Hazel Blears, Labour's former Secretary of State for Communities, praises David Cameron's new proposals to tackle extremism as "welcome and necessary"
By Hazel Blears former Secretary of State for Communities and member of the Intelligence and Security Committee
Telegraph Online – 20 July 2015
At last! It's been a long time coming but the Prime Minister's speech yesterday on countering the extremist ideology that is poisoning the minds of our young people is a welcome and necessary wake-up call for all of us.
In July 2013 myself and Julian Lewis MP, both then serving members of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, submitted a Memorandum and gave personal evidence to the PM's Taskforce on Extremism set up in the wake of the brutal murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby.
We called for four things to be done:
• to do far more to confront and undermine the extremist ideology of political Islam,
• to strengthen cohesion and increase the resilience of local communities to be able to resist extremist messages,
• to give more support to the voices of the moderate majority of Muslims and, perhaps most difficult of all,
• to support scholars to develop a discourse about the role and interpretation of Islam in a modern democratic state.
A year later in July 2014, after very little progress, we again called for a far more organised response to the indoctrination of our young people. We recognised that although we are well served by our Security and Intelligence Agencies in identifying and disrupting home-grown terrorists, we lack comparable capacity to neutralise the ideology that infects them in the first place.
Since then the threat has dramatically increased. Upwards of 800 people including many women and young girls have been seduced by this ideology to go out to a war zone in Syria, to join the Jihadist cause and to support the nascent Caliphate in all of its horror, brutality and worship of death.
Some of those who have made this journey will return to this country, better trained, even more steeped in the ideology and determined to do us harm. Our Security Agencies, already stretched, will find it impossible to monitor all of those who pose a threat and will inevitably have to prioritise their resources. We must not forget that, in many of the terrorist outrages that have gotten through and caused mass killings in countries across the world, the perpetrators were often known to the authorities but did not necessarily have the highest priority.
A security response on its own has never been sufficient to keep us safe and the Prime Minister's clear commitment to tackling the political ideology, confronting both violent and purportedly non-violent extremism, supporting the moderate voices within Islam and strengthening integration and resilience in communities is overdue but nonetheless brave and necessary.
There will of course be voices who will denounce his proposals as an attack on Islam, the same voices who reinforce the extremist narrative of grievance, who justify violence as a response to the military action in Iraq or the injustices suffered by the people of Palestine.
Make no mistake, I know from experience that this is difficult territory to negotiate.It will require a long-term concerted effort not just by Government but by all of us who seek to uphold and defend our values of freedom, equality and tolerance, an independent and fair legal system and a challenging and free press. I too am very proud of the values we have in Britain but I would urge a note of caution to the Prime Minister. If we are to succeed in mobilising a national and international effort to combat this vicious and subversive ideology we should recognise that our most precious values are the best expression of Human Rights adopted in many countries across the world and not exclusively British.
Let us try and build the broadest coalition, in the best sense of the word, make sure that all political parties can mobilise behind the proposals set out in this speech, begin to turn the tide against the extremists and protect our young people from this dark and brutal view of the world.