Lead Commissioner Sara Khan was invited to speak at an event run by the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination for the Council of Europe.
She was joined in the webinar by former former Chief superintendent Jean-Claude Vullierme from France and Rebekah Delsol from the Open Society Justice Initiative.
Transcript of Sara's speech:
" Thank you for inviting me to talk on what is an important issue. There is no doubt we have seen a significant rise in Far-Right extremism in the last few years including in the UK. In the last decade the threat of Far-Right extremism has changed beyond recognition. It is growing, evolving rapidly and becoming more complex.
Entryism is of course a key tactic of both Islamist and Far-Right groups. In the UK we have seen Far Right extremists manipulating their way into law enforcement bodies, often targeting the military, police and co-opting its symbols.
In the UK for example there is an ongoing case, regarding a 21 year old police officer who appeared in court charged with being a member of National Action – a proscribed neo-Nazi group.
Another example is that of a British army veteran who was described as an “outstanding” soldier. But in March 2018 was jailed for eight years for being a member of National Action. He was a recruiter for the organisation and a key part of its strategy to expand its membership within the armed forces. He had been trying to recruit fellow soldiers who he called “committed Nazis” to National Action in preparation for a war to “cleanse our lands”.
These are worrying cases, but I don’t believe the problem of Far-Right infiltration in the UK is a systemic one. I am aware that for other countries this is a far greater and worrying problem as we have heard today, and we are certainly not immune to the problem of entryism especially as we are seeing a growth in Far-Right extremism in my country.
But if I may I’d like us to step back and think more widely about this problem. Entryism as dangerous as it is, is a consequence of a wider problem. Whether it is entryism in our military or police, or within our political parties or our wider democratic institutions – we have to address the root problem. The problem that ultimately needs to be tackled is the active spread of Far-Right narratives, and ideology, understanding why it appeals in certain sections of our populations, and how we build our capability in countering it. This requires developing a whole society approach to countering extremism.
So for example how effective are we in countering popular Far-Right narratives? Whether those are anti-minority narratives, or narratives about a demographic threat which centre around “white genocide”, historical revisionism most notably holocaust denial, or narratives about the collapse of society, race war or civil war? Do we understand why these narratives appeal, and how we can counter them effectively?
Do we understand the changing strategic tactics of Far-Right actors? They are co-opting and weaponising our democratic language of ‘human rights’ and ‘Far-Right speech’ to intentionally stir up hatred against minorities, to recruit and radicalise communities, and to encourage supporters to feel aggrieved or ‘let down’ by the nation state.
We are seeing how Far-Right actors present and co-ordinate their ideologies locally, nationally and internationally often in subtle ways to normalise and mainstream their propaganda. We should be under no illusion that the Far-Right seek to mainstream and normalise their ideological worldview in our countries, to control our democratic institutions, to recruit a significant proportion of the population to their cause in order to implement their hate-filled vision for our societies. It is this mainstreaming of Far-Right ideologies and narratives which we must resist at all costs. Like crime, I don’t believe extremism can ever be fully eradicated in a society but the successful democratic society is the one that is able to confine extremism to the fringes of society, rather than allow it to pollute the mainstream.
However an increasing shift towards online recruitment and active dissemination of extremist content is infiltrating mainstream online spaces. We are now seeing extremist narratives, conspiracy theories, and disinformation being disseminated both online and offline, at an unprecedented rate to an unprecedented number of people, including a younger cohort of children.
I mentioned a whole society approach: by this I mean, it is where we all play our part. Governments, faith leaders, tech companies, civil society groups. Leadership is essential. I believe teaching equality, human rights, democratic norms and freedoms should be a compulsory part of our children’s education in schools. We should not shy away from discussing extremism and the harm it causes.
Education is critical – it helps build societal resilience; it inoculates people against extremist narratives – making it harder for extremists to recruit and radicalise.
In order to counter extremism both legal and non-legal interventions are required. I believe it is imperative that a range of interventions are used and applied to engage and support different individuals, such as young people who are drawn into extremism who will require counselling or conflict mediation rather than legal interventions. Using legal tools in such situations is like using a hammer to crack a nut. We don’t want to criminalise those young people who need our support. We don’t want extremism or the wrong counter extremism tool to damage their lives and their future.
However, it is also important we segment different audiences. My Commission is currently carrying out a legal review – to understand whether Britain’s laws are failing to keep up with the threat of hateful extremism. It is important that the law is robust against persistent extremist offenders, organisations and individuals who play a leading and influential role in disseminating Far-Right extremist narratives and are organising, propagating and recruiting.
I would like to end with this final point. This is fundamentally a battle of narratives and ideas, of hearts and minds. When extremism does infiltrate the mainstream, this is a sign that there is a sickness in our society. We will not be able to address this problem unless we critically and honestly ask ourselves whether we are giving our populations a better vision of our societies than the Far-Right worldview. We have to get better at showing why a liberal democracy - based on human rights, the rule of law, equality and pluralism benefits everyone. And we all have a responsibility to promote and work towards such a vision.