This morning Sir Mark Rowley, who was Assistant Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, was interviewed on the Today Programme about extremist preacher and convicted terrorist Anjem Choudary.
Sir Mark, who sits on our Expert Group, said that extremists are groomers who crave profile. He made the powerful point that extremists, by stoking division, don't just cause harm to the individuals they radicalise, they pull apart communities.
We have seen over the years how Anjem Choudary and his supporters have contributed to anti-Muslim hatred and provided fodder to the Far Right. Ivan Humble, a former EDL organiser, told Newsnight that it was Anjem Choudary “on the talk shows, chat shows and in the newspapers" that set him on his journey.
As Sir Mark says we need a whole society response. This principle sits at the heart of our approach. It is why we are engaging widely, and have already met more than 400 experts and activists.
This week we ran a workshop at the Building a Stronger Britain Together conference looking at the victims of extremism. Participants shared with us how extremists’ divisive, hostile ideologies create ripples through our towns and cities, leaving the young and vulnerable ostracised and fearful, communities tense and divided, and society’s democratic institutions undermined. One of the most striking examples was of a Muslim girls youth group which doesn’t venture into major tourist areas because of the fear of having their headscarves ripped off.
We also met with Dr Elham Manea, who shared powerful findings from her research on non-violent Islamist extremism. We heard from Riaz Ravat from the interfaith charity St Philip's Centre in Leicester, who shared his insights into the impact of extremism in communities, and Professor Matthew Feldman and Dr Will Allchorn from the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right who are closely following the threat from the Far Right.
Our focus is bringing together the evidence – so we can build understanding, find consensus and strengthen our response across society.
It is in this context that our Expert Group met for a second time. Having published a Terms of Reference for our Study, we discussed our plans to answer the questions we’ve posed on the scale, the tactics and objectives, the harms and the response to extremism.
That includes commissioning reviews of the far right and Islamist extremism, a call for evidence, writing to Government departments to request information, a national survey and seeking testimonies from those countering extremism and victims of extremism. The group provided insightful advice and challenge on our plans for the next six months.
For this session we were pleased to welcome three new members of the Expert Group.
Hilary Pilkington is Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester. She was part of the Greater Manchester Tackling Hateful Extremism and Promoting Social Cohesion Commission and is part of the EU Dialogue about Radicalisation and Equality project, which will investigate young people’s encounters with and agents of radicalisation, how they receive and respond to those calls, and how they make choices about the paths they take.
Dr Emman El-Badawy is head of research in the Co-Existence team at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and also a fellow of the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. Her current three-year research is a comparative study of violent and nonviolent Islamist propaganda.
Peter Tatchell has been campaigning for human rights, democracy, LGBT freedom and global justice for more than 50 years. From the late 1970s onwards, he called for a single, comprehensive, all-inclusive Equal Rights Act to harmonise the uneven patchwork of equality legislation, to ensure equal treatment and non-discrimination for everyone.
Dr Azeem Ibrahim and Katie Morris have had to leave the Expert Group due to other commitments. Sara has thanked them for their helpful contributions. Dame Louise Casey will be temporarily stepping down due to commitments on other projects, but will be re-joining us again early next year.
For a full list of the Commission’s Expert Group members please click here.