UK government ‘excluding conservative groups’ from counter-extremism work

Contributor: Richard de Silva
Posted: 03/22/2017
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As Wednesday's terrorist incident at the UK Houses of Parliament has served to remind us, the continued effort to prevent and counter violent extremism (P/CVE) remains critical. Yet, at its core, governmental strategy behind this effort appears to be changing dramatically.

Recent years have seen a scramble by states worldwide to tackle the persistent and sophisticated ways in which extremists influence and recruit – often young and vulnerable people – to their causes.  

There has, over time, emerged the understanding that a preventative, proactive strategic approach must be taken to the issue, as opposed to merely ‘countering’ the advance as it occurs. There has also been a greater willingness among governments to seek help from beyond its ranks – employing support from private organisations to undertake more effective projects, whether it be in educating at-risk communities to thwart dangers before they occur or analysing open-source information to break down extremist networks.

However, as with any undertaking so mired in issues of politics, coordination and resource, the inner workings of government-NGO partnerships are said to have become strained – often to the point where private organisations are feeling left out in the cold.  According to one of the country’s loudest voices in the P/CVE arena, the door has recently been shut on various ‘conservative groups’, particularly those with religion at their centre, in spite of the perceived importance of these groups and their ability to connect with at-risk communities at the grass roots level. 

Hanif Qadir, who has been keenly engaged with the Home Office and counter-extremist campaigns for over a decade, has decried an apparent reversal in strategy from the UK and other nations when it comes to funding and collaboration with these types of organisations. 

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Hanif Qadir, who turned his back on Islamist radicalism to become one of the leading voices for counter-extremism in London, has criticised the latest government approach to organisations like the Active Change Foundation.

“Governments from across the world are failing to appreciate or even recognise that those groups have the access and the credibility – both culturally and from a theological perspective – to create the wedge and dispel the narratives of violent extremist networks,” he told Defence IQ.

“Conflating religious conservatism with extremism is where we are going wrong and until we recognise this mistake, the problem will only grow.” 

Qadir is the co-founder of the Active Change Foundation (ACF) in London, a charity that promotes youth leadership through projects that ’train, equip and empower young leaders’ in the local area. These projects, aimed at young people from all walks of life, aim to ‘prevent the spread of violent street crime, gang related issues, community tensions and violent extremism.’ 

However, Qadir says that public funding has also recently been cut to ACF and that its work with the Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) ceased in September 2016, a result of what he calls “the political ambitions of a few, who were too risk averse."

According to its website, financial support is vital to the continued existence of the ACF and its work, estimating that it needs £10 million over the next 15 years to maintain and expand its community projects. 

Qadir also took aim at the UK’s controversial Prevent policy for counter-radicalisation, which some critics have recently accused of stigmatising British Muslims

“Any CVE effort must adapt rapidly, but firstly we need to understand what is changing and why – something that requires real time and effective engagement with communities’ right across the board,” he said. 

“At the moment, this is not being done at all.”

The full interview with Hanif Qadir can be read at the official website of CVE 2017.

Hanif Qadir is the author of Preventing & Countering Extremism and Terrorist Recruitment: A best practice guide, published in 2016 by Jon Catt Educational. 

He will be one of the expert speakers at Countering Violent Extremism 2017 (20-22 June; London, UK). The annual symposium brings together communication professionals and government agencies from around the world to discuss the successes, challenges and failures, and novel methods for communicating against the lure of extremism. Booking information can be found at cveevent.iqpc.co.uk.

More information on the work of the Active Change Foundation can be found at activechangefoundation.org

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@HanifQadir        @DefenceIQ        #CVEevent

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Countering Violent Extremism 2017

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Contributor: Richard de Silva