Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Britain's Emerging Common Ground on Extremists

by IPT News

Deputy British Prime Minister Nick Clegg is winning praise for a speech he gave Wednesday about extremism. While press accounts say it "collides" with remarks given last month by Prime Minister David Cameron, a London-based think tank devoted to combating Islamist extremism offered praise and said it built upon the Prime Minister's thoughts.

Clegg, head of the Liberal Democrats, joined a coalition with Cameron's Conservative Party last year. In his speech, Cameron expressed concern about surging homegrown terrorism. Such acts are not exclusive to any one ethnic or religious group, he said. "Nevertheless, we should acknowledge that this threat comes in Europe overwhelmingly from young men who follow a completely perverse, warped interpretation of Islam, and who are prepared to blow themselves up and kill their fellow citizens."

Cameron blamed Britain's emphasis on multiculturalism in part for the problem. While the intentions were good, the result was a failure to build a united vision of society, instead "We've even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values."

Clegg, meanwhile, drew some policy distinctions from Cameron, defending the principles of multiculturalism and spending more time emphasizing that extremist ideology exists across the spectrum. "We will also challenge extremism across the board, ending the previous Government's exclusive and unhelpful focus on Islam," he said.

But Maajid Nawaz, director of the Quilliam Foundation, opted to emphasize the positive. "This speech builds on David Cameron's recent speech in Munich and is an important step towards building a national consensus on this important issue," said Nawaz, who walked away from extremism and now challenges its narrative.

He praised Clegg for dismissing economic grievances as a cause for terrorism. "There are much deeper and more complex forces at work," Clegg said, saying terrorism results from "a lethal cocktail containing a disaffected individual, an enabling community and a legitimizing ideology."

While media outlets and politicians emphasize the differences in the speeches, "we believe that this speech reveals a large degree of common ground between the two leaders," Nawaz said. "However, there is a clear need for further discussion of many of these issues. The exact nature of 'smart engagement' with extremists still needs to be defined, as do 'shared values.' We also hope that in the future Nick Clegg will also be more explicit on why non-violent extremism is a problem in and of itself for society, regardless of whether it leads directly to terrorism or not."

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