JOINT STATEMENT: Commission for Countering Extremism
We are concerned with the Commission for Countering Extremism’s recently launched ‘evidence drive’.
The Commission states that ‘neither the issue of terrorism nor the government’s counter-terrorism strategy (which includes Prevent) are in the Commission’s remit’. The Commission, in excluding any focus on ‘terrorism’, pushes the narrative ever-more towards the inherently problematic and contested ‘non-violent extremism’. If ‘extremism’ refers to extreme yet non-violent beliefs and opinions it is unclear how the Commission’s aim of countering-extremism is compatible with the democratic values and human rights that they claim to uphold.
The Commission shows an interest in the victims of ‘extremism’ yet fails to show concern for the well documented victims of counter-extremism. These victims have faced an erosion of human rights, been marginalised from democratic engagement and lost access to health and education services as a result of counter-extremism. For the Commission to fail to include the Prevent Strategy – a strategy that refers to ‘extremism’ 118 times and which has faced continued critique for its focus on ‘extremism’ – demonstrates their failure to engage with and critique current counter-extremism practice and strategy.
The experts chosen to advise the Commission do not include any of the many voices critical to counter-extremism (see: https://www.preventdigest.co.uk/who-s-who). We are also concerned that the Commission is not engaging with evidence on Prevent that has been recently gathered in Parliament by the Joint Committee for Human Rights and by the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism. Despite Sara Khan professing a desire that the Commission be ‘as radical as needed’, this commitment does not stretch to including any of the critical voices from the many academics who have conducted fieldwork on the impact of counter-extremism in public spaces.
The need for critical voices is also vital in light of the Government’s failure to define ‘extremism’. A problem compounded by the Commission’s intention that their work ‘not be limited by this definition’. A lack of working definition of ‘extremism’ will significantly inhibit the empirical validity in determining who ‘is’ and ‘isn’t’ an ‘extremist’. It also prevents empirical reliability in being able to reproduce the Commission’s work for scientific testing. History has shown, in this regard, that the label ‘extremism’ has been used to silence political dissent, from the suffragettes to Martin Luther King Jr. A working definition of extremism should thus be the first step in any scientific endeavour, and not be ignored in favour of political strategy.