New Forest East



Dr Julian Lewis: Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to follow an excellent speech by the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears).

At the end of the Home Secretary’s forthright speech, she said that we are "in the midst of a generational struggle". That is true, but we are also in the midst of an ideological struggle. That is the message that the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles and I have been trying to deliver to the Government. Our message is that we are well served by our Security and Intelligence Agencies in identifying and disrupting home-grown terrorists, but we lack comparable capacity to neutralise the ideology that infects them in the first place and to support mainstream moderate Muslims in challenging the extremists’ perverted distortion of Islam.

In reviewing our current strategy and policies to prevent people from being radicalised and drawn into extremist activity, we should, as I said in an intervention, follow the precedents of the wartime efforts to expose and denounce Fascism and the Cold War campaigns to counter Communist totalitarianism. The extremist ideology of political Islam is a similarly totalitarian creed requiring an organised effort to undermine its appeal and to strengthen the long-term resilience of the communities that are most vulnerable to it.

In order to succeed, this work must be owned by the whole of Government on a cross-departmental basis, working closely with local government in engaging with civic and faith organisations on the ground. It requires the creation of a specialist counter-propaganda agency – I use the word 'propaganda' in its non-pejorative sense – to develop a counter-narrative and to support communities in their efforts to challenge the extremists. This agency should operate under the supervision of a permanent ministerial committee on which the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development are represented.

I assure you, Mr Speaker, that I did not give the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles any warning of what I am going to say next, but I am nevertheless going to say it, at the risk of embarrassing her. I feel – as, I am sure, will many others – that it is a great loss, given her specialist knowledge and flair for this subject, that she has decided to leave the House of Commons at the next election. Should such an agency be set up in future, I can think of no better person to run it than the right hon. Lady – whether she wants the job or not.

As we have heard, the Prime Minister has said, as far back as three years ago but also more recently, it is not enough to tackle terrorism; it is also necessary to counter what he calls the "poisonous ideology" that underlies it. The Home Secretary now says that we need to tackle non-violent as well as violent extremism, so the message is clearly getting through, but there is still some way to go. Why is there such reluctance to recognise that what we ought to be calling un-Islamic extremism, and what we certainly should not be calling Islamic State, should be confronted at a similar level, on a similar scale, and in a similar way to our approach to Fascist and Communist ideologies in the past? The answer, I suspect, is the fear of the pseudo-religious basis of this incarnation of traditional totalitarian, extremist doctrine.

I want to draw the House’s attention to a particularly important article by Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph on Saturday, 29 November. It is headed: "We won’t defeat extremism until we understand their ideology", with the sub-heading, "Stopping jihadists is one thing – but stopping them from wanting to kill is more important". The article reflects very much the views that I have been putting forward in this speech, but neither I nor the right hon. Lady had any contact with Mr Moore before he wrote it. It is always very encouraging when somebody of that calibre independently arrives at similar conclusions to those that one has oneself reached.

Hazel Blears: I cannot anticipate what the hon. Gentleman is going to say next, but I did speak to Charles Moore last week, so I would not want him to mislead the House inadvertently.

Dr Lewis: That only goes to show that the right hon. Lady and I do not co-ordinate our efforts as seamlessly as perhaps we ought, because I should have known that. Anyway, the important thing about the article is that it looks at the consequences and conclusions of our recently published Intelligence and Security Committee report on the terrible events in Woolwich. The main question in Charles Moore’s mind about the killers is: what is it that made them so bloodthirsty and so bold in the first place? Why did they want to do such a terrible thing? He comes to the conclusion:

"Islamist extremism combines something very new – the power of internet technology – with something very old – the power of belief."

He says that the report establishes that

"Lee Rigby’s murderers were 'self-starting' ",

but that

"they were not lunatics or even ‘lone wolves’. They took large doses of the drug called ideology ... It was supplied by pushers who might live in their neighbourhood, but might equally well live in Yemen or Aleppo."

Charles Moore refers to the calls that have been made to start a counter-narrative, but he notes that MI5, for all its good work, does not have – some would say that it should not have this; it is not necessarily its responsibility to have it – an ideological unit. He says:

"It is rather as if we were trying to combat Communism without knowing the theories of Marxist-Leninism."

He concludes:

"Time after time, it is non-violent subversion that has prepared the ground for serious trouble",

and he warns against the danger of running around

"trying to catch the bad fruit, instead of taking an axe to the tree".

This is a problem that we face at a scale that is not yet insupportable, but which could get very much worse.

Somebody once said that the problem with the world is that the ignorant are cocksure and the wise are full of doubt. The problem we have is that some people with a racist, radical, totalitarian, extremist, murderous ideology have found a way, in the name of their interpretation of their God and their Prophet, to do what extremists have always wanted to do, which is to enjoy untrammelled power over everyone else.

One cannot mobilise a society or a community to counter that successfully if one confines oneself simply to dealing with individuals whom one has already recognised as at risk of radicalisation, because they will already be on the conveyor belt to an extremist outcome and, very probably, to a violent extremist outcome. What one has to do is not to be shy about the virtues of democratic politics, institutions and ideas, or about denouncing the follies and iniquities of systems based on an ideology that stands in total opposition to everything that moderate and liberal-minded people believe.

Pete Wishart: The hon. Gentleman is making such a powerful speech that I am loth to interrupt him. I am sure that he would appreciate, respect and understand the fact that we, too, have a responsibility for creating some of the conditions that have allowed this dreadful, awful and appalling ideology to take root, through decisions such as those about military adventures in the Middle East, injustice in Palestine and illegal wars. In his rounded assessment, surely he should also look at our responsibility for allowing this to happen.

Dr Lewis: When I heard the hon. Gentleman, in his articulate fashion, make that point in an earlier intervention, I felt, frankly, that it was a counsel of despair. If he is saying – [Interruption]. Let me give him my answer. If he is saying that the only way to stop terrorism is to bring peace to the Middle East, then, frankly, we are never going to stop terrorism. [Interruption]. I will let him intervene again in a moment if he so wishes. I want to put to him the more serious point that we have a Muslim community of between 2 million and 3 million citizens, but I am very pleased to say that out of that very large number, only a very tiny number resort to such methods. If the real cause was Western folly in interfering in the Middle East, that would still not justify what the tiny minority of Muslims are doing. I will give way to him again.

Pete Wishart: In no sense was my intervention an attempt to justify what is happening. It was about accepting and assuming our responsibility following the decisions that we have made. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that military adventures in the Middle East have increased radicalisation, with some people finding such an ideology as a response to their ultimate and desperate frustration. Surely the hon. Gentleman must recognise that.

Dr Lewis: What I recognise is that the events the hon. Gentleman is talking about are legitimate in a democratic society for argument and disagreement, but not for resorting to terrorism.

Pete Wishart indicated assent.

Dr Lewis: I see the hon. Gentleman nodding in agreement, so I will quit the exchange at that point.

Sir Menzies Campbell rose

Dr Lewis: I was about to wind up my remarks, but I cannot resist giving way to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Sir Menzies Campbell: The hon. Gentleman will forgive me for taking advantage of his good manners. In his very careful analysis, does he draw any parallel between the fact that for a long period in the 1930s Nazism was tolerated – indeed, in some parts of this country, it was welcomed – without a full understanding of the philosophy behind it, and the extravagant and extreme fruition of that philosophy in Hitler’s expansionist ambitions?

Dr Lewis: I absolutely accept that parallel. Many other parallels could be drawn that are similar to the one the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made so perceptively. For example, democracies in the 1930s faced the twin dangers of Soviet communism on the one hand and Hitlerism on the other, which is why it is understandable, although unforgivable in retrospect, that some people chose to back the Nazi approach in preference to meeting what they thought was the threat of Bolshevism advancing against the Western system of life and liberty.

Therefore, one can indeed draw parallels with the twin problems that we see now. There is a thousand-year war between Shi’a Muslims and Sunni Muslims. As the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said in his interventions, as we make our attempts – sometimes misguided and sometimes more sensible – to mitigate the outcomes of such conflicts, we should not be surprised if there is a blowback effect, to some extent, on the more volatile elements in the community here. I think that I have now got his point to his satisfaction.

In conclusion, bearing in mind your precept, Mr Speaker, that one should never have more than one or perhaps two main points for somebody to take away from a contribution in the House of Commons or any other public arena, the point that I wish to urge on the Government is the same one that I have urged before with the support of – indeed, I should say under the leadership of – the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles: we need to face up to the ideology in its purest and most evil form. It is an ideology. It is not the ideology of Islam. We must mobilise and support those people in the Muslim community who wish to tackle this matter, and we must not be afraid to set up institutions and organisations that are capable of dealing with this formidable threat.