The threat from extremism: Cameron vs Clegg

I feel, like the Cabinet, a bit torn on this one. Whereas Nick Clegg and Baroness Warsi are emphasising the importance of dialogue with any non-violent group, David Cameron is taking a firmer line.

Placing advocacy of extreme ideologies alongside support for terrorism in a sliding-scale of views, he said: “Move along the spectrum, and you find people who may reject violence, but who accept various parts of the extremist world view, including real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values.” During the Munich speech, he said it was “nonsense” to fund extremist organisations, adding: “Would you allow far-right groups a share of public funds if they promise to help you lure young white men away from fascist terrorism? Of course not.” On the same day, Nick Clegg delivered a very different message in Luton, which has been linked with Islamist hardline groups. He argued that it was important to maintain the distinction between violent and non-violent extremism. The Deputy Prime Minister has received unlikely backing from two senior Conservative ministers, Baroness Warsi and Dominic Grieve, the Attorney-General.

I can understand why people might find David Cameron’s stance on this unsettling in a climate where Islamophobia is a genuine problem – though not so bad as elsewhere in Europe.  I also think it’s difficult to know where to draw the line between non-violent extremism and views which are, though unwelcome, not extremist.  But there’s an important distinction between ‘not funding’, on the one hand, and outlawing or persecuting, on the other.  And it’s difficult to give any answer other than ‘of course not’ to the question Cameron poses.

Lucy Lips adds

I also agree that it would be improper to ban extremist religious-political groups, which do not engage in crime, or exhort others to break the law. I’d oppose such a ban.

That’s not what is being debated in the Cabinet. The Tories have long abandoned their promise to ban Hizb ut Tahrir. Banning non violent extremist groups is not on the table.

No. That’s not what this debate is about. Rather, the disagreements focus around the Lambertian argument, that one should fund “non-violent extremist” groups, as a bulwark against Al Qaeda: because they, and only they, can divert would be jihadists from the path of self-combustion. I think that argument is bunkum for a number of reasons, many of them set out by Cameron in his Munich speech.

There’s another subtext to the debate as well. Some ministers, Warsi in particular, are rather chummy with certain supposedly ‘non-violent extremists”. They don’t necessarily share all their views: but they don’t regard them as a problem. They want to appear at events, to which hate preachers also have been invited. With the exception of Dominic Grieve,  they never criticise their extreme politics.

That is particularly shameful, when you consider that “non violent extremist” in this context invariably means “support for violent extremist movements, which target civilians, but only outside the United Kingdom”. Find me a single supposedly “non-violent extremist” who doesn’t support Hamas or Hezbollah.

Finally, it should also be remembered that there is a very very thin dividing line between the ‘violent’ and ‘non-violent’ extremists. The supposedly ‘non violent extremists’ of the Muslim Association of Britain, and the East London Mosque-Islamic Forum Europe toured Anwar Al Awlaki around. He is Al Qaeda. Few of you will have missed the outpouring of condemnation from the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami over the killing of Bin Laden.

Yes, the ‘non-violent extremists’ are often opposed to Al Qaeda. But this is usual a matter of marginal doctrinal and tactical disagreement. Promoting or validating these groups is creating a generation of supporters of jihadist terrorism.

That needs to come to an end.