In a display of dizzying ambition that underscores her desire to change the way society tackles extremism, the Home Secretary Theresa May warned that Britain “will no longer” tolerate individuals who “consciously to reject our values and the basic principles of our society.”
To incentivise the majority, May proposes a means to change the debate around “us” and “them,” to a point where extremists no longer monopolise the term.
“For too long we have let the extremists define the ‘them and us’ – telling young people that they cannot be a good Muslim and a good British citizen. I want this partnership to reclaim that debate. We, the ‘us’, will form a new partnership and show ‘them’ that we want nothing to do with their hatred, bigotry and ignorance.”
May’s proposals will form part of the next Conservative manifesto. It includes the banning of hate preachers and the appointment of an ‘independent figure’ to see how sharia courts operate in England and Wales (amid allegations of discriminatory practises against women). Other lesser publicised proposals includes mandating police forces nationwide to record Islamophobic hate crimes.
If the notion of ‘British values’ still operates in a contested space, the Home Secretary sought to crystallise its definition:
“Our definition of extremism is “the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”. And we regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist behaviour. This is a limited, practical and inclusive definition – and I challenge anybody to say it is unreasonable.”
May then rejected any jingoistic connotations because the values espoused are “pluralistic,” “open,” and “inclusive”. Because the bedrock of this identity is found in Britain’s ‘multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious society’. To extend the point, May proposes a positive campaign around these values to ensure “every single person living in the UK is fully aware of the rights and responsibilities of living in a pluralistic society”.
Outside of proposal ideas is concrete action. The government recently established the Extremism Analysis Unit that informs government opinion on a range of matters that includes visa applications. On that note, if May’s proposals ever passed, it would allow the government to refuse asylum to extremists who pose a threat to national security. Not to mention, requiring all foreign religious workers in pastoral roles to speak English.
That same Unit is drawing up a list of individuals and organisations the government and public sector should and should not engage. A move that seeks to move away from ‘self-appointed and unrepresentative community leaders’.
Throughout the speech, Theresa emphasised the threat of far-right alongside Islamist ideologies through the tragic and brutal murders of Lee Rigby and Mohammad Saleem. But May qualified the emphasis on Islamist extremism by stating: “But it’s obvious from the evidence that the most serious and widespread form of extremism we need to confront is Islamist extremism”.
The spectre of violent and non-violent extremism means “banning orders” for groups which do not reach the current threshold to be banned as extremists, civil “extremism disruption orders” to be used against individuals, and “closure orders” to shut down premises owned or used by extremists.
Changes would encourage NHS staff (and other major state employers) to identify and deal with extremism. Proposals extend to the prison service and schools. Yet, it has caused divide in the Cabinet. Cuts to translation services alongside increased funding options for English language courses remain vague. But how it intends to punish non-compliance went unanswered. The Helping Isolated Communities Programme seeks to build upon the success of the Troubled Families Programme.
Whether any of these proposals morph into policies (outside the Extremism Analysis Unit) will be decided after May’s General Election, when a different May hopes to find herself redefining the battle against extremism beyond 2015.