Welcome to our second newsletter, which provides you the latest updates from the Commission.
Note from the Lead Commissioner
I hope that you are keeping well during these difficult and testing times. The past few weeks have not been easy for many of us. Many people have lost loved ones due to COVID-19. Others are struggling with the social, health and economic consequences of this pandemic. It is critically important that we follow the Government’s guidelines to help protect the NHS and save lives.
As we all adjust to a new way of working and living which can often feel stressful and worrying, let’s do what we can to help those who are particularly vulnerable and need help. At times of crisis, I’ve always been struck by the compassion and mercy of fellow human beings and the challenge of coronavirus is no different.
Across our country we are seeing many inspiring individual and community initiatives emerging to help the elderly or even local neighbourhood schemes to support and look after one another. We have seen thousands of people volunteer to support the NHS and some of the most vulnerable members of our communities. I hope we continue to build on this kindness and respect for our common humanity in the coming months and years to come.
Sadly we have also seen there are those who will exploit this global crisis to spread both violent and hateful extremism. Extremists are adept at using such times of upheaval, instability and crises to further contribute to confusion, hatred and fear. As we struggle to deal with the consequences of COVID-19 unfortunately we are seeing both Islamists and Far Right extremists spread extremist propaganda inciting hatred and violence against others. We have also seen the spread of dangerous conspiracy theories. I am pleased to see the Government has recognised the harm of disinformation and is working to counter it.
While the Commission adjusts to new working arrangements, we are still working hard to deliver our aims for this year and look forward to keeping you informed about our work. As a result of COVID-19 and the challenges this has presented, we have had to reassess some of our priorities. We now have a specific work stream examining COVID-19 extremism related issues that we hope to keep you updated on.
What we have been up to
Since our last newsletter in January, the Commission has been busy meeting key figures to talk about the urgency of developing a strategy that counters hateful extremism. Whether with faith leaders, ministers and politicians, public body officials or civil society groups, we have had positive responses to our report and an acceptance that it is vital we build a more strategic and targeted response to hateful extremism.
Our Lead Commissioner has been speaking at a number of meetings and events. In January she spoke at an event organised by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate and also at a council event in Redbridge with public officials, councillors and civil society groups about the threat of hateful extremism.
Key note speech at Newcastle
We were delighted to attend the North East conference which analysed and discussed solutions to Radical Right extremism, hosted by Newcastle City Council. Sara Khan gave a key note speech on the continuing threat of Far Right extremism and the need to develop new approaches to challenging hateful extremism. She said: ‘For years we have struggled to deal with hateful extremist groups, whether Islamist or Far Right in our country because they didn’t meet the threshold for terrorism, we were paralysed as to what we can do. As a result, to some degree they have been acting with impunity in our country.’
Sara made clear that developing a strategy to deal with hateful extremism was vital to deal with those groups and individuals who incite or engage in persistent hatred and who justify violence against others. Drawn from hostile or supremacist beliefs directed at an out-group who are perceived as a threat to an in-group; they are causing serious harm to individuals, communities and wider society.
She also pressed on the need to recognise hateful extremism as a distinct form of extremism to terrorism, which requires different solutions and approaches to counter-terrorism. Being clear on what we mean by hateful extremism and identifying the behaviours we are concerned about is the first step to understand the problem that directly needs to be addressed. The current Government approach to countering extremism does not do this and needs to be urgently reformed.
Visit to Blackburn
We had an open and productive meeting with council staff and councillors who told us that they are concerned that the national discourse on Brexit has emboldened many to make hateful and racist comments about immigrants and those from ethnic minority backgrounds. This is widening divisions, undermining community cohesion and harming ethnic minorities. We heard about narratives being shared widely online, making a national-level response necessary. We also heard from council officials about the direct and upfront approach they take in dealing with extremist groups whether Far Right or Islamist which we welcome.
Commissioner Sara Khan met with representatives from Samaritans, The Arc Project, Blackburn Interfaith Forum, Blackburn College, Healthy Living Blackburn, Care Network Hub, Blackburn Rovers Community Trust and the Wish Centre all working to build tolerance and meaningful co-existence across Blackburn and Darwen. They were pleased to showcase local successes, while also acknowledging challenges in the area. They all recognised the importance of countering extremism and the need to work together in challenging it.
In our report Challenging Hateful Extremism we identified a need for more leadership on extremism and for a mechanism to share expertise with those dealing with local incidents. We therefore called on the Home Secretary to chair a task force on hateful extremism. To support this, we’ve been working hard to establish a pilot task force chaired by the Lead Commissioner.
The pilot task force will identify emerging incidents of hateful extremism and prioritise key issues. Working with the task force’s Steering Committee, the Commission will conduct research to better understand the problem, identify key stakeholders, develop much needed interventions and follow up to evaluate the impact of any response.
The Steering Committee will decide which issue to prioritise for our action meetings and meet with local stakeholders to develop innovative responses to incidents of hateful extremism. We are really grateful to be able to call on the huge range and depth of expertise our members bring. You can read more about our Steering Committee in our blog
We recognise that we cannot do this without your support. If you have heard about any incidents of hateful extremism that you would like the Commission to look into, please email us using the subject ‘Pilot Task Force’ and provide as much information as possible. We hope that by using our framework, we will be able to effectively prioritise incidents and support effective responses.
COVID-19 and extremism
As highlighted above the Commission is beginning to undertake specific work examining COVID-19 extremism related issues including new research. Further information will be shared shortly.
As outlined in our report, the Commission committed to carrying out a legal review of existing legislation around the behaviours identified under hateful extremism. We are beginning to scope the remit and work around this review, and we look forward to updating you soon.
Following the terror attack in Streatham, Sara wrote in the Evening Standard, the need to focus on challenging hateful extremism which can inspire terrorism.
Due to the current Government advice on working from home, we would politely request that any correspondence for Sara Khan and the Commission for Countering Extremism should be sent by email: here until further notice.
Any correspondence sent by post will not receive a reply within normal timescales.
The Commission Team