Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester police, has told the Guardian that the latest Government strategy designed to reduce extremism could be counter-productive and damage free speech and religious freedom. In the last few days videos have emerged showing Muslims being shouted at by other citizens in Britain on account of their religious beliefs and ethnicity. The focus of this woman’s anger is `ISIS bitches’ although it is unlikely the victim of her tirade has any connection with ISIS (Independent). A man’s limited ability to speak English is also a subject of scorn in this video (Metro).The Prevent Act addressed by the Police Chief is part of an on-going initiative to place teachers in schools firmly in the realm of direct Government employment and accountability to the current social agenda. Whilst reporting extremism within a school is inarguably commendable, whether it is a member of staff or a child that is being radicalised, consider if it is possible for a teacher to make a judgement as to what constitutes extremism based on the following guidelines:
There is no single way of identifying an individual who is likely to be susceptible to a terrorist ideology. As with managing other safeguarding risks, staff should be alert to changes in children’s behaviour which could indicate that they may be in need of help or protection. Children at risk of radicalization may display different signs or seek to hide their views. School staff should use their professional judgement in identifying children who might be at risk of radicalisation and act proportionately. (Prevent)
Teachers are not necessarily psychologists and so how are they expected to make a judgement regarding a child’s safety based on `different signs’ or especially if the child is attempting to `hide their views’? Fahy, who speaks for the police on the government’s Prevent strategy, told the The Guardian:
There is a concern that efforts to control extremist narratives will limit free speech and backfire if we don’t get the balance right. The efforts to control extremism and limit protest by those caught by too wide a definition may undermine the very rights and British values you seek to protect.
Some of the aims of the new measures certainly appear to be constructive but they are as yet not clearly defined: `The review will clearly set out the risk posed and advise on measures to guard against entryism, for example by improving governance, inspection and whistleblowing mechanisms. It will also engage charities and businesses to help them identify and tackle entryist behaviour (Prevent).’ Entryism is defined as a political strategy in which an organisation or state encourages its members or supporters to join another, usually larger, organisation in an attempt to expand influence and expand their ideas and program. Where exactly does positive discrimination fit into all this? Are all groups and organisations equally accountable for such entryism? Will it be possible to enter all professions whilst holding unpopular political beliefs, even if the person is not part of an advocating organisation? It may also be worth considering if people are ever employed in jobs on account of their politics, age, race, gender, or sexual persuasion. If they are then this form of preferential entryism on the part of the employer is not covered by these measures.
Additional initiatives include investigations into the application of sharia law, new powers to intervene in the activities of faith-based schools and a new `extremism community trigger’ intended to ensure that the police will take seriously complaints from the public about suspected extremists. The real test will be how well these behaviours are defined. Fahy told The Guardian that he had concerns regarding the role of the police and issued a stark warning as to the direction the Government is taking:
It draws the police in[to] areas the public will be uncomfortable with if they feel that it erodes free speech or religious freedom or the right to protest. At what point do you erode the British values you are trying to protect. Such as live and let live, and freedom of speech…The challenge is where you draw the line on that crossing point and that is what the consultation process needs to address.
Regarding his wider aims for British society Cameron previously stated:
`For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance. This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach. As the party of one nation, we will govern as one nation and bring our country together. That means actively promoting certain values.’(The Guardian)
Indeed, but how are these values defined? If the focus of these measures to tackle extremism is on Islamic radicalisation does this not mean that by omission the value they are promoting is the primacy of other faiths? If the behaviours are not clearly defined then as a result Muslim teachers and pupils will be scrutinized to an extent that their non-Muslim peers are not. This approach is likely to create polarization and as a part of this process views naturally become less malleable as they are formed against their polar opposites. To give an example, consider a student who is of a faith that does not view homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle choice, or from a country that is portrayed by the British media (and therefore perceived by many in UK) as being anti-homosexuality. That student could be scrutinized and judged by their homosexual peers for signs of radicalisation or intolerance. In such a situation the student or teacher is likely to grow resentful of the judgemental behaviour of their peers, and the person’s position may tend towards becoming anti-homosexuality. Likewise the case could be that a person is scrutinized on account of their attitude towards other religions, the opposite sex, freedom of speech, freedom of expression and so on. Who really is equipped to judge what the correct attitude is on any of these topics? The Government is taking on this role, and yet they have so far failed to provide clear guidelines and state exactly what the `correct’ British view is on these topics. And of course they cannot make any such absolute statements as to do so would contravene any remaining Human Rights Acts in this country, those of the EU, and of course alienate vast swathes of the population.
The Conservative Government has set a course against plurality and complexity of opinions and is leaving these measures, which are ostensibly designed to protect against violence, not only open to interpretation but also open to abuse. Anyone with a pro- or anti- anything agenda can potentially manipulate people into contravening these new measures by generating `extremist’ or polarized viewpoints. They can implement their own social agenda and as long as they do not openly advocate violence and their position does not obviously contravene `British values’ then they can conduct social engineering more effectively in this climate of fear, self-censorship, and a system based on ostracizing people within society for not adhering to `[their] certain values’. People do create formal or informal networks of like-minded people, and with enhanced communication technology of this century they are able to direct these networks against other citizens in society. When this happens logic and intellectual debate go out of the window and they are replaced instead by mob mentality, bullying and pressure to conform on a vast scale. This tribalism undermines the social fabric and eradicates not extremism but instead any civilised cohesive influences. National pride and multi-culturalism will not prosper in these conditions and instead people will become defined by an aspect of their ethnic background, personality, belief or lifestyle. (Written by Nenada)