By Paul Goodman
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The death of Bin Laden has been read by some to suggest that the threat from Islamist extremism is over. But whatever the story may be behind this week's arrests in Birmingham, that conclusion is a mis-reading: the danger hasn't gone away.
The Home Affairs Select Committee is currently carrying out an enquiry into violent radicalisation. Maajid Nawaz of Quilliam recently told the committee that "there is no evidence that this new strategy is yet being rolled out on the ground by civil servants to any meaningful degree."
He claimed that there is "no national strategy to challenge non-violent extremism" and that there "is no criteria for engagement with extremists". Is he right? To find an answer, I would start by examining three test cases.
Is Nawaz correct?
Nawaz is right to say that there is "no national strategy to challenge non-violent extremism", but this seems to be largely a matter of timing. I understand that the DCLG's strategy integration is ready for publication – I wrote about early contributions to it here, here, here and here – but that a place hasn't yet been found for it in the grid. I expect Pickles to allude to it at the coming party conference.
He is perhaps right to say that there is "no evidence that this new strategy is yet being rolled out on the ground by civil servants to any meaningful degree" (although civil servants aren't usually responsible for implementing strategies "on the ground", and tests for deliverers of Prevent contracts are apparently being applied). But I would question whether one can expect much evidence to have been amassed less than six months after the new Prevent Strategy was agreed.
The civil service and the new Prevent policy
However, as I've indicated, there are clear criteria in the Prevent Strategy document governing non-engagement with extremists. (See page 107, a formula repeated in the larger Contest document). The question is whether or not it is being applied. Nawaz is evidently mistrustful of whether senior civil servants are committed to doing so: the name that keeps coming up in this context is that of Charles Farr, the Director of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism.
My judgement that although senior civil servants may not like the Government's shift of policy, they've grasped that David Cameron and Theresa May require it to happen, and are thinking implementation through very carefully. My three examples show how it's working out. On the MCB, the Government is sticking to the view that the MCB shouldn't be engaged with. On FOSIS, it is also sticking to the opposite view, which was prefigured in the Prevent document.
Azad Ali – a test for the Met
The most problematic circumstance is in which an organisation or person which the Government views as extreme is a member of a larger body. The Azad Ali controversy is the sharpest example. Ali's praise for the preacher linked to the Detroit bomb plot and the Fort Hood massace stands on the record, and a judge has ruled that a blog written by Ali can reasonably be read to have supported attacks on our troops in Iraq.
If Ali indeed remains active at senior levels of the MSF, he is an early test case for how seriously Bernard Hogan-Howe, the new Met Commissioner, takes the policy – and of the Home Office's follow-through. It says that it wrote to all police forces after the Prevent strategy was published, and it intends to "hold the Met to the fire" over Ali. Let's see what happens next. By the way, the Home Affairs Committee will find it worth studying Centri's evidence as well as Quilliam's.