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UK: Identity Politics and Extremist Groups

On the cusp of taking the reins from the crestfallen former Home Secretary, Javid aims to move counter-terror policy away from hitting another major bump in the policy road.

UK counter terror policies have come under considerable fire in recent years and have undeniably proven to be divisive. The final nail in the coffin for policies like Prevent came in the form of a damning UNHRC report in 2016, which deemed Prevent to be:

“inherently flawed” and “inconsistent with rule of law” as it was found to “give decision makers excessive discretion”.

These flaws opposed one of the Pillars of UN Global Counter Terror Strategy – the upholding of human rights and the rule of law.

Failures in UK policy to date
The party line has been to stick with Prevent despite the criticisms, but the repercussions of this have left an indigestibly bad taste in the mouths of many. Suitably then, the latest update to counter terror policies announced by the Home Secretary do not look promising. Javid said in a rousing speech in Southwark:

“The Prevent strategy will remain a vital part of our counter-terrorism work. Yes, I recognise the criticisms, but I absolutely support it.”

For a number of reasons he needs to be seen to be taking a strong stance. His response to a “step change” in UK terror threat levels seemingly makes the best of a bad bunch of decisions made by the Home Office in recent months.

As the face of the Home Office, Javid’s delivery is destined to paper over some rather large cracks in UK policy. But having a diverse face deliver a tired message does not assist in resuscitating it.

On the one hand, Tokenism paints a thin veneer of positive partnerships and community outreach over a government that faces heavy criticism. On the other, less desirable hand, it plays firmly into the ‘Clash of Civilizations’ rhetoric that has been rolled out time and time again, giving agency to extremists on both sides of the political and socio-economic divide.

Point 1 of Javid’s 6 key areas for policy change:

“We’ll intervene earlier in investigations.”

Highlighting the use of intelligence and data to pursue suspects at an earlier stage raises concerns about blurred lines between intervention and human rights. These new plans propose the sharing and close monitoring of information of 20,000 ‘suspects’, and have already been described as a ‘risk to Britain’s freedom‘.

In response to concerns of human rights and civil liberties violations, the Home Secretary rejected the notion, responding that the sharing of peoples information outside of the intelligence community was not an imposition on human rights of the individual, and that information would only be handled ‘by trained professionals‘.

Despite a strong focus on ISIS-inspired terror, Javid did not fail to shine a spotlight on far-right extremism.

Rightfully so as the rise of far-right extremist groups, particularly those designed for and run by young people, has taken off at an alarming rate, not only in the UK but Europe-wide.

In examining the causes of this escalation of extremist ideologies, could some blame be attributed to the nexus of these breaches of civil liberties, stirred up with youth identities and socio-economic divisions in some kind of plastic melting pot?

An obvious benefit of failing policies is the opportunity to re-evaluate. If Prevent made people feel marginalised in 2016, then it will still make people feel marginalised now. Taking similar steps towards repressing individual freedoms, including freedom of speech, will cause individuals and groups to become even more deeply embedded in extremist ideologies.

Identity Politics
The pining for strong identities has always been key to understanding youth movements. However, the current mood in the UK, across the spectrum of extremisms, links to a desire for tribal belonging.

New extremist groups such as ‘Generation Identity’, a far-right group with ideas rooted in neo-Nazism, use a slick image and interactive online interface to propagate redefining a ‘white European’ identity to young white British people.

The question of ‘hate speech’ versus ‘free speech’ is one that needs a much more detailed debate of its own, but after the leader of this group was not given a platform to speak in the UK, the extremist ideas of the group became increasingly reactionary and deep-rooted.

It does seem logical that isolating extremist ideas and holding them in a vice-like grip will cause them to inflate and then spill messily over into the public arena.

So, what should the government do going forward to redress the precarious balance of effective counter-terrorism policy and integrity of individual human rights?

Identity politics play such a strong role in extremism in the UK and urgently need to be addressed in any successful future counter-terror policies.

Creating a sense of belonging for young people, by emphasising strong universal values that work in harmony with their individual identities, regardless of socio-economic status, and ethnic and religious ties, should be the first step in combatting extremism and acts of terror in the UK.



By Louise Pyne-Jones – Head of Research at IOHR.
Louise’s academic work looks at the historical context of religious ideologies in conflict, and the notions of ‘Caliphate’ on the cusp of the Ottoman Empire and British Mandate periods in the Middle East. She is currently working on the research and publication of an IOHR policy paper on Deradicalisation and Counter-Extremism.

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