The spectre of violent extremism carried out by groups whose motivations are to create terror and alarm among populations as a whole continues to create serious challenges for law enforcement agencies whose aims are to fairly and justly convict and incarcerate individuals guilty of heinous crimes. Simultaneously, there are groups who wish to support their communities to improve the resilience against such threats. When it comes to matters of counterterrorism and countering violent extremism, as these two sides work at different ends of the spectrum, success will be determined by an amalgamation of ideas and practices that generate confidence and trust in an otherwise intricate set of relations between the individual and the state.
In an atmosphere of media sensationalism and political polarisation, trust and engagement remain important issues. Daily headlines routinely emphasise the extent of violent extremism among Muslims groups, often with levels of disproportionality in relation to the reporting not experienced by other groups. Given the long-term experiences of marginalisation and inequality, with many levers of the state charged with community engagement not always making the necessary inroads, British Muslims are under considerable pressure. In relation to young Muslims who are educated, technologically well informed and believe they have a role to play in society there is a growing sense of engagement, for men and women. Therefore, engaging communities in a process of information sharing is in the interests of all to ensure that it occurs effectively, but it will not emerge so easily in a vacuum.
Herein lies the depth of the challenge. If community groups and government departments are able to better work together to achieve mutually beneficial results in relation to counter-terrorism, there would be less nervousness about the nature of the threat and its impact on society as a whole among lawmakers and the average citizen. For too many years, in times of crises, counter-terrorism measures sacrifice liberties and freedoms for greater security, which is often necessary for short-term periods before returning to a more balanced approach. But the risk is that the oppressive nature of some of the policies can have the deleterious consequences of radicalising groups who would otherwise not have reacted. As the relations between communities and the state remains fraught, the space created by attempts to encourage random members of the public to support efforts in the fight against violent extremism also creates potentially more challenges than solutions.
The vast majority of all British Muslims have no interest whatsoever in aspects of violent extremism that is heralded in the name of Islam by individuals and groups whose motivations are political and ideological and have nothing to do with the tenants of a global faith, which are peaceful, outward looking and concern the expansion of the intellect and the heart. But in a process of post-war migration, immigration, settlement, British Muslim communities number nearly 3m, tremendous heterogeneity and difference is the norm. These create both synergies and tensions between groups often greater and more impactful than between the notion of a wider British Muslim community and the idea of a rest of society.
Individuals at the fringes of communities in different local settings experience all sorts of ongoing problems of exclusion, downward social mobility and a crisis of masculinity. It these groups which are the most susceptible to issues of violent extremism. This applies to far right as well as radical Islamist groups. They experience all the vulnerabilities associated not necessarily with ethnic or religious identities, but with a sense of themselves in relation to, for example, being British, being English or being part of society in which they are an intricate element with claims in its future. Anger and violence in the context of extremism and terrorism are born out of humiliation or oppression. Many of the solutions to violent extremism are indeed structural, not cultural. In encouraging communities to take greater responsibility in reporting the threat from violent extremism will require both confidence building in general but also a sense of proportionality in relation to actions taken by the institutions of the state.
Taking ownership of the problems of violent extremism is an especially difficult task for groups whose general experience is often of vilification, stigmatisation and alienation. In particular, for Muslim minority groups, but also for far-right groups, who are also increasingly implicated in this regard in the UK. All if these relations, however, are fraught with inconsistency, ambiguity and a general sense of disconnect. The task for government, policing, security and intelligence services, as well as from the margins of communities from which are drawn these violent extremists, is to bridge the divide and determine a holistic, integrated and symbiotic set of solutions that see all groups working together to achieve the results of eliminating extremism.