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How do we tackle the extremist threat?

27 09 20

FROM QANON conspiracies, which at their core hold that thousands of public figures must be executed for a supposed role in a “deep state” conspiracy threatening children, to youth terror gangs recruiting through social media platforms, we are facing a rapidly morphing extremism threat. 

And it’s a growing threat, too: one I (Nick Lowles) could barely imagine when I first started investigating the far right over 30 years ago.

That’s why we’ve asked in this new edition of HOPE not hate magazine whether we’re equipped – as individuals, as a society and through our government as well – to deal with the extremism threat today … or if a new approach is needed?

The country’s current Counter-Extremism Strategy was set five years ago and is woefully out-of-date. A top-down, law-and-order approach which centres on counter-terrorism and doesn’t get community buy-in or recognise the swiftly moving extremism landscape isn’t going to work. It isn’t going to keep our communities, our young people – or our country – safe.

Our new exclusive polling reveals a public confused about the extremism threat, too. Most people understand “extremism” through the “terrorism” lens. But extremism extends far beyond terrorists, even as we expose yet more far-right, terror-advocating groups in this magazine: groups which are actively recruiting teenagers into their ranks (and sometimes are run by teenagers, as well).

Our polling shows that a significant minority of the public supports breaking the law in certain circumstances; many also value free speech extremely highly – a challenge for today’s arguments over “cancel culture” – yet most are simultaneously worried about ‘fake news’ and an overwhelming majority want to hold social media platforms accountable for hateful content. 

It’s a confused picture full of contradictory beliefs, pointing to the challenges ahead.

That’s why we’ve spoken to one of the nation’s leading counter-extremism experts, Sara Khan, about the work of her Commission for Countering Extremism and the potential routes forward, including a new definition of “hateful extremism”.

We’ve invited a range of other experts and commentators to offer their views on the Islamist extremist vs. far right threat, the potential for bots to aid the counter-extremism battle online, the importance of community resilience in helping resist the lure of hateful narratives, offered views of the Prevent programme from within and without, and looked at the vexed issue of deradicalisation and “gangster jihadism” inside our prisons.

Nick (Ryan) has interviewed Caleb Cain in the USA, who left the world of alt-right YouTubers behind to pursue a life-after-hate, in an uplifting example of what can come after going “down the alt-right rabbit hole”. Listen out for Nick talking to Caleb on our podcast and for my (Nick L) debate with Sara Khan, too.

I want you to be part of these debates as well, so please feedback with your thoughts as we all face the extremism challenge together.

NICK LOWLES (@lowles_nick) is CEO of HOPE not hate
NICK RYAN (@ryanscribe) runs our Special Projects

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