Recently five men, four of them soliders in the British Army, were arrested for involvement with a banned neo-Nazi organisation, National Action. This is disturbing, and it would be interesting to know more about how and why they were radicalised, and how this process intersected with their time in the army.
By contrast with the rather lurid coverage of the recent Muslim foster family story (a complex and contested case), the tabloids’ coverage of this news has been comparatively languid.
However yesterday’s Radio 5 Breakfast Show (presented by Nicky Campbell and Clare McDonnell) offered a series of interesting interviews which you can listen to here.
The show was trailed with a quote from Professor Matthew Feldman, claiming that Britain needed a wake up call about the growing threat from far right groups and should rethink its counter-radicalisation programme (31).
Then followed a feature about a counter-radicalisation programme in Swansea, the Think Project. We heard a group of young people being taken to a mosque and playing a game of ‘find the extremist’ (38).
This seemed something of a straw man approach. I suppose some extremists really do think all Muslims are terrorists and paedophiles, but most don’t, and simply demonstrating that the children can spend an hour in a mosque without being blown up or groomed may not inoculate them against more subtle forms of anti-Muslim sentiment in the future.
It was a little odd to hear one girl inform listeners earnestly that she now realized that ISIS and Muslims were completely different things – and it was good to note that Nicky Campbell (well versed in these issues as host of The Big Questions) also seemed to find the Think Project segment a bit rum (45).
Matthew Feldman came over as sensible and informative in the main. He spoke well about ‘cumulative extremism’ and the power of social media in propagating extremism. He also made some useful distinctions between far-right groups whose focus was Islam but were not antisemitic or white supremacist, and full-blown neo-Nazis.
However I didn’t find anything he said backed up his quoted claim that counter-terrrorism strategy needs to be radically rethought (about of third of its referrals relate to the far right). And I didn’t fully share his view that the Think Project (based on the evidence we had heard) was ‘excellent’.
Wiliam Baldet of Prevent offered, I thought, the best contribution to the show. He quite agreed that the far right was a growing threat and his analysis of its drivers was similar to Feldman’s. But he also robustly defended Prevent. Here again I was nodding along with Nicky Campbell who distinguished between reasoned criticism and attacks from those ‘who most want Prevent to fail’ (2:45). Baldet said he wished MPs would stop viewing Prevent as a political football or vote winner. I would have liked to know what he thought about the Think Project interviews.
I haven’t yet had a chance to listen to this related debate on the Asian Network, but it should be interesting, and I’ll try to do an update later.