Countering extremism requires empathy and consistency

Yesterday, an interesting and fruitful discussion on the battle against extremism took place in Twitter HQ, held by Faith Matters. The debate included speeches from Sara Khan and others and focused on the twofold fight against Islamist and far-right extremism.

The discussion offered a range of fascinating insights into the depth of the problem confronting society, and the possible ways around it. Some did involve the social media tech giants becoming more involved against online extremism fermenting itself increasingly. Others warned about the deep reach of Islamists wielded through various charities. We had important interventions, and two that seemed most noteworthy.

The first came from the pro-refugee activist and liberal Muslim Oz Katerji who offered important rebuttals on the terminology of Islamophobia offering protection from the criticism of the religion. Too often the debate becomes mired in this deflective discourse and ultimately the losers from it are only British Muslims themselves. Anti-Muslim prejudice is a scourge in our society, and one of the fueling stones for the far-right. It is enabled by largely the Conservative Party, who dating back to Winston Churchill and beyond have always regarded Islam, and often by extension Muslims, in a deeply cynical manner. Katerji was also correct in disputing the moral conflation of the far-left and far-right. An important distinction must be made between those belonging to the deeply socialist strand of the anti-fascist left and those from a background of apologia for Stalinism and other corrosive totalitarian movements that exist today and stand in opposition to western interests.

We need to be more consistent in challenging white supremacist extremism in this country. Although Islamist terrorism has plagued Britain in recent years, the everyday hate crime attacks on British Muslims by, often, young white perpetrators cannot be ignored. British Muslims have faced increased levels of racism, and although there have been commendable efforts by local police forces and political parties to address this, part of that is listening to British Muslims and recognising the great threat of far-right extremism. Given the rise in referrals to Prevent for far-right views, we should be gravely concerned by the nature of our discourse. Some might say that the fishing net has been cast further and wider, no longer simply targeting British Muslims, but there is a growing sense that an increasing number of Britons regarding their fellow British Muslim citizens with a degree of suspicion and doubt.

Which brings to the rather fantastic speech by Sunny Hundal who spoke about empathy. This is after all the basic fundamental virtue of a society governed by representative democracy, and one that is essentially a broad coalition of diverse groups and interests. Bridging the gap between a socially conservative white voter and an immigrant Muslim is not easy. But it is only achieved through empathetic politics, on seeking grounds where possible mutualism can exist and flourish, on creating a sense of community and attachment to people and place. Extremists are atomised, at least in the sense that their fidelity owes itself to a narrow exclusionary group through which they understand their grievances with the world and express their status in it and relations to others. Muslim extremists and far-right supremacists preach about a fundamental divide between Muslims and non-Muslims, stirring panic about how Muslims few democracy and human rights. But it bases itself on stoking social exclusion, on feeding off the sense of marginalisation and isolation that exists. No-go zones are a myth in this country, but that doesn’t mean groups don’t seek security and solidarity with those they have greater cultural affiliation with. This is fine to an extent, except where it creates disconnect with other groups. And then we stop understanding and empathising with each other’s concerns. Sunny Hundal superbly articulated the need for understanding other people’s concerns, because there is nothing better for extremists than unattended grievances.

We have a long way to go but this would be a good step towards having a pluralistic and harmonious society.

– Written by Rabbil Sikdar

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