‘Tackle the poison’: Cameron outlines counter-extremism strategy

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May. © Steve Parsons
The UK will bar convicted extremists from working with children and enable parents to cancel passports of kids under the age of 18, in accordance with the government’s new counter-extremism scheme outlined by Prime Minister David Cameron.

“Defeating our enemies will take time, patience and will require us constantly to adapt,” Cameron wrote in an article for the Times on Monday ahead of a scheduled speech.

Cameron advocated a comprehensive and wide-ranging program to address extremism, saying “the extremist narrative needs to be fought every day at the kitchen table, on the university campus, online and on the airwaves.”

“This battle will only be won through argument and persuasion — people taking a stand to demonstrate the power of our liberal, democratic values, and the emptiness of theirs.”

De-radicalization programs will be mandatory for those imprisoned for terrorism related offenses and for people returning from Syria and Iraq under the expanded measures.

Indicating he would promote a “positive alternative” for Muslims in the UK, Cameron promised support and funding to vulnerable communities.

“We will offer all the protection, funding, practical help and support we possibly can. As part of our strategy, we will provide a further £5 million this year to community groups so they reach even more young people,” he wrote.

The Prime Minister’s announcement comes as the Tories prepare to push for two new pieces of legislation aimed at combatting the terrorist threat – the investigatory powers bill and counter-terrorism bill.

Under the new plans, anyone convicted of extremism will be barred from working with children and other vulnerable people.

The scheme is to widen the breadth of legislation allowing parents to cancel their children’s passports if they fear their kids may attempt to flee to the Middle East to join Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). A trial scheme in July had granted parents such powers regarding children under 16. New program will cover 16 and 17 year olds.

Home Secretary Theresa May defended the program on BBC Radio 4 on Monday morning.

“If you talk to, as I have, parents of young people who have been on the path to radicalization, or perhaps parents, as I have heard from, who have children who have gone out to Syria, some of whom have died out there fighting, then they are saying that they want to see more action taken,” she said.

“I’m not pretending that any of this is easy. Of course this is difficult, but government has a choice here. We can either say ‘well, this is difficult so let’s not do anything’ or we can say ‘well, actually it is difficult, but this is so important that we need to take action.’”

According to police estimates, some 700 people from Britain have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join militant organizations.

The Labour Party signaled that although the party will support “reasonable and proportionate” legislation, the Conservatives must be careful to ensure their counter-terror measures do not fuel “resentment, division and a sense of victimization” among Britain’s Muslims.

“But we have a job to ensure that, in this difficult area, the government gets the balance right and doesn’t go beyond that,” said Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham.

Critics worry the ramping up of anti-extremism measures may prove counterproductive by alienating and further disenfranchising Muslims. The Secretary General of the Muslim Council, Dr Shuja Shafi has criticized Cameron’s new plan as “misguided” and warned of its “McCarthyist undertones.”

“Whether it is in mosques, education or charities, the strategy will reinforce perceptions that all aspects of Muslim life must undergo a ‘compliance’ test to prove our loyalty to this country,” he said in a statement.