Government launches hunt for extremists across public sector

Theresa May MP

A major drive is to be launched against “entryist” infiltration of the public sector, charities and businesses by Islamist and other extremists as a key part of the government’s new counter-extremist strategy.

The drive will start with a full review, to report by next year, of all public institutions – including schools, colleges, the civil service and local authorities – to safeguard them against the risk of “entryism” by extremists.

The new strategy says the drive against entryism is a key component of the new “counter-ideology campaign at pace and scale” to combat Islamist and other forms of extremism in Britain.

The proposals were immediately condemned as counterproductive by the Muslim Council of Britain, which denounced their “McCarthyist undertones”.

The hunt for extremists across the public sector follows the Trojan horse affair in Birmingham schools. The Home Office defines entryism as extremist individuals, groups and organisations consciously seeking to gain positions of influence to better enable them to promote their own extremist agendas.

The new strategy says: “The review will clearly set out the risk posed and advise on measures to guard against entryism, for example by improving governance, inspection and whistleblowing mechanisms. It will also engage charities and businesses to help them identify and tackle entryist behaviour.”

It will also include an official investigation into the application of sharia law, new powers to intervene in the activities of faith-based “supplementary schools” and a new “extremism community trigger” to guarantee the police will take seriously complaints from the public about suspected extremists.

The inquiry into sharia law will focus on instances where it is applied in a way incompatible with law, such as women being pressured to reconcile with violent husbands despite legal injunctions in place to protect them from violence.

The details of the published strategy show that the tough package first proposed by the home secretary, Theresa May, back in March has survived largely intact despite objections from no fewer than six of her cabinet colleagues.

She has compromised over her initial proposal to require broadcasters to allow television programmes to be vetted for extremist content before they are shown. Instead they will be confronted “whenever extremists have been given a platform to preach harmful messages and falsehoods without critical challenge”.

Existing legislation requiring Ofcom, the broadcasting watchdog, to immediately suspend television services that broadcast unacceptable extremist material is also to be extended to radio services.

Also missing from the revised strategy is the previous plan to publish a list of “hate preachers”. Instead, the strategy includes previously advertised orders banning extremist groups, closure orders against mosques used by extremists, and “disruption orders” issued against individual, named extremists.

These orders will mean it is set out clearly for the first time which individuals and organisations the government and the public sector should not engage with. Legislation introducing the new extremist banning orders is not expected to be introduced until the new year.

The drive marks a significant departure from the government’s previous counter-terrorism policies as it will criminalise for the first time “extremists who spread hate but do not break existing laws”.

May said: “A new approach is required to tackle this growing threat and protect people from the damage extremists cause. This strategy therefore addresses the full spectrum of extremism: violent and non-violent, Islamist and neo-Nazi – hate and fear in all their forms.

“We will systematically confront and challenge extremist ideology, exposing it for the lie it is. And we will thwart its destructive consequences. We will disrupt all those who seek to spread hate and we will prosecute all those who break the law,” vowed the home secretary,

But the Muslim Council of Britain’s secretary general, Dr Shuja Shafi, warned the strategy will backfire: “It risks being counterproductive by alienating the very people needed to confront al-Qaida or Daesh-related terrorism: British Muslim communities.

“For over 10 years we have had to contend with a misguided ‘conveyor-belt theory’ analysis that conflates terrorism with subjective notions of extremism and Islamic practices. Whether it is in mosques, education or charities, the strategy will reinforce perceptions that all aspects of Muslim life must undergo a ‘compliance’ test to prove our loyalty to this country,” he said.

“We cannot help detecting the McCarthyist undertones in the proposal to create blacklists and exclude and ban people deemed to be extremist. If we are to have such lists at all, they should be determined through a transparent process and subject to judicial oversight to prevent any discrimination and political interference based on pressure from foreign governments.”

Another leading Muslim organisation, the Ramadhan Foundation, said the strategy was a missed opportunity to work in partnership with the Muslim community against terrorism and extremism: “The Prevent strategy has failed, we have told the government that continuing to push ahead when there is such little support from the Muslim community means this latest PR exercise will fail,” said its chief executive, Mohammed Shafiq.

What we require now is for British Muslims to be engaged without prejudice and a new approach adopted that will see Muslims as equal citizens and not some sort of aliens to be bashed from time to time for political gains,” he added.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Alan Travis Home affairs editor, for theguardian.com on Monday 19th October 2015 11.49 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010