May offers no radical plan to deal with radical Islam
Crispin Black: This new strategy evades the difficult truth - that radicalisation begins at home
The coalition government unveiled the updated Prevent strand of its anti-terror strategy to parliament on Tuesday afternoon, introducing new ideas and new schemes funded by the hard-pressed taxpayer to prevent young people becoming terrorists.
Much of it is hype and window-dressing aimed at looking tougher than the previous government. Apparently a number of organisations will be denied funding because they don't subscribe to 'fundamental and universal' British values.
But there was no sign of anything simple but useful like banning the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (promised by the Conservatives in opposition) or making convicted terrorists serve their full sentences with no remission.
The Home Secretary, Theresa May, is a good Commons performer but even she could do little with her dreary Home Office script filled with politically correct cliches about reaching out to those who are vulnerable to radicalisation.
Indeed, the full document comes with its own riveting and hilarious 'Impact Assessment' as required by the Equality Act 2010. This, for instance, in a section on consultation:
"The main theme dominating the online comments in terms of perceived negative impact of the Prevent strategy on race/religion/belief, was that the previous Prevent strategy was too Islam focused and only aimed at Muslims." Given that the main terrorist threat to this country comes from al-Qaeda it is hard to see that it could be otherwise.
But there is one slight cause for hope. David Cameron, as promised in a speech made at the Munich Security Conference in February, has enshrined his own taxonomy of terror at the heart of the strategy.
Gone is the idea that somehow there is a peaceful extremism - that rejoicing in the deaths of British soldiers abroad and rejecting democracy in favour of Sharia law is OK, it's only bombing that is dangerous. Cameron has correctly and courageously identified, in the teeth of Home Office opposition, that non-violent extremism "can create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism and popularise views which terrorists exploit".
The government is also right to suggest that all parts of society have their part to play. Theresa May was spot-on in her criticism of university vice-chancellors for failing to get a grip on Islamist radicalisation on their campuses.
No one wants a return to the Oxbridge of the 1930s when you could be thrown into a pond by rugger-playing hearties for having been at the wrong school or wearing the wrong type of plus-fours. But it is a shame that there are no contemporary sporting stalwarts to confront the kind of arrogant and noisy young men who suggest with menaces that women should be veiled or that 'unbelievers' should be shunned.
The presence of the far right has always been challenged on university campuses. Why not the same for Islamist extremism of all kinds?
But in the end, the strategy does not, as Cameron promised, "confront extremism head on". Its emphasis on radicalisation in our public sphere evades a deeper and more difficult truth - that the real centre for radicalisation is often the home.
It was certainly so for the IRA. Most IRA men imbibed their rabid hatred of the British with their mothers' milk. The language used in many families to describe anything British was violent, chippy and vengeful from the cradle.
It seems unlikely to be different for Jihadism. The idea that human beings are 'empty vessels' easily filled with homicidal fantasies after a couple of clicks on the internet or a couple of terms at university is wishful thinking.
In 1912 Lawrence Beesley, then a young science master at Dulwich College, wrote a book about surviving the sinking of the Titanic. One of its most powerful passages describes the reaction of passengers clustered anxiously on a sloping deck, but still confident of deliverance, to the sight of distress rockets being fired from the bridge.
It's a dramatic moment as a sea of hopeful faces watches the rockets soar into the sky and the penny drops: "Everyone knew without being told that we were calling for help from anyone who was near enough to see."
Dress it up how you will. Soften the language. Make the brochure glossy. But the penny has still dropped. In the last 40 or so years we have welcomed into this country thousands of people who want to blow us to smithereens and our political leaders don't really know what to do about it. ·
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