamist Ideology at the Root of Radicalisation

The Prime Minister explicitly recognised that “the root cause of the threat we face is the extremist ideology itself” and that countering the growing appeal of jihadist ideology is a generational struggle.

  • HJS has a long track record of evidence-based research showing that Islamist ideology is a fundamental component of radicalisation and can be an incubator of terrorism. The role of ideology was first identified in the Government’s Prevent strategy of 2011, for which HJS’ flagship work tracking Islamism-inspired terrorism offences and attacks in the UK since 1999 was the most-cited work.

Another crucial shift in emphasis was the recognition that “extremists are self-identifying as Muslims” and Mr Cameron’s statement on Islamist violence: “To deny it has anything to do with Islam means you disempower the critical reforming voices”.

  • HJS has long called for the government to acknowledge the religious element to extremism and has published a theological counter narrative to al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups showing that their arguments are not based on traditionally recognised interpretations of classical Islamic sources.

Challenging Extremist Propaganda

Mr Cameron challenged the prevalence of conspiracy theories surrounding counter-radicalisation efforts, in particular the growing belief that the Prevent strategy is about spying on Muslim communities and the criminalisation of Islam, ideas that have been deliberately fuelled by extremist groups.

  • HJS has repeatedly advocated the need to challenge such false claims head-on and show the extremist rationale behind them. After the pro-terrorist group CAGE came out in support of ‘Jihadi John’ earlier this year, CRT exposed the group’s long-standing jihadist ideology and pernicious anti-Prevent campaigns.

The Prime Minister singled out the National Union of Students (NUS) for criticism, saying: “When you choose to ally yourselves with an organisation like CAGE […] it really does, in my opinion, shame your organisation and your noble history of campaigning for justice”.

  • HJS’s campus extremism monitoring unit, Student Rights, recently publishedPreventing Prevent?, showing the scale of resistance among students to government attempts to challenge extremism at universities. Student Rights showed how extremist narratives have influenced the debate on campuses, highlighting in particular the NUS commitment to work with CAGE to campaign against Prevent.

Empowering Moderate Voices

The Prime Minister asserted that “We can’t stand neutral in this battle of ideas”. He pledged to help empower the “strong, positive Muslim voices that are being drowned out”, stating: “This means confronting groups and organisations that may not advocate violence – but which do promote other parts of the extremist narrative”.

  • HJS has long recommended that central and local government as well as civic institutions, including universities, community centres and charities, distance themselves from non-violent extremist groups. Most recently, HJS interviews with the North East Counter Terrorism Unit and West Yorkshire Police found that a key part of Prevent is both building trust and confidence with British Muslim communities and being prepared to have difficult conversations about the prevalence of extreme and intolerant beliefs.

Strengthening Regulation to Combat Islamist Entryism

The Prime Minister reiterated the government’s commitment to strengthening regulatory bodies in order to challenge extremism, mentioning specifically the failures of the education watchdog Ofsted during the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal and pledging to “strengthen Ofcom’s role to enable us to take action against foreign channels broadcasting extremist content”.

  • For over five years, HJS staff have exposed instances of Islamist entryism – starting with the revolutionary Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir securing government funding for their educational charity and schools. Since then, HJS has repeatedly advocated greater powers, political will and training for regulatory bodies such as the Charity Commission, Ofsted and Ofcom to effectively challenge extremists seeking to take advantage of the UK’s charitable, education and broadcast media sectors.

Tackling ‘Honour’-based Abuse, FGM and Forced Marriage

HJS has led the “uncomfortable debates” referenced by Mr Cameron in his speech yesterday regarding cultural practices such as forced marriage and ‘honour’-based abuse that, he asserted, “run directly counter” to British values.

  • Earlier this year, HJS published a report on ‘honour’ killings in the UK, as part of the Britain’s Lost Women campaign led by Cosmopolitan Magazine and charity Karma Nirvana. A follow-up report raising awareness of institutional failures in care provision for victims of ‘honour’-based abuse was launched earlier this month on the UK’s first ever Day of Memory to an audience of 100 leading professionals.
  • HJS has provided thought leadership on Female Genital Mutilation, publicly asking why cultural sensitivities have been prioritised over protecting young girls living in this country. The Prime Minister echoed this sentiment in his speech yesterday, saying: “Too often we have lacked the confidence to enforce our values, for fear of causing offence. […] No more turning a blind eye on the false basis of cultural sensitivities.”

Working with Internet Companies to Challenge Online Extremism

The Prime Minister referred to the need for internet companies to help the government “identify potential terrorists online” and to “protect their users from the scourge of radicalisation”. Specifically, he said: “many of their commercial models are built around monitoring platforms for personal data, packaging it up and selling it on to third parties… they are happy to engineer technologies to track our likes and dislikes. But when it comes to doing what’s right in the fight against terrorism, we too often hear that it’s all too difficult. Well I’m sorry – I just don’t buy that”.

    • Mr Cameron’s position echoes the findings of a recent HJS report, Surveillance After Snowden, which explored the impact of Edward Snowden’s leaks of classified government information. The report examined the government’s relationship with communication service providers, finding that: “So much emphasis has been placed on the government’s collection of data that the activities of private companies have been given insufficient attention” and “…Better cooperation between the government and [internet companies] is needed urgently”.

Key HJS publications:

Thought Leadership

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