• Extremism – one of the greatest threats of our age

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    14 August 2015

    I have often written about the dangers of extremism. Periodically I have been prompted by some national or international outrage that fills us with horror and disgust. But in the times between it is also vitally important not to lose sight of this worrying aspect of British life. Modern terror may be markedly different from the threat that the West faced during the cold war but it is no less dangerous. Indeed, it could be argued that the amorphous and diffuse nature of the modern terrorist threat makes it all the more difficult to pin down and confront. Ugly and violent ideas that permeate the minds of too many, often via the internet and often associated with Islamist extremism are difficult to address – but it is vital that we do just that. Britain is a proudly liberal and tolerant society that is largely at ease with itself but it is its very liberalism that has perhaps allowed us a too great a tolerance of those who would do us harm. We should celebrate diversity yes but not allow it to become the source of dangerous division. It is not just enough to say that we should condemn acts of violence if at the same time we turn a blind eye to practices that are part of its tacit toleration - our values need to be upheld right across the piece – there should be zero toleration of female genital mutilation, forced marriages, sharia courts and so-called honour based violence. Tackling these issues (where the government is already doing much but can do more) needs to be a part of a broader move in which we both bear down on activities that do not square with our values but also encourage the voice of more moderate opinion within some communities. Schools, Universities, the Police, local authorities amongst others have a big part to play.  The Prime Minister has recently announced that he will be setting up a community engagement forum to help refine and deliver this part of the approach. Not only must we not tolerate the manifestly indefensible but we must also work on those economic and social aspects that promote greater community inclusion. I want us to look at promoting female employment (already at a record level) and dealing with the effective segregation that can occur in social housing and also within our schools. On balance, much of this exclusivity is unhelpful and the state has the ability and, I believe, an obligation to address it. We must celebrate our differences and the vast majority of British people do just that – regardless of their background or religious belief or cultural inheritance. All of this will mean more laws and the inevitable debate about how far the state should go in terms of intrusion into our personal freedoms plus the further obligations that might need to be placed upon us and upon civic society. The emphasis must be on vigorous action.