Sunday, March 18, 2007

Preventing Extremism Strategy Going Pear-Shaped

Ruth Kelly, the Minister for Communities and Local Government, has written in today's Observer about the latest aspect of the government's preventing extremism strategy.

This involves a £5 million fund to be distributed through local councils to work on preventing extremism. The projects will start rolling from 1 April according to this guidance document. However, the word on the ground is that there has hardly been any consultation or involvement of Muslim communities in this. A £5 million investment into community activities is no small intervention and a lack of transparency in this process has caused huge concern. This whole process mitigates against the purported aims of the whole prevent strand, which is beginning to mirror the protect strand of counter terrorism: the tactics damaging the strategy. It is also in contradiction to what Ruth Kelly has said on numerous occasions, which I list below. For the purposes of completion, I include a couple of references from the guidance notes.

Speech by Ruth Kelly MP at the launch of the Sufi Muslim Council held in the House of Commons on 19 July 2006.

Forging close links with Muslim communities and other faith groups is a key part of my new role as the Secretary of State responsible for Communities and Local Government. To make sure the Department is engaging effectively, I am keen to ensure that we work with a broad range of Muslim communities in the UK

My sense is that what many people want is to feel that they have some control over what matters to them – their local area and local public services. People want their voice to be heard and to feel that they are respected by government and others.

This means forging links, developing common interests and taking part in cross-community forums and activities. I know that your Council is beginning to work with other faith groups, and with organisations outside of Muslim communities. This sharing of ideas and building a sense of common purpose in improving the society we all live in is vital. It will lead to us all seeing the many benefits of diversity…

Of course there is still much to do. That is why, among other things it is crucial for the Government to work with individuals and organisations across Muslim communities to build up a better understanding and wider knowledge of the traditions of your faith. And it is critical that we understand the issues that Muslim communities face, and put actions in place to address these challenges.

Speech by Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly to Muslim organisations on working together to tackle extremism. Held at Local Government House, London, on 11 October 2006.

There is no doubt that in this current climate anything that touches on the integration of Muslim communities raises complex issues and will provoke passionate debate. But I am certain, as well, that trying to sweep disagreements under the carpet will ultimately be more dangerous than discussing them openly…

So I do not come here to say that tackling extremists is your problem as Muslims alone. This is a shared problem. It is a shared battle for the kind of society we want to be and the values that we all hold dear.

But I do say that without you fully on side we will fail. Your voice is more powerful than mine. And your actions can be more effective. As Gordon Brown said yesterday,

“Unless moderates can establish themselves at the centre of their communities and faith, extremists could grow in strength and influence”.

So I promise we will increase our commitment to work in partnership with you and communities throughout Britain who show through their words and actions that are determined to take on the extremists and defend values that the vast majority of us share…

Speech by Ruth Kelly MP at the British Muslim Forum consultation event held in Birmingham on 26 February 2007.

Central Government shouldn’t try to provide all the answers. It can’t.

Insteand, Government needs to engage with communities, enabling them to build their own resilience to the extremists’ messages.

It’s about local leaders who understand the tensions and the problems in their communities taking action themselves.

So your contribution is absolutely vital.

I welcome the grassroots work that is already being done here in Birmingham, and that it already making a difference…

I’m proud that the Government has supported all these (sic) projects.

But they have worked because the local community here in the West Midlands has displayed real leadership. Because your voice is more powerful than mine. And because your actions can be more effective.

And it’s this kind of work that the Government wants to continue to support.

That’s why last month I launched a £5m fund to help local authorities work with their local communities to counter violent extremism.

I look forward to the many projects that this funding will support in future, here in the West Midlands and elsewhere.

Preventing Violent Extremism Pathfinder Fund

Guidance Note for Government Offices and Local Authorities in England

It is essential that local authorities involve local partners, particularly the police, and local communities in developing their programmes...

To deliver these objectives requires concerted action in partnership across central Government, local government, the police and the security services, the Third Sector and, vitally, local communities themselves...

Programmes will be developed in partnership with other agencies locally – including the police, third sector and local Muslim (and perhaps other faith) organisations. Local authorities will want to consider whether they need to develop a more detailed understanding of the range of local Muslim and other organisations and key individuals with whom they can work.