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Should we only tackle violent extremism? The rift at the heart of the counter-extremism debate

9 June 2014

The spat between Theresa May and Michael Gove over the notorious ‘Trojan Horse’ plot in Birmingham has exposed a rift that’s been at the heart of the counter-extremism debate for years.

At the heart of the matter is a debate over when is the best time to intervene in the radicalisation process. Some, like May, argue that extremism is only a problem when it becomes violent, and therefore we should only tackle its violent manifestations. Others, such as Gove, believe extremism should always be tackled, violent or not.

Those who hold the former opinion tend to promote working with non-violent extremists in order to deter their more aggressive comrades. This tactic is based on the assumption that non-violent extremists are best-placed to de-radicalise the violent ones. It can certainly work in some settings, but it is nowhere near fool-proof, largely because it confuses de-radicalisation with counter-extremism.

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De-radicalisation is a very specific process in which individuals meet one-on-one to discuss and debate ideas. Conversely, counter-extremism is more public, a strand of work in which extremist arguments, ideas and narratives are challenged openly with a view to changing the public mood and opinion.

As far as de-radicalisation is concerned, there’s a wide variety of individuals to be engaged with. With counter-extremism, though, we must pick and choose more carefully. Otherwise, we can end up empowering those who will just undermine efforts to challenge extremist narratives.

Extremism is not simply a problem because it is sometimes violent. Extremism is a problem in and of itself: when people adopt narratives which encourage them to be misogynistic and homophobic, we are in trouble. Such views, when left unchecked, have a negative impact on social and national cohesion and do harm to communities.

At a time when populist movements are on the rise across Europe and extremist groups are exploiting social fissures for their own narrow political agendas, it is especially important that government adopts the right strategy and isn’t seen to be gridlocked with personal scuffles. The machinery of government must not swallow itself. It must needs to move beyond debates that concern only the lives of those in Whitehall.

Extremism is a serious issue in the UK and with hundreds of Britons currently fighting abroad in Syria, as well as others in Somalia and Yemen, the threat is only growing. As a society we must not shy away from engaging in an ideas-based debate: we can’t be afraid to champion our values, nor should we fear taking extremist narratives head on. This kind of society-led counter-extremism work must be backed by a government that is both consistent and united.

Ghaffar Hussain is managing director of the Quilliam Foundation.

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Show comments
  • evad666

    Moral relativism and social marxism have done for western democracies.
    Time to suggest those who object to the original culture of these islands depart.

  • Swivel-eyed loon & proud of it

    “Extremism is a serious issue in the UK…”

    That is true, of course, but it isn’t the main issue. Extremism is only the most pronounced manifestation of multiculturalism, which is now a finished and discredited attitude.

    First the problem of the organic infiltration of Islam into the ethos of schools in Britain must be addressed and removed. But then the government will have the much harder task of eradicating the notion that anything less than total assimilation is acceptable. Assimilation into traditional British culture and life is the only future open.

  • Max Tanner

    I blame the Birmingham City Council which has been mainly under Labour Party control since 1984.

    For many years, they’ve allowed the radicalisation of some schools in Birmingham, in order to gain more votes and stay in power. The Labour Party supports Islamic extremists/extremism.

    What is the extent of electoral fraud at English elections? (By Democratic Audit, 26/11/2013).

    Youtube Search: “Shahid Malik First British Muslim MP”.

    Youtube Search: “Labour ignores UK Muslim polygamy and forced multiple marriages”.

    Youtube Search: “Sharia courts conquer UK”.

    Furthermore Labour and their own councils have ignored sexual abuse of young girls committed by muslim gangs (in Rotherham, Rochdale, Derby and Oldham). They have also neglected their duties to deport Radical Islamic Clerics like Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada during their 13 years in Government (1997-2010) and said that deportation would breach their Human Rights.

  • Mr Grumpy

    Remarkably, none of these radicals and extremists are Muslims. Or even Islamists. Not even the ones who go to fight/murder in Syria.

    How much cash is Quilliam getting on the premise that it can fix a problem which it doesn’t even dare to name?

  • Kitty MLB

    Well this disagreement has put some daylight on a very
    serious issue, which the Labour party would have kept hidden.
    They without question allowed those who follow a brutal
    medieval doctrine to live amongst, although they do not
    live amongst us they loath us and wish to turn our country
    Christian and tolerant country into a mini version of their own.
    This needs dealing with now, not wait until someone becomes
    The Conservative party is quite finished with implementing
    policies and the economy is back on track so we need to set
    our fire on this now..
    Might I also add, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists who peacefully live
    here have also had their lives benighted by such fearsome people.

  • Grey Wolf

    We should be very clear about a few things.
    Most of these people have come from 3rd world hell-holes where they have not been able to repair their societies with their value systems. Second, they have come to our country to enjoy the MATERIAL PROSPERITY without accepting the values that led to that prosperity in the first place.
    If they cannot reconcile with and accept the host country’s core culture and values, they should be sent back to their home countries.

    • Kitty MLB

      Its most certainly worse now and we can blame Labours
      13 years of destruction for that. They changed this country
      by promising those from whatever God forsaken land
      a place full of milk and honey. Knowing the detrimental
      effect it would have on this small country.
      My party will now deal with this as its finished with policies
      etc..and we will never allow labour anywhere near the problem it caused.

      • Grey Wolf

        The problem began long ago when stupid politicians thought that Islamic fanatics would help in the cold war against Soviet Union. They allowed immigration from 3rd world Islamic hell-holes.

        Under New Labour, mass immigration, as you say, screwed things up beyond recognition.

        But the Tories have been unable to reverse the problem. The track record of 4 years on the issue of immigration is that of failure.

        • Kitty MLB

          Oh come on. The economy was on its knees
          when George Osborne took over, we were days
          away from bankruptcy. We are now the fastest
          growing economy.Welfare, education etc
          all needed dealing with.
          Immigration is hardly a small issue, and its
          one that requires a lot of time and attention,
          after all it took 13 years to wreck a country.
          And it will now have all the time and attention,
          as everything else is on track.
          No coalitions just a Conservative majority
          ckeaning up after Labour.

          • Grey Wolf

            Managing the economy and managing immigration are not competing issues.

            Call Me Dave had promised to bring immigration down to 10s of 000s. That has not happened. In fact, the latest numbers are as bad as New Labour’s. This establishes that New Labour and progressive Tories are one and the same – the same PPE educated lot with poor life experiences but with a sense of entitlement.

            Can you please be less of a Tory tribalist?

          • Rhoda Klapp8

            The image you have posited of government being so busy doing the economy that any other thing anybody mentions has to be forgone is daft. Just how long does it take to have a lunch here, tweak an interest rate there and keep Vince occupied so he can’t mess anything up? Governments have to be able to do it all. Not say I can see your problem but I was too busy to fix it. And after four years there should be no labour legacy problem unaddressed. It doesn’t look like they have a clue of how much damage immigration has done and is still doing. The tories have chickened out of fixing it, defending the coalition that stops them doing anything. Defending it for what?

        • Damaris Tighe

          see my post above

          • Grey Wolf


      • Damaris Tighe

        The problem started in the 1950s when the Tories’ mill-owning friends demanded immigrant workers for industries that would fail within a short time. Powell was demonised for speaking out about the actions of his own Tory government. New Labour made the problem immeasurably worse.

  • saffrin

    Q) How did we get to a point something like this would need to be debated?
    A) NuLabour, 3.8 million third world immigrants they did let in.

    • Shazza

      Gaze around the big cities outside Londonistan – there are a lot more than 3.8 million.

    • Colonel Mustard

      It’s about 4 million in illegal immigrants alone, most of whom are from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

      • dado_trunking

        Funny how the UKIP can never get these basic facts out.

        • Casmilus

          You never see Nigel Farage on TV do you.

      • Swiss Bob

        The number of people living in the UK is approx 70 million according to the supermarkets, water treatment facilities etc.

        Taking into account the number of people emigrating, many because of the mass immigration from third world countries (see any article on immigration/emigration in the Telegraph) the true number is somewhere around ten to fifteen million since ’97.

        • Damaris Tighe

          Sick to death with talk of ‘net migration’ as if population replacement doesn’t matter. If we ‘reduce’ net migration to 5000 because 100000 natives have left & 105000 immigrants have arrived, surely this matters?

          • Grey Wolf

            You are right. It matters a lot. Population replacement is real. The quality of people matters. Somalia is a hello-hole partly because of its quality of people. If capable people left for America for better opportunities and we invited idiots and fanatics from Pakistan and Yemen then we are screwed, aren’t we?

            • Damaris Tighe

              True but I care about population replacement in any country – look what’s happening in Tibet, look what happened in North America. I happen not to think much of the English nowadays – they have become degraded drunken sots – but they still have a right to their own country & an opportunity to put things right their way without the imposition of sharia.

    • Grey Wolf

      Yes, New Labour screwed it up. But the problem started long before that. Through the cold war, the ruling elite thought that the Islamic fanatics were on their side in the war against Soviet Union. They were not alert to the type of dysfunctional populations they were importing.

      • Colonel Mustard

        It’s rather ironic. The Cold War planted the roots of Islamic extremism in Britain and the end of it created the Soviet-inspired agencies that now appease and apologise for it.

        • Grey Wolf

          Yes, so very ironic. Through the 80s, western leaders nurtured the vilest Islamist warlords (mass murdering, raping religious fanatics) in Pakistan and presented them as ‘freedom’ fighters against the Soviets. In the same period, immigration from dystopian Islamic lands was considered friendly immigration. Its the same time that Saudi money was used to establish Wahabi centres all over Europe.

          History has a strange way of coming around and giving its blowback. Perhaps, there is truth to the ‘Karmic’ theory (I must learn about it in detail) – don’t employ impure means.

          And course correction could have happened after that. But the neo-cons then came with their toxic ”end of history” world-view (Fukuyama’s guiding tome – The End of History and the Last Man). According to this flawed view, the whole world was now just waiting to become like America, liberal democracy and unbridled consumption. This dulled our senses to new looming existential threats and here we are. History never ends, never will and there are no perfect final messianic outcomes!

          • Damaris Tighe

            As a feminist (the old sort, not the pc sort) I always preferred the pro-soviet regime in Afganistan to the muslim opposition as the best of bad alternatives. I suspect the Afgan women who remember the old regime look back on that time with fond nostalgia.

    • Damaris Tighe

      see my reply to Kitty above

  • LadyDingDong

    The UK is analogous to a golf club that has admitted the local chapter of Hells Angels who then proceed to tear up the tees and greens with their Harleys while the committee look on too scared to confront the newcomers. Restore the darn rules and make all guests and members follow the regulations and laws defined by our Christian ‘constitution’ and let us have no more accommodation and hand wringing over the ‘unacceptable’ behaviour of a 7th century savage creed incompatible with modern mores. If the guests don’t like the rules then they can go and try their luck in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Bangladesh. I for one will wave them fondly goodbye and good riddance.

    • Shazza

      Totally agree. First we had the Muslim Brotherhood construct, ‘islamophobia’ to shut down any discussion/criticism of the RoP. Now it is ‘extremism’ that is the problem, not the actual ideology.

      We are rapidly reaching the tipping point regarding islam’s influence on secular, freedom loving, civilised, Western civilisation. They are using our own ‘freedoms’ legally to impose their will on the general public until we lose our own freedoms.

      We have to make a choice – do we continue living in the 21st century or do we want to go back to the 7th?

    • Colonel Mustard

      Unfortunately it will not be too long in this topsy-turvey, Through The Looking Class country ruled by lunatic politicians here and in La La Barrosoland before criticism of Islam will be called ‘extremism’. We already had a taste of that twisted thinking with the beyond bonkers comment in another thread that it is Islamophobia that radicalises muslims.

    • dado_trunking

      I believe we need more and better intelligence to do that.
      I suggest we up the staffing at GCHQ and regional CTUs, because as we all know, Tempora didn’t really deliver. What we need is to get better at surveilling everyone and absolutely everything. Let’s stop the talk and walk the walk.

  • In2minds

    It’s the lot of a think tank to count the number of virgins who can dance upon the head of a pin. But let’s widen out this debate, the Spectator should ask for contributions from – the CEMB, The Council of ex-Muslims of Britain, and One Law for All, founded by the Law Society to combat extremism.

  • Casmilus

    “Extremism is a problem in and of itself: when people adopt narratives which encourage them to be misogynistic and homophobic, we are in trouble.”

    This is not a uniquely Islamic issue. There are plenty of christian extremists who do not advocate violence but explicitly reject modern western liberalism.

    If the test for “extremism” is simply “reject or criticise mainstream values and opinions” then that is a very large and varied set of factions within the modern West, including plenty of respected figures such as the Pope, and many left-wing academics.

    • Roger Clague

      The Pope recognises and does not seek to undermine nation states.

      • Casmilus

        There are Catholics who don’t agree with him. Another “extremist group” who get little attention.

        • Colonel Mustard

          Any Catholic bombs in Nigerian bus stations? Have Catholics hi-jacked airliners and flown them and their innocent passengers into buildings full of other innocent people? Have armed Catholic gangs attacked city centres and shopping malls indiscriminately? Any videos of Catholics hacking peoples heads off?

          Thought not.

    • Blindsideflanker

      But there is a very big difference in how the religions respond to extremism, Christians would dismiss them as nutters, and they would never amount to anything other than an irrelevance. While Muslims will close ranks with the extremists.

      Look at the Birmingham schools issue. By not intervening we get the Islamificiation of schools. But we are told if we intervene we will offend and upset Muslims and push them into the arms of the extremists. We just can’t win, doing nothing or something seems to achieve the same results.

      • Casmilus

        “But there is a very big difference in how the religions respond to extremism, Christians would dismiss them as nutters, and they would never amount to anything other than an irrelevance. While Muslims will close ranks with the extremists.”
        Two baseless generalisations. If homophobic or misogynistic attitudes are “extreme” (which was the original issue I quoted) then there are plenty of Christian preachers who express those views and are supported. There is more to Christianity than liberal Anglicanism.

        • Grey Wolf

          ”There is more to Christianity than liberal Anglicanism.”

          Sure there is more. But presently I cannot see X-tians blowing things up and trying to undermine British heritage and transform the nation. In fact, Islamic fanatics are the single such group that seeks that. No other religious group, X-tian, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, is as restive as Islamic fanatics.

    • Colonel Mustard

      It’s not the test for ‘extremism’. Rejection is not the same as imposition. Radical Jihad is not a rejection but an imposition. It is aggressive not reactive. A devout Christian might disapprove of homosexuality on personal or religious grounds without discriminating against homosexuals or approving of them being persecuted by the state or by other religions or being hung publicly from cranes.

      Your equalisation of this issue is exceedingly short-sighted and dangerous.

      • Casmilus

        Actually we have already had cases where “devout Christians” have objected and had problems with the present law.

        The “equalisation” is made by anyone who shifts from “endorsing violence” to “rejecting values” as the test for “extremism”. They are ones who are ignorant and short-sighted.

        • Colonel Mustard

          Now you are arguing against your own proposition. The ‘problems’ Christians have had with present law are also reactions to an imposition. They bear no comparison to the violent imposition of religious doctrine on innocents.

          Your attempt to assert moral relativism in this issue is not credible.

          • Casmilus

            I am not a moral relativist. You seem to be ignorant of what the term means, and much else.

            • Colonel Mustard

              I know what the term means. The ad hominem does not help your credibility issue.

            • Grey Wolf

              You actually don’t know what ‘moral relativism’ means. Your points above are totally relativist.

        • Grey Wolf

          Islamic extremism in this country has been violent, treasonous and seeks to alter this country’s character and culture. It will need strength and resolve to overcome it. Islamic fanatics do not like British heritage.

          Devout Christians on the other hand, whatever problems they may have, are not violent and treasonous and do not seek to overthrow British heritage. In fact, no other religious group seeks what the Islamic fanatics do.

      • Grey Wolf

        ”Radical Jihad is not a rejection but an imposition”

        Very true. It is the product of a state of mind which is obsessed with the idea of waging a kind of cosmic war where there is no compromise. So it cannot be negotiated with. Its tackling will need strength and resolve.

  • swatnan

    The fact is we are sleep walking into disaster with the creeping islamisation in many areas of our society. The islamists have a mission, or jihad, witrh a vengence, and they do not listen to reason. They may be small in number, but through intimidation and menace they hope to achieve their goals. And who is there to stop them? Maybe Bush was right in his rather inept way, and we have to engage them in a bloody War on Terror. Its going to be messy.

    • swatnan

      I would also like to add that attention now shift to the Jewish School(s) and Roman Catholic Schools, and they be put under the microscope and put to scrutiny. There is no doubt a great deal of indoctrination is going on. The CoE aren’t as bad as the others but they also need to check they’ve got their checks and balances in place. Of course if we took religious bigotry out of Education altogether, then these sorts of situations ewould not happen

      • Damaris Tighe

        1) the number of ultra orthodox Jewish schools is tiny & has zero impact on wider society, they keep themselves to themselves; 2) RC schools teach values which are very different from the RoP. I’m sick to death with the moral equivalence of people (presumably atheists) who cannot see the difference between the Christian ethic & the RoP. Unfortunately our post-Christian society has produced a woeful ignorance.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    Bandy words however you like, the continued presence of large numbers who have a different and incompatible culture poses a problem for those who like things as they are/were. No use to split hairs over who is radical, who is extremist and whop is moderate when they all constitute a cultural threat. In Islam there is no separation between religious and secular. There is no secular. How can that co-exist with a secular nominally Christian society? Only when numbers are small. Allowing the numbers to grow without check or restraint is bound to lead to a realignment which will probably cause trouble. That’s just the way it is. Prejudice and racism and intolerance don’t come into it, it’s whether you want that sort of change.

    • M P Jones

      Labelling a part of the Muslim population ‘Islamist extremists’ is misleading. Those thus labelled are orthodox Muslims
      following the commands of their faith. The issue is not with the people
      but with the extreme political ideology they follow, which is not a
      religion in the sense we normally understand the concept but a hostile
      warrior creed preaching the supremacy of its member above other human
      beings and seeking global dominance. A political movement like Islam has
      no place in a modern world and must be opposed vigorously with

  • Roger Clague

    Ghaffar Hussain 9 June 2014 10:48

    “populist movements are on the rise across Europe and extremist groups are exploiting social fissures for their own narrow political agendas”

    No that trick won’t work. The extremist groups are Moslem’s, like you. The popular ( not populist ) movements are opposing extremists, like you.
    Popular means voted for freely by millions. No one votes for Muslim leaders.

    • sarahsmith232

      This Ghaffar Hussain is obviously part of the problem, that sentence you highlight certainly should raise a few eyebrows.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Unfortunately it probably will work. There was much more manufactured ‘outrage’ in the media and the three complacent parties about the rising popularity of UKIP than there has ever been about the growth of radical Islam within the UK. We have had grooming gangs, ‘honour’ killing, FGM, the 7/7 atrocity, the Woolwich atrocity and now indoctrination in schools but still the complacent parties and their spineless politicians wilfully refuse to add two and two. They talk about ‘extremism’ as though it is some nebulous thing with no root. The BBC make dramas about radical Christian terrorists rather than confront the reality of broken and bleeding bodies in bus stations in Nigeria.

      The EU is working to legislate away any published criticism of Islam as ‘blasphemy’. Those who govern us are far more terrified of the backlash than what is going to cause it. The official line in Appeasement with a capital A is far more pernicious and self-destructive than anything demonstrated by Chamberlain in 1938.

    • FrenchNewsonlin

      Exactly. Hussain puts the quisling’s arguments. But that surely is why his quango exists? More displacement activity instead of tackling the root causes and draining the swamps. The ‘populists’ — in reality the sovereign voters or at least those who bothered to exercise their democratic rights — showed very clearly on May 26 what they think of the Hussain’s of this world.

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