Can Councils cope with the threat of extremism?

The news that the UK government is going to pump some money into trying to prevent individuals being sucked into extremism is welcome news. It was widely reported in the national press, but this local report from Birmingham gives some detail of where the money will be going, and who will be spending it. Local Councils will have a big role, and are expected to improve their knowledge of their communities and the sources of extremism within them.

The Home Office document states: “A deeper understanding of local communities should be developed to help inform and focus the programme of action – this may include mapping denominational backgrounds and demographic and socio-economic factors as well as establishing community infrastructure and ways of accessing and influencing communities.

“This will help local partners to develop a richer understanding of the factors underpinning the challenge in a locality, and will provide a firmer basis on which to engage local communities.”

Councils should also offer more support to community bodies which challenge extremist ideas, the Home Office said. But they should be ruthless in cutting off funds for any organisation which appears to endorse violence.

It may be that Councils will make efforts to find extremist views within the communities based around churches, mandirs, and gurdwaras, and presumably wherever white nationalist extremists congregate, but the focus is likely, despite official statements to the contrary, to be on extremists within the Islamic community.

Birmingham, as one example, has been a centre for extremist terrorists for some time, with a number of recent terrorist plots originating there, or having connections there. However, do authorities in Birmingham have intelligence, in both senses of the word, to effectively manage new initiatives to tackle extremism?

The difficulties in Birmingham seem immense. The Chairman of the Council of Mosques in Birmingham is Mohammad Naseem, a man who seems unqualified to participate in any new anti-extremist programmes with the Council, but he is respected in the region. Indeed, if the West Midlands Police force are any indication of the state of affairs in the region, then Birmingham’s troubles exist as much with the organisations that are to tackle extremism, as with the extremists themselves.

There is also a problem with the government’s view that the Councils should “be ruthless in cutting off funds for any organisation which appears to endorse violence.” How many extremist organisations openly endorse violence? The problem extends beyond violence, to the conveyor belt which leads them to such a position. Will Councils be giving money to extremist front organisations as part of this new initiative?

As David has already outlined on this blog, there is a school of thought that is in favour of institutionalising the Muslim Brotherhood. The UK government has over the past two years been having an internal battle over this issue, and that view has not won the argument. Similar battles may occur in local Councils.

The possibility exists that some of them may not be won.