Tuesday, 4 June 2013

British Taskforce to 'Confront' Extremism

The British press are now following the creation by the government of a taskforce 'aimed at confronting Islamic extremism and controlling preachers of hate' (The Times, 3 June 2013, p.4). All the reports on this story and the speeches by the senior members of the government responsible for its creation reflect a decidedly belligerent position; the very label 'taskforce' resonates with military symbolism (and reminds me of the use of 'crusade' after 9/11), while the involvement of the security and intelligence forces demonstrates clearly the thinking behind its design. The framing echoes both the disastrously-named War on Terror and Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations.

In all the talk of this taskforce and its aims, priorities and methods, one word has been noticeable by its absence: engagement; and I do wonder which members of the taskforce have the required expertise to advise on communications strategies that go beyond knee-jerk reactions such as closing down websites, monitoring social media, and trying to curb 'hate speech'. Who is suggesting methods of engaging with Muslim communities and their young members before they can be radicalised? Who is talking with young Muslims about the problems they face and the reasons why fundamentalism might be attractive to them? Is the taskforce prepared to spend as much time listening as confronting? Of course we need to deal with the violence and terror (and I hope that the taskforce may also extend its remit to challenging the rise of the racist Far Right which is equally extremist, dangerous and frightening), and it is important to acknowledge that with free speech comes responsibility (neither incitement nor hate-speech should be considered rights). However, it is also necessary to understand that the militarism of the taskforce may itself be a symptom of the problem, not a cure.

I refer readers back to one of the first blogs I posted in 2011, A Marked Man in America, about the work of a Muslim cleric, Yasir Qadhi, among young members of the Islamic community. I concluded that posting with these words: 'If the US [public diplomacy] and anti-terrorism communities wish to make inroads, they must embrace Qadhi and others like him who can challenge the militant narratives and prevent the radicalisation of the disaffected youth'. I sincerely hope that a British Qadhi has been appointed to the taskforce and can persuade its members to drop their current militaristic and reactive position and consider engagement as a more effective long-term strategy.

One definition of soft power:
'a slower, surer, more civilized way of exercising influence than crude force'
('Playing Soft or Hard Cop,' Economist, 19 January 2006).

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